ftr: on certain popular ace character interpretations

Still can’t brain enough for any of the full posts I want to do but I hope everybody realizes that the “people interpreting a character like BBC Sherlock as ace” phenomenon and the “people responding to asexual identity with ‘what, you think you’re better than us?'” phenomenon have something to do with each other.

9 responses to “ftr: on certain popular ace character interpretations

  • L M Dee

    I’d be interested to read more about this when you can make the words happen.

  • embodiedinlanguage

    I suspect there’s something here to do with the Cartesian split (mind vs. body), with sex being of the body and therefore “lower.”

    • Coyote

      Yeah, that’s a big part of what I’m thinking. And this maps very closely onto certain racial and gender stereotypes (Whiteness and maleness coded as more enlightened, more rational, more logical, more “above” the flesh — which obv isn’t saying all White male chars are written that way, just that when a char is written that way, a lot of people have opted for a White male one).

      I say this especially because with a character like Sherlock, from what I’ve seen, the basis for the ace interpretation comes from lines that are also interpretable as disdainful of romantic relationships…

      …Meanwhile, people are also operating under the misconception that id’ing as ace is a claim to aloof superiority.

  • Sennkestra

    So, yeah, they have something to do with each other, but I’d be careful about implying that the fan response is the cause of the stereotype…it feels somewhat disingenuous, like blaming fans of queer characters for the phenomenon ofqueerbaiting, instead of the showrunners who make very calculated decisions about how to play off these stereotypes to exploit queer and (perhaps as an accidental bonus) ace fans without ever getting *too* queer. (Especially since Acebaiting and Queerbaiting in sherlock go hand in hand).

    So like, there is a need for critical analysis of the role of stereotypes in media like this, but rather than claim people shouldn’t read that character as ace, I think it’s possible to acknowledge that it’s a very ace-coded character that also embodies a bunch of straight people’s shitty stereotypes about asexuals. I place any fault squarely on the showrunners for perpetuating those stereotypes, not fans who choose to identify with character that do play on some very ace/queer tropes.

    Also, in response to your other comment, I think it’s worth clarifying that when it comes to Sherlock and acebaiting, it wasn’t just disdainful comments about romantic relationships that kicked off the initial speculation about that character (although there was some of that, especially later in the show) – some of the other big things that were commonly cited on during the height of the hype in season 1 were also things like jokes about his lack of both sexual and romantic experience and the continued adamant characterization of Sherlock as “neither straight nor gay”:

    – A scene from the pilot where Sherlock and John are mistaken for being on a date, and Sherlock explains that he finds relationships dull, considers himself married to his work, and has never hard a girlfriend or boyfriend; there’s a line where John basically responds that whether Sherlock is straight, or gay (which he denies) , or [a possibly implied something else], it’s “all fine”, which if you squint a bit people read as “another sexuality like asexuality is also fine”.

    – A scene where a character warns Sherlock that a case “has to do with sex”, to which he has to clarify that “sex does not alarm me”.

    – A discussion between John and Mrs. Hudson, where John asks if Sherlock has ever had any kind of girlfriend, boyfriend, or relationship, to which she replies that she doesn’t know of any.

    – A reveal that the big bad’s nickname for Sherlock is “The Virgin”

    – A character portrayed as extremely attractive notes that although she flirted “at” him, he never replies. (This was also part of the whole straight up stupid queerbaiting arc where a gay woman randomly falls for sherlock and a straight guy whines about being seen as romantic with him)

    – And off the show, there were interviews where showrunners or actors repeated that Sherlock “was not gay, not straight” (which leaves, well, ace or bi mostly, and he leans a lot more towards the former) and even occasionally straight up referred to him as “asexual”, even if not in the exact sense we mean it (and even if they totally tried to pretend they never implied it later).

    And the showrunners just keep feeding similar ambiguous tidbits like this throughout each season.

    In classic acebaiting/queerbaiting form, they never explicitly say anything, but the intent to tease as much as they can without crossing any hard non-heterosexual lines is very clear there – it’s not just something that comes from wishful thinking on the part of fans.

    • Coyote

      “So, yeah, they have something to do with each other, but I’d be careful about implying that the fan response is the cause of the stereotype”

      When I say there’s a relationship between them, I don’t mean a direct causal relationship, so… yes. I agree.

    • embodiedinlanguage

      To me the question isn’t whether people should read characters like Sherlock as ace so much as a) whether we could ever see characters who aren’t “cerebral” white men exhibiting those same traits in mainstream media, and b) if so, would they be legible as ace, or would popular interpretation skew differently?

  • embodiedinlanguage

    But yeah, the queerbaiting aspect is definitely there, and I don’t blame fans for their desires or frustrations around that. The show runners made a bit of a mess there.

  • Klaaraa

    Sherlock Holmes being a character that can be very easily read as asexual is a nearly-universal and very old Thing across all media types. Sherlock Holmes being presented as an asshole who thinks he is better than everyone, is a deliberate choice of the creators of BBC Sherlock.

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