The British TV import Merlin has gained quite the following, and somehow, I don’t think the dragons are to blame.
In an insidious game of will they/they never will, girls glue themselves to their televisions, or more likely, their laptops and iPhones, playing romance detectives on the case of a young King Arthur (a classically blond dreamboat) and his wizardly squire, equally young Merlin (wide eyed and sexually nonthreatening). Viewers decode the duo’s banter, rewind key interactions, squeal at any meaningful physical contact, search for deep seeded meaning within the actors’ eyes, and edit and cut music videos set to poppy love songs.
But in an age where gay couples are actually depicted on network television, why is there much more obsession with context than the actual canon of a show?
Over on the CW’s Supernatural a similar wave of homo-enthusiasts are embracing the show, about two ruggedly pretty twentysomething boys who travel America hunting ghosts and monsters, riding in the same car, sharing motel rooms etc. Sam and Dean hug, cry and are usually seen shirtless, sometimes in front of each other, at least once per season. Of course, they are also brothers. Not that this stopped any online fervor. So apparent was the coupling of the brothers that the show actually addressed it, in multiple episodes, bringing in a female character, a cruel, spastic parody of the supposed Supernatural fangirl, who sat in her room plugging away at fan-written erotica. Ballsy, since Supernatural is probably the first show to address “slash fiction” on air. Of course, the show’s balls could only go as far as reading aloud, “Dean softly caressed Sam’s clavicle…” before Sam looked horrified and discarded his fan’s story.
Merlin seems similarly aware of the underlying raison d'etre that at least a portion, if not the majority, of it's fans have for watching. So much so that’s its been speculated that the actors and writers are not only aware, but purposefully play into this notion, knowing of course, that nothing will ever come of it. The fans, naturally, know this as well. But they like the tease, and they like even better what small glances and a tender pat on the shoulder can ignite within their imagination.
Chaste gay love. Is that the new name of the game?
In the age of Twilight, Taylor Swift and the tween promise ringed Jonas Brothers, purity has never been such a hot commodity since the days of Samuel Richardson. Perhaps a backlash on our pornographically–filled advertising media, do young females respond more feverishly to less-is-more as an internal way to combat this? Or is this a just a way for them explore sexuality in a safer environment? Merlin may be a way not only for female viewers to become more emotionally comfortable with homosexual couples but to explore their own sexual curiosity about them in a way they would never be able to do if they were presented under a “gay” context. And how else could they do it? The gay sections of book and DVD stores are typically icky and strange: tacky, greased muscles and rainbow-thonged intimidation. Nothing that resembles the blue-eyed beaus in their heads, who blush to even touch hands.
Soap operas have figured out this model sells like hot boycakes, even German soaps, so why are none of these actually gay couples or characters on network television as young, sexy or filled with subtle, wide-eyed glances as Arthur and Merlin or Sam and Dean Winchester? Why hasn’t the LGBT community taken it upon themselves to market the gays in such a female-appealing manor? While Mitch and Cam may be a forward-thinking and hilarious couple on Modern Family, they’re no fifteen to twenty-five-year-old girl’s fantasy of star-crossed love. Do we have too much "self-respect" to Swiftify our entertainment or are we just a little slow on the uptake? Five minutes on YouTube will prove there’s a market in the US/UK for gay media (Japan already discovered this a LONG time ago), so why hasn’t any been created on purpose?
Merlin returns for its second season on SyFy tonight at 10/9C.
-- ALEX WILBURN
Previously > HBO Gears Up for A Forbidden Romance