Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
I’ve been thinking
lately for a few years about the way various fandoms castigate and canonize different kinds of relationships. Now, me, I very rarely go in for romance stories. I find them generally infuriating, reductionist, and unnecessary. But there are those few that hit me like a truck and I sit around trying to figure out where they went right for me and where all the others go wrong.
Back up a bit: I was a Tumblr addict from 2011 to 2014. I quit cold turkey. I’m glad I did. In all seriousness, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the Tumblr Agents of SHIELD fandom’s treatment of Leo Fitz which is mostly a topic for another day, but it comes into play here. What I find so fascinating is that the same group of people who angrily reject the notion of “the friendzone” are also furious to the point of character assassination when two characters who are friends realize that they have strong feelings for each other. It’s fascinating to me that there is even such a hard delineation in our culture between feelings of friendship and feelings of romantic love. That’s not how feelings work.
I’ve always been a shipper. No shame in it. Every time I find a new ship I say “nothing could ever hurt me as much as these two do.” And then the next two waltz into my life. It was Mulder/Scully once. It’s been Ron/Hermione forever. Buffy/Spike have their place in my heart. Kara/Lee destroyed me for actual months in what I can only describe as the worst breakup of my life. I swear it off after every decimation. Never will I ever get sucked into some fictional relationship again. After every emotional murder it gets that much harder to slip past all my locks, laser grids, and insurmountable walls. FitzSimmons slid in there like ninjas. The thing with those two is that I love them so specifically that I can’t really discuss it with other people because other people are wrong.
So, back to Tumblr: there is a lot of projection onto Fitz. The bits of fandom I was privy to projected every gross, cliched, overdone trope of unrequited dudebro pining in existence onto his head. There was much opining about how here was yet another example of hetero platonic friends falling in love. Le sigh, why can’t they ever just be friends? Okay, well, 1.) this ignores Jemma Simmons entirely (and if you think they weren’t in love for years you are wrong; ship manifesto likely forthcoming), but 2.) who has ever fallen in love with someone who is not their friend? And had it turn out even halfway well? Men and women can be friends. “Just” friends, though why friendship is somehow “lesser” I’ll never quite understand. But there’s also nothing quite as satisfying as a romantic arc that starts from a realistic place of friendship, commonality, and shared interests. Every ship I’ve ever captained has history. They have mutual respect. Even if the two meet for the first time during the story, the history builds over the narrative to a point where romance makes sense, rather than just suddenly having kisses. (Example from Agent Carter: Sousa and Peggy have history; Jason Wilkes and Peggy have sudden kisses.) I agree that a male friend realizing he’s in love with his female friend and then spending years pining after her waiting for her to “notice” and believing he’s entitled to her love because he “put in the work” is disgusting. The prime example I can think of is Ross and Rachel on Friends (a show I despise) though the trope is annoyingly common. But that’s not what was happening here, so I can only conclude that a large swath of people needed Fitz out of the way to further whatever agendas they champion.
This is also why the dudebro notion of “the friendzone” and “getting friendzoned” is so hysterical to me. Hello, idiot: if a girl would like to be your friend that means she would like to know you as a human being because (gasp) she is one as well! If you rail about being “friendzoned” that means you saw her as nothing but an object of sexual and emotional gratification and aren’t worth the time anyway. Romance only works if it’s between two human beings on an equal footing. Don’t come at me with romantic or sexual intention, bro. That shit hangs around you like a ten-thousand mile wide funk. It’s off-putting. It immediately declares to me that you don’t care to know me, you just want to use me.
It’s true that it’s fairly rare to see men and women in platonic friendships on television, but it’s also true that it’s rare to see any truly platonic friendships on television. Supernatural fandom is of the opinion that all relationships are sexual. All of them. It’s a fault of our culture that we’ve been conditioned to believe the only relationships with value are sexual ones. Granted, I watch a thin slice of genre TV, but off the top of my head some platonic male/female friendships: Joan and Sherlock on Elementary (the best example because it’s deliberate), Doggett and Scully on The X-Files, Mal and Zoe on Firefly—male/female friendships are more common than you think. It’s just that it seems they’re rarely noted both because there aren’t that many well-rounded female characters and they’re friendships with men are (zomg?!) commonplace. To be honest, female friendships are probably the rarer bird here.
Anyway, I was just thinking how weird it is to me that there was such griping about FitzSimmons being cliche when they are (or at least were until this season) a trope-busting bulldozer. And Fitz never “pines” after Simmons, give me a break. Even once he realizes how he feels about her, he never forces himself on her, doesn’t believe he is entitled to her, and never demands that she reciprocate his feelings. Simmons is another thing entirely, but I’m also projecting in her case, so I’ll save that for another day.