Voltron Legendary Defender has been causing stirs in fandom circles since it first premiered back in 2016. It’s no surprise that the show garnered a huge LGBT+ following. Voltron was established by the same creator as Avatar: Legend of Korra, a pioneering show in the realm of children’s LGBT+ representation. When the creators announced one of the main characters would be canonically gay at San Diego Comic Con, the fandom was overwhelmingly excited to see this representation.
Season 7 aired August 10th. Since then, the reception has been shaky. How should a dedicated fan base feel when the representation they were promised is both not canon and characterized by problematic tropes?
Season 7 Spoilers Ahead
Season 7 welcomes Adam, a character introduced by the creators as Shiro’s boyfriend back on earth. However, the show doesn’t convey this information. While Adam and Shiro are shown to care about each other, only two scenes showcase their relationship at all. The first is a fight where Adam tells Shiro to give up his space explorations for his own safety. The other shows Shiro crying and apologizing to Adam after his death. Neither of these scenes explicitly showcases or states that there’s anything romantic between them.
The representation provided here is Word of God. Nothing in canon brings the viewer to the conclusion that Shiro and Adam were lovers. The fan base is expected to accept their queerness as law because the creators stated it in an interview. The biggest problem with this sort of “representation” is that it denies access. Many viewers of the show will never see the interview, so they’ll never recognize Shiro as being gay. It also gives the creators an easy way out. They can be championed for pioneering diversity, while simultaneously appeasing homophobic audiences by claiming there’s no “explicitly queer content” in their shows. By doing no work, they manage to “win” both groups.
But in a world with shows Steven Universe and even the creator’s own Legend of Korra to stand in comparison, this Word of God representation really isn’t representation at all. What is representation that can be so easily paraded as something else? It’s clear that the showrunners wanted the publicity having a queer character would garner without actually having to put in the work—or take the risk—of making that character’s sexuality canon.
This is further exemplified by fresh waves of content used to support the show’s two most popular fanon ships—Sheith (Shiro and Keith) and Klance (Keith and Lance). While early episodes of the show barely hinted at the potential for these ships, the most recent season offers hordes of content for the fanbase to eat up in support of these ships while simultaneously pushing heterosexual pairings.
There’s no doubt the creators were aware that they could capitalize off their queer fanbase, which makes it hard to believe they were unaware that they were employing the Bury Your Gays trope, in which gay characters are never allowed happy endings and are portrayed as “too good for this Earth” so often die to save straight characters.
The show kills Adam in a way that provides zero character development—or even plot relevance—for him, but leaves the audience weeping for Shiro who’s obviously sad to have lost someone he cared about, and who’s only comfort is that Adam died so that the rest of humanity could keep fighting. While this provides straight viewers a heart-wrenching moment to talk about for ages, it reminds queer viewers that the show’s “representation” cared to earn their views and money, but never had their best interests at heart. It’s the “bury your gays” at its finest – and I mean “finest” in it’s most sarcastic form.
If these were one-time occurrences, they would be forgivable offenses. However, It’s hard to believe show creators who’ve worked so hard to provide representation for other groups before were completely unaware of the harm they were causing this time around. Queerbaiting and homophobic tropes have been everywhere in fiction for decades. That’s exactly what makes them so harmful.
However, in 2018, when shows like One Day At A Time, Steven Universe, Shadowhunters, and others have already worked to provide living, canon representation to the queer community to undermine this harm, it’s curious what the Voltron creators really thought they had to gain. Did they think the harm would go unnoticed? Were they so confident in their platform that they believed they could use the queer community to gain views regardless of the quality of representation? Where’s the line, and when will creators start acknowledging the validity of their queer fans and the representation they deserve?