Not Just an OTP: The Importance of Seeing Subtext

Nathan from Misfits, not quite understanding that sometimes there isn’t a hidden meaning.

Sometimes, There’s a Hidden Meaning

This example from Misfits is a way to explain our next topic, which is going to be Subtext. It comes from the Latin subtextere, a verb meaning “to weave under” or “to work below.” It quite literally translates to “what is underneath the text,” and is defined as content that isn’t explicitly announced by the characters or the author, but what is implicit or what becomes understood by the audience as it goes on. Essentially, it is what lies beneath the scenes at hand, which will become more and more prominent until the writers acknowledge it. Because of this, it is often used to justify shipping – fans can use interactions between characters as proof that they’ve always had these feelings. So, they ship because there’s evidence of these feelings always having been there.

The crucial element of this is that the subtext pays off – the characters have to enter into a relationship with one another, proving that the subtext was purposeful. If it’s not, the subtext doesn’t actually exist. It’s Ship Tease, or it’s an accident that happened because of the chemistry of the actors or the script (again, I’m not discussing chemistry – it’s subjective).

This is usually the birth of the Crack Pairing, or the crack ship. The crack ship doesn’t actually make sense within canon, mostly because there’s no evidence for it, the two characters (or more) don’t interact within canon, or it doesn’t make logical sense. (Shippers often times don’t make logical sense. We are mostly all right with this.) The reason that the crack ship sometimes comes from subtext is because everyone interprets things differently, and so we often come to different conclusions about what two characters are doing and what it means for their relationship. The writers never explicitly deny it, so who’s to say it doesn’t exist?

Captain Cold, giving birth to my crackship

Take me, for example. I have one crack ship, and it’s Coldwestallen – Captain Cold, Iris West, and Barry Allen. It was born in the ninth episode of the second season of The Flash, when Captain Cold broke into Joe West’s home to warn Barry that the Weather Wizard and the Trickster were after him (and to remind us, the audience, that he was about to be on Legends of Tomorrow). During this time, he drank hot chocolate, had his usual banter/threat/sexual tension with Barry, and complimented Iris on her article about the disappearing middle class. This is where my crack ship set sail. I like to imagine that Leonard reads Iris’ articles all the time, usually while drinking hot beverages out of stolen mugs in front of a fire. I like to think that he emails Barry with his thoughts and ideas for improvement as well as an outline for a profile on himself that he wants Iris to write, and Barry takes them because he knows Iris appreciates the thought but does not want the love of his life anywhere near a criminal like Cold. I like to think Leonard doesn’t read the Central City Citizen out of respect for Iris, who works at Central City Picture News, and Iris always makes sure to report the truth about Leonard out of respect for the fact that he once saved Barry. After Savitar was defeated and Barry delivered the invitations, I like to think that Barry and Iris had already written out an invitation for him even before he helped them out, and had already ensured that he wasn’t sat at the singles table as he requested. My crack ship is entertaining to me, at least.

It also doesn’t exist.

I can read between the lines despite the writers not telling me this isn’t happening. But the fact that I can construct this entire situation from Leonard Snart having no boundaries while enjoying hot chocolate and breaking and entering tells you how easy it is to (willfully or not) misinterpret subtext or make up entire scenarios out of what isn’t supposed to be subtext. If I’m being honest, I don’t really see the problem with having a crack ship in and of itself. It’s funny and can be entertaining to think of different scenarios where my crack ship can have their moment to shine (I’m aware that Leonard is technically dead, and yet I fully held out hope that he would get to dance with Iris at the wedding after he’d given them both something expensive, contraband, and stolen as a gift). But, like I said, because there’s no confirmation of the three entering into a romantic relationship, there is no romantically defined Subtext to be found. It’s not even Ship Tease unless you’re reaching.

What people can do with Subtext is use it to justify things that they genuinely wish were happening onscreen by interpreting it differently, and here’s where our first big difference between Olicity and Snowbarry pops up. Because we’ll see that while thus far they’ve had similarities in shippers casting the rival as the mean girl who didn’t deserve the hero, and both wanted to usurp the canon love interest from her position, the way they use and understand subtext is very different.

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