Not Just an OTP: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Snowbarrisco?

Cisco Ramon, adorable badass.

Remember Cisco? Lovable dork, genius engineer, surprise Casanova? While not my favourite character, he’s certainly a highlight for the series because of his charm, wit, and one-liners. He’s also used as a prop for Snowbarrisco fans.

Oh, I’m sure that they enjoy him and care about him. He’s funny, after all, and really very sweet, as well as a genius and a pretty cool superhero when he gets the chance to shine. But like the Black Best Friend is used as a pillow for the white girl to cry into, Cisco fills role of “brown guy cheering on the white people to kiss.” No, that’s not a trope, though I’m open to suggestions if we actually want to name it. It’s different to the BBF because that person usually only belongs to the guy or the girl in the movie or TV show – as in they only know one of them. But more importantly, the role that Cisco has is one that’s been pushed onto him by fandom, rather than one that’s been written into his character. Cisco doesn’t actually want Barry and Caitlin to kiss and get married – he’s following the narrative of the show and so I assume he just wants his friends to be happy and for people to stop trying to kill them. But fans tend to reduce Cisco to a tiny brown cheerleader, infantilising him for their ship and exposing their racism in the process.

There’s the posts you can see about Cisco wanting Barry and Caitlin to get together, which seem pretty harmless but indicate a weird trend in fandom when it comes to men of colour and the purpose they serve to the team of white people around them. They’re precious cinnamon rolls and puppies and whatever other bizarre term fandom has co-pted to make you think this character is a child. They’re “adopted” by white non-canon ships and then watch in the corner, worried and silent, while their “parents” argue or fight or otherwise ignore the latent feelings that they’re obviously hiding. Or, if I’m going to use fandom terminology properly, “my smol son, so worried about his parents!”

The fact that fans cry about Snowbarrisco and then use it primarily to lament the fact that Barry and Caitlin aren’t alone in the same room anymore isn’t the actual problem here. The problem is that they reduce Cisco to a sexless brown robot always worrying about the two white people who won’t just kiss already. If you look at the language that many use to describe him, it’s always in ways that make him sound like a child. Where they describe Caitlin as beautiful and talk about how attractive Barry is, Cisco is adorable and precious. They’re always talking about how he needs to be “protected.” They do everything in their power to make sure that Cisco isn’t seen as a grown man. Why? Because then that means he’s always tethered to Caitlin and Barry as a thing that they need to look after – and a thing that keeps them together – rather than a character who can stand on his own. And it’s to make sure he isn’t a character worthy of being shipped with Caitlin. But we’ll get there.

All of this goes beyond just headcanon. It’s racist because it’s patronising and dehumanising, stripping Cisco of his agency within the narrative and turning him into an object with a purpose linked to other people rather than an agent. Cisco is an equal partner in their relationship, but so often he’s reduced to the pet that’s keeping Barry and Caitlin together. Not to mention one of the people they point to when they’re accused of being racist. Their characterisation of Cisco has been more pet than person until very recently, which we’ll get to, but the fact that they’re once again subscribing to one of fandom’s old racist adages doesn’t give me much hope for the sincerity of “Snowbarrisco.”

Then there’s Cisco as a character. As in, a well-rounded one with developed relationships that make him more of a person than a character. Fans tend to say that they are about Cisco on his own and want him to be developed, but I’ll be honest, I find it extremely hard to believe them. Like I said, they usually use Snowbarrisco as a way to say that Barry and Caitlin aren’t alone together anymore, and since we just covered what their ideal dynamic is, I doubt they mean they want the relationship between Cisco and Barry to deepen. But the thing is, there’s never any clamour for Cisco to form deeper bonds with any of the other characters on the show. There’s some noise about him making friends with Winn and Felicity, but that’s just because they want a bunch of nerds in the same room because, as we’ve already covered, many of these fans are just elitists.

When Caitlin was kidnapped and he started interacting with Iris more, they complained that Cisco belonged to Caitlin and that Iris was “stealing” him. There was no desire for him to train Wally, a fellow engineer, or work more closely with Joe. In fact, even though there’s a lot of noise about developing his powers, there’s very little attention given to Cisco outside of the dynamic he has with Barry and Caitlin. Nobody asks about his job as a consultant. Nobody asks whether he talks to Cynthia when she’s away. Nobody asks what it’s like for his family now that Dante is dead. But as soon the show put Iris near the same level as Barry, not to mention all the screentime that Ralph has been getting, fans started talking about his development.

Why? Well, because if Cisco strays too far out of Snowbarrisco, then it becomes harder to just paint him as a Snowbarry cheerleader. The show will have less and less reason to go back to the original dynamic if Cisco has a complete life outside the two of them. Cisco is the one who legitimises OTF/Snowbarrisco and hides what it really is: a way for them to demand more of Barry and Caitlin together.

Further, we could look at the way that fandom reacted to Cisco when he displayed negative emotions towards Barry. In addition to activating the metahuman gene within Caitlin, Flashpoint also resulted in the death of Cisco’s brother – after Barry originally refused to go back in time to undo it. When he found out about it, he was understandably devastated and his friendship with Barry was under a huge amount of strain. You’d expect people to be understanding of Cisco, who’d lost his brother. Right?

Of course they weren’t understanding. They tore Cisco apart for being mad at Barry and for not being fun anymore. Because apparently, that was all Cisco was good for before he was allowed to have emotions. It was only after Cisco forgave Barry (after his own colossal time-related screw-up) and stopped mentioning the death of his brother completely that fandom forgave him. Because for a lot of characters, Cisco serves a function as a character rather than being a well-rounded one – the funny mechanic who builds things for Barry, unconditionally supports Caitlin, and bickers endearingly with Harry.

Or we could look at Cisco as a romantic partner. We just talked about how they like to desexualise Cisco so he can be the Snowbarry cheerleader, but there’s another way they do it too. The post I looked at talked about willful misinterpretation of relationships, and while I’ll be coming back to it later to talk about why there are fans that see Barry and Iris as incest, it happens here too. You see, willful misinterpretation of relationships is when fans see something they don’t like and rush to characterise it as something else. It’s a rather flimsy way to hide the fact that whatever they could potentially see onscreen with regard to a romantic relationship (it is always a romantic relationship) is making them uncomfortable, so they rush to define it as something else so they can commence calling it disgusting. Which is why, as soon as everyone started to see how close Cisco and Caitlin were, and how much they cared about each other, they started calling them brother and sister.

(It has become rapidly clear to me, while writing and researching this series, that some fans may not actually understand the parameters of familial relationships).

Now, I don’t think they’re wrong – I think Cisco and Caitlin have a platonic relationship that you could see as brother and sister. They have a lot of Ship Tease moments, more than Caitlin and Barry, though not as pronounced, but ultimately, I think the three of them ultimately feel like siblings, with Caitlin as the older sister and Barry and Cisco as the two idiotic younger brothers. (N. B. I do not actually think these three are related. I recognise that they came from different parents, do not share DNA, and when questioned, will not accept the label of siblings.) But Snowbarry fans weren’t calling Cisco Caitlin’s little brother because they saw the sibling dynamic between them – they were doing it because if they started going on about how the two of them were brother and sister, they could shout down anyone who got any bright ideas about shipping them together. And it’s because Cisco is a Latino man.

No, not because they hate Latinos – because they want Cisco to be out of the way as a romantic partner for Caitlin, so she’s free to go after Barry. Because, you see, Cisco is not good enough for Caitlin. Oh, he’s good enough to be her friend, and her caretaker, and the person most concerned with her wellbeing, but he – Latino supporting character who isn’t the white male lead – isn’t good enough to love her. Cisco loving Caitlin won’t get romantic speeches and personalised songs and a love that spans timelines, lifetimes, and death. Cisco loving Caitlin doesn’t mean she’s the most important woman to the narrative and therefore the show. Cisco loving Caitlin doesn’t mean that Caitlin is the hero’s biggest inspiration and the person he continually places above himself. Because only the white male lead is good enough for Caitlin. It’s why they play up the fact that he’s nerdy, that he makes jokes, that he’s a “precious meta puppy” that needs to be protected (I… really hate fandom sometimes) – so they can make Cisco as child-like as possible so you don’t go around shipping him with Caitlin.

Caitlin had Cisco, H.R., and Julian, but fans still photoshopped Barry into the scene.

In fact, Cisco’s labour is barely good enough for Caitlin. The fact that he’s the one who helped save her the first time she got kidnapped is glossed over, and their many, many, many ship tease moments are ignored. When Caitlin saw Jay be murdered in front of her, Cisco is the one who comforted her, but fans are still complaining that they didn’t get to see Barry do it. When Caitlin first started freaking out about becoming Killer Frost, Cisco is the one she confided in. This, of course, is ignored. When she decided that she didn’t want her powers and Cisco built her cuffs to keep them suppressed, and then Julian made her a necklace because she didn’t want to charge them, there was outrage because, apparently, her friends had abandoned her. Julian and Cisco continually offered her support throughout season 3 with regard to becoming Killer Frost, but fans will swear that Caitlin felt alone. When she turned into Killer Frost “forever,” she was surrounded by Cisco, Julian, and H.R., but fans were upset that Barry wasn’t there – so upset that they photo-shopped him into the scene. Because without Barry, she was “alone.” In the finale of season 3, both Julian and Cisco offer her a home with them and beg for her to stay, yet according to them she felt that she couldn’t confide in her friends. Because what they actually mean is that Barry didn’t beg her to stay. In the mid-season finale of season 4, Caitlin gets no less than four pep talks – one of them from a villain – in order to make her feel better because Killer Frost is more popular than she is. What do you think fans were upset about?

Because the only person who’s good enough for Caitlin is the handsome white guy – and not just any handsome white guy, but the leading handsome white guy (sorry, Julian). Sure, he can be a villain – Savifrost! – but only as long as he’s still Barry (sorry, Hunter). And yes, Caitlin should be with a hero – but only if that hero is Barry (sorry, Ronnie). Cisco’s good enough to support Caitlin, but he can’t be her hero, because Caitlin’s hero has to be the hero. Because Caitlin is a white woman and therefore deserves everything. And despite the fact that Cisco Ramon has never in his life abandoned Caitlin Snow, he might as well be invisible because he’s not Barry Allen.

Now, that doesn’t mean they don’t ship Cisco with anyone. Perish the thought. And nothing will ever reveal how fans who constantly talk about Snowbarrisco really feel about Cisco as a romantic partner more than when they talk about Cynthia. Cynthia is Cisco’s girlfriend as of season 4, and the vast majority of Snowbarry fans have rushed to ship them together. Why? Well, because they’re cool together. Cisco brings out a softer side in the hard-as-nails Cynthia, and she adores him for who he is. Their scenes are sweet and entertaining, and are a welcome change from Cisco either flirting shamelessly with every attractive woman, or unlucky in love because his girlfriends keep leaving the city. But most of all, because Cynthia is a Latina woman who keeps Cisco firmly away from Caitlin.

Remember that hierarchy I was talking about? Cisco and Caitlin together means that Caitlin isn’t the most important woman on the show, but Cisco and Cynthia together cements them as a safe PoC couple that they can root for while wanting Caitlin to get with Barry. Cisco being with Cynthia upsets no hierarchies and makes no waves; their relationship takes nothing from the white characters. The actress who plays Cynthia is a recurring during season 4, so she won’t steal focus from Caitlin. Were she to become a regular and get more focus, you can bet that the same fans sighing about how wonderful they are would start finding things to complain about. Cisco still supports Caitlin all the time while being the person that keeps Barry and Caitlin together. Moreover, they didn’t care about Cisco’s romantic life before Cynthia. They didn’t care about him getting development as a romantic partner or having someone the narrative presents as desirable want him instead of the other way around. But as soon as Cynthia turned up, they shoved her at Cisco and started crowing about how much they loved them together, smugly declaring that of course they’re not racist, they like these two brown people together! Forgetting, of course, that wanting those two brown people together to keep one of them away from the white woman is still racist.

“Snowbarrisco” is a nice idea in theory, and I truly believe that there are fans out there who like their dynamic and want to see more of it onscreen. It’s just that with the way they talk about the Black characters, the way they treat Cisco, and the way they want everyone who’s Black and brown to be subservient to everyone white, I have a really hard time believing there aren’t racial undertones. They dehumanise and infantilise Cisco, only talk about his relationships when it’s really only a benefit to Caitlin, and want the Black people to have a specific time allocated to Barry before he goes back to his scientist family.

In fact, fans are so upset, so enraged, so desperately angry at Iris’ position in the narrative that they even started a hashtag to diminish the Black characters and shift focus to “Original Team Flash.”

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