The homoerotics and monstrous otherness of Teen Wolf.

Author:Johnson, Michael, Jr.
 
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In the telenarrative series Teen Wolf (2011-) male characters negotiate hegemonic and counter-hegemonic masculinity and in turn sexual identity. Scott McCall, played by Tyler Posey, is a "normal" teenaged boy who is bitten by a werewolf and who subsequently must adapt to the changes that his new identity requires; he simultaneously learns about a plethora of supernatural threats that endanger his friend, family and community. The 6 season, 80 episode MTV series is punctuated with a number of frequently shirtless, muscular young men whose relationships are often complicated by an undercurrent of (and in at least two cases, explicit) homoeroticism. Scott's close friend Stiles Stilinski (Dylan O'Brien), werewolf Alpha Derek Hale (Tyler Hoechlin), High School jock and werewolf Jackson Whittemore (Colton Haynes), twin brothers and werewolf pack members openly gay Ethan and heterosexual Aiden (Max & Charlie Carver) and openly gay Danny Mahealani (Keahu Kahuanui) are all involved in a wide variety of highly emotional (and occasionally sexual) relationships complemented with intricate displays of affection and loyalty, love and lust, anger and aggression. This article maps and interrogates the homoerotically dynamic and changing male relationships between these characters amidst the larger conceptual background of monstrosity that renders same sex desire visible in ways that invite both heterosexual (and possibly sexual minority)audiences and viewers into illusory, utopic constructions of sexual diversity and egalitarianism divorced from the reality of contemporary America's "tolerance trap". Suzanna Danuta Walters defines the concept of the "tolerance trap" in her book of the same name as our collective willingness to "... settle for a watered-down goal of tolerance and acceptance rather than a robust claim to comprehensive civil rights" (Walters).

Teen Wolf is a science fiction/horror teen drama appearing on the MTV network which is loosely related to the 1985 Teen Wolf him. The television series revolves around the life of Scott McCall (played by Tyler Posey), a white, heterosexual, middle class high school sophomore who resides in Beacon Hills --itself a primarily white, heterosexual community in a utopic middle America. The series premiered on June 5, 2012 and has consistently been renewed by MTV for over 5 seasons and for a total of 80, 40 minute episodes. As recently as June 5th, 2016 the showrunner Jeff Davis confirmed that the series would be renewed for another season, its sixth, with continued potential for renewal. In terms of plot the series revolves around McCall and a close coterie of friends who must struggle with an increasingly diverse array of supernatural phenomena subsequent to Scott's being bitten and infected with lycanthropy. Scott's best friend Styles Stilinski (human) played by Dylan O'Brien along with Derek Hale (Werewolf) played by Tyler Hoechlin, lacrosse antagonist Jackson Whittemore (human) played by Colton Haynes and Liam Dunbar (werewolf) played by Dylan Sprayberry are instrumental to his ability to cope with the ensuing changes in his life; they also help him in his defense against innumerable supernatural obstacles the discovery of which coincide with Scott's developing lycanthropy. For the purposes of this article, my attention will be directed to the hegemonic male homophilous relationships on the series, though other scholars have, and will undoubtedly, examine equally compelling homoerotic female relationships. Although the circumstances and events over the course of 5 seasons complexify their relationships, at the beginning of their introduction, these are the primary, presumably heterosexual male characters of the series many of whom continue to appear repeatedly over the past 5 seasons. Posey appears from S01-S06; O'Brien from S01-S06; Hoechlin appears from S01-S04; Whittemore from S01-S02.

In terms of critical reception, the series has earned a number of awards over the course of its 5 season stretch (Fig. 1), indicating a sustained interest in the lives and characters who appear on Teen Wolf with its target demographic, who overwhelmingly are comprised of teens and young adults between the ages of 12-34 (Ng). Indeed, at its premier the series was first in its time slot among teens in this age bracket and, according to Jeff Davis, the series significant online viewership was a contributing factor to the network's decision to renew Teen Wolf for its sixth season (Gorman). Over the past five years, the series has consistently maintained a weighted average of approximately 1.61 million viewers per season. This is especially significant for the age demographic when one considers that people aged 24 and under watch "roughly two fewer hours of live TV ... per week. And 25 to 34 year olds (roughly speaking, millennials) watch an hour less per week, down from 27 and a half hours to 26 and a half hours." About "50 percent of Americans now have subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu in their homes" (Koblin) which is up from 42 percent in 2015. Young adults familiar with technology generally use streaming devices like, tablets, laptops and phones to watch their media content. Consequently, their consumption numbers are systematically underestimated since Nielsen metrics rarely account for these non-TV devices. However, Gorman notes that "Tablets are now in 58 percent of American homes ... and time spent consuming media on tablets has increased 63 percent from 2014" (Gorman). Thus this demographic of viewer is an untapped share of the consumer base for series like Teen Wolf actively promoted on streaming networks like MTV and Netflix.

In terms of the composition of the cast, only a few individuals explicitly identify as a sexual minority. Danny Mahealani, played by Keahu Kahuanui is a Hawaiian, openly gay student and a human at Scott's high school. He is also a fellow lacrosse team player; Ethan (werewolf), played by Charlie Carver, is a white, openly gay lacrosse team player and member of Scott's pack who briefly dates Danny in Season 3; Mason Hewitt (human) played by Khylin Rhambo is an openly gay African American student at Scott's school and ultimately becomes enmeshed in a supernatural predicament of his own (more 011 this later) and briefly dates Lucas (chimera) played by Eddie Ramos; Brett Talbot (werewolf) played by Cody Saintgnue is a bisexual lacrosse team player for Devenford Prep, an opposing school, but quickly becomes involved with many of Scott's friends and pack members; And finally, Corey (a chimera, the result of an experiment by the Dread Doctors that produces a werewolf type creature with none of the supernatural vulnerabilities or characteristics other werewolves possess) played by Michael Johnston, is a student at Scott's high school and very recently returned from the dead with a renewed love interest in Mason Hewitt. What's most striking about this composition of characters is that they are overwhelmingly white, middle to upper class and almost without exception, openly gay or bisexual. Beacon Hills is a community that hosts its own mixed gay club Sinema, where under-aged teens can go to dance and mingle, and many of these characters are or have at one point been involved in same sex relationships.

These factors set the series far above many other telenarratives on contemporary American television, even within the sci-fi/horror genres where sexual nonconformity is more frequently introduced. Significantly, Scott McCall has had only two girlfriends over the course of the series and Jeff Davis has indicated that he will be single for the final season of the series stating "Does Scott always need to have romance in his life to be a compelling character?" He also indicated, "We thought this might be a season where we don't see that side ... this season sees Scott as a single guy trying to graduate and be there for his friends" (Highfill) which might also betray a strategic capitulation to the heavy and persistent online interest in the "bromance" (Becker) between Scott and his best friend Stiles. Ultimately the setting and characters created by Davis and his production team are a reflection of an idealized queer Utopia in Middle American Beacon Hills; the setting functions as a glaring contrast to the reality of the LGBTQ community in the real world of America 2016. We can infer much about this counter-hegemonic positioning with a more detailed analysis of the characters and their lives on Teen Wolf in the following pages where I hope to elaborate on precisely what kinds of messages are being communicated, to whom and for what purposes. Subsequent to this introduction is a discussion about my methodology and a brief description of the theory of narrativity upon which dramatic scripted series like Teen Wolf are premised. In addition to an in depth textual analysis of the characters previously mentioned, I critically interrogate how the ubiquitous genre conventions of 'monstrosity" functions within the narrative to communicate discrete messages about sexual hegemony and nonconformity.

Methodology

The author watched all 5 seasons and 80 episodes, constituting approximately 53 hours over the course of 30 days at roughly 2 episodes per day (occasionally varying rates depending upon schedule). These episodes were initially watched in 1080p resolution by streaming delivery through Amazon Prime. These episodes were subsequently downloaded and electronically stored for later retrieval for review. The author then...

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