Queering iCarly: An Academic Approach

 

 

Introduction

 

Happy iCarly theme week from all of us at Her Campus Geneseo! Let’s cut right to the chase. In case you’re wondering, I have no plan to “legitimize” my headline, insofar that I will try to convince you that I’m going to be making an informed, tediously researched “point.” No siree. This article was born solely because I was kinda jazzed to be able to write the words “Queering* iCarly” in any form of approach, idiotic as it may be. 

 

... and yes, admittedly, even at risk of sounding like Vice News, I genuinely believe that there is room to “queer” iCarly (how do I know that a screencap of just these first words is going to go around), the 2007 Nickelodeon sitcom about a trio of friends and their colorful adventures while filming an ultra-popular webshow, because there is technically room to queer anything. As iCarly is a piece of media set within Western culture, it is not exempt from the norms of that culture which, as I hope you’ll notice, are sometimes approached and/or omitted interestingly within the context of the character’s arcs, development, and personalities. So let me queer the show where the words “random dancing” were about the closest they got to peak humor, damn it. We have lesbian erasure and fatphobia to talk about, and academic writing is the way to address it—unreadable sentences, random access jargon, copious commas and all (goodbye, sweet Oxford comma).

 

This will be a two-part series, publishing this week only. Welcome to: Queering iCarly’s Approach to Sexuality.

 

 

*For all of us not up-to-speed on feminist theory, the act of “queering” entails applying theories of gender and sexuality to a topic, essentially evaluating that topic using queer theory. Queer theory itself questions essentialist beliefs about gender and sexuality; are masculine and feminine traits actually natural, or are they produced by the society that defines them (queer theory says yes)?

 

Queering: iCarly’s Approach to Sexuality
(Or, where are the queers in the iCarly universe?)

 

Episodes six and seven of iCarly, season four, introduce viewers to the world of iCarly’s fanbase via the fictionalized “Webicon,” a convention that the trio of webstars have agreed to panel at. A league of unattractive, awkward and otherwise nerdy fans greet them. These fans represent a “foreign” force in the trio’s universe, this being the first fan interaction of its kind for them. 

 

 

Their discomfort with the situation escalates as a full-out “shipping war” commences, with the room divided on who they believe Freddie should be romantically involved with. Notably, there are only two of these “camps”: people who believe Freddie and Carly should date (“Creddie” fans), and people who believe that Freddie and Sam should date (“Seddie” fans). Many audience members even wear shirts emblazoned with their preferred pairings’ name, and most carry signs emblazoned with their ship’s faces, remicient of real fan culture at conventions. For all of its outlandishness, most episodes of iCarly still involve plausible elements, albeit stretched out to the point of absurdity. 

 

It requires a fair suspension of belief for me to think that in that room, there wouldn’t be a single “Cam” shipper—that is, Sam and Carly, the main components of the iCarly show. While Freddie often turns the camera on himself over the course of the webshows to add his commentary—occasionally being berated for it by Sam, which could admittedly fuel the Seddie arguments—Sam and Carly make up the bulk of their webshow’s content. It is these very personal interactions that typically encourage fans to envision two characters together; it is chemistry that fuels these imaginary relationships, and while the three share it in different capacities in front of the camera, Sam and Carly inarguably most frequently share this “chemistry” on screen. Shouldn’t this in turn be accompanied by a larger display of queer fans? We frequently witness this happen with real-life youtubers, the closest equivalent we can draw to iCarly (see: Dan and Phil, the vast collection of Youtube blogger ship fics found on AO3). Why wouldn’t the same be of iCarly’s universe, if the show goes as far as to emulate other aspects of real fan culture? More pressingly, why does queerness exist as a possibility too extraordinary even for the show where the three curated a fanbase of thousands based on “random dancing”?

 

The strict binaries of “Seddie” and “Creddie” are worth examining under a queer lens as well. The matter is incredibly cut and dry for the fans in “iStart a Fanwar” with no nuance offered. Not only is the lack of Cam noticeable, but the lack of multiple possible categories—why can’t all three be together? Are there no fans that don’t want any of them to date one another? Nobody who is interested in the possibility of Gibby and Freddie hooking up?—challenges the notion strangeness that the show sets itself upon. In a universe where anything can happen, from prisoners sneaking into a sculpture of pants in order to escape, to chicken wings being dangled from the ceiling at random, heterosexuality still reigns supreme despite themes of queer identity running rampantly in the background (we’ll get there).

 

It is worth noting that “iStart a Fanwar” is Nickelodeon's response to real-life fan’s shipping wars, where “Cam” shippers absolutely existed. Hundreds of fanfics to this end existed on the likes of fanfiction.net as far back as the show’s original airing year. There is also an incredibly well-documented list of potential “Cam” moments listed on the iCarly Wiki, updated from the date of the show’s airing to its end. While the size of this fanbase is arguably smaller than those within the Creddie and Seddie camps, it would be erroneous to assume that they were small enough to be looked over.

 

Only one other mention of non-heterosexuality is mentioned in iCarly’s five year run-time, in the form of an open-ended joke. Episode five of season three, “iHave My Principals,” briefly inserts this conversation between Carly and side-character Shawn where they discuss how to remove their new school principals:

 

Carly: "Any ideas how to get rid of Howard and Briggs [the new principals]?"

 

Shawn raises his hand.

 

Carly: "Shawn?"

 

Shawn: "If I find a way to get rid of Briggs and Howard ... would you consider being my girlfriend?"

 

Carly: "If you figure out a way to smooth out the whole Middle East, I won't be your girlfriend."

 

Carly: "Does anyone else have an idea?"

 

Shawn raises his hand again.

 

Shawn: "Will you be my girlfriend for just one hour to prove to my mother that"

 

Carly: "No, Shawn!"

 

This joke is two-pronged, leaving open the possibility that the reason Shawn’s mother thinks he could not attract a girl might be because of his sexuality. Whatever the intention of the joke is, the incongruence between the presence of Cam shippers online and the only mention of LGBTQ+ identity possibly being a joke is striking. 

 

Return to the theme of “foreignness” briefly mentioned before. Many of iCarly’s plot points revolve around the trio being put into “foreign” situations as a result of their status as teen superstars. They get invited to a space program. They’re beset—and twice, captured—by determined fans. Carly faces all sort of strange treatment from men as a result of her stardom, some of it bordering on sexual harassment (particularly in the case of the Neville episodes). iCarly is an experience valued by all three, but it is also the catalyst that lands them in hot water episode after episode.

 

Which begs the question: if they could explore space, why not sexuality? If the show was based around three approaching these foreign situations, would sexuality have not fit in naturally even within the background of an episode? Often, LGBTQ+ people find power in their identity and dissonance in the way that the world reacts to said identity. Similar to how the iCarly trio must eke out a balance between being regular teenagers and being treated as gods by a revenant fanbase, LGBTQ+ folk often seek a balance between pride and closeting, where their status is instead a source of shame. 

 

In this sense, inherently, iCarly details a queer experience—visibility and invisibility—through its approach to sexuality. Sam and Carly’s potential for a relationship is beyond well-founded, yet it is mysteriously absent from the shipping lineup in-universe. The trio struggle with their identities in front of and off of the camera, with their schooling frequently being interrupted by iCarly related intrusions (see “iCarly Saves TV”). The line between enjoyment and frustration is a focal point of many episodes, much in line with real-life queer identity. 

 

If this seems like a stretch, I wouldn’t blame you. Often when children’s media is examined under such a serious lens, we are pressured to shake our heads and say “well, it’s not that serious, it’s just for kids.” But we have to at least admit that there was a noticeable queer fanbase for the show that took much away from the characters of Sam and Carly, especially the relationship that they shared together—as platonic as it might have been played. Far be it from me to imply that the internet is overflowing with Cam artworks and fanfictions to this day, but modern ones (i.e. written in 2017 and beyond) are fairly easy to come across on Tumblr, AO3, and yes, still fanfiction.net. There’s also a plethora of casual mentions about the show regarding the two girls’ sexualities from queer fans in the form of short Twitter quips and Tumblr textposts. Obviously, this relationship left an impact on many queer people; girls in particular. 

 

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Anyway, Sam Puckett was definitely bisexual.   

Keep your eyes peeled for the next “Queering iCarly” piece!