Queer representation on screen has changed dramatically over the past decade. What started as queerness played for laughs Friends or industry-wide retaliation against homosexuality shown on Ellen has now morphed into such LGBTQ representation that it’s almost impossible to keep up. The biggest TV shows have started to include queer stories (Only murders and Euphoriato name a few), and Netflix’s mega-hit stranger things is no exception.
The season 3 finale of the series featured Robin Buckley dating his new friend Steve Harrington, opening the door for further exploration in the fourth episode. This sequel came in the form of Vickie, another band geek that Robin has a crush on. Although Vickie feels more like a Robin clone than her own character in the minimal scenes she has over the course of the season, stranger things really tries to sell the budding romance between the two. In fact, Vickie even breaks up with her boyfriend at the very end of the season, potentially opening the door for a relationship between her and Robin.
However, this relationship is not one that has been dominating conversation on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram since Vol. 2 is the July 1 premiere. Instead, “RoNance,” or the romantic couple of Robin and Nancy Wheeler, has completely taken over the internet.
With dozens of Tears for Fears song video montages and fan art galore, this pairing has over 160 million combined views on the RoNance hashtag on TikTok and thousands of posts under the hashtag on Instagram. But why is the draw for this non-canon couple, which never seems to happen, so strong, especially with Vickie in the picture? Many fans would cite screen time as a major factor, as Robin and Vickie have a total of three interactions throughout the season. Others might blame their similar characterization, instead yearning for the stubborn header dynamic that Robin and Nancy shared throughout their important teams in Season 4.
Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter if you’re Team Vickie or Team Nancy. What matters, however, is that this pattern repeats itself in many shows, in every corner of television. Spanning series like Pretty little Liars (Emily’s “girlfriends revolving door” was a stark contrast to the other Liars’ love lives) for Nancy Drew (Bess is the only main character not encounters within the Drew Crew), this stranger things The situation is actually not strange at all and is emblematic of this new era of queer representation that we find ourselves in. The conversation shifted to a new issue: the inclusion of queer characters who end up with inconsequential love interests and a lack of narrative weight, and the non-canon ships pushing in retaliation.
As mentioned, Vickie and Robin have a total of three interactions together, all of them nearly insignificant. If all the major storylines and relationships on stranger things could be laid out on a cork board and connected with red string, each main couple (Mike and Eleven, Max and Lucas, Nancy and Jonathan, etc.) would end up with multiple connections to each other and to the central plot . Vickie, on the other hand, would be on the far left of the board with a single red line connected to Robin, with no impact on the overall story. Instead of the crippling worry that a show’s only queer character will be killed off or written out, the new worry becomes the background portrayal, filling in the quantitative gaps but leaving much to be desired. While the occasional queer representation in predominantly straight shows is hugely important, the double standards make these relationships feel like an afterthought, taking on a narrative background in stark contrast to their straight counterparts.
Kind of like how stranger things isn’t the first series to give its only queer character an almost irrelevant love interest, RoNance isn’t the first non-canon ship to be more popular than the established queer relationship. From Kara and Lena on super girl to Hope and Josie on Legacy, queer audiences have long become attached to the main characters and the connections between them over the show’s actual portrayal. This is a major consequence of this secondary character dilemma; it leaves audiences yearning for a reality where same-sex relationships are treated the same as the story’s main relationships, with all the character development and screen time that comes with it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing that a show like stranger things, the world’s biggest show, brings queer representation directly into people’s living rooms, but that doesn’t absolve it of criticism of how and to what extent that representation is used. Both realities can exist at once: Robin’s story is incredibly important, but she also deserves to have her love explored on screen to the same degree as Nancy, Eleven or Max. Audiences don’t take this performance for granted, but rather demand better, as they have had to since the days of Bury Your Gays.
With many years up stranger things hits our screens for the last time, only time will tell how the buzz surrounding RoNance, as well as the lack of enthusiasm for Robin and Vickie, will play into the outcome of the series. Encouraged by the actresses themselves (Natalia Dyer told Tadum she ships RoNance and “loves[s] Nancy with a Girlfriend”), it looks like Robin and Vickie will be a tough sell for Season 5 fans. While it’s (probably) unrealistic to expect all your RoNance dreams to come true, hoping for better for Robin is well within limits. of the series, and will only serve to aid queer representation in the long run.
Anna Govert is a Chicago-based entertainment writer. For any thoughts on television, film and the wonderful madness of Riverdaleyou can follow her @annagovert.
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