From Fan History Wiki
Subtext is a term used to refer to something that happens in canon that fans believe hints at a sexual relationship or interest of some sort. This is actually more of the fans' opinion or interpretation than true canon, and is most generally applied to same-sex relationships. This term is used in many fandoms today including but certainly not limited to Star Trek, Hercules, Smallville (see "HoYay") and Merlin. Widespread usage of the term in fandom can at least be tracked back to Xena: Warrior Princess fandom in the 1990s, where many fans believed the writers, producers and actors were purposefully playing up on hints of a Xena/Gabrielle relationship, and by the end of the series the relationship was almost acknowledged as canon, but never completely.
What constitutes subtext is very vague, especially as it is often looked for to support slash relationships between characters who, in canon, appear to be strictly heterosexual in orientation. Subtext may refer to touching and looks exchanged between characters that appear sexual instead of simply friendly (or even, in some cases, adversarial.) Subtext can refer to situations, often played for comedic value in the source, that put the characters in what appears to be a sexual situation: sharing a bed, a bathtub, having to pretend to be the opposite sex... Subtext can also refer to a character's actions or words which seem above and beyond what might be expected in a strictly platonic situation.
Because subtext is so much up to one viewer's interpretation, there can be many kerfluffles over whether subtext is really there between two characters or not. Slash-fen are often accused of looking for and seeing subtext where it isn't really there, yet there have definitely been times when TV and film executives have been well aware of the appeal subtext can have, and have played along with the idea.
Subtext is also a code word for the belief that TV executives have hidden gay content in straight shows.
- "Subtext" is generally defined as a subtle, underlying theme. Subtext is not something that is stated outright, but is identified by hints and clues.
- This term comes from literary analysis circles, where it refers to any element of plot, especially related to character psychology, that is not explicitly stated but rather implied. In fandom terms, it generally refers to anything you see in the show that seems to imply sexual attraction between two characters -- almost, but not always, used for two characters of the same sex. This term first arrived on the fandom scene in relation to Xena and Gabrielle on "Xena, Warrior Princess" when fans of the show began to see what they considered subtle hints that Xena and Gabrielle were "more than friends." (For example, many consider the hot-tub scene in the episode "A Day in the Life" to be one of the classic subtext moments between Xena and Gabrielle.) A scene, line of dialogue, or episode may be said to be "subtexty."
- The opposite of subtext is maintext. By definition, any romantic/sexual relationship between characters that takes place onscreen is maintext.
- (1) Term used to refer to something that happens in canon that fans believe hints at a sexual relationship of some sort. This is actually more of the fans' opinion than true canon. This term is used in the Xena and Hercules fandoms. (2) Code word for the belief that TV executives have hidden gay content in straight shows.
There are many examples of subtext in various canon sources.
- Shanghai Noon - in this film, the most notable moment of subtext is the bathtub scene. Chon Wang and Roy O'Bannon initially begin playing a "Chinese drinking game" while bathing in separate tubs at a whorehouse. When a prostitute comes in to see what is taking them so long, she finds both men now sharing the same bathtub and looking guilty at being intruded upon.