Hey all! This is the first in a group of general nostalgia blogs I wrote a while ago, knowing I wouldn’t have a chance to read much after the baby is born. I take on Boy Meets World and their portrayal of Cory and Shawn in what is truly TV’s first gay high school relationship ever. I apologize for any formatting issues, I was having a bitch of a time getting it right and frankly, I’m short on time to work on it any more.
This blog post is somewhat appropriate given that I’m currently on my second (and last) maternity leave of my life. During my first maternity leave, the show Boy Meets World was on FOUR times a day. Yes, four – twice on ABC Family and twice on Disney.
Now, I’m a little older than many of you, so when BMW first aired (1993) it was off my radar. Though I’d managed to watch a small handful of episodes during its first run, it never really stuck with me. Fast forward to 2006 and I was on maternity leave and…uh….not handling the whole first time parent thing very well. I was an emotional wreck, and probably suffering an undiagnosed case of PPD. Like I said, BMW was on four times a day, and they happened to coincide with my newborn son’s nursing demands. So I started watching it and was surprised how funny I found it. Not only funny, but for whatever reason, I found the show intensely comforting during a time when my emotions were in absolute turmoil.
Here I am, on another leave, and BMW is no longer on four times a day. It’s on twice, but not at times that are convenient for me. So I’ve been watching some episodes on You Tube whenever I get a free twenty two minutes. And I still find it both funny and comforting.
Most of you know the story behind the show. It focuses on a boy (natch) named Cory Matthews and his family, (handsome but dim-witted brother Eric, awesome-sauce parents Amy and Alan, and a younger sarcastic changeling of a sister, Morgan) friends, (best bud and bad boyish Shawn, girlfriend Topanga, and later in the series Shawn’s half brother Jack, Shawn’s on-again off-again girlfriend Angela, and the tall leggy Rachel, who becomes Eric and Jack’s roommate) and of course, Mr. Feeny. The first three or four seasons focused more on the Matthews family. Then it kind of switched to being about the group of friends.
The show ranged from touching Full House-esque ‘very special episodes’ (generally involving Shawn’s messed up family situation) to goofball humor which would even include fantasy sequences, to slapstick, to this weird self-aware thing it had going on at times. Given what it was and when it was released, and if you can get over the appalling lack of continuity (which, in watching them now, I find kind of part of its charm), the show has surprising depth of character and sly humor. And it was one of those shows that may have been mediocre or worse if not for the fantastic casting and obvious cast chemistry (see also: Friends and The Big Bang Theory.)
But, here’s the thing about having watched the show as an adult only rather than having watched it as a kid. As a grownup, it’s so easy to see that, while the story lines set out this great love story between Cory and Topanga (which was made up in the third season, completely ignoring what had actually happened in seasons one and two, hence the aforementioned continuity issues) it’s actually about Cory and Shawn being completely 100% unbelievably homosexually in love with each other. I swear, the writers knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote the show. The gay subtext can barely be called subtext, if you get what I’m sayin’. And I have to wonder if they didn’t want the series to end with Cory waking up in bed next to Shawn, saying something like “I just had the craziest dream! You and I were best friends, but I was married to Topanga!” And Shawn being like, “Oh baby, that’s weird,” as he leans in for a good morning kiss.
Sound strange? Think I need to back this up with a little proof? Oh, I can do that. I can do that in motherfucking SPADES, guys. I started my own list, and asked my good internet friend, oncethrown for help. Oncethrown is the author of the extremely well-written Cory and Shawn fanfic universe, It Happens Every Day, Sequel to It Happens Every Day, and One Candle in the Water . So many, many thanks to her with this list. And because she comes from viewing the show from “a painfully academic point of view,” I’m gonna go ahead and use a version of her outline.
1. Episodes that basically spell out the relationship between Shawn and Cory, though without ever using the word gay. Oncethrown gives two examples, I make a shaky argument for a third.
- “An Affair to Forget,” Season Four. In this hilarious episode, Shawn is dating Jennifer, who feels threatened by his relationship with Cory and forbids Shawn from seeing Cory again. The joke is that because Jennifer can offer a physical relationship to Shawn, but Cory can’t, he initially goes along with this. But they start seeing each other secretly, and the romantic illicitness of their relationship is played up. At one point while they’re on the phone (using code names no less,) Shawn goes silent and when Cory asks if he’s there, Shawn says, “I’m just listening to the sound of your voice.” The audience is in on the joke and they “Wooooo!” as loudly as they did whenever Zack and Kelly kissed. When they’re set to meet clandestinely at the library, Shawn brings Cory a Cinnabun, with the letter C in icing. Jennifer comes along and eats the cinnabun. When Cory asks if it was his, Shawn gets all blushy and stares at the ground, “Yeah,” he says in a soft voice. What makes this obviously about more of a romantic relationship than a platonic one, is that Cory says, “He dumped me. He dumped me good.”
- “It’s Not You, It’s Me.” Season Five. This is the Grandddaddy of all slashy BMW episodes. In this one, Shawn finds out that Cory has applied to several colleges which are out of Shawn’s league, meaning Cory will be reneging on his promise to Shawn as children to never leave him to go to college. A fight ensues, and they break up. And again, the phrase “dumped,” or “broken up,” is used by everyone in this episode. Not only is the whole story line of this episode a big gay storyline, but each individual scene is made up of other smaller gay jokes. There are too many too make an exhaustive list. But some examples:
- Cory and Shawn each find rebound guys to befriend and make the other jealous. Cory starts hanging out with Lionel and taunts Shawn when he and Lionel share grapes (“I’m eating another boy’s grapes,” might as well be about sucking another boy’s cock.) Shawn finds a whole cadre of good looking guys to hang around with. The jealousy plan totally works.
- Morgan fully believes Cory and Shawn are boyfriends and even calls them that, and lectures Cory about how he treats Lionel, lest Lionel, “dump him too.”
- This beautiful exchange after Cory tells Alan he’s going to go eat ice cream, watch Lifetime and cry.
Alan (to Amy): Is everything all right between him and Topanga?
Amy: Great! Never better.
Alan: When they kiss, he enjoys it, right?
- Later, Topnaga kisses Cory and asks if he enjoyed it.
- Shawn leaves a box of Cory’s stuff outside of the apartment. Then pulls Lionel aside and gives him “hints,” on being friends with Cory.
- They have their own “things,” that just belong to the two of them. Eating at Pinks or having cake at the mall in Paramus.
- Topnaga forces them into, for lack of a better word, couples therapy with Mr. Feeny. Then when they make up and are hugging, she says “Stop it. You’re boys.”
- “If You Can’t Be With the One You Love,” Season Five. This is the episode that not everyone might consider all that slashy. You do have to read into the subtext a little bit here. In this episode, Cory and Topanga are broken up and Cory is distraught enough that he gets drunk before a party. Shawn joins him in drinking and they end up peeing on a cop car. (The second half of the episode is considerably less gay, and focuses more on Shawn’s alcoholic family). But the first half?
- When Cory and Shawn are drunk, they get into quite the “I love you, man” conversation. Only it’s a little bit gayer than Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in Superbad. OK, a lot gayer. They admit that they’d take a bullet for each other and they end in a big hug. When the cop comes for them, they’re still arm in arm.
- Alan’s reaction suggests there’s more to his displeasure with Shawn than a mere drunken escapade. Alan is convinced Shawn’s to blame for Cory getting drunk, and Shawn’s more than happy to let Alan think that. He says, in this incredibly cool and taunting voice, “Cory wanted to feel good. I showed him how.” (I’ll bet you did, Shawnie) And THAT’S when Alan has his freakout. His solution to his sixteen year old son getting drunk? Trying to put the kibosh on Cory and Shawn’s nearly lifelong friendship by insisting they spend some time apart. Now, Amy and Alan had been portrayed as very nice, very reasonable parents up to this point. And while a sixteen year old who gets drunk is, of course, going to be grounded, let’s keep a little perspective. Most sixteen year olds are going to be curious about drinking and many will try it. It was totally out of character for Alan to get so insane about this very normal childhood rite of passage unless he thought there was something under the surface. He barely even cared that Cory pissed on a cop car, which is actually probably the biggest deal here. And he didn’t even take into account Cory’s feelings about being on the outs with Topanga or that this is the first time Cory had ever been caught with liquor. He naturally fell to the idea that Cory and Shawn’s relationship had somehow turned…I don’t know…sinister?
- Am I reading too much into this if I point out the very title of the episode? What’s the next line of that song? “Love the one you’re with.” Cory can’t be with Topanga, the one he supposedly loves, then he’ll be with Shawn, the one he’s with.
2. Random overtly gay moments played up for laughs:
- Cory has plans to take Shawn to Vermont to see the leaves change. At the time, Vermont was the only state to recognize same-sex unions.
- Angela jokes one time that Shawn called out Cory’s name during sex.
- Shawn has a pet piglet for a while, whom he names “Little Cory.”
- During the prank war, Topanga often refers (in a taunting way) to Shawn as Cory’s LOVAH!
- This line said by Cory to Shawn: “If I was your father, I’d give you a spanking. Because that’s what you deserve, a spanking! Now, take down your pants.” Then he proceeds to feed Shawn a burger from his hand.
- The entire wedding episode. Poor Topanga, it’s her wedding day and she’s barely on screen at all as the whole episode revolves around how Cory getting married is going to change his relationship with Shawn.
- Cory films Shawn naked in the shower, then when Shawn is walking around with just a towel around his waist, he repeatedly asks him to drop the towel.
- During “Chick Like Me,” Shawn is all prepared with his girl name, and had obviously thought of it before. And it’s Veronica – such a sultry name for a sixteen year old boy.
- Shawn tells Cory at one point he believes Cory likes being spanked.
- When Topanga accuses Shawn of not having the ability to commit to a relationship (during the Purse Girl episode) Shawn disagrees, saying “I’ve been with Cory for fifteen years!” Then Cory says something about what a good fifteen years it’s been and they get all hand-holdy until Topanga pulls their hands apart.
3.Gay weirdness throughout the series
- Cory and Shawn are generally placed much closer physically than two straight teenagers would be. They sit hip-to-hip on the couch/bed. They’re often standing shoulder-to-shoulder. And they are very physically affectionate, often hugging or have their arms wrapped around each others’ shoulders.
- They call each other pet names like “babe” and “darling.”
4. It’s a gay gay gay gay gay gay world on Boy Meets World, and that’s OK with everyone involved.
- No one cares that the gym teacher is transsexual.
- Shawn, Cory, Eric and Jack all do drag at some point or another and that’s considered a positive trait.
- The entire Pennbrooke College football team is gay (and their outing by Eric is comedy gold, I tells ya.)
- Frankie Stechino’s character is constantly worried that people will think he’s gay because he’s a sensitive poet, traits given to Shawn later in the series. When Cory and Shawn befriend him, it takes on a feeling of the couple mentoring the lonely gay kid.
- Cory asks Eric about his first time. Eric says, “Remember Mitchell Davis?” Instead of freaking out, Cory’s response is “Huh. Didn’t see that coming. How about your second time?”
- Topanga tells Shawn before her wedding that she knows he loves Cory more than she does. She seems quite OK with this, and even asks Shawn to move to NY with them at the end of the series.
- When Cory is convinced Topanga is leaving him for Shawn, he finds a kindred spirit in Isaac, who has also having relationship troubles. Cory rips off his shirt and yells “Topanga!” followed by Isaac ripping off his own shirt and yelling “Fred!”
- The man who cut Topanga’s hair admits to Cory on seeing her walk in, “I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit I wept. I cried like a little baby cries!”
5. These guys put the romance in bromance.
- Cory and Shawn stand arm in arm at the altar while Cory’s getting married. If that’s not non-subtle subtext for gay marriage, I don’t know what is.
- In “She’s Having my Baby-Back Ribs,” Cory believes Topanga is pregnant, and calls Shawn to talk about it. They talk about it in Cory and Topanga’s bed, under the covers, while eating breakfast. Cory and Topanga had a perfectly good couch and dining room table, but Shawn got in bed, under the covers with Cory to talk this over. In college, eating breakfast with someone you don’t live with is a great big “HOOKUP” hint. Not to mention those two looked so comfortable and quaintly domesticated being in bed together like that.
- During Chick Like Me, Cory is clearly interested in Veronica Wasboyski (But, I mean, have you seen her? I would be too!) and walks ‘her’ to class and carries ‘her’ books. Then Cory defends Veronica while on a date with a piggish oaf.
- Shawn has to choose between his friendship with Cory and working for big bucks for the mob. In choosing Cory, he says “Two roads diverge in a wood….and I choose the one that leads back to your house.” In the same episode, Shawn tries to give Cory hypothermia by rubbing his own frozen hands on Cory’s face…”If I go, you go!” In the same episode, when a frozen Shawn comes in, Cory says “Sit darling. I’ll make you some hot chocolate.” (and it will not be the last time Cory bakes for Shawn.) (Not to mention, in yet another parenthetical aside that Cory could occasionally turn into an old Jewish comedian or an overbearing Jewish mother at the strangest times.)
You know, I’m sure there are others. I haven’t even seen the entire series and this is what I got for you. And yes, I know Eric and Jack have quite a few moments of their own. What do you say guys? Cory and Shawn : Gay or nay? Let me know any examples I’ve left out. And feel free to disagree with me at your will. I think I’ve made my case.