For a while now, the mainstream media landscape has been seeing a rise in LGBTQ+ representation. The queer community is lucky enough (if you don’t count the countless legislations trying to, at best, erase us figuratively, and at worst, literally) to have shows and movies like Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Titane, Our Flag Means Death, Doom Patrol, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, or Yellowjackets. Media that shows queer identities across the whole spectrum, not only in labels or lack thereof but in the narrative. We’re able to see young characters live happily with their partners in feel-good shows, depressed people coming to terms with their identity, or explorations of love through body horror with a queer lens. Of course, the days of wondering if subtext might be actual text or corporations editing 15-second’s worth of queer characters out of their movies to gain a few more millions in overseas markets are not gone. But it’s mostly safe to say that we’ve reached a point where we’re able to see some meaningful representation in media.
However, I’m here to talk about a show that hasn’t yet gotten the chance to show it. A franchise in which the subtext stayed subtext, and its history with the queer community remains complicated. The franchise that depicts the lives of four teens and a talking dog solving mysteries throughout the world; Scooby-Doo. If you are unfamiliar with the cartoon and its adjacent media, you might be thinking there’s no such connection, and you would be a bit right. But there is a reason as to why I decided to write this. To fully explain the way Scooby-Doo connects with the LGBTQ+ community, we have to go way back, even before the public met the meddling kids and their dumb dog.
The main human characters from Scooby-Doo, Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy, are often seen as simple. They serve the purpose the show needs them to fill as investigators of the unknown, with gags, comedic relief, exposition, and that’s it. They work for what they do but remain one-dimensional characters. And for the most part, that is true. Especially when focusing on the classic era of the show, which, in my opinion, goes from the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? in 1969 to The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo in 1985. More than fifteen years of the characters doing more of the same; some new characters here, some mind-numbing 5-minute episodes series there, but when it comes to the characters, most of all, always the same.
Yet, some layers can be found if you dig deep enough. From its conception, Scooby-Doo is a show meant to introduce little kids to horror. It even took inspiration, if only visually, from the classic Universal monster universe, which was already riddled with queer undertones. Our protagonists hang out voluntarily and happily in gothic, degraded environments, castles forgotten by time, ghost towns, and abandoned carnivals. They encounter mystery and horror not by coincidence or obligation but by excitement, almost necessity. Hell, even Shaggy was depicted as an active mystery solver, often finding clues with the rest of the Scooby-Doo Gang, and to this day, the character finds himself terrified but ultimately unable to leave the thrill of mystery behind. There are several well-written articles that analyze why horror is almost intrinsically connected to queerness, so I won’t go into much detail with it. But it’s crucial to note how comfortable each member of the gang feels leading this life; even when scared by the monsters, real or false, sometimes risking their life, they are at home in the unknown, in the other.
Furthermore, we need to take a look into the Scooby-Doo team’s dynamics to really understand that. Shaggy is a hippie, Fred is a jock, Daphne is the popular girl, and Velma is the nerd. These are the archetypes they are assigned, widely accepted (most of the time, rightly so) to be their sole defining characteristics. But the secret is that this is not really the case. The Breakfast Club is a movie championed for subverting these same archetypes, exploring what can be found below the surface and the friendship that can be developed between each person that embodies them. But if we try, we can see that Scooby-Doo did this a decade and a half earlier. Of course, it happens in a much different, one might say more passive, way. We don’t get backstories depicting familial trauma. Instead, the depth is given by never actually explaining why these characters are friends. Always portrayed as opposing and antagonistic to each other, the Scooby-Doo franchise decides that the nerd, the jock, the hippie, and the popular girl can be friends. These never contrast, never clash against each other, accidentally and inadvertently establishing that there must be more to these characters in order to escape the tropes. Not only are they friends, but they are a found family, another big concept for the queer community. Away from kids their age and family, they travel and live on their own, inside a van, the iconic Mystery Machine.
I believe that, even unconsciously, this attracted queer audiences. Of course, it also helped that, even as early as during that aforementioned classic era, people (probably not the intended audience, if we are being honest) started to theorize about a potential romance between Daphne and Velma, as they are often seen sleeping in the same room when staying at hotels. Despite the fact that the same can be said for Fred and Shaggy, there isn’t nearly as much buzz about the two; maybe thanks to fetishization, maybe because the latter two are forced to share room with the talking dog. Whatever the case of origin, this kickstarted a headcanon that stayed strong to this day and maintained the franchise’s LGBTQ+ fandom talking for long.
This would take a more palpable form starting in the 21st Century, specifically in 2002 with the release of Scooby-Doo, the first live-action movie directed by Raja Gosnell and written by James Gunn. Or maybe, more accurately, in the pre-production of the film. It is widely known now that the movie was written in a more adult-oriented direction. One of the defining things that were deemed too adult was Velma’s sexual orientation, being a lesbian, and sharing a kiss with Daphne. Of course, this never actually came to be. The script was changed, Velma was given a different male interest for each live-action movie, and unless you count various innuendos and some mild horniness, the movie is suitable for all ages.
More important than the on-screen representation that never was, is the impact the movies still managed to leave on queer audiences and even yet unaware queer kids. They aren’t without fault, of course, with a very much transphobic scene in Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. But thanks to how attractive the main cast was considered by the public, and surely the hidden themes we talked about earlier, the movie was claimed by the community, representing a queer awakening for a lot of people. Funnily enough, this wasn’t even the first time this happened, as the same phenomenon took place with the introduction of the iconic Hex Girls, a rock band of three eco-goths who roleplay as vampire witches, three years earlier in the direct-to-video movie Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost.
I believe some credit can also be given to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s portrayal of Daphne Blake in both live-action movies. Continuing what was started with Scooby-Doo in Zombie Island in 1998, Daphne was given a more defined, less stereotypical personality. Her arc in the first movie is about demonstrating not only to the rest of the gang but to herself that she is no longer a damsel in distress, a role she was forced to fill by the writers in the early shows. In a not so subtle or nuanced but ultimately effective way, she is depicted as having learned martial arts and fighting a wrestler to the death, even establishing to him that he was then the damsel in distress. In the second movie, Monsters Unleashed, we’re given more of this, as she takes on more fights than the titular jock, Fred. This doesn’t work by itself, of course. A vital factor is that her traditional femininity is never absent or depicted as an obstacle to this new heroic figure she adopts. She is as fashionable as always and even uses these talents to solve mysteries, like the time she fakes a fingerprint with makeup tools, freeing herself and the gang from a cage, following her actions with the line ‘’I enjoy being a girl’’. This positive combination of the ways femininity and masculinity are portrayed in media results in significant representation, not only for people who get constantly harassed by misogynists thanks to their femininity but also for gender non-conforming folks who are being told, maybe for the first time, that both of these characteristics are okay.
To keep examining the queer history of Scooby-Doo, we will need to jump another six years, to April 5, 2010, with the premiere of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. Despite the general audience’s perception of the franchise, the truth is that Scooby-Doo is a deeply versatile series that, throughout its more than 50 years of existence, has changed tone, format, demography, and even genre various times. Mystery Incorporated is its most radical change yet. The show combined the episodic and serialized format, maintaining the mystery-per-episode but having one big mystery looming through its 52 episodes. It also went darker than usual, featuring several deaths and overall playing much more with the aesthetic and tone of horror, also ditching the classic gags and sound design that defined a lot of our memories of the series while also maintaining extremely funny humor with its own identity. But most of all, it gave its characters actual depth.
For the first time, the Mystery Gang is not traveling around the world. They are mostly bound to the horror-infested Crystal Cove, a town with an economy that rests appropriately on the shoulders of every tourist who wants to witness the things that go bump in the night. Our protagonists are, for the first time, explicitly depicted as outcasts, being disliked by pretty much everyone. The town hates them for ruining their attractions by unmasking the costumed criminals. Their classmates call them mystery geeks and freaks, and generally avoid them. Their parents are disappointed, angry, and confused, constantly trying to make them change their ways. Although this barely registers in the gang’s minds since they fail to realize how anyone could not be fascinated by the art of mystery-solving. This is taken to the extreme in the show, as it no longer can even be interpreted as something they just enjoy, but now it is something that they simply cannot live without.
In the first scene of the show, we find our protagonists celebrating as they are being thrown into jail for interfering with the police after solving another mystery, and we soon find out this is not the first, nor will it be the last time this happens. Not to mention, in this very same episode, they steal a body from an active crime scene because the police prohibited them from investigating. Not to protect them, not in fear of evidence being ruined, or anything like that, but to make sure the monster keeps terrorizing the town so they can get as many tourists as possible. The authorities are portrayed as meant to be ridiculed, incompetent, and untrustworthy, and the gang is, more often than not, clashing with them and breaking laws. It’s something a lot of us can not only support but, in a less cartoony way, relate to. They are gay, and they do crime.
The subtext exists not only in the execution of the gang as a whole but also in two particular characters; Fred and Velma. They are, for now, in my opinion, the epitome of everything we have talked about. Every accidental layer of queerness, every residue of attempts at representation, turns into something more palpable, almost real in this show, and is put front and center.
Velma starts out in a relationship with Shaggy, secret and tumultuous as our titular hippie fears how Scooby might react to the news. Couple that with the fact that Velma is purposefully written as controlling and toxic towards Shaggy, always pushing him to be different so as to feel more comfortable in their relationship. In one episode, she forces him to wear a new pair of pants he can barely walk in and to hit himself with a rubber band every time he mutters the word ‘’Like’’. This gets increasingly uncomfortable to watch until they split up when Shaggy breaks up with her, angering her. Not because she actually wants to be with him; in all their time together, it never seems like that is something either of them wants, but because she feels offended, confused, and is left wondering what is wrong with herself.
As the series progresses and she slowly heals, we are introduced to a new character: Marcie, or as everyone who is not Velma calls her, Hot Dog Water. She starts out as one of the monsters they unmask during the first season, finally getting arrested and disappearing for some time. When season two comes around, she is newly released from prison, and with the absence of Daphne, who was angry and trying to move on from Fred, Velma suggests she joins the group to fill the void. This not only impacts the show but the intro as well; where before was Daphne, now is Marcie, and as Daphne held a picture of Fred to her heart, now Marcie does the same with a picture of Velma Dinkley.
Eventually, Daphne takes her rightful spot in the gang. Marcie stays around, appearing from time to time to help her ̶g̶i̶r̶l̶friend in various matters. In one of the final scenes of the show, after several tragic and weird events, we find the two in Marcie’s room until something occurs to Velma that she urgently needs to tell the gang about, leaving in a hurry. Understandingly, Marcie just rests back in the bed and says ‘’That’s my girl’’.
The case of Velma is a very funny and curious one. The creator of the show stated that she was, indeed, written to be a lesbian, from forcing herself into what is expected of her to finding a girlfriend she loves. It was the early 2010s in Cartoon Network, so, of course, they weren’t allowed to actually do it. But what was ultimately subtext simply reads like text.
Fred’s case is a bit different, however, as it was never confirmed he was written as queer. His arc throughout the show involves, among many things, deconstructing the teachings of his father, Crystal Cove’s mayor. He was raised with little affection, taught to hide his feelings as to be the man he’s supposed to be. Growing up like this, the only source of escape from this emotional shield he formed around himself is his infinite passion for traps and mystery. It develops into the only way he knows how to connect to people, as he dreams about living together with the rest of the gang while solving mysteries, takes Daphne to trap exhibits, and more. Evidently, this creates a strain on the two’s relationship, as she feels constantly neglected and expects him to tell her how he feels, while he just keeps living in his own bubble.
Fred’s failure to process any kind of feelings is extensively explored, like in the fourth episode of the first season, when Daphne gets temporarily kidnapped thanks to Shaggy and Scooby’s clumsiness. Shaggy gets stuck in the trap by accident, and Daphne is dragged below the sand by the crab-man. The sudden loss sends Fred into an almost catatonic state where he keeps trying to dig the floor even when taken out of the place, but as they reunite at the end of the episode, he just acts as if nothing ever happened.
This all culminates, partly, in the seventh episode, when what happens to Fred becomes most obvious. In the introduction of this show’s version of the Hex Girls, Daphne gets captured again, apparently thanks to Fred’s own incompetence with one of his traps failing. Fred then goes into various rants about how confused he is because of all the sudden emotions he’s having, wondering ‘’Why can’t he just be cold and heartless like other guys. Why must he feel’’ as he kneels to the floor, only calming down when Scooby sings him a song about how special he is. All of this could be seen, of course, as an attempt at depicting him coming to terms with his own toxic masculinity, like a more in-depth and nuanced (not subtle, though) version of what was already done with the character in Monsters Unleashed. The context changes, however, as the episode goes on, and with more interactions in the future.
Turns out Daphne was in the same place at all times, hanging from the ceiling, gagged. This is when she hears Fred wishing he didn’t care about her, just before she frees herself, and Fred notices how his trap had been sabotaged, proving his talents to still be immaculate. With that, however, he comes to the realization that if all the feelings he has are not because of his love of traps, then it’s all because of Daphne. Once she frees herself, she confronts him, and leaves Fred to stroll aimlessly around the city. As he reminisces about their time together, he finally admits it; ‘’I’m tired of being afraid. I have feelings, world, for traps and Daphne! I’m a guy no more’’, repeating it again in Daphne’s face once he finds her. If this wasn’t obvious enough, just in the next episode, while Velma and Daph talk about their respective romantic problems, he interrupts them to say ‘’You guys having a lady talk? Oh, don’t leave me out!’’.
Fred’s arc doesn’t end there, naturally. There are a lot more layers to all the issues he has that persist all the way to the end of the show. But it’s clear, at least to me and several other people, that Fred finds himself outside of the gender binary in Mystery Incorporated.
Mystery Incorporated, despite all its efforts, also marked the last significant attempt at representation in the series to this day, at least that we have seen yet. So, where does that leave us? A franchise riddled with subtext, even if unintentionally, from its very own conception, and creators who were able to see that and tried to make it a reality. If it was successful or not will depend on each person’s criteria. There’s a certain truth that I doubt anyone will argue against, and it’s that even the big swings something like Mystery Incorporated took, it is not canon. It’s safe. There’s something to be admired about representation that is meant to be understood by the people it is trying to represent, which I believe is the case here, but the representation is optional. It is not only never explicitly stated that these characters are queer, but if a cishet person watched this, as oblivious as they are, there’s a chance they wouldn’t pick any of this up. Even if you love what is there, as I do, it’s hard to avoid feeling like it’s disingenuous, not enough, as the efforts of the creatives clash against the interests and bigoted beliefs of studio executives.
But not all endings are sad. In spite of the gripes one can rightfully have with the franchise and its LGBTQ+ representation, it’s safe to say that the accidental and purposeful subtext that led to people seeing themselves in it has been fruitful. Announced on February 10th of 2021, and later showing its first look on May 18th, 2022, an HBO Max Original called Velma was ordered, intended to tell the story of the character of the same name before the Mystery Gang formed. The series, meant for adults, teases Velma and other characters exploring their sexuality, seemingly confirming that, at the very least, our lovable nerd will be officially portrayed as the queer and lesbian icon she has become. How this will turn out is too early to say, and it is a shame that the younger demographic will miss this, considering how much kids need to see themselves in the media they love. But it’s a gigantic achievement, as the franchise officially steps into the place it feels like it should’ve always been in.