Recently, it was announced that Velma – of Mystery Inc. Scooby Doo fame – is canonically lesbian. This came as a surprise to no one who has ever pondered the matter; the reaction could best be described as a subtle mélange between “well, obviously” and “finally”. While the canonical works have, up until now, been somewhat ambiguous on this point, the general opinion among those vaguely familiar with the series has for the longest time been that, yes, she is very much lesbian, no two ways about it. The general intellect has firmly assimilated this fact, even if it is not reflected in the source material.
This is an interesting state of things. Fictional characters only exist as far as they appear in the text – be it on a page, on screen or some other media. They have no objective existence outside of the text, they are pure representation; when the movie ends, that is it. What lingers is the memory of having experienced these representations, and a series of logical inferences that can be drawn from these same memories. Fictional characters in themselves are not this or that; they are fiction, made up, we can change them at will by writing them differently. And yet, these phantoms of representation can have inescapable features that impose themselves whenever someone mentions a character’s name. Velma is a fictional character, she is not real; she is also, unequivocally, lesbian. The fiction has a material solidity to it.
This interesting state of things has been the source of much confusion over the years. Not least in terms of dead authors, which began as a dry technical observation on the craft of literary criticism, and then took on a life of its own. We should not understand the death of the author to be a radical separation between work and writer; rather, we should understand it in terms of the author not always being the best conversationalist about the works in question. Authors, unlike fictional characters, are actual persons with an actual body and an actual capacity to produce words about the things they wrote. More importantly, authors can only be in one place at a time, unlike fictional characters who can be many places all at once. More importantly, fictional characters can be the center of many conversations at a time, while authors can, at best, juggle three or four, given a sufficiently stuffed dinner table. Physical authors are a conversational bottleneck, and fictional characters thrive in conversations. The more of these conversations there are, the better. It is only natural for conversations to outpace their inciting incident.
There have been a great many discussions about Velma, the fictional character. These discussions have mostly trended in the same direction, with more or less explicit sapphic overtones. As the years went by and these discussions faded into the ambient background noise of popular culture, the obviousness of Velma’s orientation became more and more entrenched. It is no longer a point of contention, a matter o debate, a question to raise; it is settled, part of the strange materiality of fiction. It could not be otherwise.
I contend that Scooby Doo has become archontic. A feature of becoming archontic is that the original source material – the movies and series about Scooby Doo, in this case – are placed in a context where they have equal status with other works. Or, indeed, with years’ worth of accumulated conversations. If you were to watch an old episode of the series, it would be filtered through a contemporary understanding of what it entails. The present imposes itself.
A slightly less sapphic example of archontic texts are modded video games, where players have become so used to playing the modded versions that the original is a possible mode among many. Any given play session could go with one of the mods, or with the unaltered game; it could go either way, both are valid options. But the unmodded version will forever be reinterpreted in light of there being different ways to go about playing; the conversation will have these altered states in mind, and proceed accordingly. There is no turning back, there is no primacy of the original. There are only further conversations.
The original creators of Scooby Doo may or may not have intended for Velma to be an unequivocal sapphic icon. Intent is immaterial, however. Years and years of people talking about Velma as a lesbian has cemented this version of fictional fact as actual truth, and so it became an unavoidable matter of course. To paraphrase the archons of Starcraft: the lesbian presence of Velma is a power overwhelming. Making it canonical is not only natural; it is the path of least resistance, given the materiality of fiction.