Monstrous melodrama: Expanding the scope of melodramatic identification to interpret negative fan responses to Supernatural
This article examines fan responses to an episode of the CW television series Supernatural; the episode features a metatext including a number of shout-outs and jokes about fandom. The most controversial of the shout-outs related to "Wincest," a form of slash featuring an incestuous sexual relationship between the two lead characters. Ien Ang's notion of melodramatic identification is revamped for use in relation to contemporary television reception and specifically to interpret negative fan responses to this episode. I argue that the theory of melodramatic identification can be employed not only to understand soap opera viewers but also viewers of many other kinds of television, particularly cult TV with its frequent reliance on serialized melodramatic narratives. I further argue that not only is Supernatural a melodramatic text, but also that text must be viewed as extending beyond the narrative world proper to the multiple narratives or texts comprised by the industrial and cultural context of the show. These together constitute a multilayered melodrama with which the fan identifies and to which she can also contribute through extratextual fan activities. That is, participation in slash and Wincest communities can be viewed as expression of melodramatic identification. This accounts for the strong negative responses of some fans who perceive that the show's producers are exposing and/or mocking them.
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