Love! Valor! Supernatural!

Catherine Tosenberger

University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

[0.1] Abstract—Editorial for Transformative Works and Cultures, No. 4, special issue, "Saving People, Hunting Things."

[0.2] Keywords—Fan studies; TWC

Tosenberger, Catherine. 2010. "Love! Valor! Supernatural!" [editorial]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 4. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2010.0212.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The choice of the CW series Supernatural (2005–) for Transformative Works and Cultures' first fandom-specific issue could not be more timely. Over the past five seasons, the series has grown from a struggling show on a tiny network to a solid cult hit. The show's mixture of horror movie tropes, American folk beliefs, popular religious imagery, and an unusually intense sibling relationship attracted legions of fans eager to explore the world of the brothers Winchester. In September 2009, Entertainment Weekly listed the series as number 11 on its list of the "25 Greatest Cult TV Shows Ever" (http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20302134_20304619_15,00.html), sharing space with powerhouses like Doctor Who (1969–1989, 1996, 2005–), The X-Files (1993–2002), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003). Notably, despite the presence of so many shows with large, famous fandoms, Supernatural was the only show whose inclusion on the list was predicated not on the content of the series itself, but by the creative productions of its fandom. EW remarked on the intense devotion of the fans and singled out the fan fictional genre of Wincest as proof of the series' status as one of the "greatest cult shows." Normally, mention of a specific, and potentially controversial, subgenre of fan fiction in a mainstream media outlet would be cause for much chatter, discussion, and possible alarm among fans, but in this case, EW's snickering about Wincest raised few eyebrows. First, they had already done it, back in April (http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20270843,00.html). Second, and more importantly, Supernatural had already drawn attention to its fandom, and its fic, within the show itself.

[1.2] In seasons 4 and 5, riding a wave of increased ratings and visibility, Supernatural started depicting, within the diegesis of the show, the activities of its fandom. Episode 4.18 "The Monster at the End of this Book" presented reclusive drunk Chuck Shurley, an unwitting prophet of the Lord whose works will eventually become known as the "Winchester gospel." He has written a series of novels that accurately record Sam and Dean's entire lives; this series, also titled Supernatural, has acquired a devoted fan base that critiques, analyzes, and responds to it in much the same way fans of the television show do—up to and including the writing of Wincest. Episode 5.01 "Sympathy for the Devil" introduced Becky Rosen, the Wincest-writing fangirl who is first seen at her computer, in the process of writing an especially turgid Wincest fic. In 5.09 "The Real Ghostbusters," Becky and Chuck returned in the context of a Supernatural fan convention.

[1.3] "Monster" sent a shock wave through the fan community: not only did it acknowledge the show's fandom and poke fun at the level of devotion and emotional investment in the series, but it also outed those fans who write Sam/Dean slash. Many of the essays in this issue, in both the Praxis and Symposium sections, address the mixed responses of the fandom to this episode, and to its follow-up, 5.01 "Sympathy for the Devil." Laura E. Felschow, in "'Hey, check it out, there's actually fans': (Dis)empowerment and (Mis)representation of Cult Fandom in Supernatural," argues that the fandom episodes are Kripke and company's attempt to assert interpretive control over the series:

[1.4] The cult fan is reminded that s/he cannot decide what is to be included and excluded, who can be complimented or insulted. Fandom may feel a certain way in response to the episode, but they cannot change it. They can post about their anger or their delight, but they cannot create an official episode of their own wherein the cult fan is depicted in a manner of their choosing.

[1.5] The third fandom episode thus far, 5.09 "The Real Ghostbusters," aired too late for essay writers to include it in their discussions, but I can address it here. In some ways, this episode is by far the most maddening of the three. Not only does it depict fandom (in far more detail than some fans are comfortable with), but it also reiterates the show's ongoing problems with representations of women. Becky has lured Sam and Dean to a Supernatural convention at which Chuck is the guest of honor. The convention is filled with die-hard fans, many of whom are in costume, and features a live-action role-playing game. The hotel in which the convention is being held turns out to be haunted, and two of the role-players, Demian and Barnes, step up to help Sam and Dean defeat the evil ghosts. Chuck offers some minor help as well, which causes Becky to transfer her crush on Sam to Chuck himself, to the delight of both men. Demian and Barnes deliver a sweet articulation of the joys of fandom and reveal themselves to be a couple; Sam and Dean ride off to continue their quest, presumably wiser in the ways of those freaky fans.

[1.6] As several essays in this issue address, Supernatural often exhibits misogynistic overtones, which were especially egregious in "Ghostbusters." Many fans found it telling that in the episode where fans get to be heroes, it is only the male fans who do so—in utter defiance of the fact that the majority of fans who attend Supernatural conventions are women. Becky, the Wincest-writing fangirl, is still presented as deviant and excessive—and, unlike the male fans, Becky is never allowed to be heroic. She is rewarded not with humanization and valorization of her fannishness, but instead with Chuck's sexual attentions. Her access to heroism is confined to sex with a heroic man. The message of "Ghostbusters" appears to be: fanboys, keep on keeping on—you are dorky but lovable. Female fans, you are creepy, but you might be willing to fuck us real writers, so you aren't totally unacceptable. Or, as fan Gianduja Kiss put it, "So, now we know what kind of fans Kripke wishes he had" (LiveJournal blog post, November 13, 2009). It appears that to the Supernatural producers, the only good fan is a male fan, specifically one who avoids those fannish paths usually gendered female—there be Wincest.

[1.7] The fandom episodes are, by design, overtly metatextual and self-referential; while Becky is a parody of Supernatural fans, Chuck, who writes under the pen name Carver Edlund (a portmanteau of writers Jeremy Carver and Ben Edlund), pokes fun at the writers themselves. Given this, Becky's "reward" of sex with Chuck starts to look like a masturbatory fantasy about the fandom as a horde of horny, available women who just love the work of the male creator and the mostly male writing team. Gianduja Kiss' vid "Blister in the Sun," set to Violent Femmes' ode to onanism, is a scathing commentary on the wankiness (in the masturbatory sense) of the show, as well as a sly nod to the wank (in the fannish kerfuffle sense) that the "fandom" episodes generated.

Find more videos like this on BAM Vid Vault

Vid 1. Gianduja Kiss, "Blister in the Sun" (2009).

2. Praxis

[2.1] Because every article in this issue is concerned with the specific text and fandom of Supernatural, all of the academic essays falls under Praxis. The essays in this section analyze both the series and fannish responses to the series; a common theme is how both the show and the fan productions respond to a variety of popular discourses concerning gender, religion, folklore, and transformative work, among others. Lisa Schmidt, in "Monstrous Melodrama: Expanding the Scope of Melodramatic Identification to Interpret Negative Fan Responses to Supernatural," discusses the fandom episodes and the reactions they spawned through the lens of Ien Ang's theory of melodramatic identification. Melissa N. Bruce also draws on the discursive genre of melodrama to articulate the role Dean's beloved Chevy Impala plays in the series, in "The Impala as Negotiator of Melodrama and Masculinity in Supernatural." Monica Flegel and Jenny Roth, as well as Berit Åström, turn their attention to understudied genres of fan fiction. Flegel and Roth, in "Annihilating Love and Heterosexuality Without Women: Romance, Generic Difference, and Queer Politics in Supernatural Fan Fiction," discuss darker Wincest fic, which became more prevalent as the series took a turn for the apocalyptic in seasons 4 and 5, in relation to real person slash (RPS) about Supernatural actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, which often follows the generic tropes of heteronormative romantic comedy. (Warning: this essay contains Chad Michael Murray.) Further exploration of heteronormative tropes can be found in Åström's "'Let's get those Winchesters pregnant': Male Pregnancy in Supernatural Fan Fiction," which discusses the understudied subgenre of mpreg. Male pregnancy narratives are occasionally derided in fandom, but Åström demonstrates the complex negotiations such stories have with discourses of domesticity and pregnancy in popular culture. In my own essay, "'Kinda like the folklore of its day': Supernatural, Fairy Tales, and Ostension," I examine the use of fairy tales in episode 3.05 "Bedtime Stories" and in fan fiction. In the essay that is most focused upon the canon of the series itself, Line Nybro Petersen, in "Renegotiating Religious Imaginations Through Transformations of 'Banal Religion' in Supernatural," examines the mediatization of religion and religious imagery in popular culture to analyze Supernatural's depiction of the Christian narrative of the apocalypse.

3. Symposium, Interview, and Review

[3.1] Drawing on the strong tradition of meta within the Supernatural fandom, the Symposium pieces in this issue combine fannish and academic perspectives. Melissa Gray provides a brief overview of the development of the Supernatural fandom, while Deepa Sivarajan and Jules Wilkinson revisit the issue of creator/actor fandom overlap. Louisa Ellen Stein, Katharina Freund, and Babak Zarin discuss several important fan vids, including Counteragent's "Still Alive," Luminosity's "The Fifth Circle," and Obsessive24's "Fall of Man." Suzette Chan reads the series and fan works through the lens of Foucauldian theory, and Kristin Noone discusses the troubling of the Winchester family dynamic in 4.19 "Jump the Shark."

[3.2] Our interviews bridge the gap between amateur and professional fannishness: we spoke with tie-in novelist Keith R. A. DeCandido, Wincon organizer Ethrosdemon, and the admin team for the invaluable resource Super-wiki. Reviews in this issue include texts that are specifically linked to the series, such as Alysa Hornick's review of the Supernatural essay collection In the Hunt and Douglas Schules's review of the Supernatural Role Playing Game, by Jamie Chambers. Other reviews are for texts that, although not about Supernatural itself, touch on issues of interest to Supernatural fans and scholars, including Gothic and ghostly fiction (Spooner, Weinstock), ghosts in folklore (Goldstein et al.), and monsters in popular culture (Newitz).

4. Acknowledgments

[4.1] I would like to thank Gianduja Kiss for permission to embed and discuss her vid and to cite her meta. Tim Smith, Suzette Chan, Sara M. Hines, Joanna Shearer, Kenneth Kidd, Andrea Wood, Alysa Hornick, Murray Evans, Louisa Ellen Stein, Mavis Reimer, Heather Snell, Pauline Greenhill, Hinton Bradbury, and Anne Kustritz provided moral support for the issue as a whole. Of course, Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson were endlessly patient and helpful, and their advice has been invaluable—thank you for thinking this issue was a good idea! It has been an honor working with you.

[4.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 4 in an editorial capacity: Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson (editors); Catherine Tosenberger (guest editor); Lorraine Dubuisson, Alexis Lothian, and Suzanne Scott (Symposium); and Veruska Sabucco, Mafalda Stasi, and Tisha Turk (Review).

[4.3] The following people worked on TWC No. 4 in a production capacity: Karen Hellekson (production editor); Shoshanna Green and Mara Greengrass (copyeditors); Wendy M. Carr, Allison Morris, Kristen Murphy, and Rrain Prior (layout); and Sarah Hazelton, Vickie West, and Liza Q. Wirtz (proofreaders).

[4.4] TWC thanks the journal project's Organization for Transformative Works board liaison, Rebecca Tushnet. OTW provides financial support and server space to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

[4.5] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 4: Mark Chen, Su Holmes, Mary Ingram-Waters, Mikel J. Koven, Line Nybro Petersen, Lisa Schmidt, and Douglas Schules.

License URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC), ISSN 1941-2258, is an online-only Gold Open Access publication of the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works. TWC is a member of DOAJ. Contact the Editor with questions.