I’ve been threatening to start a blog for the past year. So, like any pretentious, pseudo intellectual, douchebag: organizing my thoughts and ideas in a way that is appealing was a little difficult. In the end I decided: fuck it. I’m going to focus on two of my favorite things and see how I can blend them together. Sociological theories and fandom. More specifically, interpreting aspects of the fandom subculture using sociological theorems and seeing what comes of it. It might be terrible, but at the very least, I know I will be amused.
Oh, yeah, and in case you can’t already tell, I do not hold back with my language. The word “fuck” comes out of my mouth more than CO2, so, there’s a lack of couth to my verbal diarrhea.
My first blog entry is something I have agonized over. There are so many facets of this subculture; the seedy underbelly of being a fan when the line is blurred between appropriate and inappropriate levels of fascination and/or obsession. Finally, after trying to find a starting point, I decided to focus on a fandom I am presently a part of.
The one for the CW television show Supernatural. An American fantasy horror series starring Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester, Jared Padalecki as Sam Winchester, Misha Collins as Castiel, and Mark Sheppard as Crowley. Centered on the Winchester brothers, as they hunt demons, monsters, ghosts, and supernatural beings from all sorts of cultures. I won’t give a full synopsis, if you don’t know anything about the show, give the first episode a shot and see what you think for yourself.
Through symbolic interactionism I plan to assess and determine why I believe this particular television show is still on the air. More specifically, the way the interaction of and between the actors from said television show has molded our perception of them and thus influenced an entire norm for the fandom. Interestingly enough, Supernatural is a show that has a fierce fanbase, yet is still relatively unheard of by the average television watcher. And despite this fact, it is presently in its twelfth season. I’m assuming that indicates just how large and powerful this particular fandom is.
Essentially, the idea behind symbolic interactionism, in a very simplistic definition of the concept, is the fact that our reality is formed based on our experiences and interactions with the world surrounding us. Thus, my theory behind the show’s continued existence is based on my recent attendance to a Supernatural fan convention. While I’ve been a fan of several different forms of written and televised/filmed media from a young age, I had yet to ever attend such an event. And like most self-identified “fangirls,” I started with Harry Potter. You can safely assume that Harry Potter is the fandom gateway drug. Thanks, JK Rowling.
Now, for those who are not aware: there are fans, and then there are fangirls/fanboys. Using the example that is the focus of this blog entry, let me explain: A fan of Supernatural watches it, maybe purchases the seasons on DVD, can easily identify the main characters, and maybe even the supportive characters. That is likely the extent of their fascination and appreciation.
A fangirl/boy? Has watched the show multiple times, can likely identify episodes based on lines of dialogue or production stills alone, knows the names of the actors playing aforementioned characters, owns merchandise from the television show or perhaps from one of the many community benefit campaigns the actors from the show organize, reads and/or writes fanfiction, creates art… Honestly, I’m going to stop there, I’m sure you get the idea.
Now, let me preface it with this: I am a self-identified fangirl, but not to the same extent as some of the more passionate fans. I love the show itself. I enjoy it on a fundamental level. And yes, I follow the actors on social media and write fanfiction, but that’s a creative outlet I have been inclined towards for fifteen years. Because I’m a lazy fuck when it comes to social media, I don’t actually know much about the actors’ personal lives outside of occasional video snippets I happen to catch or what is joked about on Tumblr.
Despite being a self-identified fangirl for many fandoms over many years, I had never attended a fan convention of any kind until this year. A gift from my awesome mother, we attended the final convention for the 2016 season in San Francisco, California. Yes, you read that right. Season. This is something these actors attend regularly and throughout the world. Not just the country, the world. In between filming and (I believe, but I’m not sure where they find the time) having personal lives, they spend days at a time cooped up in random hotel rooms in between speaking to their fans in organized panels, autograph and photo-op sessions, and “meet and greets”. Now, I’m not going to presume how these things are generally organized, based on other fandoms or even the Supernatural fandom. I am not an expert, nor do I intend on becoming one.
Attending this convention opened my eyes to an aspect of fandom that I have not ever seen. And I bet you think I’m going to say some trite bullshit about community? That’s where you are wrong, because I knew about the community thing from already being a part of the fandom. The way people come together to celebrate their shared interest is the epitome of community and has been around for many, many years. Think of Star Trek and the start of those conventions. Thousands of like-minded fans being able to find a commonality in the fact that they are not alone in their passion.
No, this illusive thing I’ve never seen? Is the interesting way these particular actors interact with their fans.
Now, like any convention I’m sure, it’s a cash cow. A cash cow directed at a very specific demographic of fans. Fans who are likely middle to upper class, with disposable income. This is not the type of event in which, say, poor fans of the show could attend. Not that they aren’t allowed admission, but the cost of a general admission package is not something within the realm of possibility if you live below the poverty line. If someone of a lower income did attend, it is likely they had to save up a lot of money for an extended period of time to do so.
Pointing this out is not meant as a means of shaming, it’s just an interesting fact that I am curious about and half tempted to conduct an actual qualitative study on. Are these conventions meant to be relatively exclusive or is Supernatural the type of television show that only appeals to a certain demographic? I like to think as their inclusivity continues to improve on the show itself, that it reaches further than the white, female demographic that appears to dominate its fandom. But I cannot say for certain either way because I am representative of this demographic.
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. Cash cow. Doing a very rough estimate based on the cost of our package and the number of seats in the “gold package” section (not including merchandise or any other nonmaterial experiences provided for a price), the company that organizes these conventions easily made a cool 1.2 million that weekend in San Francisco. To reiterate, this rough estimate did not include the money made from things like photo-ops, autographs, auctions, etc. This also doesn’t include the costs of convention space, equipment, employee wages, hotel rooms, and paying the actors for their attendance.
So, that’s the thing, while the actors aren’t participating out of an intrinsic altruism, the fact is, they don’t have to attend these conventions. Unless they are contractually obligated, then everything I’m about to say might be bullshit and I feel pretty fucking bad for these men and women. But from what I witnessed, that did not appear to be the case.
What these conventions provide fans, more than the ability to be surrounded by like-minded people, to purchase merchandise, or collect autographs; it gives us the tiniest glimpse at the personal lives of these actors. To such an extent there’s almost this sense of familiarity. The cast of Supernatural is so damn friendly, it’s gives the impression of genuine connection to their fans. Fans who are comfortable asking these actors during their panels some very personal questions, to which they either: answer graciously, or simply defer with a sharp tongue and quick wit.
Things like asking what the inspiration was for their children’s names, or whether or not they intend on pursuing a political career considering the disastrous outcome of our election. For those who are fans of the show, I’m sure you can guess who I’m referring to here.
The thing is, while it is an illusion, there’s such a level of genuineness in these men and women, that it’s easy to see why these fans think it’s okay to ask such questions. And if these actors are not actually this genuinely nice, then somebody hand these fuckers some Emmy’s, because their acting is on point. And that’s what has made this show so powerful.
A sci-fi/fantasy genre television show containing the same core cast does not have a long shelf-life. Even Dr. Who, a show that’s been on television since, shit, the dawn of time? Has never had the same actor playing the doctor or the companion for longer than seven years (Mr. Tom Baker wins that title). Supernatural has been on the air with the same core cast for twelve years, and if you include Mark Sheppard and Misha Collins in that core cast now, technically for the last eight years. Considering most shows in this genre barely live past a sixth season, Supernatural stands out as it goes into its twelfth season. And considering the start of said season? I don’t imagine it will be going away any time soon.
But let’s get real here. This television show, like many others, has had some episodes and even seasons that were a little rough. For a show in a genre that has had a life twice as long as it should have, you have to wonder what is keeping Supernatural on the air? Is it the acting? That’s definitely a possibility. From season eleven alone, I was brought to tears from some powerful performances from Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins, Jared Padalecki, Curtis Armstrong, Ruth Connell, and Rob Benedict. And over the course of the series, there have been some beautifully poignant moments and damn good acting.
But if we’re honest, truly truly honest? It’s less to do with the show and more to do with the actors themselves. They have all humbly proclaimed that they wouldn’t be here without us, the fans. The reality is more of the inverse. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. Let’s face it, fangirls are obsessive enough that if the actors appeared anything less than truly genuine, we’d catch it. If they were not as powerfully caring, and legitimately so (see the all of the mental health awareness and aid campaigns the cast has implemented – Always Keep Fighting, You Are Not Alone, etc. to start a suicide and crisis prevention network) then I highly doubt this show would continue to exist, let alone be on the precipice of a thirteenth season.
So, I was extremely pleased to find at this convention, the genuineness that appears to come across over social media, is there in person, too. When a fan broke down during Misha Collins’ panel, he left the stage to give her a hug. Shit, I think all of the actors did something similar when they encountered a fan who got a little overwhelmed. And one of the most striking aspects of this convention was the “I’m Alive” volunteers.
I’m Alive is an online crisis prevention network, created through aforementioned campaigns with the help of community benefit organization (CBO) Random Acts of Kindness and Postsecret. An online suicide prevention network with all of its volunteers certified in crisis intervention. (Please see their website to donate either time, money, or if you need someone to talk to. https://www.imalive.org)
Anyway, the convention had volunteers from this CBO available to speak with fans who were simply far too overwhelmed from having met these awesome humans. When this young man broke down while waiting in line for an autograph; the Creation Stands volunteer immediately brought over an I’m Alive volunteer, and he was pulled aside and given a comforting and listening ear. Out of all of the touching moments I was able to witness over the course of the weekend, that was, by far, my favorite.
Now, for some, you might consider this an overreaction, and prior to attending this convention I might have been inclined to agree with you. You see, I’ve met famous people before, favorite band members, local celebrities, actors and actresses I look up to… Hell, I met Hugh Jackman in New York over ten years ago and I was relatively calm, told him what a great job he did in his show (The Boy From Oz), and asked for an autograph. No flailing, no tears, no shaking.
But these fuckers turned me into the middle school version of myself, never realizing the word star-struck was a real thing, until the cast of Supernatural. My mother and I paid for a photo-op with the two main actors, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. After the photo, Jared leaned over and said something to me; I managed to smile and nod dumbly, but I have no idea what he said. Hell, my apparent mutism was so intense (now keep in mind I am a 33 year old woman), I ended up writing one of them a letter. And the way I gave said letter to the actor was even more embarrassing. Suffice to say, my reaction overall was pretty damn ridiculous; but my humiliation is a hilarious anecdote for me to entertain people with, so there is that…
Anyway, the point of this was the fact that there’s something insanely real about them, to such an extent that even someone who has never been particularly star struck or fangirl-y around celebrities, found herself among the hordes of women and men who were struck dumb by this cast. Hell, even my mother commented on how breathtakingly handsome Misha Collins was. Her literal words, “That show does not do him justice. He took my breath away…”
So, here’s my theory. The show isn’t on the air for any other reason than the friendliness and seemingly authenticity of this cast. Their realism, if you will. If the majority of its fans didn’t feel so, weirdly, comfortable with these actors; I’m not entirely certain the show would still be on the air. There are several nods always given to the fans of this show, from Meta episodes in which we are acknowledged (whether or not in a favorable light), to the actual acknowledgement from the actors in their interactions and CBO work.
So, through their continued positivity, authenticity, generosity, and humanitarianism they have molded a reality of genuinely likeable people. The sort of people you would like to have a beer with; maybe watch a terrible film and reenact Mystery Science Theatre with. Through their ability to connect with their fans in a way that, let’s be honest, no other television show cast has; they have thus helped mold us as fans and forged the vehemently protective approach we have towards something that brings us such joy.
Because Supernatural is no longer considered to be a television show, through the actors’ authenticity and the way they interact with their fans, the show is now a symbol of something far more significant. It is now considered a friend, or the core reason behind bringing us closer to new friends and loved ones through an intense (and sometimes overwhelming) online community of fans. I think you would all agree that a social norm in our society is the innate way we care for loved ones, we can become fiercely protective of those close to us. Supernatural is a representation of friendship we have either attained or hope to attain through such an intense community; driven by a cast of people who are genuine and friendly.
So, the television show Supernatural is, essentially, still on the air because the cast is comprised of a bunch of actors who are authentically caring, and that’s pretty fucking cool.
Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Oh, and…
P.S. if Misha Collins ever happens to read this: Dude, I am so terribly sorry for that letter and if you did read it (and I am hoping you didn’t), if nothing else, I hope my incoherent babbling and pandering brought you some laughter.