I’ve been putting off this post for a while. Of all the things I blog about, you wouldn’t think that fandoms would be a particularly difficult or deep thing for me to discuss. To understand why it is you have to know a little more about moi. I had a pretty rough childhood. I don’t do the comparison game and I’m not trying to say I had it worse than anyone else, but there it is. I was abused but not broken. We were poor but not destitute. I was odd but not a social outcast. I grew up reading constantly and through fantasy books like Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, I found a method of escape that I would use for the rest of my life. When you use the world of fantasy as a frequent escape from a less-than-ideal actual life, you tend to develop a bond with fiction that is much more intense than that of the casual reader. I would spend hours, not just absorbed in books, but lost in my imagination, inserting myself into my favorite stories and re-imagining them with myself as a key player. I wrote some myself, but when you are looking to truly escape, nothing beats consumption.
Fast forward to my adult life and I still enjoy reading but mostly out of laziness, TV shows replaced books as the primary source of my comfort and escape. It all started with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And after years of devouring every single show that Joss Whedon (bless him) created, eventually I ended up here. Utterly obsessed with a little show about two brothers called Winchester, a blue-eyed angel in a trench coat, and a ’67 Impala.
As with BtVS I found Supernatural many years after it began airing. It was in its seventh season when I started watching season one on DVD, and less than a year later I had mainlined all available episodes and was watching season eight in real time. Initially it was a horror show mostly dealing with creatures and urban legends in a monster-of-the-week format. My sister introduced me to it and unlike many of the other shows I had loved over the years it did not grab me right away. Having grown up on The X-Files and Whedon there wasn’t much about the show that was new to me, and the older brother (Dean) initially grated on me with what I found to be a cheesy machismo that often bordered on homophobia and sexism. I’d seen that archetype so many times before- it wasn’t cute in the 90’s sitcoms where I’d come to expect it and it certainly wasn’t cute this many years later. But I kept watching for two reasons: One, I instantly sympathized with the younger brother, Sam, who had done everything he could to escape a dysfunctional and emotionally abusive home only to have his college girlfriend brutally murdered and be sucked back into the war his father had drafted him into from the time he was a child, and two, it was a show about family. That was initially what set the show apart- I couldn’t even think of another show that dealt with the sibling relationship in such a powerful way. Dean, while he had a clear case of Stockholm Syndrome when it came to his emotionally abusive, often-absent father and resented Sam for leaving, still instinctively protected his little brother when there was conflict between the brothers and their father. As someone who grew up extremely close to her siblings as a result of abusive parents, this not only spoke to me but also caused me to eventually warm to Dean. Over the first few seasons the show blessedly allowed him to evolve from a simplistic character to the complicated, viciously loyal and protective hero that I have grown to love. So I kept watching, not obsessed by any stretch but definitely entertained.
Then the season four premiere happened.
The split-second that Castiel, Angel-of-the-freaking-Lord, He Who Gripped Dean Tight and Raised Him From Perdition, walked through those barn doors it was all over. I was gone. Hooked. After that everything about the show became more epic. Heaven and Hell, God and Lucifer, the archangels; so much biblical lore was introduced that I sometimes have a hard time distinguishing between the memories of my Bible lessons growing up and the show’s version of the stories. The show has taken so many risks over the years and now in season ten, it bears little resemblance to the show it was in the first few seasons. How Supernatural has managed to stray so far from the show’s original concept and yet still keep its heart and soul intact is truly amazing. It has not only broken our hearts over and over again, it has also explored comedy extensively and shattered the fourth wall more times than any show should be able to get away with. It truly is something.
But loving the show itself turned out to be just the beginning, because then came the fandom. Fandoms are not a new thing for me, and the SPN Family, as it is known, is not the first I have considered myself a part of (I’ve already discussed Doctor Who here). However it is the first I encountered that THE STARS THEMSELVES seem to be a part of. No one seems to love the show more than the people who work on it, and that is beautiful to see. Guest stars have come and gone over the years but our fandom is so passionate that a handful of appearances is all it takes for us to support them and love them forever, provided they aren’t a dick, and provided they want us. I get endless glee seeing a new face on the show and then watching the incredulousness turn into joy as the sometimes virtually unknown actor realizes they’ve suddenly got a bevy of new fans in their corner. Even when we hate a character with the fire of a thousand suns (COUGH*METATRON*) we seem to be very good at separating the person from the character and still welcome the actor with open arms. I’ve seen so many actors who have played minor villains tweet things like “Oh my God I thought you guys would hate me.” NOPE. And now you’re stuck with us. One of the guest stars who had literally been in one episode in season eight came to his first con last year, and he talked about being petrified that no one would show up to his panel or even know who he was. Oh silly human.
Even though I grew up on Star Trek and every other nerdy thing you could name, it was finally Supernatural that got me to my first fan convention 2 years ago. This was mostly due to Misha Collins. Misha plays the angel Castiel and is infuriatingly beautiful, like everyone else on this goddamn show, but it is his personality in real life that made him the biggest draw for me. When he realized how incredibly passionate and creative the show’s following was, he decided to harness it and use it for good. He created a charity called Random Acts and holds a yearly, record-breaking, worldwide scavenger hunt called GISHWHES to raise money for all of kinds of worthy endeavors. I have participated for the past two years and it is life-changing. More than that, he is just someone everyone wants to be around. He is a creative weirdo and encourages creativity and weirdness in others. He is known as The Overlord and his followers as minions. If it’s starting to sound like a cult it’s because it is. Luckily he only ever seems to use his power for good. Regardless, liking Supernatural is a hobby, being an active member of the fandom is a lifestyle choice.
Until you actually attend a convention it’s hard to convey what it feels like to be there. You are surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people who, just like you, are obsessed enough with this weird-as-all-fuck show to plunk down hundreds of their hard-earned dollars to attend the con, buy photo ops, merchandise, etc. That in and of itself is pretty fun, but when the convention actually starts, it becomes clear very quickly why everyone is there. The cons are hosted by a handful of the more popular guest stars that have been on the show over the years and the panels are made up of them, as well as the main stars. They host a free karaoke party the first night, and the “stars” get up there and sing their asses off with you. Of course they get paid to appear at the panels, but they are clearly having the time of their lives. Every single one of them parties as though there is nowhere else in the world they’d rather be. They give so much of themselves that it is impossible not to fall in love with each and every one of them. The boys (Jared and Jensen aka Sam and Dean) of course can’t get away with all of that, they’d be mobbed like Justin Bieber at a junior high school, but their panel always rocks too. You go home on cloud 9 with amazing photos, memories, and stories to tell…until post-con depression hits and you start counting down the days until your next con. Never in my life have I experienced such a caring, tight-knit community. Not in other fandoms, not growing up in church (ha!), not anywhere. We raise money for each other when someone faces illness, we support each other with kind words, we will hold a total stranger while they cry after being overwhelmed by a face-to-face with their favorite. Every fandom has its bad apples and ours is no exception, but they are few and far between, and we are good at regulating our own (if that sounds vaguely Godfather-ey I’m okay with it).
Although nerd culture has gone mainstream in recent years, this level of devotion and emotion when it comes to a show is still beyond what your average person experiences and is thus still something that is seen as strange. Just because someone wants to see the new Iron Man doesn’t mean they are the type to spend hours on a cosplay then drive or fly hundreds of miles only to fight the urge to faint in front of their hero. This is another level of nerd. This is Nerd Level: Fangirl. One thing you notice at the cons, and even on Supernatural fan pages and on Tumblr, is that a large portion of the fandom seems to have certain things in common. Depression. Anxiety disorders. Abusive childhoods. Personal demons. LGBTQ people flock to Supernatural which is amazing for the simple fact that they have very little representation on the show (SHOUT-OUT TO CHARLIE), and in fact queerbating is a common accusation leveled at the show’s writers (I’ll table my Destiel rant to a different post or we’ll be here all day). But the fact that they stick with the show anyway does not surprise me, as many of them also experience cruel hardships, rejection, and pain in their lives due to their orientation. That seems to be the common thread: We Have All Been Through Some Shit. And many of us feel or have felt like outcasts, or oddballs. In the fandom we are all accepted.
At Misha’s panels especially there is always at least one person who tells him they have been close to suicide and that the show, or Misha himself, helped them through it. In the case of Misha it is understandable because of who he is as a person, but why Supernatural? Why this little show on the CW that, while no doubt is a cult favorite, certainly doesn’t bring in the same numbers as the big cable or network shows? I think the answer lies in the darkness of the show itself. These are people that quite literally, can’t catch a fucking break. I read somewhere that the show is about two brothers “who won the genetic lottery but lost everything else”. That is accurate. Everyone they love dies. They both spend time in Hell. They betray each other, lie to each other, let each other down, and still go to the ends of the Earth to bring each other back from the brink. They keep each other human. They are co-dependent in a way that would not work in normal life but luckily there is no hope of either of them having that.
Personally I identify because of the reasons I mentioned before- having abusive parents meant that my siblings and I were unnaturally protective of each other and were much closer than other siblings on average growing up. Eventually we woke up one day and were adult-sized, and the type of bonds we shared were suddenly a liability. That kind of bond can be too intense. We were too invested, too protective, we didn’t know how to give each other breathing room to live our own lives. We have worked through a lot of that I’m happy to say, but watching Sam and Dean lay down their lives for each other over and over again, wanting to give up on life but never doing it because the thought of leaving the other alone to face the monsters was too unthinkable, I know exactly how they feel. I can’t speak for everyone obviously, but I think many of the people who find solace in the fandom have gone through or are going through their own version of Hell, and watching the Winchesters fight the darkness at any cost gives them hope.
When people mock those who cosplay or go to cons it bewilders me. You have no idea what any random person is going through and if they gain strength from this harmless thing, who are you to denigrate it? It really is subjective, after all it’s socially acceptable to spend hundreds of dollars, paint your face and go scream at football players on a field, feeling pride in and taking ownership of victories you had literally zero to do with. I happen to hate sports but I would never talk down to someone for being into it. This is the same reason that, as an Atheist, I swore never to belittle someone for being religious. I may not like their religion but if they need it, who the hell am I to tell them they shouldn’t take comfort in it? I am supportive of any hobby that helps someone get through the shit portions of their life.
So this is what the show is to me. Escape, inspiration, laughter, and comfort. If I need cheering up, watching the gag reels does the trick every single time. If I feel like a good cry, the show will provide that too. Sometimes it is easier to cry because your favorite character is being ripped to shreds by hellhounds rather than to cry because your life feels hopeless, or you are missing someone so badly you can’t bear to think of it. It’s not a perfect show by any measure (never, ever mention “Bugs”), but there is something about it that makes it MATTER more than shows that are technically “better”. That’s why it’s so hard to find a casual viewer. Which brings me back to the fandom.
The SPN family is a home for everyone. For people who often times don’t have a decent one. For me it is a place to lose my adult self and be a shamelessly nerdy weirdo with thousands of others of my kind. And yes, a place to scream and freak out over the lovely, lovely humans that bring my beloved characters to life. Characters that matter more to me than most people I meet in real life. Although there are things that have happened on the show that I didn’t like (GIVE US BACK OUR GODDAMN PROPHET), and things that haven’t happened that should (again, the Destiel discussion will have to wait), I can’t get away from the feeling that I owe this show something. It has brought so many amazing friends into my life via the fandom. Friends that I hang out with online almost daily, friends who help me through dark times and I hope I do the same for them, friends who I meet up with at cons and feel just as excited to finally hug them as I would a celebrity. The motto of the show is “Family don’t end with blood” and for those of us with friends we would give our lives for and blood relatives we have no emotional connection to, this is everything.