He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged


I’ve spent a lot of quality time with Becky Rosen lately. And this is a piece that’s come out of our communion.

I’ve been working with Becky since last November, when I watched episode 7.8, “It’s Time For A Wedding!” for the first time.

My first reaction to what I saw as the episode’s, uh, problems? Was to write my first S/D story, “Hot Blooded.”

My second? Was to start work on this piece, which has moved  from a presentation [of which this is version 2.0] to a lengthier academic essay.

The reaction that I’ve received to this work at the two conferences at which I’ve presented it has been generally positive, but it’s also stirred up some hornets’ nests for some folks, which is kind of awesome. 

This presentation relies pretty heavily on images [which is part of why I’m so fond of it, I think]; if you wish, you can download the associated slide show here

While Supernatural doesn’t belong to me, this work does. And, as Becky might say, everything may be a fic of everything else, but don’t try to slash this slasher, to represent this work as your own.

He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged:
Deleting Female Desire in “Season 7: It’s Time For A Wedding!”

Soon after its premiere in 2005, the television show Supernatural—the story of Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who’ve committed their lives to protecting people from supernatural creatures—spawned an online fandom dedicated to “slashing” Sam and Dean; that is, to writing stories in which the brothers are portrayed as lovers. Indeed, over the course of seven seasons, the existence of these narratives—affectionately dubbed “Wincest” by the show’s fans—has become a defining feature of Supernatural‘s primarily female fandom.

By introducing a meta-textual version of the show—a series of books also called Supernatural—into the primary narrative, the program’s producers have allowed Sam and Dean [and, by extension, the producers themselves] to comment upon the productive and consumptive practices of Wincest fans. However, the subsequent introduction of the character of Becky Rosen—dedicated Wincest writer and devoted fan of the Supernatural book series—has allowed the producers to take this commentary one step further: to illustrate the monstrous potential of the female fan, particularly one who actively engages in the construction, consumption, and distribution of Wincest narrative.

In this paper, I will argue that a central image in Becky’s most recent appearance in season seven, episode eight exemplifies the danger that the show’s producers see her [and the female fans for whom she stands, in their minds] posing to the show’s carefully maintained masculine order: the image (slide 1) of a semi-clothed Sam bound to a bed, his body and the text which it represents at the mercy of his female captor. The transgressive nature of this image lies in its reversal of what Laura Mulvey calls “the symbolic order” of gender in the visual, one in which “the silent image of woman [is] still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” That is, the threat that Becky poses to Sam, to Supernatural, lies in her status as a woman and as a fan writer, as a figure who can upend the central narrative by affixing the masculine to her “rightful” place as the signifier of meaning while claiming the role of producer for herself.

 

Supernatural is a program with a simple premise (slide 2): brothers Sam and Dean Winchester drive around the country in a hot car, fighting demons (slide 3), angels (slide 4), and everything in between. Raised on the road (slide 5) by their father after their mother was burned alive by a demon, the boys spent most of their childhood alone, together, waiting in crummy motel rooms for their dad to return from hunting the latest supernatural threat. Sam breaks out of the life to attend college, but when their father goes missing, Dean asks his brother to return. Sam agrees—but only after his girlfriend is burned alive by a demon, just like his mother.

The boys’ unique bond–coupled with the chemistry between the two [physically appealing] actors who portray them–gave rise almost immediately after the show’s premiere to online communities dedicated to the production and consumption of Wincest narratives. Though these narratives have been quite visible in a virtual space since soon after the show’s debut, they gained particular notoriety among more mundane [less porn-oriented] fans when the show’s producers chose to introduce Wincest fandom into the diagetic world of the show. In episode 4.18, “The Monster at the End of this Book,” the boys accidentally discover that their lives have been turned into a series of novels (slide 6) called Supernatural. A quick internet search reveals that that the books have a small but rabid following, including a vocal subculture of slash fiction writers, a concept to which Dean reacts with horror (slide 7).

Some slash fans read this sudden exposure of their practices as an act of aggression, one through which the producers could ridicule what Sudan would call a “female counterplot”–and its concomitant reading and writing practices–to a wider [and less forgiving] audience (72). Indeed, as Laura Felschow suggests, the outing of Wincest in “Monster” was interpreted by some slashers as an assertion of power, “a reminder of exactly who is in charge” of the Supernatural mythos, and that fans’ practices, however outside of the show’s mainstream, could not escape the producers’ gaze.

The subsequent introduction of the character of Becky Rosen (slide 8), super slash fan of Sam [and Dean] Winchester into the show’s primary narrative has given the producers an opportunity to repeatedly re-perform this power dynamic from within the bounded, controlled space of Supernatural’s mythos. Indeed, over the course of her three appearances, Becky has become the visual signifier of what Sudan has called the “female counterplot to the central masculine narrative,” a means through which the show’s producers can navigate their own “anxieties about subversion” of the show’s narrative by the writing practices of its female fans “without being contaminated by them” (72).

From her first appearance in 5.1, “Sympathy for the Devil,” Becky is portrayed as possessing a [shall we say] humorously intense sexual desire for Sam. For example, we’re introduced to her not through her interaction with other characters, but through her oral composition (slide 9) of a particularly pulpy Wincest story in which Sam is the active agent: “And then Sam caressed Dean’s clavicle,” she growls at the computer. Later, in her most famous scene from this episode (slide 10), having discovered that Sam is a “real” person and not simply a character in a novel, she plants her hand on his chest and refuses to let him go, despite his protests.

This refusal to acquiesce to what Sam wants, to subjugate her sexual desire to his need to regain control over the situation–over his own body–is presented as humorous because it is unnatural. As Mulvey notes, “[a]ccording to the principles of ruling ideology…the male figure cannot bear the burden of sexual objectification.” Here, in a reversal of cultural and ideological norms, the male body becomes the passive site of female desire; it is Becky, not Sam, who is the active agent here, and it is that sense of disruption of the “natural” order that forms the core of the scene’s humor. From her first appearance, then, Becky is visually coded within the text as transgressive, as working against the gendered behavioral norms constructed around the expression of female sexual desire.

In her most recent appearance, however, in episode 7.8—the awkwardly titled “Season 7: It’s Time For A Wedding!”— the producers saddle Becky with a set of behaviors that are so extreme, so deviant and threatening to the body of the primary text—to Sam—as to illustrate what they see as the necessity of external, masculine regulation of her potentially destructive behavior. In her role as proxy for the female fan—at least in the minds of the producers—Becky becomes both a sign and a warning: a sign of the potential for monstrosity to which the show has assigned its female fans and a warning as to the consequences that might result if the fans’ behavior is allowed to continue without regulation.

The first step in this process is to delete Becky’s previous history as an active sexual agent and to rewrite her as that great figure of heterosexual male terror, the ultimate woman in white: the bride. In the episode’s “Then” sequence—a 60-second montage of scenes from previous episodes that appears before the teaser—Becky’s disruptive encounter with Sam in 5.1 is used cue her character, to remind the audience of her “weirdness,” of what can [and will be] read in the context of this episode as an unhealthy obsession with Sam.

All mention of her romantic and sexual relationship with Chuck Shurley, author of the Supernatural book series–briefly explored in her second appearance in episode 5.9—is absent from this introduction, an absence which allows the producers to present her simply as the crazy super fan who felt up Sam against his will. This initial visual re-introduction suggests to the viewer that Becky’s sexual desire has gone unexpressed, has lain in wait since she first encountered Sam in “Sympathy,” and has been poised, frustrated, building, waiting for the opportunity to strike.

Indeed, before her veil is lifted, Becky’s body holds the potential of both her magically [editorially] restored sexual purity and utter monstrosity. Despite the soft folds of her dress, the bouquet clutched in her hands, the length and depth of her veil leaves open the possibility that it could be concealing anyone or anything. Certainly, Dean’s expression in this moment (slide 11) suggests that he recognizes the terror of this ambiguity; hell, for all he knows—for all of the weirdness of his brother getting married out of nowhere—there could be a Wendigo under there. But, distressingly, Dean discovers that the veil conceals a kind of evil that he doesn’t know how to fight, one that will not yield to the traditional weapons of monster-hunting: a female slash fan (slide 12).

While much of Dean’s dismay springs, no doubt, from the thought of his brother marrying anyone [but him], his disgust is heightened because it’s Becky—that slasher weirdo stalker chick—who gets to take Sam home. He’s not subtle about his interpretation, either; indeed, Becky recognizes Dean’s initial reading of her body, telling him sweetly that she is: “Not a monster. Just the right girl for your brother. That’s it.” (“Season Seven”). Dean is faced with the terrible conclusion that none of the brothers’ usual defenses against the supernatural, the unnatural, will be effective against this distinctly feminine threat; he won’t be ganking anyone tonight.

Thus, this sequence serves to establish Becky’s new identity as a terrifying, potentially monstrous figure: she poses both a heterosexual threat to the boys’ bromance [or hot off-screen sex life] and represents another kind of monstrosity, of potential evil that Dean cannot easily identify, but one which leaves both he [and the viewer] in suspense as to how Sam could have fallen in love with and married Becky—Becky! for gods’ sake—in just four days.

As the episode progresses, Becky’s potential for monstrosity—for violating Sam further—is visually and narratively pushed to the forefront. The audience learns that Sam’s interest in Becky is completely reliant upon a demon Spanish fly with which she’s been plying him, confirming the audience’s—and Dean’s—initial suspicions: there is no way that this relationship could have evolved naturally, that it could have happened without demonic or magical intervention. When Becky runs out of the drug, she resorts to truly desperate measures: she bangs Sam over the head with a waffle iron, drags him to her parents’ cabin at Loon Lake [very subtle, producers] and binds his unconscious body to a bed (slide 13). As she tells Guy, the demon who’s been acting as her dealer: “This isn’t the honeymoon I had in mind. Well, some of it is, but not in this context.”

So Becky has staged this scenario before; this is an image of Sam which she has reconstructed in her imagination—in her fan fiction, perhaps?—for her own pleasure. Indeed, this vision (slide 14) of Sam bound (slide 15) and helpless (slide 16) is frequently evoked both in Wincest and within the show’s primary narrative. As this image (slide 17) created by a fan named Spartichi suggests, Supernatural fans have noted—and often parodied—the frequency with which Sam awakens only to find that the monster-of-the-week has—sigh—tied him up. Again.

The repeated use of this trope—coupled with the physical appeal of Jared Padelecki, the actor who plays Sam—has transformed it into a visual, virtual space of female desire. Becky’s restaging of this image, then, reflects the producers’ knowledge as to the desirability of this representation of Sam, a knowledge that makes their decision to use it within the context of this episode—as a sign of Becky’s potential disruptive power over the text, over Sam’s body—a particularly loaded choice.

However, the negotiation of the meaning(s) of this image (slide 18) is complicated by the tension between the pleasure the image might evoke in the mind of the female fan and the potential for violation that it represents. Note the very particular way in which Becky arranges the boy on the bed. The lower half of his body is completely concealed under a cheerfully old-fashioned bedspread and, with his [very loose] shirt in place, the only parts of Sam that are visible are his head, his arms, and his feet. When he awakens, however, the audience learns that Sam feels more exposed than he looks; he asks Becky: “Why am I not wearing any pants?” Becky responds: “They were very constricting. Don’t worry. I didn’t do anything weird.” Within this context, this reassurance has rather the opposite of its intended effect. Becky has had access to an unregulated, unauthorized private gaze at Sam’s body; specifically, she has had visual [and potentially physical] access to his genitals. Sam’s inability to know what, exactly, has occurred, his loss of control over his own body, serves to evoke the possibility of molestation, of violation.

Indeed, I’d argue that this sequence can be read as an attempt by the producers to visually illustrate the potential danger that female [Wincest] fans pose to the body of the show’s primary narrative. In doing so, they transform Becky and the female writing practices she represents from “a political threat” to the body of the text, one which, via Sudan, “radically disrupts the entire system…into a sexual threat in order to bring this problem into more familiar territory, where it might be managed or regulated with available discursive practices” (65). It is Sam who makes the terms of this re-incription evident. “You roofied me!” he barks at Becky; she indignantly responds: “A roofie? I’d never!” Rather than directly confront the disruptive potential of the fan production of Wincest narratives in this episode, the producers instead place Becky—and the female fans for whom she stands—in the role of potential rapist.

A primary effect of this visual sequence, then, is that it puts female fans in the position of questioning their own pleasure, of consciously reconsidering the liberties that they take with Sam and Dean’s bodies within their own texts. As fan crowleyshouseplant huffs on her tumblr site: “[B]elieve me, I am the antithesis of thrilled with the rape analogy in its meta context.” Indeed, recasting Becky in this way suggests that the producers believe that female slashers are taking similar advantage of Sam and Dean; that when they produce or consume slash fiction—or even play with the boys within the privacy of their own minds, for their own pleasure—fans are performing the imaginative equivalent of tying Sam and Dean to a bed and fucking them against their will.

Any pleasure that many female fans might have taken from the image of Sammy bound to a bed is turned against them and offered as evidence of their own complicity in Becky’s transgressive actions. In this sequence, the female fan is asked to gaze not at Sam’s beautiful body (slide 19)—another image which the show has not shied away from in the past—but at a horrific vision (slide 20) of what the producers present as her potential self, of the depths of depravity to which her fandom [her lust for Sam] might drive her. As tumblr member dingoatemybabycrazy argues:

I felt nauseous the entire time he was tied down. He didn’t want to be there. And this is completely different from when he was in the panic room or the episode in the insane asylum, where he was tied down to stop from hurting himself or anyone else. This was almost rape. It was nonconsensual and fucking creepy.

Here, dingo is terrified by the harm that might befall Sam, by the implication that he might be forced to perform sexually against his will. For the fan, this sequence is also frightening because of what she recognizes as the metacommentary on her role as fan, on her own desire. As crowleyhouseplant growls, the implication here is “that’s all the fans want—especially the female fans. To marry and fuck Sam Winchester. Ha. Fuck you.”

In this way, the show’s producers use Becky’s appearance in “It’s Time For A Wedding” to reinscribe the behaviors of the female slash fan as not simply humorously sexually transgressive—a momentary carnival, perhaps—but as genuinely threatening to the body of the central narrative, symbolized in the bed sequence by Sam’s exposed/concealed body. Indeed, at the end of the episode, Dean steps in one last time to regulate the monstrous potential of Becky’s sexuality. When Becky and Garth, the hunter-of-the-week who’s been working with Dean in Sam’s absence, start making eyes at each other, Dean physically inserts himself between them, breaking their gaze, and tells Garth: “No. No. Just—no” (“Season Seven”).

Dean’s actions promise to continue the regulation of Becky’s sexual behavior (slide 21)—as a fan, as a woman—even when the brothers [and the audience] leave her behind. With the stark image of Sam bound and gagged still present in the audiences’ minds, this performative imposition of external control—of patriarchal producers regulating fan behavior through the interruption of the female gaze—becomes not only necessary but urgent, an intervention that must be staged in order to protect the virtue of the primary text. If allowed to continue without regulation, this episode suggests, the meaning of Sam and Dean will be first restrained and then reconstructed by female fans whose productive and consumptive practices fail to respect the show’s heavily masculinized primary text. For the producers, these women unbound, these makers of meaning, then, represent the most dangerous monsters that Sam and Dean Winchester have ever faced.

Bibliography

 crowleyshouseplant. “Season Seven, Time For A Wedding! Spoilers+Meta.” Web. 15 December 2011. http://crowleyshouseplant.tumblr.com.

dingoatemybabycrazy. “Season Seven: Time For A Wedding!” Web. 20 December 2011. http://dingoatemybabycrazy.tumblr.com.

Felschow, Laura. “‘Hey, check it out, there’s actually fans’: (Dis)empowerment and (mis)representation of cult fandom in Supernatural.” Transformative Works and Cultures 4 (2010). Web. 30 Oct. 2011.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18. Web. 19 Feb. 2012. http://imlportfolio.usc.edu/…/mulveyVisualPleasureNarrativeCinema.pdf

“Season 7: It’s Time For A Wedding.” Supernatural. Writ. Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin. Dir. Tim Andrew. CBS, 2011. Web. 25 November 2011.

Spartichi. “Sam Winchester—kidnapped.” Deviant Art. Web. 2010. 12 January 2012. http://spartichi.deviantart.com/art/Sam-Winchester-kidnapped-127139277.

Sudan, Rajani. “Company Loves Misery.” Camera Obscura 30 (1992): 59-74. Print.

“Sympathy for the Devil.”  Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season. Writ. Eric Kripke. Dir. Robert Singer. CBS, 2009. DVD.

“The Monster At The End Of This Book.” Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season. Writ. Eric Kripke and Julie Siege. Dir. Mark Rahl. CBS, 2009. DVD.

“The Real Ghostbusters.” Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season. Writ. Eric    Kripke. Dir. James L. Conway. CBS, 2009. DVD.

“Wendigo.” Supernatural: The Complete First Season. Writ. Eric Kripke. Dir. David Nutter. CBS, 2005. DVD.

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7 thoughts on “He’s Best When He’s Bound and Gagged

  1. fanspired

    Interesting point about the erasure of the sexual relationship with Chuck. It suggests the current producers have a radically different attitude from, presumably, Kripke who must have seen the relationship between the show and the fanfiction writers as a creative cohabitation.

    1. Yeah, I gotta give Kripke some credit. After watching 7.8 850 times, I did have new appreciation for his [relatively subtle?] presentation of Becks in 5.1 and 5.9. At the very least, I think, Kripke didn’t see us as rapists. Grabby, yes. Rapists? No.

  2. JB

    You know I have the dvds, and I ‘ve watch them, oh I don’t know a half a million times. I love the show, the writing is great etc. I guess I don’t try to read between the lines of these things, I’m not that clever anyway. I have just recently jumped on the Wincest bandwagon. I love it. I don’t know why anyone would feel it is a threat to the dynamic of the show.
    If anything, it has heightened my love for the show to levels I didn’t think I could go. It’s fantasy, it’s not real. My real life is a big bowl of suck. So if I can lose myself in something for a few hours of the day, I don’t think it’s compromising the order of the universe.
    I personally don’t like most of the female characters on the show, because in my opinion, the producers of the show try too hard to push the female/male traditional relationships. I don’t want Sam/Dean to have girlfriends, or love interests, that’s not what the show is about anyway. Go watch a soap opera if you want that stuff. This show is different, that is why it is good.

    Ok, I think I’ve made my point rather incoherently probably, so I’ll stop babbling now….

    Hey um, a rock, paper, scissors, story for the boys from you would be fun, think about it….k?

  3. Ah-interesting comment about the show’s attempts at heteronormativity. I don’t know why some people (fans and PTB alike) freak out over Wincest, or Destiel, or any other slash pairing. And I can’t help but read into texts, I’m afraid; has nothing to do with being “clever,” and everything to do with my inability to take anything at face value.

  4. JB

    I too do not take anything at face value…on the other hand, if it’s somethng I truly like, I like to keep it in the shadows and not attract too much light. Because what happens, for me at least is that it gets over analyzed, and then I become disillusioned and it makes me sad.. The first time I saw The French Mistake, I swear I almost cried. I have come to terms with it now.
    So as far as the new season coming up, Sam is supposed to have some “love interest” again while Dean was in Purgatory, I absolutely hated that whole Ruby storyline. So I’m thinking wrf. And yet they make comments all the time on the show about the boys being together, Dark Side of the Moon episode, comes to mind.
    Anywho, I am a frequent visitor here (duh), and I like your writings and your insights, not just the slash (that’s just the icing on the cake), still trying to wrap my brain around the Cas/Dean thing, working on it.
    Thank you for responding to my nonsensical rantings, you are very kind and tolerant. 🙂

    1. *gasp* I’m so glad to hear that I’m not the only one originally pissed/sad about “French Mistake.” I broke up for SPN for like a week over that episode. I’m ok with it now, partly because I’m writing a paper about it, and partly because of Stockholm Syndrome, I think.

      It is hard to balance the fangirl love/analysis scales sometimes–but that’s what I use this blog for, to try and monkey around outside of “academic” circles. I’m glad you’re digging it, and I appreciate your (not-at-all nonsensical) comments.

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