He Learned It From Watching Us, Fandom.

This fall, in the aftermath of my oral exams, I swore off fan studies for awhile, seeing as my dissertation’s in another field or three. I made the tactical mistake of declaring this temporary separation in public. And one of my colleagues here at school swept in and said, “yeah, but have you seen what Orlando Jones, that guy from Sleepy Hollow, is doing on Twitter?”

jimmy shrug

And thus the brushfire of fan studies was relit in my head.

Here’s why:

As part of his self-presentation on Twitter (and tumblr, too, natch) Orlando Jones, that guy from Sleepy Hollow, has embraced the Supernatural fandom as his muse. That is, Jones seems to have recognized the Supernatural meta-fandom–one that includes the show’s fans, actors, and even a few of its writers–as a (perhaps the?) gold standard on Twitter both in terms of interactions between fans and the show’s creative team and in re: the ways in which fans themselves electronically embody their affection for the show.

He’s joined the Destiel sub-section of fandom, y’all. I mean. Come on. And gone so far as to create a unique hashtag that unites the two shows: #supersleepy.

Look, I’d argue that Supernatural fans have one of the smartest [though sometimes self-destructive] Twitter fandoms. What Jones’ forays into fandom in general–and his interactions with Supernatural fandom in particular–suggest is his recognition that, as an actor, in order to understand and emulate effective electronic fandom practice, he needs to rely on the expertise of both his fellow creatives (other actors and writers) and that of the fans themselves.

To wit:

First, Jones has identified a group of actors he’s dubbed the “Fandom All-Stars,” actors whose presences and performances within their respective fandoms he digs:

fandom all stars

And oh, hey, look, three of these cats are from Supernatural: Misha Collins, Osric Chau, and (to a lesser extent, because she was hip before she hit SPN) Felicia Day.

I’ve written about Collins’ fandom practices before, particularly his role as the Overlord. So following Collins’ gleeful, random, and occasionally razor-sharp example? Makes sense to me.

In the context of this particular tweet, however, it’s worth noting that the Overlord’s practices have also influenced the Twitter presence of Osric Chau, the actor who played the recently-departed Kevin Tran for the last two years or so. Chau has begun to build his own Twitter following, in part by participating in the Overlord’s 2013 GISHWHES competition and by engaging fans in live-tweet sessions during season 9. The effectiveness of that unofficial tutelage is, I think, suggested by Chau’s inclusion on Jones’ all-star list.

Further, building on the Overlord’s minion model, several other SPN actors–most notably Chao and Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam Winchester–have become established presences on Twitter in general, and have made themselves part of the viewing experience for Supernatural in particular. Like Collins and Chao, Padalecki has live Tweeted many of [the incredibly problematic] episodes of season 9. At times, Padalecki has responded to fans’ Tweets directly during the broadcast; at others, he’s electronically jousted with Collins and posted tweets from his co-star, Jensen Ackles, who is notoriously antagonistic towards social media and has no Twitter account of his own.

And did I mention that the Overlord has made note of this budding alliance?

combined

So, expert set #1: Supernatural actors.

But here’s the thing: Jones has also turned to us, expert set #2: the fans, because yes. Of course. If you want to learn how particular sets of fans performs, discusses, and reworks their practices of fandom, why not go straight to the source? But what makes Jones’ public talk with fans so distinctive is the seemingly open nature of his curiosity; that is, he’s asking fans questions about what they do, and why–not semi-ironically or in order to mock, but because he seems to really want to know so he can do it, too.

It’s not just that he plays nicely in the Sleepy Hollow fan sandbox by tweeting out links to SH slash fic posted at Archive of Our Own:

ao3 links_2

Or that he adopts the broader language of contemporary fandom, including all things related to the term “shipping”:

ship

It’s that he actively participates in a fandom for another freaking show! Ah, yes: Supernatural. Jones has gone so far as of late as to emulate Collins, Chao, and Padalecki by live tweeting during several episodes of season 9, with one of the most recent episodes inspiring this epic string of fanwank and talkback.

Two items of note here:

  • First, the string includes Jones’ own #supersleepy hashtag, one that exemplifies the emulative ardor that Jones seems to have towards Supernatural.  creation of the #supersleepy hashtag, one he uses to advance (in a tongue-and-cheek way) the notion of a crossover between the two shows.

ORLANDO JONES THOUGH

  • Second, Jones makes frequent use of the #profoundbond tag, one used by Dean/Cas shippers worldwide to signify their allegience, because yes, Virginia: Jones plays in the Destiel end of the pool.

destiel

And finally, Jones signs off for the night with this nod to the actor side of the fence, making the circle of fandom life complete:

spn fam

Ultimately, as a fan and a nascent scholar of fandom, I’m of several minds about all of the interesting rhetorical work that Jones is doing here.

On the one hand, it has shades of appropriation, of taking the fans’ own practices in hand in order to sell them back to us–to absorb fandom into the commercial mechanics of Sleepy Hollow. That is, one way to read Jones’ behavior is as an attempt to hook himself–and his show–to some of the Twitterati: namely, that of the broader Supernatural meta-fandom. To me, this isn’t something that negates or undermines Jones’ twittering, as Collins might say. Rather, it’s another way of acknowledging the potential benefits of adopting particular performative fan practice–that is, those of the Overlord et al– that, on the surface, don’t immediately appear to be commercially viable.

On another, I dig that Jones’ work reflects a sophisticated understanding of the ways in which contemporary fandoms operate. That is, he recognizes that there is no single area of expertise to turn to; rather, he uses Twitter reaches out to fans, actor, and fandom scholars (a move that deserves its own post, I think) alike. All three are pieces of the diffuse, kairotic puzzle of fan work that characterizes most fandoms, not just that of Supernatural.

Finally, on my Zaphod Beeblebrox hand, as someone who’s struggled to study the effects of Misha Collins’ practices in fandom, Jones’ work on Twitter is just awesome. Lots of fodder for the beast, a way of making some larger arguments about the Overlord’s influence in fandom writ large–if and when I ever return to my beloved problem child, the Encomium.

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