So I went to an academic conference last week and presented a paper on Supernatural. Yes, I am awesome. Heh.
The conference I attended is dedicated to the study of popular culture. It was the first conference I’ve attended as a presenter, which. Sigh. But it went well–hell, I got to give a presentation that included the above shot of Sam without a shirt. Come on! And some very smart people said very nice things to me about my writing style (ah, the fastest way to my heart) and my sense of humor in said presentation. Which. Brief moment of happiness, of belief in my temporary awesomeness.
My work was on episode 7.8, “Season Seven: It’s Time For A Wedding!” Ah, yes, the one where Becky roofies Sammy and doesn’t fuck his brains out. I know, right? Complete science fiction.
Now academic conferences are a funny thing. They’re often a place for posturing and performance–and not by the people who’re onstage. People in the audience, well, they don’t like being in the audience, at some level. We all think we’re smarter than whoever’s talking and some of us take it upon ourselves to fucking prove that–to ourselves, to the rest of the audience, and especially to the presenter.
[ETA: I came very close to bring that person today during a panel at the conference I’m attending this week (where I presented a paper on metatextual Wincest and J2, but that’s a story for another post). Tried to restrain myself, even when smarmy panelist made it clear that he knows nothing about comics, that the only ones he’s ever read are those assigned in his comics 101 class last semester, a class from which all of the papers on the panel were drawn! Blargh!]
Toss a little female fandom into the mix–and topless pictures of Sam and Dean–and you have a receipe for fanwanking and sword-crossing on an epic scale.
Now I expressed some strong opinions about how The Powers That Be (TPTB) treat Becky in 7.8. I argue that TPTB delete Becky’s sexual agency in this episode once and for all, the culmination of an erosion that begins with her second appearance in 5.9, “The Real Ghostbusters” [though, sadly, I cut this gradiation part of the paper for time; ok, yes, it was like six pages long, but still. Sucked to take it out.]
I also suggested that the tactics that TPTB use to do rewrite Becky in this way are pulled straight from the Leviathan playbook in 7.6, the ironically titled “Slash Fiction.” That is, like the Leviathan, TPTB first tried outing Becky’s slash practices [and those of the fans she represents way back in 5.1, “Sympathy for the Devil] then shift to rewriting those practices as morally and legally reprehensible (as the Leviathan do by creating alternate versions of Sam and Dean who set out on a multi-state killing spree and create, in essence, a slash version of the “saving people, hunting things” story the boys have made for themselves).
I had a light touch with this material, I think [Sadly, I was the only presenter on our panel to use the word “fuck”–much less to use it repeatedly. Heh!]. But I also was pretty specific about how I read the producers’ acts of reinscription in this episode, of the ways in which they attempted to recode Becky [and the female (slash) fans that she represents] as potential rapists, as women desperate for societal approval, whose greatest desire is not to fuck Sam (see what I mean?) but to be read as happy heteronormatives.
So despite the good reception that I got for my work, I did have several people say to me (or in their presentations at the next Supernatural panel–yes, there was more than one)–that, oh, well, you know it’s all in fun, this rewriting of Becky. Or, well, can’t you blame it on the change in showrunners (no), on the bringing in of new writers (?!), or, at the very least, the producers are having a conversation with us, the [female] fans, and that means it’s ok.
You know what? It’s really not. Stories matter, the stories on TV matter, the stories that TV tells us about ourselves fucking matter. Intentionality makes no difference; I could care less what the producers have said on the message boards, or at a con, or on Twitter [sorry, Misha].
What matters to me is what the text is doing, what the texts say together, the ways in which the show’s primary narrative seems to stage repeated tactical attempts [in the de Certeau sense] to undermine or disrupt slash fiction, on Wincest, on the [primarily] female fans who produce and consume those texts. And, just as important, I’m interested in what the fans are doing with the primary text–how they embrace it, resist it, tweak it, undermine it, reject it, etc.
To me, the primary narrative of Supernatural suggests that female fandom in general, and slash fans in particular, make the show’s TPTB really fucking nervous. Or at least create an exigence to which the producers feel they must respond.
So, for me, there’s value in looking at the tensions within the texts. I am completely uninterested in reading about how the producers are talking to fans in a general sense outside of the primary narrative, for now. The text is doing, the fans are reacting, and these are interesting phenomena that are worthy of thought and examination. [And I hate it when people try to justify their research. Fuck, people, it matters to you; show me, rather than tell me, why I should care.]
All this is to say: there’s a fine line between fanwanking and academic scholarship, between professional fandom and everyday geekery. The key, I think, is that we not take ourselves too seriously as scholars, but that we do treat the texts and what they do as if they matter, really matter, to someone other than us. Because they do.