Finding Family at #SPNDePaul

KT Torrey on Twitter Panelist notes that he has realized he is a different type of fan than many here at SPNDePaul. Aud. member And that s ok

This weekend, I found my branch of the SPN Family.

I am not gonna lie, folks: I have been uber resistant to the whole “Supernatural fandom as family” idea. Not because I don’t dig a lot of the people I’ve met through SPN, but because I’ve seen that rhetoric used once too often as a means of division, rather than inclusion.

Supernatural fandom eats its own sometimes, is what I’m saying. Loudly. And in public.

But on Saturday, man, I don’t know: I guess I finally got it, what being part of that family—or one branch of it, anyway—can feel like. And how great it can be to be in a room full of smart people who love/hate/gnash their teeth over SPN as I do, as you can only do over something you adore even when it disappoints you, and have a chance to talk about it in depth.

Now admittedly, Charlie’s death hung over the day, a shroud of discontent that shadowed every panel I attended. The circumstances of her removal from the series were also a central topic of conversation in Robbie Thompson’s keynote Q&A.

[Dude was totally charming, by the way, and a better lecturer in terms of both the psychology and logistics of writing than some of the composition profs I’ve had. Shhhhhh.]

Both my friend Shannon and I were struck by how many people in attendance are still writing + thinking about the show, but aren’t watching it anymore. Indeed, based on what we heard, it seems that Charlie’s death is poised to push some folks away from the show for good. Which may not be a bad thing.

As Louisa Stein put it: “We have the right not to watch.”

Damn straight.

But! Central to the event’s success was that the format of its panels flipped the script on those at traditional academic conferences.

Continue reading “Finding Family at #SPNDePaul”

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been

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If only I looked this pretty getting shit done.

A few quick updates on the (seemingly all-Supernatural?) academic front:

1) As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be participating in A Celebration of Supernatural at DePaul University next month. It’s free! and open to the public, so if you’re in or near Chicago, come hang out with us! Here’s the schedule for the event.

2) Me and my friend and colleague JSA Lowe are working on a new project, to be presented at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference in October 2015. We’ve posted a copy of the abstract for our nascent study, if you’d like to take a look:

3) And finally, I’ve posted downloadable copies of my two most recent conference presentations + slides:

Whew. And then there’s that dang (totally not Supernatural) dissertation to finish…

The Road Ahead

Part of embracing this whole “the way opens” mindset for me is appreciating all the cool shit I get to do this term. I love going to conferences, as a rule, but my line-up for the next few months is particularly outstanding.

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Like the man’s hips said: awesome.

To wit: Continue reading “The Road Ahead”

What she said.

Everyone and their brother (heh) has written some meta-tastic reaction to Supernatural‘s 200th episode, so here’s mine.

Man, see, I want to start off with the snark, with some kind of attitude, because that’s the way I’ve been thinking about Supernatural for so fucking long. It’s kind of hard to turn off.

Which is why I, to my great and utter surprise, adored SPN 200. Because somehow, it flipped the switch on my inner cynic and reminded me–showed me–why I love this goddamn show. And being a fan of the show, too.

Holy shit, dude. Did not see that coming.

To me, “Fan Fiction” read like an acknowledgement that there is no “story” of Sam and Dean. Instead, because of the way the fans have taken up the characters, the plot structure, the themes, there are stories upon stories of Sam and Dean, and all of them, this episode suggests, hold equal weight. It’s like, the ep pointed away from canon and towards fanon, especially around the events of seasons six through ten. It felt like an acknowledgement that yeah, some fans do see the canonical shit from this period as akin to, as Marie dubs it, “the worst fanfiction I’ve ever heard”—and that’s ok.

That is, this episode argues that both we as fans and the current creatives are all riffing on Kripke’s original vision: it’s all fanfic now. Or, you know, it’s all canon.

As a fan writer, I didn’t need the show’s permission to legitimate what I do. Hell no. And I know some people interpreted the episode that way. But for me, it was just fucking gorgeous to see the TPTB tip the old hat at us and say: We’re all doing the same work. We’re all playing with characters that we didn’t create, and goddamn, isn’t it fun? 

I don’t go in for the SPN family stuff, as a rule. But this ep made me feel, just for a moment, like I was willing to believe in one.

I also adored the way the ep presented the raw elements of SPN, its heart, its narrative skeleton: for everything that comes after (shut up), this is a story that begins with Sam and Dean.

Whenever I write about SPN for academic audiences, I wrestle with summarizing the series in one or two sentences, like:

On its face, Supernatural is a programme with a simple premise: brothers Sam and Dean Winchester roam America’s back roads in a hot car, fighting demons, angels and everything in between. At its core, the series is the story of two men dedicated to, in Dean’s words, ‘saving people, hunting things’ (‘Wendigo’).

or:

For ten seasons, Supernatural has followed the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester, two frighteningly attractive brothers who cruise the backroads of America in a ’67 Chevy Impala hunting a never-ending cavalcade of shit that goes bump in the night.

Right.

This isn’t to say that other characters (like my beloved Castiel) or plot points aren’t essential; they are. But stories of Supernatural, even ones in which the boys themselves don’t appear, they all begin, somehow, with the Winchester boys. To me, these are the essential plot elements that one needs to know about the show: two boys in a hot car hunting for evil shit.

And for me, what SPN 200 did so beautifully was not only to illustrate this point to the audience(s) but to let Sam and Dean see that, too: to see both the love that their fans have for them as characters (as real people, natch), but to see how important they are to each other, to the story they’re still creating together.

I guess this episode gave me hope that the boys will follow Marie’s lead. “I wrote my own ending,” she tells Dean, and damn it, let’s hope the Winchesters do, too.

But if they don’t, well. That’s what I’m here for.

So thanks, Robbie Thompson and co., for making the Supernatural series a space of joy and pleasure again. Will it be so next week? Who knows. For now, though, I’m content.

So get this

I have an essay in the most recent issue of the Journal of Fandom Studies. It’s called “Writing with the Winchesters: Metatextual Wincest and the Provisional Practice of Happy Endings.” This baby’s has been a years-long labor of love, smut, and the creative authority of fan writers. Should you choose to read it, I hope you dig it, too.

Here’s the abstract:

Soon after its premiere in 2005, the American television show Supernatural spawned an online fandom dedicated to ‘slashing’ the show’s two protagonists, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester: that is, to writing stories in which the brothers are portrayed as lovers. Over time, the existence of these slash narratives – affectionately dubbed ‘Wincest’ by the show’s fans – has been incorporated into the series’ diagesis. Indeed, in the wake of the programme’s repeated forays into diegetic metatextuality, some Supernatural fan writers have re-incorporated Sam and Dean’s canonized awareness of slash fiction back into Wincest stories themselves – specifically, into the subgenre of metatextual Wincest, stories that recast Sam and Dean as conscious participants in Wincest fan culture. Using Della Pollock’s notion of performative writing as a guide, this essay will explore the distinctive types of encounters between reader, writer, and text that metatextual Wincest stories facilitate. Further, the application of this critical approach to three such narratives – nyoxcity’s ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, Road Rhythm’s ‘This is All Very Meta’, and Fanspired’s ‘Conversations with Head People’ – highlights fan writers’ perception of their own creative authority within the ongoing process of meaning-making that continues to spin around Supernatural. Ultimately, this essay will argue that what makes metatextual Wincest stories distinct is their suggestion that only by working in concert with their fans can Sam and Dean finally write their own version of a happy ending, something ‘the show [itself] eternally defers’ – even if the lasting power of the ever-after they create together remains, in the end, uncertain (Tosenberger 2008, 5.12).

Encomium on the Overlord, for reals.

So a new, improved, and gif’d up version of my multimedia essay “Encomium on the Overlord” was published by the online magazine Harlot today. Hurray!

There’s more of me in this piece that I’m strictly comfortable with–way more–but that said: I kind of love it anyway. It ain’t perfect, but I can live with that. And I’m sending it out to several would-be employers as a writing sample, believe it or not.

Here’s the project, in a nutshell:

As a new fan of the CW’s paranormal series Supernatural, I paid little attention to actor Misha Collins outside the omnipresent trenchcoat of his character, Castiel—until a kairotic question from a fellow conference panelist pointed me in the direction of Collins’ Twitter feed. I was struck by Collins’ 140-character shots of performative trolling, Tweets that sang to me in shades, gleeful rhetorical waves, of the sophists, particularly because of the actor’s interest in, and unique definition of, social change.

Building on that sophistic seed, I argue here that Collins’ construction of a megalomaniacal Twitter persona known as the Overlord has afforded him a particular kind of disruptive ethos, one he’s used to persuade his fans to regard both “normalcy” as a social problem and acts of art and public performance as effective means of addressing that ill. Ultimately, I suggest that listening carefully to how Collins’ fan community defines, enacts, and understands “social change”—rather than measuring their rhetoric against a fixed understanding of what such change can and should look like—may allow those of us outside of this community, and others like it, to add to our understand of the “new ways of thinking about citizenship and collaboration” at work within the many, varied, and beautiful spaces of fandom (Jenkins 257).

(Two pubs for this fall down, one to go. Whew.)

Supernatural’s New God, At Last

This week, my first critical essay on Supernatural—that blessed bane of my existence—was published in this gorgeous edited collection:

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[You can check out the table of contents and read the first chapter of the collection for free here (and even buy it on Amazon, if you like).]

For me, the publication of this book is exciting not only because hell yes, publication, but also because the essay itself, “‘We’re Just Food . . . and Perverse Entertainment’: Supernatural‘s New God and the Narrative Objectification of Sam and Dean” went through a HUGE evolutionary process. The abstract that I proposed to the collection’s editors back in the spring of 2012 bears little resemblance to the final product—and is the stronger for it. Indeed, the editors did an amazing job of pointing out what elements in the early drafts worked and which didn’t, leading over time to the essay becoming more focused and its central argument more coherent.

And it meant I got to write almost exclusively about Castiel. What a hardship! Heh.

There’s a lot of discussion in academic circles as to whether there’s value in publishing work in edited collections. A lot of people say no. I think it depends in part on one’s field; in fan studies, we tend to draw on edited collections quite frequently, in part because the field is still growing. That said, my experience in working with this collection, with these editors, was rewarding both practically and personally.

Truly, I learned a great about academic writing from working with these editors over the past two years. Their comments were always on target and thoughtful, they were always happy to answer my questions, and they were patient with me and with the work. In the end, that collaboration resulted in an essay that I’m very fond of and even (dare I say) a little bit proud.

DCCon: Notes from the Trenches (part I)

My friend and I, we are Washington cool, because in Washington, people don’t geek out over celebrities.

“In Washington,” my friend said, certain, leaning back on her heels, “our celebrities have real power.” She shook the last of her coffee and looked back at the general admission line behind us, one that stretched around the corner and beyond. “If anybody fangirls in DC, it’ll be over somebody like John McCain.”

So spotting Misha Collins in the wild by the elevators? We were cool. Mark Sheppard zipping by us on his way to yell at a locked door? Eh, no big deal.

Some of our fellow fans, on the other hand? Posed more of a challenge.

Maybe it’s true at any Supernatural convention, I don’t know, but in DC: con world was not our world, at first. It took us some time to adjust. But in the end–plot twist!–we had a great time.

Continue reading “DCCon: Notes from the Trenches (part I)”

Come Spring

tumblr_l9k4raCh1J1qclbsno1_500My parents live about 4 hours away from me, and to get to them, to the town I grew up in, I tend to take the backroads, that kind wind through a handful of counties that are littered with little towns, places with not much more than a stoplight. Driving back to my house last Thanksgiving, key pieces of what would become this story came to me in chunks: the opening lines, for instance; then passing by a tractor dealership strung up in Christmas lights; then seeing a little cafe tucked in at a railroad crossing.

A long way of saying: sometimes, stories sneak up on you. And then take months and months to make any damn sense.

Objectively, he can see that his brother isn’t beautiful. Not like this, stretched out like some humanoid starfish, his hair in his eyes and his mouth a drawbridge open to sleep. No, Sam looks like a naked frat boy who passed out in his little brother’s bed, legs knotted in Spiderman sheets and feet almost touching the floor. He looks oversized, too big for the everyday world they’ve wound up in; but then, he’s always been too much for Dean.

Continue reading “Come Spring”