SPN DePaul: A Celebration of Fandom, Academia and “Supernatural” Part II

If you missed the first part of our SPN DePaul interviews, check out the post here

On May 9-11, DePaul University in Chicago hosted an academic conference celebrating ten years of Supernatural, welcoming attendees from all corners of fandom, including Keynote Speaker and writer on the show, Robbie Thompson. Unfortunately, Chicago is a bit out of the way for either of the Collective gals, so we asked our friends KT Torre, plus Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis, the Fangasm girls, to keep us abreast of the goings-on at the conference. We sat down to ask them a few questions, and here’s part II of our SPN DePaul interview.

The CollectiveHow does the academic study of Supernatural affect the views of nonfans on the fandom?

KT Torrey: I think the biggest impact is that it makes SPN fandom visible to a much broader and more diverse body of critics. But you could argue that the creatives’ decision to introduce fandom into the show’s canon did the same thing. Taken together, I think there are lots of people outside of SPN fan culture that know of us, or about us, in a way that’s out of proportion with the size of our fandom and the number of people who watch the show.

Lynn Zubernis: Speaking about our own work in particular, I hope that it helps nonfans to understand why fans are as passionate as we are. Understanding and familiarity are the only things that make a dent in stigmatizing and prejudice, so it’s essential that the inaccurate stereotypes and misunderstandings get challenged. That’s what we tried to do with all of our books on Supernatural and fandom.

Another important outcome of the academic study of Supernatural is making the healthy and positive aspects of fandom in general, and Supernatural fandom in particular, more visible to nonfans. Fandom has traditionally been a community of activists, working to support not just other fans but humanity in general. Charity drives, involvement in social justice work, and a strong norm of giving make fandom a community very different from much of our culture. There has been both academic and mainstream media coverage of Misha Collins’ work with Random Acts and Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles’ ‘Always Keep Fighting’ campaign for mental health issues, which is illustrative of what fandom has always been about.

The Collective: Talk a bit about the panels you chaired and participated in at the dePaul event.

Lynn: I wish I could have gone to all of them! I really enjoyed the panel on Supernatural and meta (the meta episodes are some of my favorites) and the discussion afterwards was both enthusiastic and intellectually stimulating. The panel on Family and SPN was fun, because it’s such an integral theme of the Show, and one that fandom has adopted for ourselves. “Family don’t end in blood – and it doesn’t start there either.” It’s become something that fans take seriously, a way of describing that sense of community that fandom has always possessed. In Supernatural fandom, it’s particularly meaningful because it has been adopted on both sides of the fence. The cast, crew and writers refer to the SPN Family with the same enthusiasm as fans do, and seem to genuinely feel a bond after ten years of interacting with fans.

I also was able to sit in on part of the SPN and Social Issues panel, which was quite moving. One presenter shared her own story and how it led to her founding the SPN Survivors organization, and all the panelists talked about the impact of the Show and the fandom. The new book I’m working on right now is all about how Supernatural has changed lives, with chapters written by both fans and actors, and I’ve been blown away by the powerful stories. This Show really has been extraordinary in the impact it has had on many people.

The panel I was part of focused on writing about Supernatural, from multiple perspectives. Mo Ryan talked about television criticism. The editor of Smart Pop books talked about traditional publishing and genre television shows. A fanfiction writer talked about writing on Tumblr and LiveJournal. Kathy and I talked about the process of writing four books on Supernatural, and I also talked about the very different kind of writing I do on the Fangasm blog and on the FangasmSPN Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook accounts. Each has a different audience, and each community has different norms, which makes writing for all of them a challenge. But a fun one!

KT: I chaired panel called “Beyond the Fourth Wall: Meta and Supernatural.” There were two panelists besides myself; the three of us spoke for about five minutes each, and then I turned the conversation to the audience. The discussion we had as a group, as a room, was awesome: productive, respectful, and smart. People actually listened to each other, even when they didn’t agree, and you could tell because the audience’s responses started to build on one another: someone would pick up what someone else had said and add to it; someone else would do the same, and so forth.

As a group, we talked about what made an SPN episode (or a moment in the series) “meta.” We discussed the relationships that we as fans have with the writers, at least in the sense that our expectations (or fears) for an ep are firmly set once we know who’s scripted a particular ep. We talked about SPN’s status, therefore, as a truly multi-authored text, and the ramifications that has for our attempts to read or interpret the series as a unified whole (general agreement in the room: this is almost impossible and/or foolhardy). We considered how one might define the Supernatural canon: does it encompass only the events of the series? What about things that happen at cons or on the creatives’ social media accounts? What about things like Osric Chau’sWinchester Gospels, or Misha Collins’ TSA America short, “Just Relax”?

We didn’t resolve any of these questions, of course. But that wasn’t the point. Rather, if the talk I heard after the panel and throughout the rest of the day was any indication, people left our panel with their brains racing about what we’d all discussed and kept talking about them during the rest of the event.

 The Collective: What was your most memorable moment at the dePaul event?

Lynn: I was able to facilitate Robbie Thompson being the keynote speaker for the event, so we had dinner with Robbie and conference organizer (and Supernatural fan) Paul Booth and his wife Katie after the event, which was laid back and informal and a wonderful chance to have a conversation just as fans – because Robbie is every bit as much of a fan as we are. More than once during the conversation, someone would say “it’s okay, this is a safe space”, meaning you can be yourself and say what you really think and like what you really like. It’s one of the fandom norms that I cherish, and it makes for wonderful exchange of ideas. It also feels really good to be who you are and know that the people you’re talking to “get it”.

KT: Watching Louisa Stein (who published the most brilliant essay about Misha Collins and his fans) and the aforementioned 17-year old fan tag team on an answer during their panel. To me, it illustrated some serious untapped potential in SPN academic work: that is, bringing fans into discursive space with academics while letting them retain their status as fans. So we get fans + acas, each from their respective interpretive positions, engaging in conversation about the same SPN-related subject or text.

(And memorable in the personal sense: while moderating the meta panel, I accidentally suggested that Sam and Dean know about Wincestiel. Probably the only audience you could ever make that slip in front of and have everyone a) know what the hell you were talking about and b) laugh at you with what felt like great affection. Heh!)

The Collective: Are you working on any Supernatural-centric projects at the moment? If so, share a bit about what you’re doing and why.

Lynn: Yes, I have another book that’s close to completed. It’s all about how Supernatural has changed – and in some cases, saved – people’s lives. I’ve written a chapter about how profoundly it has changed mine, picking up where ‘Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls’ left off. There are chapters by fans which are incredibly moving. Fans whose love of the Show helped them overcome depression and anxiety, or quite literally gave them the strength to keep fighting and stay alive. Fans who changed careers, discovered passions, dared to be themselves for the first time. Fans who were inspired to work for change by the characters and the actors who play them. There are also chapters written by some of the Supernatural actors, whose lives have also been profoundly changed by their experience being on the Show and doing the conventions. Osric Chau, Gil McKinney, Kim Rhodes and Matt Cohen all write eloquently about how the Show changed their lives. Rob Benedict, in a chapter which brought me to tears reading it, tells the full story of having a stroke at the Supernatural convention in Toronto, and how the SPNFamily literally saved his life. Jared Padalecki is writing a chapter too. I hope the stories shared by fans and cast will be a vivid illustration of what can be wonderful and life-changing about fandom and of how special this little Show on the CW really is.

KT: Yes! Two at present, both with collaborators.

First, Shannon Cole and I are working on a project called “I Used To Think Maybe You Loved Me (Now Baby I’m Sure),” which is about the reconstruction of the fangirl in Supernatural from Becky to Charlie to Marie. We got interested in the subject because we felt that Charlie was being presented in canon as a model of the kind of fans Supernatural wants, rather than the ones it has. But the introduction of Marie (and the horrible, totally pointless death of Charlie) has thrown some interesting curves into our thinking. Which is both frustrating and really excellent. We’re hoping to finish transforming the piece from its current conference-presentation form and submit it for publication by the end of the summer.

Second, JSA Lowe and I are working on a new project called “Please Don’t Tweet That: RPS and Supernatural‘s Convergent Canon.” Short version: we’re exploring how what counts as “canon” in SPN has grown to encompass elements of the actors’ real lives, and using a study of Cockles fics inspired by JIBCons 2011-2015 to analyze how fans use RPS (Real People Slash) to resist their (fans’) own incorporation into the series’ canon by TPTB. We’re presenting this work at the Association of Internet Researchers conference in October 2015, which means that right now: we are drowning in Cockles. Not a bad place to be.

***

 Not a bad place at all! Thanks so much to both our contributors for sharing your experiences of SPN DePaul with us and our readers. We can’t wait to see what you have in store for Supernatural Acafans.

xoxo

C. Diva

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