"I was never in your--"
December 1, 2020 9:22 AM   Subscribe

The Supernatural Finale Aired, And Tumblr Exploded - a longform video dissection of the long-running CW show Supernatural, its exceptional fandom, their favorite ship (Destiel), and the controversial finale, by vlogger Sarah Z. [YT, 1:45:34; video has spoilers for virtually the entirety of the fifteen-season show]

Sarah Z also recently did Tumblr's Greatest Conspiracy: The Story of TJLC, which takes a similar deep dive into the BBC's Sherlock and the so-called "Johnlock Conspiracy", also involving a ship (of Holmes and Watson); her other videos often discuss Tumblr fandom.

Supernatural on FanFare
posted by Halloween Jack (34 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
When the pandemic thing shut so many things down, I ended up "homing from work" for several months, that is to say basically living at the hotel I work and only going home on weekends. This gave me the somewhat dubious reward of being able to watch cable TV consistently for the first time in years, which I found out now seems to be strongly binge oriented, all day Harry Potterathons, weeks of superheroes and other things fast and/or furious, and multi-hour long blocks of shows like Friends, Charmed, and many Law & Orders and CSIs various and sundry.

Given my particular schedule the thing that eventually managed to catch my attention was Supernatural, a show I was dimly aware of, but had no idea it had somehow managed to last for almost 15 Seasons. The first couple episodes I saw bits of didn't do much of anything at all for me, just more of the seemingly endless wave of the dark fantastic the US can't let go of, but I eventually caught an episode from season 14, the finale in fact, and saw they were having a fight with God, ending with a shootout of sorts, and that seemed pretty interesting, so I decided to check more of the show out, which, by luck, was starting over from season one the next day. I ended up watching the entire damn show up to the last season before I could get my regular commute to and from work again, so Supernatural is my personal Covid diary of sorts.

It is one screwy show. I kinda love it and hate it in equal measures, as it's clever with some fucked up values, prescient about how I think audiences approach screen fiction and retrograde, well crafted and slipshod, all at the same time. After 15 seasons of the show in a condensed amount of time, I have lots of thoughts about it, but not the same kind of investment as someone who spent 15 years watching it over time. Whatever else I might think about the show, it did manage to keep my mind occupied for an otherwise dreary stretch of time when there weren't a lot of better options, so for that I'll be grateful.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:38 AM on December 1, 2020 [16 favorites]

"Week after week, with a creak and a clunk of solid Detroit iron, the pair clamber into their Impala, crank up the tunes, and head out on another adventure. You half expect Waylon Jennings to start narrating."
posted by clavdivs at 11:05 AM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Thank you! I will catch up with this video later.

I never watched this show, but I do have a tumblr and so I have watched a lot of hearts break. I don't think I'll get into it now. Going forward, I think I only want to get into fandoms for works where the creators are not bewildered or appalled by their fans (unless said creators are dead).

Rachel Hawkins/Erin Sterling
: "There is for sure a weird thing that happens when dudes think they're writing for other dudes, but then it turns out they're actually writing for women, and instead of being like, 'WOW OKAY NEAT LOVE A BIG PASSIONATE AUDIENCE!' they get, like, very mad and Need To Punish."
posted by Countess Elena at 11:46 AM on December 1, 2020 [25 favorites]

My 14-year-old spawn recently hipped me to the existence of SuperWhoLock, the combined forces of Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock fandoms. Apparently SWL also sort of adopted and took under their wing the Hannibal fandom, not as a full partner that gets to be part of the compound name, but more like a baby sibling. The 21st century, never been one like it.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 12:44 PM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I watched all but the last 20 minutes of the linked video, I had to stop after hearing the hundredths "I personally don't believe" about whatever discussed conspiracy theory, "but I can't prove it didn't happen" (or some near approximation of that).

The video provides a good lesson in how conspiracy theories get a footing and spiral out of control, people thinking their desired version of reality must indeed be real because of all sorts of minutia taken out of context and spun into symbolic significance that others then can't definitely deny as possibly, maybe being true, even if there's no evidence beyond conjecture, because no one is taking a step back, they enjoy/hate the controversy of their own creation, in no small part, because it centers them as being of importance.

The video both continually suggests and disclaims "the fans", meaning a narrow subsection of fandom most involved in shipping and the like, influenced or virtually determined events in the show, but also were always being thwarted in their wants. As if there weren't a wider array of fans than them in the first place, and more importantly, as if the people who make the show didn't have their own more determinant ideas of how it should play out, for better or worse. There is some real validity to many of the complaints about the show, but trying to trace them all down these weird external pathways is a really misguided way to approach a show, though I guess not all that uncommon. It isn't that shippers or fan fiction is or has to be that way, but when the desire for connection exceeds one's sphere of influence, it can head into a fantasy of its own that seeks to fit reality to fancy.

Supernatural does have all sorts of problems with women characters (like its vision is Buffy without the pesky feminist stuff, even in Whedonized form. (no, really, they frequently reference and bring in Buffy/Angel actors and had a former Angel writer on staff in Ben Edlund)) the video decries this, but also sort of claims a big part of it as a legacy of the women who were fans of the show not wanting to see the main characters with women. So there's a weird kind of twist to the claims of homophobia coming from a demand for misogyny while minimizing the show's main narrative about the relationship between the brothers which was the essence of the show from the start. (And seems to be the far more logical place to locate where all the subsequent problems in the narrative come from.) I'll say it again, people need to take a step back and not get so caught up in their fictions. Enjoy it, write about it, fanfic it, whatever, just keep some perspective.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:01 PM on December 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I had to stop after hearing the hundredths

Agree. That video is...something.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:26 PM on December 1, 2020

I haven't watched the show and don't intend to, but I still have heard a lot about this via tumblr. I am morbidly curious about the "rogue translator" explanation for different lines being used in the Spanish translation of an episode of Supernatural. Is that something that happens a lot? Is it something that people generally don't notice because only ardent shippers are tuned in to every line of the script?
posted by creepygirl at 2:12 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

much like gusottertrout, I've been working from home for nearly a year, and Supernatural became my go-to lunch break viewing And seeing as how the network routinely strung together four or five hours of episodes in sequence, it was pretty easy to pick up the whole series...

For the uninitiated: The first five are... really good! The creator and showrunner had a plan, and followed it, and if it had ended there, it would have been a great run. But alas (!) it developed a devoted fanbase, and so it got renewed year after year. Some were good, some were less so. It did seem like fanservice was dictating a lot of choices, but I'm no expert on that. Then life and new job got busy, and I think the last I saw was the end of season 13.

For those that won't watch a long YT video: I follow one of the stars on Twitter (we went to rival schools at about the same time and so I've tracked his career), and the other night his comments exploded with what I guess is a major part of the controversy. Spoilers, but being as vague as possible: A shipper-fave relationship materialized, and then was instantly hand-waved and forgotten, and that has people really angry that once again, a TV show thought it right to kill off a gay relationship and then never speak of it again.

Apologies if I've not gotten this quite right, but with the long video maybe not prompting a good discussion, I thought I'd try to give people some better idea of what's up.
posted by martin q blank at 2:16 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is that something that happens a lot?

Yes, it is, because many lines of English tv dialogue are slang that are not directly translatable so the dialogue often doesn't match up like a literal translation. Also very common when lines are dubbed into English. Same with video games. The translations are often clumsy.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:32 PM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

My wife has been filling me in on the recent Supernatural drama, so I'm working my way through the video to get some more background (we stopped watching after the series' originally intended ending). The narrator seems really excited to keep repeating the 'You did this!' line someone sent her on Tumblr without explaining the context of why someone would think that. It's a very Big Name Fan flex and kinda puts me off.

Also, I have been searching for a gif of the Impala ascending to Heaven, Poochie-like, but have come up empty. Please tell me this exists.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:41 PM on December 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I follow one of the stars on Twitter (we went to rival schools at about the same time and so I've tracked his career), and the other night his comments exploded with what I guess is a major part of the controversy

Misha? I felt sorry for him, and I didn't even go there. The amount of "they (whoever they are) made him say this (genuine attempt to soothe fans)" approached the level of k-pop stan twitter.
posted by fatehunter at 2:48 PM on December 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

This. This is why I don't usually tell people I'm a Supernatural fan.
posted by aclevername at 3:14 PM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the whole Conspiracy Section is exhausting and so "people wanna believe what they wanna believe," which is way too Trump/Republican-ish behavior for me, even if it's just gay fandom this time.

Mostly what stood out to me beyond that was:

(a) the cited evidence of Dean's bisexuality or at least giving off vibes, to which I was all, "welp, okay then, I can see why you felt that way." God knows I've been watching the show for probably the whole time it's been on air, but I sure don't remember every potential gay moment. In my brain I just don't remember Dean giving off huge gay/bi vibe and I can only remember one time we even saw Cas getting sexual-y in one episode. (Don't ask me which one, mighta been an alternate universe, but it was that one where he was like, getting high and was in a cuddle pile with hippies or something.....?). Like, I would have been fine with Destiel as A Thing since they are both very attractive men, but I never felt like they gave off sexy vibes with each other to justify it. And I require sexy vibes in order to give a crap. (I could do a spectacular rant about the levels of sexual chemistry among the cast of Supergirl as excellent examples of what works and doesn't, but I won't.)

The other thing that stands out to me here is (b) hoooooo boy, is Jensen Ackles very uncomfortable when people bring up the gay stuff with regards to him. I am not going to say that he's homophobic. I don't know of any evidence of him talking shit about gay people or anything remotely like that. I think it is entirely possible that one may be fine with gay people in general and yet feel weird about people insisting that your sexuality is something else when you don't feel like it is. (Also, well, isn't he from Texas or something?) And if people constantly hammer on and obsess about it at every damn con you go to and all over the Internet and you're not cool with that insinuation, I'm sure it's uncomfortable as hell. But it seems pretty clear that he IS very uncomfortable about being asked that about himself/his character all the dang time, and I can certainly see why it looks homophobic to be obviously not enjoying being asked.

I don't know if this show would have ever gone for the gay lovin'--I suspect not--but that probably would not have been JA's most awesome good time ever had they done so. I doubt he would have enjoyed it had the show really followed up on this point.

I absolutely think the pandemic interfered with how the finale would have gone, especially with the very few amount of returning characters. But I doubt they would have reunited Dean and Cas to follow up on this topic, somehow. It's a very dude-y show and always has been, and I won't get into the dead ladies thing here, but it's always been very Manly Men Doing Manly Things, and I wouldn't have expected that to change because there's a bunch of female fans who get off on the Destiel idea. It's what they wanted to do, I suppose. *shrugs*
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:21 PM on December 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

I've watched... rather a lot of Supernatural. It starts out as two brothers hunting monsters and turns into ... Bible fanfic, kinda. It could be better, but for what and when it was... it was damn fun.

Also, the one where Castiel was a hippie getting high was early on, Season 5, ep 04. (I had to google for exact episode.) This is the one where he says "Get washed up for the orgy" right? Croatoan stuff.
posted by which_chick at 3:24 PM on December 1, 2020

Finished the video - turns out the real pairing was the fandom we made along the way.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:06 PM on December 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

I love Supernatural. If you haven't seen Hillywood's wonderful, and rather professional, video about the Mark of Cain season and aftermath, you totally should. "Shake It Off" spoilers aside. It's delightful and features several actors from the series in other roles.
posted by indexy at 8:43 PM on December 1, 2020

Also, I have been searching for a gif of the Impala ascending to Heaven, Poochie-like, but have come up empty. Please tell me this exists.

Sadly, no. I was actually kind of hoping the car made it to heaven, cuz that'd be funny, but Sam has the Impala they drove on Earth with him throughout his days, while Dean is driving a Heaven-built Impala as he waits for Sam to arrive. I admit to not being fully up to date on my car theology, but unless the Impala's soul was separated from its body and Sam just had a zombie rod, then the heaven car is another thing entirely. (I guess since Sam apparently just stored the car in his garage, it could be "dead" and with Dean, but I'd need a Chevy Pontiff to weigh in on that question to have a sure answer.)
posted by gusottertrout at 11:27 PM on December 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

You guys, the physical Impala stays on Earth with Sam, and the spiritual Impala is in Heaven with Dean. You can tell because in Heaven she's got her old Kansas license plate from when John Winchester first bought her at a used car lot in 1973 instead of the new Ohio one the brothers switched to back in Season 2 after they broke out of prison. You're welcome.
posted by obloquy at 12:44 AM on December 2, 2020 [9 favorites]

the physical Impala stays on Earth with Sam, and the spiritual Impala is in Heaven with Dean.

So are you suggesting "Baby" got Donatelloed when Dean died and Sam has a soulless ride? That would explain what happened to Sam's wife/girlfriend. Baby must have Mary-Jacked her and Sam, ever the compassionate liberal college boy, couldn't bring himself to take Baby to the yard and stored her instead.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:51 AM on December 2, 2020

So whatever Impala a Winchester sits in, transubstantiates into the Holy Impala?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:34 AM on December 2, 2020

Don't have a reference but I read that the production company had like 70 Impalas in their studio prop archive.
posted by sammyo at 5:45 AM on December 2, 2020

clavdivs linked above to this article on the Impalas and their wrangler.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:16 AM on December 2, 2020

I started a long comment and then got tired. The gist of it is there's a whole bunch of queers who quit at season 5, who never cared that much about Destiel, but were always deeply invested in Dean being queer. There's a lot about his character and story arc that is not necessarily "queer-coded" but was deeply relatable to the queer teens who watched Supernatural as it aired in high school. I'm rewatching the first season now and holy shit, y'all. Of course queer kids related to this sassy, emotional, traumatized man whose entire arc is about standing up to a father who has been telling him what to do and who to be his whole life.

Also, I wouldn't have cared if they never tried to make Destiel canon, but the fact that they 1) made jokes and nods to it throughout ("Cas, get out of my ass!" "Cas, not for nothing, but the last time someone looked at me like that, I got laid" "Sorry, you have me confused for the other angel. You know, the one in the dirty trench coat that's in love with you"; the entire "Fan Fiction" episode that explicitly acknowledged Destiel and was extremely condescending about it), then 2) gave Cas a love confession that was really badly done (not on Misha's end, but the editing and whatever was going on with Jensen), immediately dies, comes back but the confession is never addressed even in the slightest (how validating to show a queer love confession and absolutely no one gets any chance to respond to it and then it's never mentioned again), was just fucking annoying. Either do it right or don't do it at all.

Also I would appreciate if people stopped framing it as people getting off/finding Destiel sexy or whatever. There's lots of ace fans and queer women and other people who were invested because queer stories are valuable regardless of whether it turns you on.
posted by brook horse at 5:28 PM on December 2, 2020 [11 favorites]

Hm... I left off watching around the season with the big mouthed black oil monsters (seven, maybe?). I remember the big shipping conflict back then was between the Wincesters and the Destiels. There were also a lot of tinhatters who were invested in there being a real life romantic relationship between the actors and they would tweet mean shit to the actors' wives and whatnot. VERY k-pop stannish before k-pop became big globally.

I had been contemplating catching up to see how it all ends. Now I'm not so sure that's a good idea. I think if I do, I'll just look at the show as a fun but problematic relic from 2005.
posted by lovecrafty at 6:31 PM on December 2, 2020

Another twist on the "rogue translator" thing mentioned in the video is that it could be faked since the show hasn't even been aired in Spain as they're a season or two behind.
posted by onya at 11:25 PM on December 2, 2020

Also I would appreciate if people stopped framing it as people getting off/finding Destiel sexy or whatever. There's lots of ace fans and queer women and other people who were invested because queer stories are valuable regardless of whether it turns you on.

I reread the thread and saw no one framing it around people getting off on Destiel, but I assume, given my longer replies, that is how my responses might have been read, which wasn't the point at all. There are lots of ace fans (hi!) and queer women and others interested in seeing shows and movies take on a much wider array of stories and do a much better job representing a more diverse range of sexuality, gender, race and viewpoints outside the constant dominant paradigm of media norms. The whole question is though whether Supernatural was actually a queer story or was only being pushed as that by selective interpretation from some fans.

Supernatural clearly was aware of its fandom and took pains to acknowledge that, how well and to what end can certainly be debated, but acknowledging there are shippers isn't the same as aligning with then, which seems to be almost directly addressed in the Fan Fiction episode, where Sam and, more emphatically, Dean say this isn't their story exactly, but they accept it as an alternative to their own. The show at some point, whether from the beginning or later, allowed for an open reading of some of the relationship, particularly Castiel and Dean, but also Dean and Crowley among other, but did not go much further than allowing for an open interpretation when it came to Dean himself, which points to a big part of the problem with "coded" relationships in an era when you could just show alternatives.

Hannibal would be a good point of comparison here, another show where there was a strong demand for pairing Hannibal Lecter with Will Graham, and in that case, the show actually did just that in its final season. The problem is that putting those two together in that fashion also created or reinforced a bunch of other problematic stereotypes about "deviance", "monstrosity", and "choice". They didn't just pair Will and Hannibal, they also paired off Alana, who was a potential love interest for Will and Hannibal, and Margot Verger, the sister of one of the major secondary villains, or primary villains depending on how one sees Hannibal himself.

The show's manner of pairing off Alana seemed to lean heavily on the sexuality as a choice trope, where the character hadn't been established as being bisexual until the plot needed it, and/or until she became entangled with Lecter, making it seem like she's potentially reacting to him in her choices. That "adaptability" take isn't doing anyone any favors as it reinforces the view people are choosing to be "queer" for their own ends. Associating it with Hannibal renders it doubly problematic for that and in how Hannibal as monster reads alongside the other serial killers in the show, like Margot's abusive brother, Mason Verger, seriously mixing the ideology in a fairly toxic manner.

That is part of the same problem Supernatural has, where demons and monsters are frequently used in contradictory ways that don't so much fit a constructive tension as suggest a fucked up worldview. The way the show dealt with the Gordon Walker character being the most obvious example. Where the two white boys have to school a Black man on the wrongness of prejudice, but against demons of course, which only makes it worse by suggesting being Black is kinda like being a demon. Most are bad, but there are a few good ones being just one of many problems with that in a narrow sense. In the bigger related sense, taking Dean's monster hunting as a symptom of a closeted sexuality creates a host of problems with how the show treats demons and its other human characters. It would make the misogynistic elements of the show even more troubling for seeming to come from Dean's repressed sexuality for just one example. (Not unlike the final dinner scene in Hannibal.)

It's in the demand for fiction to match fandom that is the problem that I was suggesting earlier, where the interest of fans into converting open concepts to DaVinci code and in demanding shows and movies take on battles by proxy around identity and values that is causing as many problems as it could ever hope to answer, as can be seen in the many fan battles around the Star Wars movies and the like. Shows and movies cannot stand in for real life in that way, and especially not in "code". The need is for actual representation behind the cameras, people who can put their stories onscreen in whatever fashion they desire, that don't need to rely on "coding" and "big reveals" to reflect their sexuality. That shows and movies use metaphor isn't the problem or in question, but around what and how and the tightness of definition and who defines it is. Fandom that treats fiction as akin to personal identity isn't great for anyone by my thinking.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:17 AM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have to add that there is some irony in all this discussion. Dean's stated grievance in the final seasons is in his life being "written" by others, Chuck/God/Ultimate fiction writer being the primary target of that ire. That informs both an idea of Dean rebelling against an enforced mode of behavior, leading to it fitting a Dean is bi read, but also speaks to the fandom that demands a particular story end. An appropriate enough finish for such an odd show.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:52 AM on December 3, 2020

I reread the thread and saw no one framing it around people getting off on Destiel,

I wouldn't have expected that to change because there's a bunch of female fans who get off on the Destiel idea.

...was my inspiration for that comment.

Anyway, there's lots to say about how the fandom interacted with the show, much of which was shitty and I disagree with. I did my time denouncing that back in 2010 or whatever when it was at its height, so I'm not really interested in talking about that again. There are definitely people who "demanded" whatever story from Supernatural, but I'm not involved with them so can't speak to that account. But there are also a lot of people who realized Supernatural wasn't going to give the the story they wanted, accepted that and moved on, and then were lured back by the promise of actual queer representation! Only to have that dashed in their faces. Half the people talking about Destiel on Tumblr today are people who haven't watched since season 5 because they saw where it was going and they stepped back. But that doesn't mean the show and characters didn't mean a lot to them, and that it didn't hurt to have the show go, "We'll give you what you always wanted!" and then do it... like that.

Supernatural was never a queer story. But it's not unreasonable that queer teens in 2005 had the hope that it might be for the first couple of seasons. Obviously we need better representation than codes and scraps, but we didn't have many options back then. Most of us realized it wasn't going to happen and abandoned it. Some people remained and tried to force their version of the story on the show, but that's hardly the only group that's disappointed by the handling of Destiel (again, many of us would've been fine if Destiel had never become canon--it's the "we want points for rep but also we're not going to do it right" that's frustrating). That's all my point is.

In the bigger related sense, taking Dean's monster hunting as a symptom of a closeted sexuality creates a host of problems with how the show treats demons and its other human characters.

Never seen this interpretation. Not saying it's not out there, but all I ever saw people talking about was the dynamic between him and his dad as not "evidence" of being closeted, but a parallel story that was very relatable to closeted queer teens. But yes obviously there can be problematic elements if you make a character queer and link it to certain aspects of the narrative. That doesn't mean it's unreasonable for people to relate to and want that character to be queer. Dean being queer wouldn't have to be linked to his monster hunting as a symptom of repression, though I can see how it would be problematic if it were written that way.
posted by brook horse at 7:46 AM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Also, gusottertrout, I just remembered that you mentioned watching Supernatural for the first time during the pandemic. So that is probably part of the disconnect. Supernatural is terrible queer rep watching the show for the first time today. Coming home from high school to watch it as it aired on TV in 2005 was a very, very different landscape, and it wasn't about looking for "good queer rep" but relating to a character who acted out stories very similar to your own even though they obviously weren't actually about that. I'm trying to provide that perspective to explain why people with very little investment in Destiel are still upset about the handling of the last two episodes.
posted by brook horse at 8:18 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I can completely see that and didn't mean to suggest it was the same thing at all or that there weren't people who liked the show and understood it had some problems too. I'm with you on want for stories that could have even alluded to a reasonable representation of alternative sexuality back then and even now, though differently. I just think this show always had some issues that would have made that tough because of the other elements involved, at least without making it read badly later, but maybe it could have worked once they introduced Crowley, had they done better at hinting that opened up Dean's perspective, as they might have been able to sort of recast Dean's journey to Hell in a new light and go from there. But I'm not good at the alternative fiction stuff, so what do I know?

I would have been happy had the show actually seemed to make a coherent move with Castiel and Dean, but, for all the possible suggestions around the subject, they never really seemed to be very serious about it since that would have taken more than hints and a couple episodes to make real sense of. But then the show was about Dean and Sam, so even though Dean was the more prominent figure, they pretty much had to keep it about them rather than going out with a Dean and Castiel finish to keep things somewhat balanced.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:41 AM on December 3, 2020

Yeah, and to be fair my perspective is coming from only the first 5 seasons, which I feel like it could have worked within with a good enough writer (tho it's been a while so maybe I'm missing some things). I have no idea what nonsense they got up to for the remaining 10, other than bits and pieces I've heard. So there's probably all sorts of weird framing and dynamics that would play badly that I'm not aware of. Which is part of the other insult to injury--y'all had 15 seasons to do something with this and now you're going to slap it on the end? That's worse than if you'd done nothing. I'd thought I'd made my peace with Supernatural, and then they're like, "Surprise! We figured out how to disappoint your queer teen self even more!"
posted by brook horse at 9:10 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Supernatural was never a queer story. But it's not unreasonable that queer teens in 2005 had the hope that it might be for the first couple of seasons. Obviously we need better representation than codes and scraps, but we didn't have many options back then.

I do have to back up this point, even though I don't have much to say about the fandom meltdown now (not my fandom anyway).

Supernatural began several years before Glee. When Glee gave us an openly gay teen (Kurt) in 2009 and a gay romance (Klaine) in 2010, it was seen and analyzed as a ground-breaking pop-culture phenomenon. The media and social landscapes were that much different from today. It's rather unfair to judge the way queer teens got their hopes up for nothing back in 2005.

Roughly at the same time as Glee, the BBC dramas Merlin and Sherlock took queerbaiting to new heights; Merlin in particular went beyond merely disappointing queer fans to active offense (oppression of queers magic users is justified, queer magic rebellion is evil). From the American side, the Teen Wolf team constantly tried to work up the queer fandom, especially on Tumblr. These and more have contributed to the reactionary ill will queer fans harbor to this day.
posted by fatehunter at 12:08 PM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

A few days late, but I liked Fansplaining's discussion of events a little better - less time on the conspiracy theories, and a little more time on the nuance on why this happens. The podcast is about an hour long, the actual discussion starts at minute 13, and if you're the type that doesn't do podcasts, there's a transcript on the same site (search for "It’s like Day 20 of the Supernatural finale" to get to the start of the disussion).

One thing that they mention (and that brook horse touched on above), and one thing that I think does make this whole situation even more primed these sorts of divergent reads is the fact that it is such an old show, and we're dealing with a canon that, in 2005 was intended for an audience with different expectations than an audience that started watching in 2020. In 2005, people could definitely look at Dean's hyper-masculinity and awkwardness and fighting with his father and see all of the queer coding there, but also know that there was very little chance of the character being bisexual (like, there was Willow, but Willow also had to say 'gay now' and 'lesbian' and make a lot of awkward breast jokes so we knew she was into women, really).  If you're a teen in 2020 that just started Supernatural because it's on netflix and you've heard about this Destiel thing from the olds, you're operating in a world where characters can be revealed to be queer mid-series without it being a thing. I recognized a lot of the lines that Sarah Z mentioned as part of his possible queerness, which means that they were from the first half of the series (I stopped watching in season 7); and that was a world where the expectation that Dean might say homophobic things to bait someone into a fight ('the last person who looked at me like that, I got laid'), or that the audience might find gay jokes funny (Cas, get out of my ass; ect.). Not to mention the typical way that female fannishness (and queer fannishness) was treated in 2005 vs. now - I remember pretty clearly when I used to wince at the idea of any sort of fanwork being linked to metafilter.

Supernatural was also one of those queerbaiting juggernaut shows, but there was always arguments on whether or not it was queerbaiting, because by the time those conversations really started in the early 2010's, it was already an older show. Queer representation has changed so much since Supernatural started, and when you're talking about a network that caters to younger viewers, the seismic shifts in what people who grew up watching Xena expect vs. what people who grew up watching Steven Universe expect are pretty important.

I really do think the writers thought they were going to get a positive reception with the Castiel love confession,and honestly, they probably would have been much better off if they didn't try. I mean, those two weeks between Castiel getting sucked into the Empty and the finale were really fun - back when I was in the fandom, it was a kind of weird subsection that was into coming up for elaborate backstories for the discarded female characters and Castiel being an unknowable eldritch being that would sometimes take the shape of random objects or ideas, and suddenly I had people on social media that I haven't heard from in a decade either reblogging season four gifsets with 'omg remember feeling things' in the tags or mentioning their one fanfic where Castiel did turn into a lamp or a tree ten years ago. It was incredibly nostalgic in a way for the old fandom - but I don't know how much of them were really expecting any canon validation, because caring about ladies on the early seasons of supernatural is a really good way to never expect any sort of canon validation for your interests (okay, I got my hopes up for Wayward Sisters even though that was like five years after I stopped watching). At least some of them did tune in for the final episode, but the descriptions sounded more like having lunch with an ex and remembering you broke up for a reason more than really being let down.

And, like, whether or not Castiel's death was a 'bury your gays' moment or if he went to turbo-hell for being gay, the idea that he can or should be happy just accepting that he's in unrequited love with a presumably straight man and not expect anything back also feels toxic? I don't know, maybe it was too many Christians telling me as a kid that it was okay to have gay thoughts as long as you never acted on them, but that doesn't feel affirmational or fulfilling.

I do feel like there might have been more basis in expecting more of a resolution in the finale post-confession than, for example, expecting John and Sherlock to become canon, just because it seems like there was a one-sided confession without any sort of time for Dean to really react and then just sort of left there. Though, even if you were a person who just felt like Castiel was an important character, the finale sounds like it was disappointing in that regard. The conspiracies are definitely just that - conspiracies, and ascribing ever-shifting feelings and motivations on actors and writers and network executives is obviously wrong. But yeah, I could see why people might feel like they were set up for something that didn't deliver.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:43 PM on December 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

A few days late, but I liked Fansplaining's discussion of events a little better - less time on the conspiracy theories, and a little more time on the nuance on why this happens.

It is a lot better, but like many topic based discussion oriented podcasts, it doesn't fully pursue some of the ideas it raises as the discussion naturally shifts to other topics. I think some of the ideas could stand to be fleshed out a bit more. (Or maybe not as one can judge from my over lengthy reply that follows.)

The podcast mentions: I do think that within Supernatural there’s a thing like this going on where fans who watched the show in the context when it started, at the time, have an understanding of what the show is that is about that context and that time. Which is frankly a somewhat homophobic show that people are choosing to read into, because it’s this classic “here are these dudes who’ve crushed down any form of femininity so hard that they’ve come all the way back around the other side,” right?

And that maybe could have been looked at in more detail. Supernatural started as a show about these two demon hunting brothers, where Dean, a daddy's boy, pulls in Sam, the more rebellious son to, essentially, help save their father's farm/business. It's an old sub-genre of story telling, Eugene O'Neill, for example, wrote something of a take on a similar dynamic way back in 1920, about how the younger generation responds to the demands of the previous one. The tension is set between the son who wants to keep the family business going and the one who wished to leave it behind, but can't wholly escape his heritage. For the first few seasons of Supernatural, this is what animates the show in terms of how the plot will play out.

At the same time though there are other elements in play as to how we pull "meaning" from a show by holding them in a sort of implicit comparison to other stories/elements we deem similar, creating a sort of baseline of narrative necessity in what needs to happen to further the plot, while the "excess", those elements that go beyond the need of basic plot mechanics are understood as holding something like "meaning" for why this story is being told. In the case of Supernatural there is a seeming excess of emotion in Sam and Dean's relationship that feels like it demands filling or explanation. Sam the "liberal" college boy, is the more self contained of the two, more introverted, quiet, and reactive, where Dean is the more extroverted, active and needy of having someone to talk to or be with to establish himself.

Their relationship in that way "fits" but is expressed through a shared emotional bond, discussed at length and with depth of feeling, from their shared experience and different choices. It feels like a heightened romantic pairing in many ways, but as they are brothers that excess emotion really couldn't go anywhere as their relationship is static and established from the start. That kind of relationship, the controlling father and the rebellious sons, has what I'll call a "resonant shape" to it though, where it speaks to the experience of a lot of different people who had difficulty with their families for a variety of reasons. That it speaks to a "queer" experience is notable, but not isolated in that way. In a like fashion, the broadly painted persecuted minority angle the X-Men franchise has taken at different times also speaks to a wide array of people for how readily it can be "fit" to one's own past, even when that might seem silly to others, even the "war on Christmas" people feel like they're a minority under attack, for example. That's how successful mass market shows and movies tend to work, by hitting on a "resonant shape" to experience that a wide variety of people respond to from different directions.

That the show was lazily homophobic in those first few seasons, Dean repeatedly jibing Sam for girlishness or acting "gay", a bit paradoxically feeds a feeling of gayness being an underlying issue for the show and especially the character Dean, but again there was no place to really take that other than in fanfiction until they introduced Castiel in season 4. The latent feel of the show, that excess of emotion, now had a possible outlet by being deflected onto Castiel. Given Castiel, like Dean was a "daddy's boy", with God as the daddy in Castiel's case, there was something of a parallel established from the start. Misha Collins played Castiel as resolute in his beliefs at first, but as an emotionally empty vessel, responsive to the interests of the boys, Dean especially, and growing closer to them through their passion. But the show had already established its main arc by that point and was heading towards its closure, at least for the initial plot drive, so while there was now an outlet for all that excess emotion that could have led towards a "gayer" reading of the show, there were other things in play that also were being addressed that both made the show more queer in some ways, but also doubled down on the hetronormality of it.

Sam's relationship with the demon Ruby, for example, was established as a secret he kept from Dean and used as basically to escape their bond, which is taken as a betrayal in ways that can again read as more than brotherly in terms of its feeling, but also goes back to setting up a hetrosexual norm in the show. That is emphasized even more strongly when Dean reconnects with yet another old girlfriend who has a son that reminds Dean of himself and think might indeed be his own child. That is held up as a heretofore unknown dream of Dean's that he might have pursued had he not been forced into his father's business hunting. It becomes his alternative possibility to his life with Sam. That relationship will be what Dean ends up with at the end of the fifth season, which may or may not have been the plan when the show was thought of as only having five years to run. Sam, the rebellious son of questionable bloodline (demon blood hinting at illegitimacy), who Dean was told by his father to kill if he turned "bad", sacrifices himself because the bond of brotherhood outweighs the influence of the "father(s)".

Like almost all TV shows, Supernatural also has an inherent small "c" conservatism built into it, where during its run one of the strongest demands is to maintain the status quo of whatever the initiating impulse is of the series. Sam and Dean go out and hunt monsters in small towns and out of the way places is what propels Supernatural, so anything that threatens that dynamic has to be eliminated or somehow brought in to further that goal. This means Sam and Dean essentially couldn't have other relationships as that would threaten the whole premise of the show. The women they meet have to go away somehow or the relationship between Sam and Dean would be affected and what made the show a success then could be as well. That didn't foreclose the possibility of there being relationships that exist as not exactly here or there though, those relationships add spark to the status quo by keeping it feeling fresh even though the basic dynamic doesn't change.

In season five the show also introduced Crowley, basically the King of the Crossroads demons, those that offer to fulfill a wish in exchange for one's soul, payable in X amount of years hence, and sealed by a kiss, a major part of the early seasons lore. Crowley is introduced at such an exchange, but unlike the others where hetronormality is upheld, deals sealed between men who kiss demon women, Crowley seals his deal kissing another man, at that man's considerable reluctance. Within the context of those first five seasons, that could be understood as showing Crowley's difference from Sam and Dean, but as the show didn't end in season five, it, along with Castiel's growing importance ended up signalling a change in the attitude of the show once its initial five season arc ended.

The next five seasons or so saw a lot more queer content, some by implication other things directly established. The relationship between Sam and Dean and the general plotting was something like a revising of the first five seasons in a new light, as the same kinds of things happened, but roles were reversed or twisted and a host of new characters came to be more involved with Sam and Dean's actions rather than being in the background. The show in many ways was adapting to fit new times in both how it seemed to recognize its own audience as being more diverse and in adapting to the kinds of longer and more involved stories that changes in how people viewed TV shows allowed in an era of DVDs, TiVOs and whatnot, where the expectation shows would be watched as they aired almost completely vanished and more elaborate stories could be told over multiple episodes. During those next five seasons, Castiel would be a major character for a while, then "downgraded" to a recurring one, for reasons that I could only speculate on, but certainly revolve to some degree over how his character altered the dynamic between the two leads in an important way.

While the characters Sam and Dean started out in roughly equal importance, though Jensen Ackles had the more charismatic character that set the tone with Dean. Ackles portrayal of the character was a huge part of why the show worked from the start as well as it did. The show made something of a running joke about how almost everyone was attracted to Dean, or when someone wasn't that itself was the joke, and Ackles made it work by keeping Dean's dickish behavior feeling like a impulsive sincerity of response, for the most part, in the same way the character could be charmingly dopey and love to eat pie and sleep in a bed with magic fingers and so on. Padalecki's had the tougher job with Sam as his character was the more reserved, which didn't make him less attractive, but didn't lead to the same give and take that the character Dean had and that eventually led to the show becoming more Dean oriented when the brothers weren't together, and sometimes even when they were.

Dean's relationships, or questions about them became "bigger" in a like fashion, where Sam used his relationship with Ruby as something of an escape from Dean in the fourth season, that still fed the main arc of those seasons. When Dean develops a relationship with Benny, a vampire who "befriended" Dean in purgatory and keeps that a secret from Sam, that isn't furthering an arc beyond its own. Dean's secret relationship is like Sam's but with a man and where his acceptance of it also is felt as a betrayal of Castiel. That's a pretty queer storyline, even if not explicitly labeled as such. Dean's subsequent buddying up with Crowley and Crowley's strong reaction to it being another like affair, matched in a way to some things from earlier episodes, Mark of Cain possessed Deanmon contrasting to when Sam was resurrected without his soul, but Dean now the rebellious son linked to Cain as Sam was to Lucifer, that throw off the balance between the two main characters because Sam as a character doesn't have the same opportunity to drive the show. This makes the show feel very much like it is more about Dean and his relationships in a way that the early seasons didn't.

The final five seasons shifted direction again and reintroduced Chuck, now as God, and became a very meta show, as all the demons and monsters they faced on their earth now knew them and commented on them as if they were characters and/or talked about how important they were and so on, while the plot of the shows started talking more about alternative universes/stories and the idea of it all being "written" was brought to the fore. There had long been some of this in the show of course, but those last few seasons really turned the show into being "about" that, explicitly in some ways, implicitly, as with the character Jack and what he might become in others. The show at this point mostly dealt with where it had come from and its very idea rather than develop much in the way of important new relationships, with Dean's uncertain relationship with God's sister Amara and Sam's more solid relationship with Eileen being the major exceptions.

As it did seem like the show was seriously pairing Sam with Eileen in an ending oriented way, that left it free for Dean to also be paired off without the show dynamic being threatened as it was heading towards its end. Dean though didn't have any new love interests of importance, so any such pairing would have to come from characters already known if there was to be any at all. As his big hetro love interests hadn't been seen for a long time and Dean's other buddies were dead or gone, that left the big one, Castiel for the only viable pairing if there was to be one. It's understandable that would be, to some extent, and expected finish of sorts. To what extent being more open, as the difference between suggesting and defining can be large, but instead the show set it up and then did nothing with it, which obviously was going to irk some fans.

The unsatisfying part is that the last few episodes weren't very good by any standard, so even as the finale ended with Sam and Dean back together, as seemed almost a given, the lead up to that was so clumsy that it didn't feel well connected to the previous dozen years of the show at all. Jack binding with Amara could have had resonance as a sort of way to echo or address some of the issues Dean had with Jack and his own relationships, especially if there was the idea he found something important in his relationship with Castiel, even if wasn't entirely explicit what that might be. Or they could have addressed Dean's meta-want for freedom from any sort of written end and gave the show a more open conclusion fitting that concept, but they did neither and instead seemed to just tack on a shapeless end just to fill out their episodes requirement. Jack becoming God and putting everything back the way it was, including vampires and demons, and Sam and Dean still fighting them and eventually dying to reach a heaven where none of that matters is a shapeless end lacking resonance of any sort other than things don't change, which only fit for fans of TV itself, a non-stop parade of characters caught in limbo.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:59 PM on December 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

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