With fans like these

12 Nov

Hi, I’m a fan! I’m a writer and a critic, sure, but I’m always a fan. I have a good sense of humor about it, because yes, fandom is often ridiculous. But I try not to poke fun of it too much, because I’ve always been more on the fringes of fandom than an active participant.

That’s why I always feel a little awkward when TV series break the fourth wall and acknowledge the fans: it’s one thing to knowingly wink at your audience, and another to mock them ruthlessly. These people might be eccentric, but they’re the ones keeping your show alive. And while it’s easy to look down on them from your position as that awesome thing they admire, it’s more than a little bit shitty. Supernatural has done a great job at meta-humor, but the character of Becky Rosen (of course she’s Jewish) has always rubbed me the wrong way. And that was before the November 11 episode “Season 7, Time for a Wedding,” in which she drugged Sam, forced him to marry her, then held him captive once the spell wore of.

Now, bear with me, people who don’t watch Supernatural: I’m hoping to keep this general enough to interest those who aren’t under the Winchester brothers’ thrall. But to give a little background, Becky is Supernatural‘s fan-within-Supernatural. Long story short—the prophet Chuck chronicled Sam and Dean’s adventures in a series of books, creating a vocal online community of fans who argued over the better Winchester (Dean, obvs) and wrote fanfic, much of it Sam/Dean. (“They know we’re brothers, right?”) Fans of the Supernatural book series are basically fans of the TV show Supernatural, except they don’t know who Jared Padalecki is, and that’s a pity for them.

While I give the series credit for embracing its fans with such an unconventional story, Supernatural sure does love crapping all over them. The fans on the show reflect some fans of the show: they’re intense, deluded, often unable to distinguish fiction from reality. I’ve been to Comic-Con a few times, so yeah, I know these people exist. I also know that there are far more grounded fans, those who can appreciate (and yes, sometimes obsess) over the series without being completely fucking deranged. They don’t write love letters to the characters. They don’t spend 18 hours a day glued to fan forums. They don’t go weeks without showering. (If you’ve been to Comic-Con, you’ll note that some fans definitely do. These people are giving the rest of us a bad name.)

It’s easy to lump the unwashed masses together with the rest of the diehard fans, but it’s unfair. More importantly, it’s really mean. Who cares if socially awkward people find solace in a TV show about angels and demons and homoerotic subtext? If anything, Supernatural should be thanking its cult following for keeping it alive. This is a series that is neither critically adored nor popular in the ratings department. I enjoy it, but I watch more out of fannish dedication than out of any obligation as a critic. I’m pretty sure I could give up on The CW entirely and still be able to comment fairly on television by most critics’ standards. (Don’t worry, America’s Next Top Model. I would never do you like that.) By which I mean, screw the pretension that labels Mad Men and Breaking Bad the only shows worth watching, but know that it exists, and that the fans are what keep most genre shows going.

Back to Friday night’s episode of Supernatural. Becky, easily the most devoted of Supernatural fans, makes a deal with a demon for a love spell that will force Sam into marrying her. Never mind the awful implications (there is no actual rape, she mentions offhand, but it’s still pretty horrifying)—the suggestion is that there are fans like Becky who would kill (perhaps quite literally) to get their hands on the Winchester boys.

I know how over-the-top fandom can be. Don’t even get me started on those fans who reject Jared Padalecki’s and Jensen Ackles’ marriages to other people, because oh my God, they’re so in love with each other. But when you give the fans a point of identification in Becky, you’re implying that they are all like this—that we are all like this. Because fuck, I have never written a single page of Supernatural fanfic, but Becky is still the character I relate most to. Whether or not her actions were redeemed by episode’s end, “Season 7, Time for a Wedding!” was an overwhelmingly ugly portrayal of fandom. Becky is called “pathetic” and ugly. Despite being an adult woman, she’s reduced to the role of a little girl playing dress-up. And all because she had the audacity to connect with a piece of pop culture!

Maybe you don’t watch Supernatural, but there’s a good chance you’re a fan of something. And if you’re a fan of anything offbeat or under-the-radar or even remotely geeky, you know it’s not always easy. Sure, in this day and age, outing yourself as a Trekkie isn’t going to cost you much social clout, but you’re still going to have to deal with a lot of ignorant assholes and damaging stereotypes. I’m not saying Supernatural and series like it should stop having fun with fan culture, because there’s a lot of material there. But seriously guys, show your audience a little respect. I’m not trying to be a sourpuss. I love laughing at this show—I just hate feeling like I’m being laughed at.

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4 Responses to “With fans like these”

  1. Laura November 12, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

    I see your point here, I really do. But I think the assumption that Becky IS all of “us” fans is incorrect. I was not offended by the episode simply because the only moment I have ever related to the character Becky is the moment in The Real Ghostbusters when she told the fake Hookman “If you don’t like the books, don’t read them.” That statement epitomizes most of what I feel about fan comment boards and such, and I didn’t need Becky to tell me I felt that way. There is a difference between expressing dislike about specific episodes and endless bitching just to bitch – why are the people who don’t like anything, ever, still watching (side bar: breathless adoration of everything the show does just because it is THE SHOW is just as annoying, and just as prevalent online). Becky to me represents the segment of fandom that inspires me to avoid fandom except on Twitter where I can block if need be. Now, something like what you’ve done here — an honest expression of opinion and criticism based on one episode you didn’t like out of many that you do — that’s great, and I enjoy reading an opposing (rationally presented) opinion. (And I can’t say I liked the episode myself, just that I was not offended by it as a fan). But there is also that dark segment of fans that no matter what the show does, they scream bloody murder. For example, “Oh my GOD, they domesticated Dean, he’s not hunting anymore, THEY HAVE RUINED THE SHOW!!” to recent complaint “Oh my GOD Dean acted like a hunter and killed a monster, THEY ARE RUINING THE SHOW!” No, these are not representative of all of us, just as Becky is not representative of all of us. But Becky is a representative of a segment of the fans, and those fans have gone too far. They have made themselves fair game in my opinion, but will wail and gnash their teeth that the writers ARE RUINING THE SHOW rather than take a hard look at their behavior online, which is pretty reprehensible. All you have to do is a search of either of the lead actor’s wives on Twitter to see some of the abuse sent their way simply for daring to be married to someone who is on a show that has people behaving atrociously behind the banner of “fan”. And that’s the step too far. And I believe it is that specific minority (I hope it’s a minority) that the show skewered with the representation of Becky last night, not the rest of us. And it is the rest of us – the ones who recognize we do not own and are not married to either the actors nor the characters and never will be – that are the ones who support the show. The others are too busy doodling in their one-step-from-insanity notebooks.

    • secretbutterfly (@secretbutterfly) November 12, 2011 at 7:24 pm #

      My problem with the portrayal of Becky is the fact that it had been implied that she was indeed a shout out to all of the fans. . I’ve never really identified with her before, and she always seemed like a harmless, if a little handsy, fan. Until The Real Ghostbusters, she was the only example we had of what the writers thought of us as fans and that has always rubbed me the wrong way. I was relieved that through The Real Ghostbusters they showed that they didn’t see all of us as Becky Rosen.
      And then Season 7, Time For A Wedding happened. I was willing to see her as them poking fun at the lunatic fringe of our fandom, even if I didn’t like that they were doing it.

      Then Becky made the comments about how she could relate to Sam feeling like a freak and how the only people who really understood her were fellow fans.

      That cut a little too close to home for me. The fact that they included such common fandom sentiments into a character who was doing the things Becky was doing really irked me. It seemed to imply that they thought those things were just as bad and pathetic as the other things she was doing.

      The character was the class of 2001, identified with Sam’s freak status and related to fellow fans better than other people at times. That all describes me as well. I know I’m probably taking it too personally but it really did make me feel like shit that some one I could identify with in those ways was villified and turned into a pathetic, disturbing joke. That I could now relate to some one who did the fucked up things she did.

      Because I am not Becky. I didn’t think what she did to Sam was funny, cute or entertaining. If the gender roles were switched people would be in an uproar. The way she pawed over Sam when he was tied up made my skin crawl and the implication that she would eventually go through with consumating the marriage while Sam was still under the influence of the love potion made me sick to my stomach.

      I agree that Becky is representative of many of the louder, never satisfied, inappropriate people calling themselves fans. In this episode far more than the others she’s appeared in.

      I just don’t get what they were trying to do with this episode. It probably doesn’t help that before I watched the episode I was reading about the plans for my own high school reunion. Then I see Becky do screwed up things I never thought she would go so far as to do in order to look good at her reunion.

      It really rubbed me the wrong way and I’m letting this response get away from me because of it, so I’ll stop here.

      • Laura November 13, 2011 at 11:56 am #

        I do agree with your point that I wish the writers had not suddenly decided to try to make Becky sympathetic with her whole “I relate to you because I’m a loser” speech, but I attribute that more to poor think-through on the writers’ part than an actual intended swipe at the fans. By that point, Becky was beyond irredeemable and they should have stuck to what seemed to be the pathway to her bloody bloody death. Why they decided to back off from that (and you are probably correct that it is her gender) is a head scratcher that made them wind up with a “look, isn’t she quirky and awkward” ending instead of following through what they started. She cannot do the things she did and get the “be who you are and you’ll find the right guy” speech without it being unsatisfying and disturbing. I agree with you there. But that offends me as a thinking person, not necessarily as a fan. I’d be miffed about that if it happened on any random show. But here’s the thing – that whole “I’m a loser” speech was her big defense to Sam for her actions. HOWEVER, not a single one of the things she specifies in that speech have anything to do with what she did wrong. The activities and feelings she lists to defend herself are not the problem, and they are not the things that make her repulsive. It is the things that she blatantly does NOT address in that speech that make her horrifyingly inappropriate. And I feel no pity for a character that whines about how no one loves her all the while treating others with complete disregard to get her own way (which she has done since The Real Ghostbusters, this is not new). Becky is not unloved and lonely because she is overinvested in a book series or spends time online in fan forums. She does not want friends or a true love, she wants puppets and she wants them to be happy about her pulling their strings. Her behavior and complete disregard for anyone but herself make her a loser, not her fandom related activities. Fandom is just the excuse she is hiding behind. People who treat others with extreme disrespect and with little disregard for others’ feelings WHILE AT THE SAME TIME crying about why doesn’t anyone like them are a huge pet peeve of mine, and Becky is just exactly this type of person. No one loves her because she treats others horribly. I don’t care how bubbly her manner is while she uses and abuses others, it is still use and abuse and people will rightfully steer clear. Except for a few who will make the mistake Sam did of patting her on the head and telling her it’s ok because they for some reason feel bad for her instead of going the harder route of making her own up to her transgressions and possibly forcing her to realize the need for change (and in her case professional help). By the nature of the character, Becky will inevitably have elements in common with anyone in fandom, but that does not make her representative of the majority. She is representative of the fringe. Barnes and Damian from The Real Ghostbusters represent MY fandom, and what I believe the writers see as their true fans. These guys are overinvested, spend too much time and money on the fiction, know all the titles by heart and much of the dialogue, and overthink the plot on occasion. But they also come up with real truths in their musings (such as Damian’s talk to Dean reminding him of the importance of brotherhood), and when it comes to the wire you can count on them to step out of the fantasy and have your back (or tell you you’ve lost it when you try to dig up a real grave, whichever the current need may be). Those two, the everyday people who use the fiction to enhance their real lives instead of trying to force fantasy into reality – they are “us”.

  2. trina November 14, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    We have only met Becky three times. One of those times was The Real Ghostbusters where she was most certainly not the character who was meant to be the avatar for the fans. That was Damian and Barnes. Even then Becky seemed like a character who would have no trouble drugging and kidnapping someone to get what she wants. My main issue with this episode is not that Becky was a fan who did what she did, but that there really weren’t any consequences for what she did.

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