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.