* Research assistance provided by Charlotte Kinzie. Wouldn’t have happened without you!!
Some things only mean something to a certain group of people: gank, Kansas, Metallicar…beliebing (seriously, what is that??). This article is dedicated to the people who squeal at the first three.
The Supernatural fandom is a huge group of rabidly passionate and fiercely loyal fans who will go to any lengths to hit up conventions, talk to Supernatural’s cast and crew on Twitter and Facebook (let’s not get you involved, ok Tumblr?), and practically trip over each other to donate to a cause mentioned by the cast, crew, or any other member of the fandom.
When Affairs Magazine put out the call for fans to respond to a series of questions about their favourite show, I was completely overwhelmed by the responses I received. The zealousness for this ‘little show’ is absolute, and the fans’ obsessive protection of all things Supernatural, at times, borders on fanatical.
But, fanatical or no, the fandom is bound together by one belief: In Winchester We Trust. Whether it is Dean girls, Sam boys or vice versa, the fans of Supernatural (or, SPN, as it is affectionately referred to) are one big dysfunctionally happy family. In fact, that’s how and SPN fan refers to the friends they have met through the SPN fandom, whether in person or online only: The SPN Family.
This family, born out of a believe that family doesn’t end in blood, extends to all people even remotely associated to the show (that being said, even if the connection to SPN is remote, you are a cherished member FOR LIFE). From the main actors to one-time guests, from the special effects team to the directors (including guest directors!), from the executive producers to the production assistants, the fandom claims them all as their own. Just ask S.E. Hinton (yes, THAT S.E. Hinton! Author of The Outsiders, Tex, Rumblefish, to name a few): she has been a fan of the show for years. If you watch closely, you can see her sitting in the diner before LeviaDean and LeviaSam start shooting everyone in sight in Episode 6 of Season 7, “Slash Fiction”.
“When someone recognizes me as an actor, I find it flattering and humbling. But when someone recognizes me from guest starring in an episode from the second season of Supernatural, I find it intriguing.”
Having a lucrative career in video gaming (voicing and motion capture), Elias very much enjoys the interaction he still has with the SPN family, whom he affectionately credits as being “equal parts special and insane.
And insane they can be, and mostly in a good way. The insanity in this fandom lays in their ability to raise over $21,000 in the span of three and a half months for St. Jude’s
hospital (through Winchester Bros.) in honour of the impending birth of Jared and Genevieve Padalecki’s baby. The philanthropic efforts of SPN fans has resulted in tens of thousands of dollars being donated to children’s charities, animal welfare associations and groups, as well as several dog, cat, and horse rescues. Another fan site, Supernatural Fandom, runs a charity for Juvenile Diabetes research, and has had prize donations from all manner of SPN affiliates – namely, Rick Worthy (Alpha Vampire), who is treating the winner of a silent auction to lunch. Borgmama1of5, of Chicago, IL, referred to the fandom as “a tidal wave whenever we have a chance to promote our boys.”
And it shows. I don’t know the margin of their win, but Supernatural won not one, but TWO People’s Choice Awards, the winners of which are chosen SOLELY by fan voting. Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester) and Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) thanked fans for all their voting by filming a thank you video, then walking away in only socks, shirts, and jackets.
As far as the insanity-in-a-bad-way goes, several fans have commented on the presence of the ‘crazies’, though they insist they are few and far between. SPN has done a few meta episodes, in which they poke a little affectionate fun at the fans. These episodes were received with a little bitterness among some fans: CLS75, from San Jose, CA wrote: “It is unfortunate that the show takes pains to create a fantasy world for its viewers, and then tears it down with meta episodes. I felt hurt that the fans would be portrayed that way.”
While I can understand that side too, the meta episodes were mostly taken for what they were intended to be – a cheeky nod to its fans that was accepted with a very large grain of salt, and not just a few laughs. I don’t downplay the fact that some fans are upset by these episodes, nor am I surprised by it. It shows how passionate people are about this show, and feeling such a close part of it as they do, they have a sense of ownership over it. Alas, you can’t please all the people all the time.
One thing they all can agree on, however, is what drew them to the show in the first place, and what keeps them salivating through the summer “Hellatus”: the relationship between Dean and Sam Winchester, and the never-ending struggles and family dynamics that are played out in every episode. Heather A., from New York City, NY said that Dean being so invested in his family by being the caregiver makes him vulnerable and, to her, keeps him relatable. “It is a testament to Jensen Ackles’ acting ability to keep Dean from becoming one-dimensional and boring.” Another fan, Lena P., from Phoenix, AZ, went so far to say the Winchester world is one she wishes she lived in; a world that might give her a chance to see her brother who passed away. And as Sonja B., from Arizona put it: “Who the heck else requests rubber ducks???”
In terms of why SPN has such a unique following, the overwhelming majority of fans who responded credit the accessibility of the actors, the creators, the writers, and the crew with being the glue that holds them all together as a family. Larissa C., from Australia, thinks that because SPN is a ‘cult’ show (insofar as that it is not as well-known as big cable shows, like Grey’s Anatomy), the fans are afforded a closeness that bigger shows don’t allow, and Lisa P., from Chilterns, England, agrees. “Having a smaller audience brings out the ‘us vs. them’. The show and actors make us feel like we’re a part of it, that they’re never too big for the little people.” Write_light, from California, says it’s a show made by geeks for geeks. “The vibe of the show has always been ‘the little show that could’, so it attracts underdog fans. It has been generous to, aware of, and playful with the fandom in ways that no other show is.”
Our resident SPN Hugger (and young John Winchester) Matt Cohen weighed in on how he feels about having such close interaction with the fans.
“I try and tweet as much as possible, and stay in tune with what the fans want and will appreciate. Any actors who are not sensitive to what the fans are saying and asking for are crazy, in my opinion. After all, the fans watch your work; without people watching your work, the work dries up pretty quickly.”
“I come from the theatre, where the actor is immediately responsible to their audience. We are performing a service. Thanks to social media, we can interact with people and remember that. There’s this phrase ‘the audience’ in the industry: “the audience won’t like it, the audience won’t get it.” Pretty soon the audience is this faceless mass of opinion and numbers, and I think that’s the death of storytelling. It’s vital to remember the audience is made up of unique individuals with unique responses and ideas. Also, I think it’s a bit of ‘using my power for good’. I can do so little, yet have a huge impact. It’s that a tiny moment of honest connection can make a difference, and I am humbled and honored by that.”
The fans also came back with a resounding “Hell yes!” when asked if SPN or the fandom itself has impacted or changed their lives in any way. The one constant, aside from being pushed to try new things, was the friends they had made through the fandom. Every single person included this as a huge impact the show has had on their lives, and a few have gone so far to say they didn’t know what they did with all their time before they found SPN.
Many have been inspired by the show to pick up their pens again. Anne-Marie B., from Suffolk, England, writes: “I have completed a novel length work of original fiction, and I am now working on a sequel.” More along those lines, fans have been motivated to get on social media, especially people who may have factors in their lives that keep them isolated. For them, for all fans, it’s about finding people with something in common. It’s about finding a place within a community that is judgement-free and always supportive in which to share some of those writings and creations. One fan said that interacting with the other fans was 50% of the fun of going to the various fan conventions and events.
Conventions have also given the fandom a way to meet the cast and crew of SPN, and to have some face time with their favorites. When asked to share some cast interaction experiences, the fandom flooded my inbox. It gave them a forum to express their adoration and complete and total anxiety at having the opportunity to meet them. As with everything SPN, the cast proved to the fans that they, too, were honored to be there and so very thankful for the experience. Matt Cohen ran into some fans at a 7-11 in Vancouver.
“I have had so many great experiences with the fans. One in particular was at VANCON 2 years ago. I had escaped my CON babysitters for a moment to run to 7-11 and grab a snack. When I was leaving the store I ran into two girls that were there for the CON. They asked if we could take a pic or something and we started talking. I quickly found out that they had spent every penny they had to be at the CON and didn’t even have money to eat. I felt lucky in that moment!! I felt lucky to be supported by such an extraordinary group of people. So I treated them to a dinner of champions at none other than the finest dining establishment Vancouver has to offer: 7-11. I said, ‘…tell your mom that we are good people on SPN and that I took care of you guys’.”
The fans relate the same sentiment. The cast and crew are so kind, and so very much aware of the power they wield in these situations, and are very careful to always be aware of how much the fans adore them. One fan became fans of the actors themselves after seeing how they conduct themselves in their public and private lives, and in their obvious consideration of their fans.
Kim Rhodes’ experiences at the conventions are not far off. “This may not sound like much, but it is to me. I’m terrified to sing in public. Terrified. And the first convention I did, I was unaware that the karaoke was not optional. I actually cried backstage, I was so scared. You know, then I walked out and there was this pressure to sing! sing! Mic shoved in my hand, etc. But it didn’t take long for a few of the fans to see how frightened I really was and they totally came to my defense. One got me a beer, somebody else was like, “Leave her alone, she’s not ready!” and pretty soon all of the pressure eased up on me. With that gone, I ended up having a really good time. Who knows, one day I may do a solo as a thank you. HAHAHAHAAAAAA. No.”
Brian Buckley, of the Brian Buckley Band, has been invited to play at several SPN conventions. When asked about his fan experience at the first show he did (at the SPN San Francisco in 2011, he said that they were not certain how they would be received at all.
“You know, we’d heard about how amazing these fans were from Jared for quite some time and we just hadn’t had the time or the ability to play any of the conventions yet. So when we were approached we were like, you know, this works out perfectly. We were just finishing the record and we were very excited about it so we were like, let’s do it. Let’s see what this is like.
And it was unlike anything we’d ever done because, you know, typically it’s our fans and typically it’s our, you know, places we’ve played before or places in the general vicinity of where we play. So, it was all kind of a brand new thing for us so we were very excited to get to know these fans and we just fell absolutely in love with them. They welcomed us with open arms and for that we’re forever grateful.”
Virtually all of the fans have been to one convention or another (and there are several, running all around the world – anyone who thinks actors sit around between season have better think again!). Those who haven’t are counting down the days until they can get to one. The conventions are an amazing experience (I have been to one, my first, last year in Toronto), and it really brings home how passionate everyone is about this “little show that could”, from the newest fan to the most seasoned cast or crew member. Juliane I., from Sao Paula, BR, attended RisingCon in Brasil, where she gave Matt Cohen, Misha Collins (Castiel) and Chad Lindberg (Ash) shark tooth necklaces. Her giddiness comes through the page when she relates how Chad gave her a big hug in thanks.
Lindsay W., of Michigan, writes that interacting with the other fans and the show’s stars at conventions creates a bond that no other show has ever provided. “Every actor who has been involved with Supernatural is so open and interactive with the fans.
When asked how she thought the SPN fandom compared to others, Kim had definite reasons for believing the SPN fandom to be unique.
“I think it’s really cool that everyone I’ve met is so much…well…like me. It’s easy to think of passionate fans as being kinda crazy and isolated. These people are smart and gregarious and funny and really seem to enjoy each other and any chance they have to play. They don’t take it too seriously. I did a show with children as the main fan base, and they take things very seriously. (However, they did teach me how important it is to be kind, you know, I may just be having a bad day, but say something rude to a fan and it’s life affecting. I think that’s true for any fan of anything.) But Supernatural fans are just rabid and fun and so smart! And KIND. A lot of “fans” tend to watch with baited breath for the moment you fall or spill or wind up in jail coked out of your mind. These fans raise money for a children’s hospital to honor an impending baby. COME THE F— ON.”
She singles out one fan, who is now a very close friend, who drove with her husband for 12 hours through a blizzard to take her out for coffee when she was going through a rough time.
Coming to the SPN family as a musician brings a different perspective on how this fandom compares with others. Brian Buckley would have liked to say they were the same, but he knows that’s not the honest truth.
“When you play a live gig typically, there’s an energy to the room that people are waiting to hear you. The first few conventions that we did, nobody had heard of us as far as that fandom is concerned. So it was a kind of like ‘what the hell are you doing here?’ So the room sometimes it’s pretty quiet and they’re staring at you like “well, you know what I’m here for and I’m not necessarily here for this so make me a believer.” Which I love. I appreciate that challenge. It’s something that I embrace completely. So, when we did start getting good reactions from them, it was an even more lovely experience than normal gigs because people coming to those gigs either come to see us or had heard about us from someone else and were coming for the first time. So, they are two totally different things. It’s gotten even better now we’ve done a few of them. People are so much more welcoming because they’d heard our name a few times in the fandom. But the first few times it was… you could definitely pin point the tension in the room.
We did manage to convert a few here and there. It’s something we take very seriously and are very happy about. To us it’s not about a product – it’s about an experience. It’s about energy and it’s about trying to convince people by giving them an experience that they can take home and go ‘you know, I’ve been in that place and I understand that if I want to go back to that moment I can turn on their song and I can experience it again.’ ”
Even trying to compare the SPN fandom to others is like apples and oranges for Matt Cohen.
“There is absolutely no comparison!! The SPN Fandom is by far the most supportive and interesting group of individuals I’ve had the delight to experience. I have shared and listened to personal stories as well has partied it up and danced around like a buffoon with them. I would not change a single experience I have had with the Fandom. The surprising thing is the gift the fans gave and continue to give me. The SPN Fandom has supported me thru both character portrayals and in every aspect of my career. I go to these CON’s all over the place and the experience is only getting better with every stop. I have a blast with the Fandom, I relate to the Fandom, and most importantly I am part of the SPN Fandom. I continue to be surprised every day I get to be a part of the Fandom movement. It’s bigger than just support for the show, it’s a movement.”
Given the opportunity to say one thing to all SPN fans, this is what Kim, Matt, Elias and Brian wanted say:
Kim: “You are heard. Followed closely by Thank you, and I’ll buy you a beer when I can.”
Matt: “I AM ONE LUCKY SON-OF-A-BITCH TO BE ACCEPTED AND SUPPORTED BY Y’ALL, THANK YOU!!!!!!! (and YES I still love exclamation points!!!)” (And yes, the caps are ALL his)
Elias: “You should start a petition to get me back on the show. Ok, go.”
Brian: “That’s easy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Are you kidding? That’s simple. Anybody who is as caring and as lovely as this fandom has been is so far above and beyond what we could have ever expected or dreamed of. They’re just phenomenal, phenomenal fans. Not only do I feel lucky and blessed to be a part of that circle but certainly they’ve helped up our profile just because they’re fans that don’t expect anything back and yet they give everything. As far as I’m concerned that’s pure selflessness which is the definition of art to me. So we owe them big time.”
The obvious mutual affection and respect the fans and the stars (and all others associated) have for each other is apparent in every action taken by either side. Like several of you have said, it’s a family like no other; there are absolutely no other current shows that have the fandom Supernatural has. Fans of all ages, from all over the world, have literally come together and embraced each other, warts and all, as family. There is something amazing and so incredibly cool about a show that can create that kind of cohesiveness.
As fans of television, we constantly live in fear of losing our shows to cancellation. After having researched, spoken to fans, broken my inbox from fan email overload, I am more convinced than ever that won’t happen for a while.
Castiel help them if they try. Haven’t they seen what we can do??
* Research assistance provided by Charlotte Kinzie. Wouldn’t have happened without you!!
Twitter: @hst1976 & @charkinzie
** A few fans included photos for us to publish. Thanks so much for sharing!