“It’s impossible to talk about the continued success of [Supernatural] without speaking to the role the fans play in this – so committed, so knowledgeable, so opinionated, so giving – they truly are the fuel that drives us not to settle.” Jeremy Carver, Supernatural writer & showrunner
In August last year I travelled to Vancouver to attend Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Supernatural. Those who’ve been reading my blog for a while will know that Supernatural (SPN) is a television show that I’m somewhat passionate about (see my blog How far would you travel for a convention, festival or special event?)
For SPN fans, Vancouver is their Mecca! The show is filmed there, so it makes sense that international fans, like me, who may only get the chance to attend one convention, will travel there to meet some of the stars of the show. There’s also the unique opportunity to go on a location tour with Russ Hamilton, SPN’s Location Manager, for those lucky enough to get a ticket (as they sell out within hours of being released).
So, why is SPN so special to me?
I’ve loved plenty of TV shows in the past, but I’ve never become immersed in fandom like I am with SPN. It didn’t happen right away. I watched the first six seasons in relative isolation, as I didn’t know many people who watched it. I’d been a fan of the X-Files (for nine seasons) and this show came on air not long after the X-Files ended, so I guess it filled a void.
But I fell in love with SPN immediately; perhaps because, at its heart, the show is about family. The characters, although dealing with powerful otherworldly forces, are complicated and flawed. They try to do the right thing but sometimes make monumental mistakes.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
For those who haven’t seen SPN, the show is about two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester (played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), who travel across the US in their 1967 Chevy Impala “saving people and hunting things”. Why? Because their mother was killed by supernatural forces when they were infants and their father spent his life focused on revenge, searching for the monster that killed her. The two boys grew up in this life; travelling from town to town, staying in cheap motel rooms and eating at greasy diners.
In the early days, the show had a lot of standalone episodes based on urban legends. But it wasn’t long before its own mythology began to weave itself through the seasons – drawn from folklore, myths and religion. This complex world is populated with demons, angels, vampires, ghosts, shape-shifters, witches, skin-walkers and other supernatural beings; all with their own lore. It’s an incredibly rich multi-layered story; one that is told with equal doses of humour, fantasy and reality.
It’s very hard to describe in two paragraphs what has taken place over almost nine seasons and I’m not inclined to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet watched but, obviously, I’d highly recommend it (CWTV – Supernatural).
Now, where was I?
In 2011, while visiting my brother in Vancouver, I was lucky enough to find the SPN set and watch some filming. It was such a thrill to see Jared and Jensen in action for a couple of scenes in season seven’s ‘The Mentalist’. Tellingly, I’d found the location via a SPN fan on Twitter (Supernatural, Twitter and the reluctant groupie).
When I got home I delved further into the SPN fandom (or SPN family as the show’s cast, crew and fans affectionately refer to each other). I created a SPN-specific Twitter account (@KG_Supernatural) and began to interact with people from all around the world; dipping my toes cautiously into a world I knew nothing about.
At about the same time, Jared Padalecki joined Twitter. He was one of the first people I followed and in October 2011 he tweeted that he and his wife Genevieve (who also appeared in SPN in seasons 4 and 7) were expecting their first child. He asked his fans, who were eager to give gifts, to consider donating to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital instead, tweeting: “Let’s make the world a brighter place for those not as fortunate”.
The fundraising was coordinated through the WinchesterBros fan-site and, six months later, during the Burbank Supernatural convention, Jared announced that he and Genevieve would match every dollar raised.
A series of tweets followed shortly after their son’s birth:
— Jared Padalecki (@jarpad) March 26, 2012
Thank you to everyone who donated! Genevieve and I are truly inspired and awestruck by your generosity. In five short months, $80,000 has…
— Jared Padalecki (@jarpad) March 26, 2012
… gone to families and children in need. Thank you for helping Thomas Colton Padalecki come into this world with such a positive impact!!
— Jared Padalecki (@jarpad) March 26, 2012
I was amazed by this. What a great lesson in how to use the power of social media in such a positive way – $80,000 donated because Jared had directed the outpouring of love from his and Gen’s fans into a charitable organisation.
There have been countless other examples of fundraising within the SPN fandom. Last year, in similar fashion, $50,000 was raised for Hats Off For Cancer in lieu of gifts for the birth of Jensen’s Ackles first child. There are auctions at every convention and many other fandom campaigns that have benefited a diverse range of charities including A Dog’s Life Rescue, American Cancer Society, Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas and Death Penalty Focus.
Most recently, the American Stroke Association has seen an influx of donations after the popular Rob Benedict announced that he had suffered a stroke during a SPN convention in Toronto. In a recent interview with Lynn Zubernis of Fangasm he said:
“Lynn, please pass on to everyone how much I appreciate all the support – the thoughts and prayers and donations to the American Stroke Association I’ve gotten from everyone. As always, the warmness and generosity of this fan community never ceases to amaze me.”
To read the full interview, click here.
If all of the above wasn’t enough to make me fall head-over-heels in love with the SPN family, I also began to follow Misha Collins on Twitter.
This wonderful, slightly wacky, man is truly a gift to the world. He first appeared on SPN in season four, as the angel Castiel, and has been a semi-regular cast member ever since. He founded Random Acts in late 2009 after he’d “looked at all his Twitter followers and decided that if all those talented, if slightly weird, people could band together then we’d be an unstoppable force.” Since then, he’s been inspiring people worldwide, including his 1.2 million followers on Twitter.
“At Random Acts, it’s our mission to conquer the world one random act of kindness at a time. We are here to inspire acts of kindness around the world both big and small. We provide a vast network of caring people with the encouragement and support they need to change lives for the better.” Random Acts
Random Acts biggest project to date was ‘Hope 2 Haiti’, when they made a commitment to help rebuild homes, communities and lives after the 2010 earthquake. The organisation raised hundreds of thousands of dollars; with much of that money going into building a home for orphaned children. The Jacmel Children’s Center was completed in the North America summer of 2013 after three volunteer trips to Haiti. Each volunteer raised $5000 towards the project.
Random Acts also coordinate smaller projects in the US and around the world. In Australia, at the All Hell Breaks Loose (SPN) conventions – one-day events in Sydney and Melbourne – they asked attendees to bring specific goods to be donated to a local women’s shelter.
Misha Collins is also the founder of GISHWHES – the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. In 2012, the event shattered two Guinness World Records; one for the largest scavenger hunt with 14,000 participants from 69 countries and the other for the most pledges to commit a Random Act of Kindness (over 93,000 in 94 countries).
Challenges range from weird and wacky to simple acts of kindness. For example, one item on the list was to take a picture of yourself hugging a war veteran, while another called for participants to take a picture of a stormtrooper cleaning a pool next to a sunbather. The whole event encourages laughter, creativity and kindness… and, from what I’ve heard, a severe lack of sleep during the week of the event.
One participant said: “No joke. Gishwhes has reaffirmed my faith in humanity. Truly. The amount of people willing to help you, to be in photos with you, to pose with you, to offer a kind word, to not laugh at you when you’re doing something utterly ridiculous…it’s amazing”.
Another said: “This is the week the world will break”.
I love that Misha encourages his fans to be creative, to go outside their comfort zones, to follow their dreams. The artwork for GISHWHES was created by a SPN fan and I know Misha has encouraged a friend of mine to pursue her photography. On a personal level, I’ve seen incredible artworks, videos and fan fiction inspired by SPN. There are just so many talented people within this fan-based community.
Of course, my foray into fandom didn’t stop here. I began to comment on SPN blogs and developed a network of online friends (something I never imagined I’d ever do). I watched YouTube videos of the big conventions that were held in North America and found myself laughing out loud. I’m sure Jared and Jensen were comedians in a previous life. In fact, all the guests were very entertaining. There is such an obvious camaraderie between the cast, even those who’ve only been in a handful of episodes and haven’t actually shared screen time. Many have met on the convention circuit and become great friends; just like the fans, who’ve made great friends through attending conventions.
You only have to watch the gag reels (bloopers) of each season to know that the cast and crew also have a lot of fun on the set. There have been light-hearted prank wars, which are re-told with gusto at most of the conventions, with Jared Padalecki seemingly the biggest culprit. We’ve heard from numerous co-stars about the times he’s tried to make them break character during filming. He even shared an outtake with his fans on Twitter; his hilarious attempt to make Jensen laugh in a season seven episode.
There are many SPN cast, crew, producers, writers and directors on Twitter. They tweet behind the scenes photographs or share gossip from the set. This season there has also been an increase in the number of them live-tweeting the episode and interacting with fans as it airs in the US. They genuinely seem to be having as much fun as the fandom.
Earlier this year, when a variety of Harlem Shake videos began appearing on YouTube and it became something of a fad, Jensen Ackles suggested that they should make one for the SPN fans. Once it was approved by the studio, they took precious time out of filming to produce the video, which was subsequently shared with fans via Twitter.
I must admit that even though I love SPN and its fandom, it’s taken me a while to accept that I fit into this world. After all, I’m a woman in my 40s and it was a tad embarrassing that I wanted to go to a convention to meet the stars; at least it seemed that way when I talked to family and friends. And, if that wasn’t enough, there was my own inner-critic threatening to squash any ideas that my inner-fangirl might have. Surely, this was something I should’ve done in my 20s, not in my 40s.
But then two things happened.
I read an article titled: The journey to becoming a card-carrying Supernatural fan on The Winchester Family Business website. Written by Nightsky, the opening paragraph struck a chord with me:
“I was very hesitant about going to my first Supernatural convention. I was a person who had traveled to different continents, had a rewarding career, raised a family. I was happy, living a normal, gratifying, respectable life, minding my own business. How could I even be thinking of going to a fan convention?”
Nightsky went on to talk about how she became immersed in the Supernatural fandom and attended her first convention. Reading this article turned my nerves about going to a convention into heady excitement.
I also purchased Fandom At The Crossroads: Celebration, Shame and Fan/Producer Relationships written by college professors Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen. This book – “an in-depth exploration of the reciprocal relationship between a groundbreaking cult television show and its equally groundbreaking fandom” – was an amazing read.
It opened my eyes to fandom (for which I still have a lot to learn) and made me realise that I was not alone. Reading a book by two highly-educated academics, who are also self-confessed fangirls, definitely helped me get over my embarrassment.
Now I love what I love and don’t feel the need to apologise for it.
Lynn and Katherine have since written Fangasm: Supernatural fangirls, which is a much more personal story about how they fell in love with SPN and “turned their oh-so-practical lives upside down.” I can totally relate.
And it’s not just the fans who benefit from reading these books. At a recent convention Jared referenced Fangasm and said:
“Fandom is the place you can be yourselves. And you shouldn’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This is a place where we are all allowed to be who we are, not who they want us to be. So stay here and let’s all raise a lot of money for some amazing causes, and just be who we want to be, and – if you’re less than 18 close your ears – fuck everyone else.”
He has also told Lynn and Katherine that their books have helped him understand and relate better to his fans.
I should also briefly mention that not everything I’ve seen online from the SPN family is positive. There are a few people who create Twitter accounts purely to send hate to those involved with the show (and those fans who subsequently voice their disapproval). There are also times when other, seemingly rational, fans take offense to a tweet or something that happens on the show. It’s not that I don’t see these moments of Twitter madness. I do. But I choose to ignore them and focus on the positive, of which there is plenty.
Perhaps it’s like this with other shows too – I honestly don’t know – but I’m consistently surprised, and very often inspired, by the SPN family. It’s one of the reasons I planned a five-week international holiday around a little-known convention in Vancouver.
And I’m very glad I did.
Note: Stay tuned for next week’s blog about the convention and my time in Vancouver.
Thanks to Megan Jackson for the use of her beautiful black and white photographs, which were taken at the 2013 Salute to Supernatural Convention in Vancouver. To see more of her photographs, click here.