Xena and Supernatural Prompts

Xena Prompts
How does this episode interpellate the Xena viewer?

Drawing on Ross’ categories of overt, organic, and obscured invitation, how does it invite its viewer (you and/or the Xena fan) in?

How does this episode depend on teleparticipation?

How might we compare this televisual mode of participatory address (teleparticipation) to our discussions of audience address and engagement in silent cinema and in early sound cinema?

Supernatural Screening Prompts

How do these episodes imagine the viewer? The producer? The relationship between the two? The act of viewing? The act of authorship?

How do these episodes envision gender and sexuality playing a role in the act of viewing and/or producing?

How do these episodes address you as a viewer?

Is there a taboo here? If so, what’s taboo?

How is viewer emotion/investment represented? Is it encouraged or discouraged?

Do these episodes make room for/encourage alternate modes of participation? In other words, do they invite teleparticipation, and if so, how?

12 thoughts on “Xena and Supernatural Prompts

  1. Ralph Acevedo

    The role of gender and sexuality is very important in the act of viewing and producing. Felschow points out that the producers of Supernatural specifically limited the recurrence of female characters in the narrative in order to satisfy female fans who fantasized about the characters of Sam and Dean as being available objects of female desire. In this case, the producers recognized female fandom as a significant player in the consumption, and therefore, the existence of the show’s narrative and story. In constructing the episodes of “The Monster at the End of this Book” and “The Real Ghostbusters,” the producers construct fans as being either women or effeminate or gay men who fantasize about an incestuous relationship between Sam and Dean and are ridiculously and absurdly obsessed with the show. The fans’ obsession is played mostly for comedic effect, but Felshow argues that the tone could be a mocking one in which the producers establish their ultimate authority over the show’s story, possibly in order to wrest power back from fans. San and Dean discuss their appearance in slash fan fiction with disgust and one fan displays an intricately designed tattoo worn by her heroes. The two principle fans in the second episode, who role play as Sam and Dean, are revealed to be a gay couple, probably serving as a funhouse mirror representing a distorted image of the two protagonists. Interestingly enough, the second episode ends with a female fan giving up her obsession for Sam and starting a relationship with Chuck, the writer of the Supernatural stories. In this way, the producers could be asserting their primacy over the work they create.

  2. Patricia

    First and foremost, this episode of Xena was a bit of let down—Xena was present for maybe three minutes in the entire episode and there was virtually no butt-kicking. However, for the purposes of the class, the episode could not have been any more fitting. Witnessing the putting-on of a play from a producer’s standpoint allows the audience to witness the reasoning behind many of the choices that are made. How the creative process is influenced by what the director wants, what the actors want, what the producers want, and what the audience wants is an extremely complicated web of compromise.

    However, it is the episodes of Supernatural that must be discussed due to their richness in content—both narrative wise and their seamless self-referencing. Fandom is brilliantly represented in these episodes of Supernatural for various reasons: the first is that it places the creator of “Supernatural” in the narrative itself—there is something very meta about the characters in the series reading about themselves and what they will be doing next; secondly, in the episodes fans of the series are very much present—the viewer can both relate and mock since we, too, are fans; thirdly, even though the fans are shown in a comedic manner, the fans in the show treat “Supernatural” in almost comedic manner, so the episode both pokes fun at the fans and at itself. A very obvious example of this is how the fans imitate Sam and Dean in overly-deep voices, which the actors (Ackles and Padalecki) both do when they portray the characters Dean and Sam Winchester. The episode encourages teleparticipation because it depicts it in a very blatant manner and even though Sam and Dean frown upon it in the episode and the actions of the fans seem somewhat ridiculous at times, the fact that they are giving recognition to that kind of engagement with the show is important to recognize.

    Sexual representation in this episode is pretty fascinating. There is the obvious fact that both the main characters are incredibly handsome men, but there is also the underlying twist that the books within the show have a homosexual following. There are several of these references, the most memorable of which are when Jenny mentions the fact that there are forums about Sam and Dean being “together” (despite the fact that they are brothers) and at the end of the second episode when fan “Sam” and “Dean” reveal that they are in fact partners and in love. These kinds of moments suggest that the writers of the show are well aware of fans’ various online interpretations. Incorporating that into the narrative of the show is quite bold.

  3. Mary-Caitlin Hentz

    “Fandom” as represented in Supernatural is a superficially repugnant and childish thing, yet intrinsically cathartic and even a positive influence at it’s very core – this delineation however, is dependent on the applications of said “fandom,” applications which remain inherently and unwaveringly gendered.

    The fans of Supernatural, are portrayed as bumbling, dweeby, awkward fantasy nerds, living vicariously through fiction – but that doesn’t seem to be the Winchester brother’s real problem with it, their problems lie in the fans undermining of traditional masculinity and their ignorance to the reality of the world they read about in their supposedly make believe novels. The fan in this way is gullible, without the right set of tools to process the true nature of the Winchester’s stories – and Sam and Dean have no time for screwing around. Furthermore, the male make-believe, dress up factor insults the boys serious dedication to hunting and self-sufficiency, a theme which is carried on throughout the rest of the series: while they want to help the common man/woman, they also have distinct feelings of superiority and the need for self-righteous independence and authenticity that their background characters do not.

    In this way, “fandom” furthers the already deep divide between the star and the hoi polloi. The fan is blind to the realities of fame, unable to grasp the true nature of the boys idolized odyssey because of their inherent normalcy.

    Besides undermining traditional concepts of masculinity, as emphasized by the fan couples bumbling nature and subsequent reveal of homosexuality, (a joke which follows the hyper-masculine Winchester brothers from job to job, stressing the importance of “maleness”) the hyper-femininity of the female fan is also highlighted by the obsessive, enamored and undeniably crazy Becky.

    As an avid Supernatural fan, I won’t deny the sexualization of Sam and Dean that remains inherent to female viewership, but it’s also very apparent that these representations are heavy caricatures of reality, and Supernatural attempts to illustrate this in the redemption of both male and female fan at the end of the second episode – where Becky gives up on Sam and the larping couple admits why they really love the series.

    Overall, it seems that everyone submits to their stereotypes, even the Winchesters, but that doesn’t mean they remain confined to them.

  4. Sofia Zinger

    The eighteenth episode of the fourth season of “Supernatural” is pure genius. It is extremely difficult not to appreciate the extremely meta nature of the episode. What was most unusual about the episode was the insertion of the author of a text into the text itself. When one experiences a television show or film, one does not expect the creator of the characters in the medium to appear on the screen as their own characters. As an audience member, this would probably be too jarring not to take us out of the text itself, not letting us immerse ourselves fully. It is rare to see a show do this so seamlessly and without disruption to the continuity of the story.
    What makes the show special, and makes it possible for it to add this extra dimension of storytelling, is that it has taught us to expect the unexpected. We are presented, from the start, with a very unrealistic world filled with very realistic characters. It is this realism that helps us come to terms with the fact that these characters have an author, and it is this unexpected nature that leads us to believe that this man is a prophet and is writing the gospel of the Winchester brothers. Another thing that makes it less hard for us, as an audience, to not be dissuaded by the taboo of putting an author into a text is that the main characters were just as surprised, perplexed and incredulous as we were.
    The fact that the surprise twist came in the middle of a season and was not the main premise of the show from the start is also something that is important. By now, the show had its own fan base and a solid viewership. The real authors of the show took this risk knowing that people already had an idea of the characters in their heads and that they would stay true to these people they were already emotionally invested in. As a fan of a series, even something one would normally think of as unusual or jarring in another medium could seem understandable and even an interesting twist in a show one already likes or loves.
    There are many reasons why the taboo of putting an author, and later audience members, into a text is an interesting decision. There are also many reasons why it worked so well in the case of “Supernatural” when it doesn’t work so well in other attempts. Without the creative genius of putting it in as part of a supernatural plot (pardon the insertion of the series title into the blog post) which never ceases to surprise us, this would not have worked so naturally and would not have been nearly as successful.

  5. Brendan Mahoney

    Television is seen by many as a one-way transmission. The television set bombards the viewer with messages that the viewer has no control over unless he/she wishes to stop the transmission all together. However, the fandom of “cult” shows like the CW’s Supernatural reveals that creation is not entirely one-sided. Through fan-fiction, original pieces of art, and vidding, fans create new content. Unlike the content being professionally produced on television, this content is merely for the enjoyment of themselves and others. While this type of fan involvement is not native to Supernatural, it is one of the few shows to explicitly acknowledge the fandom surrounding it. Introduced into the show’s canon with “The Monster at the end of the Book” (4.18) the writers of the show introduced a doppelganger (or stand-in) for the show within the show: “Supernatural” the book series, written by the prophetic an Chuck Shirley. This doppelganger, complete with its own small, cult-like fanbase, gives the creators of Supernatural a forum to comment on their fan’s engagement with the show in groundbreaking way. While in some ways this explicit acknowledgement legitimizes the fandom subculture, it commits a grave transgression: opening up the subculture to ridicule.

    While humility is virtue many people aspire to; humans are, for the most part, vain creatures who crave recognition. The sheer volume of fan fiction that has been created involving the Winchester brothers and the Supernatural represents a significant time investment on the part of its fans, who would not have produced it unless they felt an emotional connection that invited them to tele-participate. However, recognition for this endeavor is not always wholly positive for fandom. While Supernatural is known for its devoted fans; we can safely assume that casual viewers, critics, and first time viewers watched episodes like “The Monster at the end of the Book.” Mentioning slash fiction in the episode, in addition to other eccentricities of the fandom, don’t necessarily show the fans in the best light to those outside of the fandom. Evidence of this can be found on the Supernatural Wiki an internet database of information written and updated by fans. “Some fans have criticized those who bring the world of Wincest or fan fiction to the attention of those involved with the show, claiming it shouldn’t be spoken of and should remain only between the fans.” By involving itself in issues of fandom, Supernatural perhaps gives too much recognition to an area not all are part of or proud of. This recognition can then can put the show and its fan’s in a bad light, not a good thing for a show that often struggles for viewership and recognition of its own within the popular culture.

    On the other hand, by acknowledging its viewers, Supernatural is allowing its cult fans to be “in” on the joke in a way that a casual viewer never could be. Presumably a significant amount of fans dislike the “Wincest” and revel in the chance to laugh at it. This winking look at a unique area of fandom cements the relationship between viewer and producer. Slash fiction exists in for nearly all shows with devoted audiences, but few would acknowledge such a thing. (A cursory search for other slash fiction revealed its existence for LOST, 24, Big Bang Theory, and countless others online). Supernatural’s acknowledgement of this somewhat taboo aspect of fandom rewards the emotional involvement of the fans and encourages even more teleparticipation, through the promise of more meta humor and winking glances.

  6. Toren Hardee

    I found Supernatural’s decision to “go meta”, so to speak, in the first episode we watched to be, if not the first twist of its kind, still rather brave—for, as they say, “once you go meta, you can’t go back.” Well, no one says that, but it is true in this case—introducing an author character who has been writing the whole series’ history is not just some fun plot device you can whip up for one episode and then toss off, not if you have any commitment to a sense of continuity in your product.

    Once this barrier is broken, it provides opportunities for all sorts of interesting plotlines, and though we only watched one of these subsequent episodes (the convention), its meaning in terms of audience reception and participation is significant. As we discussed in class (and related to Ross’ critiques in “Power to the People – Or the Industry?”) the producers of the show have decided to portray a version of the audience for a product identical to theirs except for its medium (book series as opposed to television series), and they have complete control over what this audience will look like.

    As a sort of “outsider” viewer, watching the show for the first time, I felt relatively detached in this portrayal of a fanbase, feeling, for some reason, more invested in the way they chose to portray this tragic hero / Godlike figure, yet somehow pathetic, author—but that’s a different story. I can imagine that if I had been a committed fan of Supernatural, I could’ve shaken off their depiction of fans as slobbering, dorky, overeager clods as not their sincere belief, or simply the go-to way to portray the most avid fans of any cultural product, fantasy novels/TV shows aside. But perhaps I wouldn’t have shrugged it off so easily, and I’m sure there were some fans that didn’t. Fans will be fans, and if they are really committed to something, a slight like this probably won’t stop them from being fans of it, but there’s something to be said for the power the producers have over this captive audience of sorts. I always felt that Lost was a show that was (cleverly and rather marketably, as we said in class) geared towards devoted fans, and looked to reward their devotion in as many ways as it could. They even killed off Nikki and Paolo for us! So I can hardly imagine them pulling a stunt like Supernatural did in the convention episode—but perhaps that makes Supernatural a braver show, in the end. Though it’s hard to knock Lost for not taking risks.

  7. Joshua Aichenbaum

    Felshow would argue that—more than outlining alternate modes of fan participation—the episodes of Supernatural we watched tend to mock fandom’s creative endeavors. They use self-reflexive parody to maintain a social hierarchy, placing the show’s true creators above its fans and their obsessive behaviors, and therefore emphasizing the creator’s validity. By deconstructing the episodes using analogies, one sees how this argument plays out. Carver Edlund becomes the authentic authorial figure. He receives Sam’s and Dean’s lives directly from God and delivers the truth by translating it into a series of fantastical novels. In contrast, the publisher in “The Monster at the End of this Book,” the fans at the Supernatural convention and Becky come to represent Supernatural’s actual fans. They are presented as being overly devoted. Their obsessive nature is displayed via their patterns of fan participation. Becky writes fan-fiction and enacts her characters as she writes. The publisher knows all Winchester related trivia and dons a Winchester tattoo on her bum. And the fans at the convention take part in 24-hour role-playing and have trouble staying in character. These fans are clearly meant to provide humor (some would say they are ridiculed in good fun), but I would align myself more with Felschow’s opinion and point out that—for the show’s devoted fans— these analogies are conspicuously imperfect and become divisive. They misrepresent Supernatural’s fan-base and exaggerate the pain and privilege that goes into being a television writer. To branch away from Felschow’s argument, however, I would add that Sam and Dean do not factor into these analogies thus far. If we were to add them to the equation, Sam and Dean would become the non-fan, or perhaps even the casual fan. Call me egotistical, but they represent people like me. They are the viewer who happened upon the show and does not know the ins and outs of Supernatural fandom. Sam and Dean discover their fandom along with the non/ casual fan. The resulting effect for the non/ casual fan is that the humor ceases to be critical. It becomes purely fun and comments upon fandom in general, instead of targeting a group of fans and misrepresenting them. By the end of “The Real Ghostbusters,” two fans explain to Sam why the Supernatural book series means so much to them. In doing so, Sam and the non/ casual viewer begin to come to terms with fandom as a social necessity for certain individuals. Why are Sam’s and Dean’s role in this big analogy important? I think it reinforces that fans are not singular but insted are diverse in nature. Some Supernatual fans might watch these self-reflexive episodes and be offended. Other fans, including the majority of non/ casual fans, might actually be encouraged to create and participate in fan activities as a result. Although the two aforementioned fan characters are quirky, via their heart-to-heart with Sam they are humanized. Their behavior becomes more culturally acceptable and would encourage me, and many of my like, to experiment with fan-fiction and other forms of tele-participation outlined in the show.

  8. Mark Whelan

    The two episodes of Supernatural screened for class are two hours of television filled with self-referencial humor and a very “meta” analysis of fan culture. In this fashion, the episodes address the relationships between the viewers and the producers of both Supernatural specifically and fan culture in general. The easiest concepts to pick out are the ways in which the episodes poke fun at fan and producer alike. Instances like the characters Sam and Dean scoffing at and not taking seriously the fans of their fictional selves, or when the author of the Supernatural books, Chuck, proclaims that he must be some kind of God who has cursed Sam and Dean to live out “bad writing.” In these two examples, both the fans and the writers are belittled and laughed at. It is necessary for both parties to have a sense of humor for these themes to go over well. On the other hand there are definitely ways in which both viewer and producer are elevated and empowered. The fact that the author, Chuck, ends up being a prophet protected by archangels illustrates the importance of the author, and the way in which multiple fictional Supernatural fans end up helping out Sam and Dean gives fans not only a feeling of empowerment but it is also a nod to the ways in which fans can function in a participatory way with the show (this occurs literally in the episodes, but can be seen for as a metaphor for fan participation outside of the episodes).

    What are the repercussions of the way in which these cultures are imagined?

    I think that there is a definite gender divide as a result of the representation of fandom in the show. Women fans are represented as swooning girls in love (and often times sexually charged) with the fictional characters, whereas the men are depicted as wannabes who can only get happiness from (very poorly) imitating and living out the lives of other people. I think in both cases, these gendered definitions of fans are insulting.

    I think that another result of the themes from the episodes are an approval of certain types of fans but not others. The only fans that are really accepted by the characters Sam and Dean (and maybe the producers of the show) are the two fans who end up helping Sam and Dean save the day, claiming some generic comment like “We had to help, it’s what Sam and Dean would have done,” and explain to Dean what the true meaning of the books are. In this manner fans that appreciate the show, appreciate the message, and support the characters are fans that are appreciated. Other fans, like the ones who make Sam/Dean sexual websites, or who only like to bash the books in public forums are put down in the two episodes. In this sense, the show is really illustrating which kind of fans are respected and which ones are not.

  9. Kenneth Grinde

    Taking the plunge and making a conscious effort to acknowledge the audience of “Supernatural” presents a complex series of subsequent conflicts. The first is with established fans being (mis)represented as discussed by Laura Felschow, and the second is with potential fans, the very highly regarded currency of network TV. Regardless of whether these conflicts bring about positive or negative effects, the bottom line is undeniable: “The Monster at the End of This Book” adds a brand new dimension to the “Supernatural” text.

    After watching one episode of Supernatural, I would describe myself as a potential fan. I was intrigued by the story, the effects weren’t too cheesy, and the style was clearly unique. As someone who watches TV, that was enough of a sell to get me into a second episode without complaints. But for a potential fan, an early episode as a meta-story throws some strange elements into the viewing experience. For those more experienced with the series, the conflict of seeing oneself is exactly that: seeing one’s identity either mirrored or not. But for a new viewer, one is told a few things at once. Namely, one, “we have fans and thus this show is in some way popular,” and two, “our fans look and act a certain way.” Pre-identifying the audience like this can be seen initially as setting a character norm to be followed or broken, but more generally, it introduces as standard that the audience for “Supernatural” is active.

    Last week I blogged about the rights of writers, and my unease at the thought of creative power being relinquished to an audience in the form of fan fiction. But after reading Laura Felschow’s essay on “Supernatural,” I now understand that writers do maintain some control, and that this last bastion of power at the writer’s table is, ironically, the audience. Whatever characteristics an audience has in real life, the main written script still holds supreme stereotyping authority, and may create an image of whatever audience it pleases.

    So although this episode was in some ways a power move by the writers of “Supernatural,” the episode set a standard that is exactly opposed to this power: these fans don’t just watch the show. They write and read fan fiction, start and spread rumors, and develop and discuss theories. Whether they are represented or not, they are there, and whether you feel like you are one of them or not, you have the right to speak up.

    For someone freshly introduced to the series, I’m officially interested, though wary of such a self-awareness becoming a gimmick, when the truly satisfying narratives I’ve seen keep their protagonists contained in a world outside of intruding fans.

  10. James Stepney

    Television show, Supernatural, gave a comical portrayal of its fan. However, the extreme nature convolutes the actual complexity of the fan. For example, in Laura Felschow’s article about fandom, she makes a distinction between the fan and the cult fan, but her definition appears to focus on the fanatic as oppose to the cult fan. Felschow takes the stance that the cult fan is excessive and can be unreasonable in particular aspects relating to the choices of the show’s producers. In the episode, The Monster at the End of the Book, the show references their cult audiences by including a number of characters that represent the excessive investment many of their actual fans spend.
    Here, the cult fan—in my opinion—invests as much time as the average fan, who discusses and participates as much time and effort as the person having a conversation as to what happened in the last episode. I feel the introduction of new media and ones participation through this medium (i.e. computers) serves as a bridge to connect other fans of the same show; which is only another form of having conversations with anyone who watches the film. I feel the idea of cult fan refers to a specific audience who the show “speaks” to. For example, shows such as: Lost, Futurama, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all speak to a specific genre of audience, but those who “live” the lifestyle of the fictional characters could be considered excessive. Conversely, though I am bickering with word choice this argument remains a relevant topic, as producers are aware of their viewers, as well as their construction of the fan image within their show. With that said, who exactly shapes the image of the fan/content?
    I feel there is a space for give and take, where the producers gain the most amount of power from their construction of content. Although this is true, this power struggle often lies within the target audience’s hands, because without these particular viewers the show itself would not exist. I feel Supernatural’s—as Laura Felschow’s puts it—head nod to fans acts as an acknowledgement that there is an inherent relationship between spectator and creator. I do not feel this is patronizing in anyway, but the definition of fandom in relation to the investment the viewer devotes into the show versus the excessive spectator needs further work in fan studies.

  11. Rajwinder Kaur

    How much ownership do fans have over the shows they watch? The duality of television is that shows are made for mass consumption like any other public good, but at the same time, these shows also belong to the studio that produced them, the writer that wrote the script and the actors that play the characters. Supernatural recognizes this duality with the character Carver Edlund. Although Edlund is a writer, he can only write what he sees in his visions. The visions, naturally, are from the ‘reel-life’ experiences of Ghostbusters Dean and Sam. Therefore, Edlund’s work is, in a sense, not his own, yet because these visions come to him, he is invited to participate. Think of Edlund as a fan who uses his favorite show as a springboard for his own work. Is this a taboo practice? Not necessarily, after all, fans are asked to teleparticipate.
    These episodes ridicule fan engagement however by acknowledging the Supernatural fan community’s commitment to the show, the episodes serve as gestures of respect. The self-reflexivity of the show is both “playful and inclusive” and “harsh and demeaning” (Felschow). In The Monster at the End of the Book, Sam and Dean threaten Carver to stop writing and the writer himself considers suicide, but they cannot control the forces that may (specifically Zachariah stands in for the fan community), the ‘fan fiction’ that disseminates, and the interpretations of their lives. In The Real Ghostbusters, the female fan is shown as peculiarly sexually engaged with the ‘fictional characters’ and the LARP reveals fans as knowing more about the books than the people who live it. This is similar to Star Trek fans knowing the minute details of spaceships that are often overlooked by the creators. In fact, Sam and Dean are stand-ins for the creators of the show, surprised, freaked-out and even embarrassed for the fans.
    During the LARP, Sam and Dean’s eyes are almost constantly widened with horror at the level of other people’s engagement in their lives. Nonetheless, this episode does not indentify fans as obsessed lovers. The fans that engage in LARP realize the difference between reality and fiction. They recognize the ghosts as not being part of the game, they actively put on the deep (ridiculous) Sam and Dean voice and even tell the ‘reel characters’ that they are overdoing it when the Winchester brothers chime in the game. Finally, when the two male fans hold hands at the end and reveal their relationship, it is a sneer at the show’s creators for making generalized assumptions about Supernatural fans as well as recognition of the gay fan base. Sam and Dean, as they did in the other episode, have no control over any of these communities. In fact, Sam solicits Becky’s help in solving another Winchester mystery—here, the creator is engaging with the fan. This final scene not only encourages, but also asks fans to continue their practices..

  12. Jamal Davis

    Really? This is what you think of us?

    Supernatural writers and producers display their fan following as very childish, obsessive, and emotionally involved. The character of Becky represents the ultimate Supernatural fan. She is introduced as a ditsy girl who is alone in her room and writes fan-fiction. When contacted by the writer of the Supernatural books she freaks out and tries not to be persuaded of the fact that the characters from the books are real, and then gets excited when she realizes that they are real. She is further represented as a fan that is head over heals for these characters and knows all of the information about the books. Her image is perceived as over the top, annoying, and obsessive. This makes her appear as not the ideal fan, even though she is deemed the ultimate fan. If Becky is the ultimate fan, are the show writers claiming that even the best fan is a ditsy girl that acts like a child when it comes to Supernatural fandom? Another look is needed to see how the Supernatural fan is represented.
    Supernatural represents its fans through the representation of the fans at the Supernatural book convention. Here we see these fans representing the different types of fans that may be sitting at home watching the television show. Therefore, the Supernatural book fans, and Becky, are synonymous with the Supernatural television show fans. The fans at this convention are represented as dedicated males that are emotionally involved with the material. They wear the same clothing, speak the same way as Sam and Dean, they don’t know how to talk to women, and they know all of the material in the books. The writers aren’t picturing Supernatural fans as the best type of fans. However, they are picturing them as dedicated and loyal. In order to defeat the three evil ghosts, we see two of the fans support Sam and Dean at the end of The Real Ghostbusters episode. As a fan, it must be disturbing to see a show represent you as one of these convention fans. Overall, the image of the Supernatural fan is overwhelming represented with young men, dressing up like fictional characters, and trying to be like the characters of the book; an image that most cult fans would not want to be portrayed as.

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