Fan Phenomena: Supernatural is the fourth book by writing team Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen. I admit to missing the first one, Fan Culture: Theory/Practice, but their second book, Fandom at the Crossroads, was an eye opener in terms of understanding fandom and the SPN Family culture. I quickly ordered and devoured their third book, Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls. You can read my review over at Shameless Fan Girls.
I have since been anticipating the release of their fourth book, Fan Phenomena: Supernatural, and I would like to thank Intellect Books for providing a review copy. Fan Phenomena is an edited selection of essays, unique because the essay authors run the gamut from actors and crew to academics to fans and bloggers. The SPN Family is inclusive of cast, crew, and fans alike and this collection of essays on fandom is written not just by this faction or that portion of fandom, but is representative of all corners of the SPN Family.
Fan Phenomena is a collection of eight essays with color photos and a pleasing layout. Each essay concludes with a “Go Further” section, with suggestions for follow up books, articles, Supernatural episodes, websites, etc. The paperback, due to release May 15th, is aesthetically well done and of good quality.
The introduction, written by the editors, is simple and lays out the framework of the book. Although fairly straightforward as introductions go, I still had to take a moment after reading it. Because the introduction also makes the case for why Supernatural has inspired a fan phenomena, which is after all what the book is about, I felt overwhelmed, and yet a bit like a proud parent—that’s MY fandom:
“Supernatural is widely referred to, by fans, cast and crew, as ‘the little show that could’, achieving fan phenomena status with little help from the network. But what is it about a film, book or television show that creates the level of passion, devotion and loyalty which qualify it as such? … Each chapter uses the writer’s unique lens to illuminate the ways in which Supernatural has become a fan phenomena – by inspiring identification, emotional expression, and passion; as a catalyst for individual and social change; by facilitating the creation of close bonds of community and collaboration; and by inspiring the teaching of another generation of creators, consumers and fans.”
While I blew through Fandom and Fangasm (Yes! Everything makes sense now! That sounds just like me! I’m not alone!), I found that I took my time with Fan Phenomena. Each chapter stands on its own and presents thoughtful insights on this world of ours. I would read a bit of it, then have to take some time to reflect. (So–being possessed by a female demon is a threat to one’s masculinity. Huh. Yeah, okay.)
Because of the varied perspectives, the essays/chapters offer a little bit of everything. While all of them are worthy of discussion, I chose just a few I’d like to share with you here.
Paul Booth writes the first chapter, on how he uses Supernatural in his Media and Cultural Studies course. The chapter is written in a way that makes me feel smart for reading it. Much like the show makes me feel smart for watching it. I can watch on a superficial level, but the fun is in the analyzing. Booth incorporates into his work Supernatural’s potential to be analyzed all to hell. The best part of this chapter is that he breaks down his course and reading materials so that you can follow along at home. If you’re geeky like that. Which I might be.
Mary Frances Casper writes the chapter on the SPN Family. Casper describes everything that is good and dysfunctional about this family, and everything that makes me proud to be a member. My chest puffed out and my eyes may or may not have teared up a bit. I’ve never heard the Winchesters described so accurately, then thought of those values translated to the SPN Family:
“They [the Winchesters] defend the defenseless and protect the innocent without asking for or expecting anything in return. They put what is right before what is legal and see lying as a conditional offense, while promises must be upheld at any cost. They don’t follow any particular religion or attend church, they lie, they cheat and they steal. Yet they are moral men.
“The SPN Family reflects the values expressed in the programme through the stories they share. Narratives of family belonging, taking care of their own, fighting the good fight, unity and strength, and unwavering loyalty create a mythic Winchester-esque dynamic. Being part of the Family opens the door to a life where ‘what would a Winchester do?’ seems the unspoken motto.”
Misha Collins contributes a chapter on the life changing power of fandom. His irreverent writing style is fun to read, but hiding underneath the comedy and sarcasm is a serious message. By the time you are done reading it, you realize you’ve been hit with some knowledge without your permission. Guerilla essaying, if you will. Not so different from how Misha accomplishes anything else. Many of us have heard the story of how he realized what he had in his followers and harnessed the power for good. But this chapter goes in depth into his discovery of fandom:
“For me, discovering this fandom was pretty much like getting kidnapped by a dragon. I didn’t expect being inducted into this world to be anywhere near as strange, wonderful, or overwhelming as it has been.”
He writes about his role as celebrity, the interaction of that role with fandom, and his adjustment to it all. His “death to normalcy” attitude is pervasive throughout, but not in a cute, quippy way. Collins is very thoughtful (and realistic) about his place in fandom and what it means both for him and for fans.
The essays are broken up about midway by an interview between Zubernis and vidder Sarah House, aka Ash48. I know that creating video is complicated, on a technical level. But after reading this interview I have an all new appreciation for fanvids. Reading about how House puts together certain scenes with music to evoke a certain set of emotions was like taking a mini art history course. And this is where the “Go Further” sections at the end of each essay/interview are invaluable. After House describes putting together a vid, her purpose and intent, you can then you can flip to the end of the chapter, find the web address for the vid in question, and immediately go watch it.
I like a good gut-wrencher just as much as the next person, but some of my favorites to watch are the crack vids. House’s view on crack vids:
“Laughing at ourselves (and the show) can help put things into perspective. I know I take it all too seriously sometimes. I can get so caught up in the angst of the show and the direction it is taking that I forget that I’m in this for fun. So the crack vids are a way of pulling myself out of that.”
Serge Ladouceur offers the second interview of the book, conducted by Sarah House and Lynn Zubernis. Ladouceur gives a technical discussion of composition, but also goes into other topics such as the look of the “Amelia scenes” from Season 8, that request by studio brass for a lighter look, and Castiel’s entrance scene in S4. He also provides insight into how meaning is taken not only from what is said, but also from what is shown and how cinematography extends the telling of the story. Screenshots detailing his examples abound throughout the interview.
Fan Phenomena is advanced reading. Fandom and Fangasm describe the fandom life. Those books are for us, to help us get a little insight and shake off the “shame” of being a superfan, and also for sharing with loved ones in hopes of helping them understand why we are lost to this show. But Fan Phenomena takes us to a deeper level of analysis and understanding. Fan Phenomena gets down and dirty into fandom. What makes vidding an art form? How did SPN Family form, and what is it, exactly? Why do Supernatural Cons have these fucking awesome karaoke nights when no other con does? And will some of that magic transfer to the Cabaret night? [j/k that question isn’t actually answered in this book. The answer to that remains to be seen but looks promising after Cabaret night at DC Con.]
Fan Phenomena is available for purchase at Amazon. Fan Phenomena is a behind the scenes look not at fandom, per se, but the SPN Family–what powers us, inspires us, and connects us. From the acknowledgments: “This is for you, SPN Family. May the Little Show That Could keep on going!”