Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls ★ ★ ★ ★
Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis
University of Iowa Press, 2013
The First Rule of Fandom: tell no one about fandom
Well, authors Larsen and Zubernis just blew that rule right out of the water, using the CW Network show Supernatural to drag Fandom (with a capital ‘F’) out of the dark, secret corners of the internet into the blinding sun of mainstream Judy Judgmental awareness. I appreciate their heartfelt efforts here to get to the bottom (heh, bottom) of the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores’ of Fandom — why people do it, who is doing it, and what exactly are they doing when they do it?
This isn’t something that started with Supernatural’s legions of fangirls — goodness no. The clannish tribalism and subversive subculture of fanning has been around for a looong time (just ask the Kirk/Spock shippers), but Supernatural does present the perfect opportunity for two brave women to grab the tail of the beast once and for all and showcase the glorious wonders of Fandom — the good, bad and yes, even ugly, realities (because there is definitely more than one, reality that is).
If it weren’t for Supernatural, I probably would have lived the rest of my life utterly clueless that such a thing as Fandom existed. Because really, it takes an extra special push and shove to bring you into its realm. Not just any ole thing is going to open the Fandom door. You grow up, you love bands, you cheer for a sports team, you get movie star crushes, you won’t miss an episode of your favorite TV show. That’s all great. We all beat our chest when we love something. And that’s getting close. But that’s not Fandom.
Fandom is a whole other thing unto itself — an addiction, a compulsion, a consuming force whereby the more you see of it, the more you love it, and the more you love it, the more of it you seek out, willing to look in places that had never once occurred to you before. When you get there, you find out you’re not alone, and that brings its own comfort and validation, yet another heady combo to keep you coming back for more. Because really, the very essence of Fandom is community. This isn’t something you do by yourself. It’s about plugging in, and all the technicolor surround-sound that comes with it — the fanart, the fanfiction, the fanvids — the humor, the drama, the angst, oh so many feels.
So why the big secret? Why the rule of keeping your mouth shut and not talking about it? As the authors very quickly find out, it’s the stigma and the embarrassment and sometimes even the shame for starters. The stereotypes are ruthless and unforgiving of the socially retarded Trekkie living in his mom’s basement, or the squeeing fangirl — intellectually challenged, perhaps mentally unbalanced, and overall just sad. Doesn’t he/she have anything better to do?
So there’s that for starters. One of the things the authors hoped to do with their book is to blow up that stereotype once and for all. To demystify and decloak the average fangirl/fanboy as the person sitting next to you on the bus, the person you work with, maybe even your own sister-in-law. It turns out Supernatural fangirls are moms and lawyers, doctors and librarians, and in the case of the authors themselves, college professors. Regular women with careers and families and responsibilities like everyone else.
But you’ll probably never know it. Anonymity is par for the course in Fandom. No one uses their real name and most of the Fandom’s reach and activity exists under the radar of ‘Real Life’. Rarely do the two intersect and acknowledge each other probably because a lot of what’s going on in Fandom is women stretching and redefining their libidos and what they find sexy. Shocking, I know.
The unchecked, full-on female exploration of just about every kink you can think of (and some you can’t) is in a very tangible way a sexual revolution. Even the acknowledgement that women can and do objectify men is an impulse that sill leaves many women feeling guilty, that we should somehow rise above such baser instincts and needs. Pfft. Get over it already. It’s okay. The world is not going to spin off its axis if you check out some guy’s ass (especially if it belongs to Jensen Ackles).
Go on, take a look, I’m not going to judge you for it.
A delightful surprise upon reading this was discovering how aware most of the Supernatural crew is concerning all the internet shenanigans going on around them and how much of a sense of humor they have about it, even how much some of them relate to and understand the compulsion. Jim Beaver (Bobby Singer) offered up a lot of insight in his interview responses that spoke volumes of his sensitivity, curiosity and respect. Even Jensen Ackles — the super-straight, seemingly good ol’ boy from Texas — concedes that the controversial slash pairing of himself with his co-star Jared Padalecki (otherwise known as J2) is “a hot fantasy”. Series creator Eric Kripke has certainly milked Fandom for inside jokes and meta-material, even including references on the show to Wincest.
Despite its best intentions the book does tend to blather and meander in places, and gets a bit repetitive at times, but this in no way detracted from my overall enjoyment and deep appreciation. Did I find myself in some of these pages? Absolutely. Was I living vicariously through the authors many bumbling, costly adventures as they exhausted their bank accounts in order to be front and center at the big conferences? You bet. Did I cheer when they finally breached the inner sanctum and scored one-on-one interviews with co-stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles? Hells yeah. Was I green with envy? Sick with it.
This is a sweet, funny story with a triumphant happy ending despite many trials and doubts. Who doesn’t love one of those every now and then? For the curious and uninitiated, it’s also a small peek into Fandom life. A small peek. If you really want to know, you’re just going to have to go look where it lives. Be careful though, you just might like what you find.
A free copy was provided through Netgalley for an honest review