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Supernatural leaves a unique legacy: A regressive show evolving for its progressive female fanbase

  • Vox

    The CW drama and its mostly female fandom spent many years locked in a love-hate relationship, says Vox's Aja Romano. "Alongside older monster-of-the-week dramas Buffy and Angel, Supernatural arguably helped spawn a whole legacy of low-key ensemble fantasy series," explains Romano. "The show’s fandom was perhaps one of the first to help usher in the modern era of geek culture: an environment in which creative teams co-exist with its series’ fans, evolving the show in harmony with them rather than in spite of or in direct opposition to them." Romano adds that "from 2005 to 2020, Supernatural wrestled with its own regressive tendencies and a pattern of flagrant misogyny. Throughout the series’ many memorable meta-episodes, Supernatural originally kept portraying its own female fans as creepy, embarrassing stalkers, while perpetually treating its female characters as cannon fodder. Over its first decade, however, this gradually changed, shifting from open derision to open celebration. The result of all this was an ending to the plot that fans could be satisfied with — though the final episode arguably wasn’t the story’s proper ending, which actually came in the episode right before the finale. The series finale itself was — well, it was a lot, and it clearly wasn’t designed to make every fan happy. And despite everything I just said about how the show evolved its depiction of women over time, the finale didn’t feature a single recurring female character." Romano points out it took years for Supernatural to acknowledge its core female demographic. "Throughout the series’ early and middle seasons, the writers consistently seemed to be writing for (and in some instances about) an imaginary audience of mostly male viewers," says Romano. "The show catered to the idea that Supernatural fans were akin to archetypal superhero or comic-book fans, geeky men driven by fantasies of becoming the hunky Winchester bros, rather than geeky women (and queer people) driven by fantasies of — well, you can fill in your own blanks. At the same time, Supernatural’s omnipresent American heartland aesthetic wasn’t exactly easy to align with its weird fangirl demographic. Its heroes sported a family name synonymous with 'gun.' The show combined the urban fantasy themes — first made popular by its CW (then-The WB) predecessor Buffy the Vampire Slayer — with the denim-clad, muscle car-driving character tropes of Dukes of Hazzard. In keeping with the theme of Sam and Dean as 'good old boys,' the show clung to regressive views of gender, race, and sexuality. Over its long run, it became notorious for killing off scores of its female characters, most of whom had been introduced as brief love interests for the heroes...But over time, all of this conflict began to settle. It helped that around 2012, in conjunction with the rise of Tumblr as a fandom platform, and the subsequent rise of interest in both SuperWhoLock (the notorious mega-fandom combining Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock) and Destiel, the show’s ratings miraculously started to increase. In 2013, the show’s viewership jumped from the previous season by a full 33 percent among women age 18–34 — something almost unheard of for a show then nearly 10 seasons into its run. That ratings increase made it much harder for the creative team to dismiss the women ensuring that it continued to air, and this new Tumblr-driven audience began to rapidly shift the relationship between Supernatural and its fanbase. By the time the 200th episode, 'Fan Fiction,' aired in 2014, the show had come around swiftly to a full embrace of its fandom as being full of geeky, passionate women." ALSO: Supernatural creator Eric Kripke says fans would've hated his original ending.

    TOPICS: Supernatural, The CW, Eric Kripke, Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles