Supernatural and the Exploits of The Fangirls
With the discovery of fan exploitation through the case of Firefly/Serenity, there is another case that probably shares a personal point-of-view of a particular fan, their fandom and their experience with fan labor. The ones I am talking about are Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis; remember me mentioning these two ladies before? These two professors became enamored over a television show called, Supernatural (Kripke, 2005). These Fangirls loved the show so much they even wrote a book about it.
Larsen and Zubernis were smart academics and thought to be too smart to fall for a television show, let alone become fans. They started out just like most fans, by watching the show. The more they watched, the more obsessed they became. Over time they became, in some sense, hyper fans. A hyper fan is someone who is more actively involved with their favorite media object than the regular fan. Much like the BNFs (Big Name Fans) I mentioned in my other post, the hyper fan is hyper attentive, is much more involved, and at times, can be made fun of and even ridiculed because of their over-the-top actions and emotions for their favorite media object (Barton, K. M., & Lampley, J.M., 2013).
Before I share the events of the two Fangirls, I need to share some info about the show they love, Supernatural. The television show, created by Eric Kripke, began airing on the WB/CW (Warner Brothers, and CBS) in 2005. The show follows two brothers, played by actors Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, who are usually in pursuit of all those supernatural unexplained monsters out there in the world. The brothers call themselves “hunters,” and they hunt for those monsters, demons and evil that can hurt and ruin mankind. While they hunt, they are also trying to find their father. The show is currently airing on the CW and is in its tenth season. Supernatural is one of the most popular for the network and has built a huge fan base over the years (Wikipedia, 2015).
The fans of the show do not necessarily have a nickname for themselves; most just call themselves part of the Supernatural (SPN) Family. In Larsen and Zubernis’ book, Fangasm, Supernatural Fangirls (2013), they share their trip down, what they call, the rabbit hole. They began following the show after a friend convinced them to watch, and once they watched, they were hooked, even saying that they didn’t necessarily choose the fandom the fandom chose them (Larsen & Zubernis, 2013). They attended many conventions for the show, including the mother of all cons, the San Diego Comic-Con.
The Fangirls noticed something during one such convention held in Vancouver. The ladies shared the fact that a fan bid $8000.00 for Jared Padalecki’s 30th birthday goodie bag and a hug. Although the money went to charity, what the fan was really vying for was the hug from the star himself. Is a hug from a celebrity worth 8000 bucks? Since it went to a good cause, some would say “yes.”
As the Fangirls continued on their sojourn of fandom with the television series, they became more involved with the promotion of the show. They discovered that “Creation Entertainment” had a lot of clout and were the big guns when it came to conventions, scheduling events, and getting to meet the celebrities. The ladies went on to create a blog about the series and its stars, and with a little finesse and new connections, they began interviewing key players and sharing upcoming events. Zubernis and Larsen had become what they didn’t necessarily want to be, BNF’s (Big Name Fans). The ladies wrote so well in fact, that they garnered the attention of the show’s producers and were asked to write for their Supernatural Magazine, and the Fangirls did so for free. They had an “in” now and were invited onset to talk to the actors, writers, and creators of the show.
What the ladies didn’t realize was that they would be heading down into another rabbit hole, a much darker one. In the final chapter of Larsen and Zubernis’ book, they tell about the story of their last trip to the series set in Vancouver. They were allowed onto the set, not because they were wanted there, but because two out of the four people who had bid for, won, and paid to attend had to pull out. They had been informed by some of their connections about the situation, and they went and vied to fill those voids. They were given a yes were invited to go to the set, and were told they had permission to interview and talk with certain staff members (Larsen, & Zubernis, 2013).
They believed all was fine since they had gotten permission from TPTB (The Powers That Be). What they learned was that what the TPTB approved wasn’t necessarily what the staff on set approved. When they arrived, they went around the set to say hello and talk to the crew and staff that they became so familiar with over the past few months. The atmosphere was subdued, one of the directors had just passed away, and they were quickly ushered into a room where a producer of the show told them they could no longer speak to the people they had just spoken to, and that once they left the room they could only observe from a distance. The Fangirls were shocked and even more so when they found out the other two winners of the bid had not yet gotten to meet Jensen and Jared, with whom they were promised to meet as part of their bid they so graciously paid for.
Zubernis and Larsen were disappointed and felt badly for the two paying fans who waited all day for a visit with the stars of the show. Instead, the two winners got an autographed copy of the Supernatural Magazine for their troubles. The Fangirls realized that TPTB don’t really understand fans. Surely TPTB had to know that going on set to get an autographed magazine was not acceptable, when a fan could go to a convention and stand in line to get that for free, a set visit should have constituted a face-to-face meeting, the fans paid good money for it after all. Weren’t they the customer? Shouldn’t they have been treated as a paying customer would; didn’t TPTB want their love, their loyalty, their MONEY? The Fangirls left dejected, and the other two winners were angry and frustrated, swearing to never support another Supernatural event ever (Larsen, & Zubernis, 2013).
One more important issue that came into play was the fact that the Fangirls were writing a book about fandom, and their publishers at the time weren’t happy with what they had written. The publishers wanted a fun book, not the one the ladies gave to them. There was too much information about the behind-the-scenes and fandom, and not enough fun and excitement about the show. They were in the throes of trying to convince their publisher at the time that what they had written was acceptable, when they received that dreaded email – the email from the studio to cease-and-desist their correspondences and writing for the television series magazine. Here they had written articles for the show’s magazine, interviewing and establishing a relationship with the crew, and now they were asked to stop all contact. It was a blow to the Fangirls, one they took a long time recovering from. The ladies gave so much of themselves to the show just to be kicked in the gut. They were at a loss as to what they had done wrong because they had gotten permission by the studio for all their interviews and set visits. They feared legal entanglements and fees.
In the end Zubernis and Larsen were able to write and publish their book, and held no animosity toward the show’s stars and staff. They believed all that happened to them during their trek through the SPN family did them a favor. Their jump into the rabbit hole had taught them a lesson about fandom, celebrities, and The Powers That Be. They remain fans of the show and still write about it on their own blog. Their take away was to continue to be passionate, cautious and to be themselves at the same time (Larsen, & Zubernis, 2013).
**Update: March 26, 2015, this just in…#Supernatural alums Rob Benedict and Richard Speight, Jr. (actors who had recurring roles on Supernatural) are now starting a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for a webseries that is much like #Firefly stars Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion’s “ConMan.” Here’s the Variety article about it and their Indiegogo campaign. I’m starting to see a trend happening.
And….here’s the new trailer to their Webseries…
Barton, K.M., & Lampley, J.M. (2013). “Fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century.” McFarland. Kindle Edition.
Kripke, E. (2005). Director. Creator. Supernatural. Retrieved from
Larsen, K., & Zubernis, L., (2013). “Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls.” University of Iowa Press. Kindle Edition.
Wikipedia (2015). Supernatural. Television show. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supernatural_%28U.S._TV_series%29