May 21, 2008
Supernatural and Looking at Fanvids as Media Texts

One of the current shows of focus for understanding fandom within fan studies is Supernatural on The CW. When I go to academic conferences, I probably don't hear about it quite as often as Lost, but it ranks high up on the list (and usually comes from a different set of media scholars). In particular, it is the active fan creation around the show that has driven such scholarly interest in Supernatural along the way, particularly in terms of fanvids.

I've written about one of the fan organizations that has done interesting work around Supernatural in a different context; see my interview last September with the founders of Fandom Rocks, a fan organization built around Supernatural that raises funds for non-profits.

But I spent part of the afternoon reading an interesting piece from Louisa Stein based on her recent Console-ing Passions presentation on fanvids about Supernatural, and I wanted to post a few notes on that work while it's fresh on my mind.

Considering my previous post about Alexis Lothian's work (see here), I have been thinking this afternoon about the intersection between political, racial, cultural, and gender identity, as it intersects with media texts and fandom in particlar. Some scholars have argued that political issues are excluded from fan discussions in many places, but Louisa's work looks specifically at Smallville fanvids and how the fan community takes advantage of all the overcoded moments between the lead white male protagonists to create videos teasing an incestual homosexual connection, which some fans call "wincest," since the brothers' last names are Winchester.

I have been fascinated with how the producers have sometimes played into those fan interests through small moments on the show designed to tease fans, much as Wilson and House have teased moments of romantic tension bewteen them on House, based on fan interest in the relationship between those two characters.

But what I found interesting in particular in Louisa's work was how the excessiveness of textual material about the two brothers drives fan interest and provides plenty of material for creating slash videos, as well as "how fanvids function as complex, multilayered texts that can yield multiple representations and interpretations."

In other words, these vids are not only readings of texts, they are texts to be read themselves. Louisa concludes in the notes she sent me that:

Most vids are not intended to offer critiques, political or otherwise, of their source text or the reception of that soruce text. But just as, through a far-reaching cultural lexicon including generic codes of noir and horror, Supernatural draws on and at times interrogates structures of race, gender, and sexuality, so to do vids. And where a vid may offer one critique or reworking, as in a slash vid, it may simultaneously depend on familiar cultural reference points--such as angstful white masculinity. This necessarily contradictory ideological working of vvids enters a complex cultural conversation that includes vids, source texts, and fandom alike.

I particularly like this final sentence, since it emphasizes that not only are fanvids open to this same reinterpretation, but everything about fandom is. I think it's crucial to realize that, as fans publicly discuss and interpret shows through blogs, discussion board, fanfic, fanvids, and so on, each layer of discussion thus becomes media texts themselves, likewise available for appropriation, interpretation, and further development.

Thus, in a many-to-many communication model, even as mass media texts are privileged, the processes we've come to understanding surrounding big media products likewise happen to more niche postings, video creations, podcasts, etc., often even more richly and more vibrantly because of their location within particular communities of consumption and co-creation, as many of the Gender and Fan Studies conversations we engaged in last summer emphasized and illustrated.

For more, look here and here.