Anyone out there see The Wedding Singer? The lead character, played by Adam Sandler, is the happiest wedding singer alive. Weddings and the idea of marriage thrill him - until he’s cruelly jilted at the alter by his bride to be. Suddenly, he’s down on everything involving marriage and love. Unfortunately he still has to pay the bills so when he goes to work, he ends up ruining a wedding reception by leading the loners and losers in the room through a biting rendition of “Love Stinks.” To say the least, it ended up not being a good idea at the time given his head space. It also got him punched.
So why am I bringing up a film whose female lead was almost doomed to the name of Julia Gulia? (My daughter's name is Julia, so we call her that a lot). Easy, back in October I was going through my own “clouded headspace” issues, I did something foolish that in retrospect I should have NEVER attempted. I did a review on a book celebrating fandom at a time when I was so sour on the mere existence of fandom, I was leading the band in the biting rendition of “Fandom Stinks.” I didn’t get punched, but I should have. It was a poorly done review, and not a very fair one.
What’s lovely about life though is every once in a while, we get to call, “do-over!” I get to do this review over. It comes with a fresher perspective and a new appreciation for not only the Supernatural fandom, but the idea of fandom in general. It really is a phenomenon that changes our lives in many different ways. So settle in and join me in a thorough yet balanced analysis of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls.
If I had to describe Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls in a nutshell, it’s a personal story about celebrating fandom. That’s a very crude summary though, and I’ve never been one for crude summaries. After all, anyone who’s been part of this mind-boggling experience knows that there’s nothing simple about being in a fandom at all. Especially fans of the TV show Supernatural.
How about, it’s an open, honest, well-written narrative about two women who fell in love with a TV program and found there was so much more to this show than a piece of entertainment that took an hour of their lives each week. By jumping into this roller coaster world of the Supernatural fandom head first, Lynn Zubernis and Kathy Larsen found new identities, formed meaningful friendships, became immersed in the inner circle of meeting and socializing those involved with their favorite show, and experienced some very surreal and profound changes to their personal lives. The entire story reads like a whirlwind and that’s because it is.
For anyone that’s ever been involved in a fandom, this book will evoke a myriad of feelings because of the personal nature of their story. Those feelings will be as individual as everyone's experiences have been. We all can relate in some way to the stories Lynn and Kathy share, even if they aren’t engaged in all aspects of Supernatural fan activities. It’s enough where it triggers recollections of our own adventures, and helps us celebrate our own feelings of excitement the first time we saw two brothers hit the road in a bitchin’ 1967 Chevy Impala hunting demons and monsters.
The message of the book is not to wave in our faces all of their amazing experiences ever since Supernatural came into their lives (and they’ve had some amazing experiences). It’s to tell fans that have gone or want to go to conventions, and/or spend countless hours online discussing the show, and/or write fan fiction, and/or make or share fan videos, and/or hang out on places like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr participating in rapid chatter, etc. that it’s okay to act this way, no matter what your age. Fandom isn’t just for preteens and teens. Although when you engage in all this, you feel like one.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had someone look at you funny when you said you were traveling somewhere for a fan convention - Or when you just had a conversation online about Supernatural or any another show and someone else in the room thought you’d lost your mind - Or when you experienced that pang of guilt because you ignored a household duty or family obligation to finish that Sam and Dean fan fiction. Yeah, that’s all in there, and much, much more.
Lynn and Kathy are college professors, so there is some academic based dialogue, but it’s mostly the fangirl point of view. It makes for a very interesting combo, but it works. Often times the narrative shares a wild experience and then the psychologist kicks in and explains in detail why the act is okay and even rational. It’s justification that we often struggle with in our own minds when after staying up late chattering like mad about the latest episode on a work night. It answers the questions, “Why am I doing this?” or “Why can’t I get a real life?” Trust me, fandom is as real as it gets.
I will admit, Lynn and Kathy travel way more than the average fan. I wouldn’t have traveled all the way to Dallas to see my favorite TV actor in a play during the show’s offseason. Most of us wouldn’t. But the point is if these two people of seemingly rational and respectable lives go and do something like that, then you shouldn’t feel bad about gleefully sharing photos and videos of the same actor constantly with other fans online for hours. It also says that if you can act on an impulse like traveling halfway across the country on the hope of meeting an actor, it’s not as crazy as you think. Others were there too and everything turned out alright.
For me personally, I related to their stories of the behind the scenes thrill of getting to interview people like creator Eric Kripke, writer Sera Gamble, actors Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, or anyone ever associated with the show. It’s a profound experience that forces one to balance professionalism with the “scream-your-fool-head-off” inner fan girl. Sometimes that balance isn’t so easy! Lynn and Kathy discovered (as I did) that the people behind the show are fans just like us and have their own fan boy/fan girl experiences to pool from. These people have managed to make a living from their inspirations and you can’t help but admire that. The interviews shared are very down to earth and offer perspective that the Supernatural cast, producers, and crew are just like you and me. Their stake in the show is as personal as a fan’s, even more so since it’s their creation. It’s not just a job to them.
Fandom is a volatile thing too, so it’s not all joy and happiness. Waving your fandom flag proudly does come with a social stigma. Lynn and Kathy found that stigma from others at every turn and shared those stories as well. There were some very painful experiences and there is disappointment that comes when being an avid fan. It also had a big impact on their personal lives, both good and bad. Relationships fell apart, and the struggle of being a fan and being true to their families resulted in plenty of conflict and guilt. But they also never felt more thrilled and alive during their experiences. The book title says it all; they found their fangasm.
Lynn and Kathy, despite their years of professional wisdom, were also not prepared for the politics that comes with the entertainment business. Hollywood has a different mentality than the real world and is all about good PR. Certain lines cannot be crossed. When they first jumped into the fandom, Lynn and Kathy settled into that online niche that adored reading and writing slash fan fiction. With a show like Supernatural, the pairing of the two Winchester brothers, commonly called Wincest, is a very controversial and a morally outrageous aspect of the fandom to many. Lynn and Kathy spent a lot of time pushing that envelope though, trying to break through that social taboo which they really wanted to discuss. In this book and in their conversations with people involved with the show, slash and Wincest comes up a lot. As a reader of this book, some will applaud their audacity. Others will find the subject matter very uncomfortable to read. I personally fall in the latter category, but I also understand why they had to go that route. They needed to show fans of all parts of the fandom that they belonged in this community, even those associated with what is considered the “fringier” elements. Fandom isn’t a cookie cutter, “everything is just peachy” phenomenon like Hollywood PR likes to project. It comes with plenty of counter cultural and volatile elements, which makes the identity of a fandom all that more real.
My biggest disappointment with Fangasm is that the story ended right around the time when I first met Lynn and Kathy at the first Salute to Supernatural convention in New Jersey. They’ve had so many great adventures since then and a deeper, more profound experience with the fandom. That’s just a personal disappointment though and one that can be easily rectified by reading their stories through their Fangasm blog and fandom studies publications. We can always hope for a follow-up to Fangasm too!
This book may be geared toward the very colorful (and often outspoken) Supernatural fandom, but anyone that’s been involved with any fandom will enjoy the stories and can relate. Some will perceive this to be a celebration. Others will feel better about liking what they want to like and doing what makes them feel happy. Others will take it as a cautionary tale. Whatever the reactions we are all better from experiencing at least in part Lynn and Kathy’s wild ride through all things Supernatural.
Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls is published by the University of Iowa press and can be found at Amazon.com.
Paperback Kindle Edition