By Metamorphic Rocks
You may have heard of The Butterfly Effect – A butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and the weather changes in Texas. This concept, often used when discussing meteorology, and which is actually connected to chaos theory, basically implies that a very small change in an original, variable condition, can alter events and produce a large change in a later condition.
For as long as I have been a fan of Supernatural, I have observed a phenomenon I like to call “The Supernatural Effect”. Much like The Butterfly Effect, “The Supernatural Effect” appears to take place when a small, seemingly trivial act like tuning in to the show brings about significant change in fans’ lives.
It is not surprising that different forms of traditional media, such as television, film and books can inspire people. Many of us remember a special passage in a book, or have been moved by a movie we have viewed. Television and film, with the advantage of providing immediate visual pictures, often make strong impressions on an audience.
In regard to TV shows, both past and present, many have had (or do have) passionate fan bases. Shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Lost have all had ardent, involved viewers. Many of these fans have expended much time and effort dissecting every nuance of their shows’ characters, debating plot points, and just being immersed within the canon (and sometimes outside of it as well, with works like fan created fiction and videos). Some of these programs are considered cult shows, which are known for their devoted, invested fans. However, even given the level of investment these fans put forth, can they actually say these shows have made a real difference in their lives?
There are some shows that have been credited with significantly impacting peoples’ lives. For example, Rescue 911 (an early 1990s show depicting real-life emergencies) was recognized by some viewers as having been instrumental in enabling them to save another’s life by implementing knowledge they gained from the show. The Oprah Winfrey Show often received letters from viewers explaining how a topic discussed in the show, such as weight loss or drug addiction, had changed their lives. Thus, it is reasonable to say that the medium of TV can impact a person’s life. However, what about a show that is entirely fictional? Can this type of show, and in this case, Supernatural, actually have a life-changing impact on a person? I believe that it can.
Fictional stories can be (though they are not limited to) forms of entertainment. Seeking out this type of entertainment is a leisure pursuit. All healthy leisure activities play a very important role in our lives. They do much more than just distract us from daily life. They make up a part of who we are, and how we identify ourselves. These activities help us to express ourselves, and even help us connect with one another. And it is here, in these pursuits, that we often find our life’s passions.
Being an occupational therapist and working with people with disabilities, illness and injury to restore function, I am acutely aware of the power and therapeutic value of meaningful occupation. Though meaningful occupation encompasses many areas, such as daily living skills and employment, it also includes leisure activities. Part of my job entails finding a way to incorporate people’s passions and interests (or assisting them in finding some) into their rehabilitation plans, because engaging in the activities we love or enjoy has positive effects on the physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of an individual. The end result of these effects can aid in the recovery process following trauma or illness.
The benefits of leisure activities are indeed, quite profound. In addition, these leisure pursuits are as varied as the individuals who engage in them. They include sports, art, and music just to name a few, and can take the form of active or passive participation. Loving Supernatural (and/or participating in its fandom) can also be one of these pursuits. On the surface, turning on the TV and flipping to the CW might seem like nothing more than a way to pass an hour. However, this is where “The Supernatural Effect” comes into play. Watching the show creates a tiny change in our initial circumstances. What the show ends up bringing into our lives, either while we are actively watching it or when we are inspired by it, is where substantial change can occur.
I have experienced “The Supernatural Effect” in my own life. I saw the pilot of Supernatural back in September 2005. I thought it was good, but for some reason I did not keep watching the show. That is, until Season 5. In the fall of 2009, I was a mommy for the third time. The road to get there was not easy. In the span of 7 years, I had experienced 4 pregnancy losses while trying to have my children. Ultimately, I had 3 beautiful, healthy boys. Though I felt thrilled that my family was finally complete, the previous 7 years had left me somewhat depleted. To compound the situation, I had no family near me (in Maryland) to help out, and my husband was commuting to Virginia for work, leaving at 5:20 am and not returning until 5:20 pm. Simply put, I was pretty much on my own. Even if I got sick (which I did a lot that year), I usually had to struggle through, managing alone. When the weekends finally rolled around and I theoretically might get some relief, I would march off to work to resume my role as caregiver, this time as an occupational therapist in a sub-acute rehab setting. Overall, the demands of taking care of 3 little boys – one with hyperactive tendencies, one with a speech delay, and a fussy baby – were taking their toll.
And so one Autumn Thursday night, during an all too familiar ritual of holding my baby upright 30 minutes after nursing him (as I had to do with all three of my boys after EVERY bedtime and middle of the night feeding for the first 10 months of each of their lives, as all three has gastro- esophageal reflux), I was flipping through the channels, trying to pass the time. And there were Sam and Dean Winchester, trying to stop the apocalypse. After a few minutes I remembered the show from when I first saw it. And I was hooked. From that point on, I looked forward to those nights. Each Thursday, with my baby fed and snugly wrapped in my arms, I would sit in my dark bedroom in my rocking chair, absorbed in Sam and Dean’s world, and captivated by their relationship as brothers.
I told my husband about the show, and we decided that when things settled down a bit, we would watch the previous seasons. That following July, with my 3rd son’s reflux gone and with him finally sleeping through the night, my husband and I spent our weekends fully immersed in Supernatural. By September 2010 (with my husband watching seasons 5 and 6 simultaneously), we were all caught up on the story.
This all started with one small choice to tune into Supernatural. At the time, I desperately needed something fun in my life. Though I loved spending time with my children, as any mom knows, it is very hard work and extremely time intensive. Also, the past seven years had been a roller coaster both physically and emotionally, with the excitement of trying to build my family but dealing with loss along the way. I had simply forgotten about any previous interests or leisure pursuits, and had basically lost that critical part of myself. Supernatural helped me find it.
I have actually experienced “The Supernatural Effect” more than once. Going to a Supernatural convention was the motivating factor for me to lose 35 pounds of lingering baby weight. I wanted to get healthy, but had been struggling in my attempt. When the opportunity to attend a con within driving distance presented itself, I had my motivation. Being able to go to the convention (and I confess, the photo ops) feeling and looking healthy became both my end goal and my reward for my efforts.
Most recently, I experienced “The Supernatural Effect” yet again. In 2003, my mom retired after a 50 year nursing career. Though she tried to keep busy, the days began to get monotonous for her. She was starting to feel down, and being newly diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rheumatica made matters worse. Somehow, I got my 76 year old, superstitious mom to watch season 6 of Supernatural. And something wonderful happened. It has brought much needed fun into her life. Most of the reason has to do with the fact that she is now able to actively share an interest with her daughter (even if it is mostly by phone). We have many animated conversations about the show, theorizing about what might come next. Now she even watches some of the previous seasons on TNT. And though Mom sometimes still has to shut her eyes at “the gore” as she calls it, she is having a great time with this new, crazy leisure activity.
For me, Supernatural was THE catalyst for opening up a whole new world of leisure activities to enjoy. Initially, it was the fun of looking forward to the show every Thursday that got me through some trying days and nights. After a while, though, it became more than that. Becoming invested in this story helped bring a light-heartedness to my life. The fun of analyzing the show and the motivations of its characters, as well as the excitement of seeing spoilers and anticipating new storylines was a breath of fresh air. Then, long after the previous seasons had been watched and my husband’s interest in the show had been tempered, experiencing the fandom brought even more enjoyment. Watching YouTube videos, visiting fan sites, participating in forums, going to a convention, and even sending silly ducks to Canada have provided endless moments of sheer, carefree delight. My life has more balance now, mainly because I allow that lighter part of myself to come out. Because of that, I probably have become a better mom, too.
The examples from my own life demonstrate the power of “The Supernatural Effect”. Of course, the most significant influences in my life are the real people in it. As I think it is for all of us, our families, loved ones, and friends provide the strongest forces for the course of our lives. We end up where we do largely because of the decisions we make in relation to them. However, I cannot discount the substantial impact Supernatural had, and continues to have in certain areas of my life. Sometimes I wonder, if I had never watched the show, would I have still arrived at the exact place I am today (which is a good place)? The answer is maybe, though I’ll never know for sure. I am certain, though, that becoming a passionate fan of Supernatural changed some of the recent roads I took to get here, and it has been (and still continues to be) a most enjoyable ride.
While spending time in the forums, I have been moved by reading fans’ stories about what Supernatural has meant to them. For some, exploring the show’s extraordinary universe has been a great escape from the tedium of daily life. For others, the comfort of seeing their favorite show helped get them through difficult times, even the loss of loved ones. For others still, watching Sam and Dean fighting the good fight, forgiving one another, getting knocked down but then finding the strength to get back up, has served as reminders about the power of good, forgiveness, and perseverance.
In addition, when I look at all of the art, fan videos, fiction and non-fiction created by fans who were inspired by the show, and how those fans’ work inspire so many others, I see more evidence for the existence of “The Supernatural Effect.”
There is also what happens to fans even while they are not watching the show. This is perhaps more significant. A person who is extremely shy posts on a forum for the first time, and ends up making close friends with fellow fans. Someone else, motivated to attend a far-away convention, conquers a life-long fear of flying and gets on a plane. People are inspired to contribute to a charity, or even start their own. These are all true accounts I have read, posted by fans. I know there are probably many more out there; perhaps you even have one of your own. As I continue to read such stories, it becomes even clearer to me that something meaningful is happening for fans.
Supernatural is only a TV show. The characters (though brought to life so well by the cast), and the world they live in doesn’t exist. Yet somehow, that part isn’t very important. What is important is that the small act of choosing to watch Supernatural has for many of us, become a catalyst for some type of positive change in our lives. We encountered, and then truly cared about, two brothers. We suspended our disbelief in order to hop in the back of the impala and go along with our heroes on their journey. In the process, we created a journey of our own. And the roads we took led us to new people, places, experiences, or perhaps just to long-forgotten parts of ourselves waiting to come out again. Supernatural was the butterfly that flapped its wings to start it all in motion. And so one “little show that could” sets out to tell its story, but ends up doing so much more.