I’ve never been a cheerleader. Not the kind that wears the short skirt anyway. I have sat in the stands and yelled enthusiastically for the football, basketball, and hockey teams. Part of me wanted to be out there shaking my pompoms. (I did eventually shake my pompoms – when we got them for free at an NHL All-Star game!) But, the truth is that the bigger part of me wanted to be out on the field catching the Hail Mary touchdown, on the court sinking the winning basket or on the ice scoring the overtime goal.
Perhaps that’s why Jensen Ackles’ comment this summer that, moving forward in season 9, Dean was done playing “the guilty cheerleader” had such resonance.
Like many people I spent most of hellatus thinking about “Supernatural,” and reflecting on Season 8. One of the issues I struggled with was the dissatisfaction over Dean’s role, with respect to the trials. Many people had wished to see him attempt the trials, and were upset to see him take the supporting role.. again (or so it seemed.)
I never really saw Dean’s role as secondary. He was the keystone, the stone number one. Remove him from the equation and the arc collapses. Castiel needed his counsel and advice when dealing with Metatron, and the fallout of his previous decisions (although unfortunately he didn’t listen). Charlie needed his hard-won insights to help her realize it was time to let go of her Mom. And as the trials took their toll on Sam, both physically and emotionally, he needed Dean to be his rock. He drew strength from Dean’s strength, faith from Dean’s faith.
Dean was incredibly necessary, and very courageous. He kept pushing aside his own fears and concerns to buoy up those around him. So why did the nagging voice keep asking me, “Why can’t Dean be the hero? What can’t he be the one to save the world? ”
The nagging voice is smart, and a good debater. I wanted to be able to convince her that Dean’s role was equally important. I offered an analogy. Think back to World War Two (or any war for that matter). The soldiers fighting on the front lines rely on each other AND on those who keep the home fires burning.
There would have been no bombs or bomber planes without Rosie the Riveter. There would have been fewer successful raids without the cipher staff. And soldiers survived, not only because of the medics on the field, or the doctors in the operating room but also because of the nurses who worked tirelessly in the wards.
It’s often been said men don’t fight for the politicians who declare war, or for the generals in command, but for the men in the foxhole beside them. That’s because those men are family – an extension of the family those soldiers left behind at home, an extension of the family they desperately want to return to.
“Hang on”, interrupted the nagging voice. “That’s my point. Dean isn’t fighting. He’s not doing anything important. He’s making soup and running ice baths!” (It’s probably worth noting that the nagging voice heartily endorses ice baths when the Winchester brothers are taking them, and then towelling off! Yowza!)
The nagging voice was really on a roll now. “Just answer me one question”, she demanded. “If Dean’s role is so important, why isn’t anyone cheering for him?”
I must admit the question stopped me cold. Maybe she even had a point. We were all cheering Sam – cheering him to be able to withstand what the trials were putting him through, cheering him to complete the trials (before we knew they might kill him), cheering him that he might see and understand who he was – a good, pure person.
I had to sit for awhile and think about what the nagging voice was really asking. If Dean’s role was so important, and so significant why weren’t we cheering him too?
Was it just because it’s hard to shout “Way to chop those vegetables” with a straight face? Hmmmm… Could something else be at play?
I started to wonder if I, if we (meaning the nagging voice and me) had the question wrong. Was it really a case of there being nothing cheer-worthy about Dean’s actions, or was it more about the way we valued those actions?
That’s when a line from the Season 7 episode “The Mentalist” started echoing in my head.
“Sometimes, one’s true gift is taking care of others.”
Funny how we rate “true gifts”. If they involve athletic prowess – like running, jumping, catching a ball – you’re often rewarded handsomely, and people cheer for you. But if your “true gifts” involve less tangible things – a listening heart, a nurturing nature, the ability to care for others with compassion and generosity – you’re usually called a woman.
I’m joking! … Mostly.
Let me be clear. I hate stereotypes. I’ve spent a good part of my life trying to prove them wrong. I know there are many men who are adept at expressing their feelings, and caring for others. (I’m married to one.) And there are many women who are the anti-thesis of compassionate or nurturing. (I’ve worked with a few.)
However, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that we, “the fairer sex”, are generally assigned the caregiver role. It’s not much of a stretch really. In fact, statistics suggest we still do the bulk of the heavy lifting in that area.
An idea was starting to form, and I called the nagging voice for a meeting. I said to her, “Let’s try this theory on for size…”
When Supernatural first hit the airwaves, the action and the horror were supposed to attract a young male demographic (18 to 29 roughly). But surprise, surprise, it became a show about relationships. A large chunk of the audience turned out to be women in their prime child-bearing or grandchild-tending years.
And of course, if you’re raising your own children, or perhaps tending to the needs of aging parents, you find yourself making a lot of soup and running a lot of baths. But somewhere in the midst of the cooking, cleaning and laundry you stumble upon the journey of the Winchester brothers. You meet them once a week for a little escape, and perhaps a little fantasy?
You like both brothers. You admire and respect them equally. But maybe, for whatever reason, you sometimes find yourself identifying a little more strongly with Dean. It could be because he’s the older sibling. It could be because you both have freckles. It could be because you’ve always had a thing for men with short hair and badass leather jackets (or who used to have a badass leather jacket!). Or maybe it’s that you recognize some of your own personality in him – the loyalty, the recklessness, the give ’em hell attitude. Whatever the reason, you like to cheer for Dean. He’s a hero after all – sold his soul, helped take down the Devil, tries to make the world a better place for everyone. In some strange way, he’s the YOU you’d like to be. Minus the guilt, the trip to Hell, the time in Purgatory, the dead family & friends etc…
Along come the trials. Dean wants to do them. He’d be successful right? But fate intervenes and Sam is tasked with closing the Gates of Hell. Dean is left in the supporting role (support in the truest sense of the word – everything from cough syrup & band aids to propping up a broken body & psyche).
But when Dean is playing that role, it’s harder to lose yourself in the escapism. You’re driving your kids to hockey tournaments, nursing them through a cold, and soothing their pain over the mean words of a classmate. Dean’s driving Sam to his next date with the destiny of the trials, nursing him through their physical effects and soothing Sam’s pain over the angst they’re causing him.
Suddenly his life looks a lot like your own. And you ask yourself – Where’s the fun and excitement in that? You’re both just sitting in the bleachers and cheering on the players on the field. How can the guy sitting next to you, sipping on a black coffee, be a hero?
Except maybe he is… just on a slightly smaller scale. Maybe last weekend he gave first aid to a scared, injured passenger at a car accident. Maybe he volunteers at a food bank or another charity. Or maybe he’s taking a little break before returning to the bedside of a dying relative.
True, it’s not averting the Apocalypse, or saving the world, or freeing it from all demonic influences. But those little actions are still making a huge difference in someone else’s life. Perhaps for them, those little actions are saving the world, or averting the Apocalypse (well… at least averting catastrophe). Maybe he could use, even deserves a pat on the back, or a hug, if not a full-blown “GoGet ‘Em Tigers” cheer.
“Way to wash those clothes?” smiled the nagging voice.
“Way to love your family and friends” I corrected, and laughed.
All those little things, like soup and baths and fretting? They’re all gestures of love. And after all, it’s the Power of Love that saves the world again, and again.
Maybe there’s something to cheer about after all.