Every once in a while here at the Winchester Family Business we like to publish academic works, especially when the subject is a deeply analytical essay on Supernatural. These pieces present theoretical elements that we don’t usually include in our typical articles. Today we present a paper on “Fan Fiction” by guest writer Obianuju Enworom. She has some really interesting ideas as to why fans pursue fan fiction and why Supernatural is ripe for this kind of activity. It is our honor to share her essay with you.
By Obianuju Enworom
Supernatural’s 200th episode, “Fanfiction,” got me thinking. Why do fans write fanfiction? It would be easy to dismiss the issue by saying that fans disgruntled with canon write fanfiction as a way to correct the show to a version of their liking. But, it’s not that simple. Fanfiction is not an act of subversion. There are deeper reasons for why fans are compelled to write fanfiction. When the original canon offers such entertainment and meaning, what intellectual value does producing fanfiction afford?
Before we address the why, let’s discuss the how. In the episode, after witnessing the rehearsal of the musical, Dean is appalled at the way his gruff, dangerous life has been reduced to a musical number.
He blurts out, “There’s no singing in Supernatural.” In this exclamation lies one of the central issues surrounding fanfiction: ownership. Fanfiction writers borrow characters and plotlines from the writers of the original work, then fashion them into something else. In doing this, they assume some sort of ownership over the work. How do fans have the authority to alter that which they do not own?
Using exclusive fan jargon is a concrete way in which fanfiction authors generate ethos, or authority. For example, when Marie uses the term “Samulet,” Dean is understandably confused because Samulet is a fan-made term; Dean, a piece of canon, is not privy to the complex vernacular of the fandom. Fan language of this sort helps to differentiate and elevate fanfiction authors. Mark Duffett, a university professor who specializes in media fandom, borrows Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “cultural capital,” or “a stock of knowledge that reflects on [one’s] particular social position” and applies it to fan language. Fan language can be viewed as a shibboleth, language particular to a specific group, as well as cultural capital. For example, the last line of the summary of “Song Remains the Same”, Supernatural fanfiction written by an author with the username River Winters on fanfiction.net, reads “Cas/OFC - sisfic - S4 and on – AU”. To canon writers and non-fans, this is probably indecipherable, but long time readers understand this as quickly as it takes . Using such language creates a separation between canon writers and fanfiction writers as well as a hierarchy; fanfiction writers reign in their realm.
Some authors oppose fans writing fanfiction about their work. They maintain that fans have no right to tamper with what does not belong to them. The fan’s defense against this claim is embodied in the stage manager’s response to Dean’s previously mentioned assertion in the episode: “Well, this is Marie’s interpretation.” Now we start to establish the “why.” Fanfiction is an interpretation of the original story. Fans know that there is a difference between the canon and fanon. They do not seek to eradicate the original story and replace it with their own version. We all love Sam and Dean as they are, but we do love to play with them. Writing fanfiction does not supplant the original media, nor would fans wish for it to do so. Instead, fans desire a way to view the stories and characters through a difference lens. After all, renowned author S. E. Hinton writes Supernatural fanfiction; and if it’s good enough for Ms. Hinton, it’s good enough for me.
Further, fanfiction affords writers the ability to challenge temporal structures as they are in reality. While the book series ended, Marie resurrects the story through her play. In real life, time moves, moves constantly, and moves constantly in one direction. Fanfiction offers fans the ability to push back against this rigidity of time. Marie describes her play as “inspired by Carver Edlund’s books, with a few embellishments…Chuck stopped writing after Swan Song, I couldn’t leave it the way it was… So, I wrote my own ending.”
This is an explicit case of a fan using fanfiction to continue time after it has stopped. In human life, time’s most grave and permanent consequence is death (not so permanent for Supernatural characters, but let’s pretend for a moment). Fanfiction battles conventional ideas of time by keeping an experience, something clearly mortal, alive.
Additionally, the passage of time breeds nostalgia, a very human affliction that is the consequence of this inflexibility and permanence of time. Fanfiction offers both a remedy for the symptoms and a cure for the disease. Watching a show with as many powerful past moments as Supernatural, our immune systems are especially compromised. The opportunity to travel backwards or forward in time restructuring the narrative is the perfect prescription. Fanfiction frees fans from nostalgia by providing a path with which to resist time.
Additionally, since fanon need not, and often does not, progress through time alongside canon, fanfiction is a way to create stories that cultivate and continue a conversation about the original work. Presumably, the very reason you are reading this piece is because you hope to engage in a conversation about a beloved show. The entire 200th episode was a conversation between the writers and the fans. That sly mention of Adam was a way for the writers let us know that, despite what we may think, they haven’t quite forgotten about him (even if they have no plans to address his situation).
Not only is there a conversation with writers, but there is more often one between fans. Sociologist Sebastian Francois explores the idea of “reflexive participation” of fans. Fans not only engage in canon but also engage in the engagements (commenting on fanon); this frames fanfiction as a continuous discussion of ideas. The conversation among fans contributes invaluably to the perception of the original work, and in some cases feeds in to canon.
So when Dean hangs the Samulet prop from the rearview mirror of the Impala, mission accomplished?
Obianuju Enworom is a student at Columbia University and a passionate Supernatural fan.
Duffett, Mark. Understanding Fandom: An Introduction to the Study of Media Fan Culture. New York: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print
Francois, Sebastien. Metatext and “Fanfictions”: An Example of Audiences’ Reflexive Participation., 2008. ProQuest. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.
Graham, Anissa M. “A New Kind of Pandering: Supernatural and the World of Fanfiction.” Fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century. Ed. Kristin Michael Barton and Jonathan Malcolm Lampley. Jefferson: McFarland, n.d. 131-45. Print.
Herzog, Alexandra. “The Power of ‘AH, E/B, very OOC’: Agency in Fanfiction Jargon.” COPAS: Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies 14.1 (2013): 1-23. ProQuest. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.
“Shibboleth.” Def. 2a. Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.
Thompson, Robbie. “Fan Fiction.” Supernatural. Dir. Phil Sgriccia. Prod. Jeremy Carver. The CW. 11 Nov. 2014. Television.
Williams, Kathleen. “Recut Film Trailers: Nostalgia and the Teen Film.” Fan CULTure: Essays on Participatory Fandom in the 21st Century. Ed. Kristin Michael Barton and Jonathan Malcolm Lampley. Jefferson: McFarland, n.d. 47-60. Print.
Winters, River. “Song Remains the Same.” FanFiction.net. FanFiction, 12 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.
Screencaps courtesy of www.homeofthenutty.com