The CW’s Supernatural Inspired Two Academics to Study the Psychology of Fan Culture—and Turned Them Into Crazy Stalkers

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Dec. 18 2013 1:36 PM

Supernatural Fangirls

How the cult sci-fi show turned two academics into experts on fandom—and crazy stalkers.

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We were certain there were perfectly good reasons why we seemed to have left some of our good sense behind us, we just needed to find them. Some of what we found seemed plausible, but none of it reflected our own experience. We couldn’t find ourselves—our fangirl selves—in the research. Some theories hinted at frightening levels of pathology. Were we about to go off the rails at any moment? The research seemed to suggest we were just a slippery slope away from believing that the Winchester brothers were secretly besotted with us. That was alarming enough, but pathology aside, none of the research resonated with us or seemed to adequately explain why we felt the way we did. Clearly we were going to have to forge our own path. So we decided to write a book. We would figure out what being a fan was all about, and we would get it right!

Our first trip to Vancouver to attend a small convention of Supernatural fans was the first time we were made to feel like bona fide researchers, basking in the warm glow of our academic credentials. It was also the first time we were made to feel at various times like crazy fangirls and dangerous stalkers.

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

As researchers, we had set up interviews with the convention organizer and the director of the film that was screening at the convention. We felt important, being invited “behind the scenes” at the convention and breezing off to brunch with the director. We carried voice recorders and note pads. We took notes and asked “serious” questions about the perception of fans from the producers’ side (this was way before the advent of Twitter). The organizers, the director and the gathered fans called us “Dr.” and regarded us with something like respect.

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Then the official convention ended and we shifted into fangirl mode, piling into a van with several other fans for a tour of past Supernatural filming sites. We giddily took pictures of the place where Dean almost cried and Sam fought with a demon, before winding up at midnight floundering around in the dark without a flashlight, searching for the site of a highly emotional scene in which Dean reveals a pivotal secret to his brother. We finally found the right bit of fence, beside the right river and stood at just the right angle to take photos we knew had no chance of coming out in the dark. We posed in the same positions as the actors and re-enacted bits of dialogue from the scene. We touched the fence we knew they had touched. We had entered fan nirvana.

Flushed with triumph, we stumbled back up the wooded path to the van only to be met by a Vancouver policeman wondering what we were doing there.

Officer: Is there a problem?

Us: No.

Officer: It’s very late.

Us: We were looking for a fence ...

Officer: [skeptical silence]

Us: From a television show … where something happened …

Officer: [sighing and holstering his flashlight] Oh. Fans.

Slightly chastened by that experience, we shifted back into academic mode the next day when we joined a woman who lived in Vancouver and was familiar with the ins and outs of finding current filming locations. Through a series of fortuitous misunderstandings that might have been misrepresentations (neither of us would have called them outright lies) we found that day’s filming location, a small suburban hospital. Neither of us were brazen enough to think we could ever talk to any of the cast, but figured speaking with crew members might be possible and might even yield more insights into fan/producer interactions. They were, after all, the ones most likely to interact with fans who showed up to watch filming. (This was of course a category we actively separated ourselves from, presenting business cards, wielding those voice recorders, and trying as hard as we could to look blasé about the fact that we were on the Supernatural set and in such close proximity to the people we fanned so hard.) We figured they would be happy to talk to us.

We were wrong. In the middle of a conversation with one crew member who was on the verge of spilling some juicy gossip about her time working for a different show, a call came through on her walkie-talkie. Someone was coming down to speak to us. Great! Perhaps we’d get to talk to some more crew members!

When studio security arrived it was clear they were not inviting us to sit down for a chat over afternoon tea. They were banishing us. We were told to leave immediately and to talk to no one. We were even followed into the hospital parking lot to make sure that we vacated the premises forthwith.  Somewhere along the line we had been miscast as the “wrong” kind of fans, the kind we were trying to argue were media stereotypes, the very stereotypes we were seeking to dispel. We were shocked—we were academics! Couldn’t they see that?

The next morning at the airport we presented our passports to the U.S. Immigration official, who asked what we had been doing in Canada. Typically, Lynn said “pleasure” while Kathy simultaneously declared the trip to have been all about business. This engendered a raised eyebrow and a long conversation about what we had been doing, and eventually an explanation of fans.

Official: Fans? [Making whirly motion with his hand].

Us: No, like fans of television shows, movies, bo–

Official: Oh! You mean crazystalkerchicks!

Us: [with sighs of resignation] Yeah.

It was just that kind of weekend.

Excerpted from Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, by Katherine Larsen and Lynn S. Zubernis, out now from University of Iowa Press.

Correction Dec. 18, 2013: Due to a production error, this article originally contained an image of a cover for a different book.

Katherine Larsen teaches at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is the co-author of Fangasm.

Lynn S. Zubernis is associate professor of counselor education at West Chester University of Pennsylvania and the co-author of Fangasm.

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