Interview with Katherine Larson and Lynn Zubernis, editors of Fan Phenomena: Supernatural
Read the interviews with Katherine Larson and Lynn Zubernis about their own fandom and what compelled them to edit their new book Fan Phenomena: Supernatural.
Lynn Zubernis, editor of Fan Phenomena: Supernatural
What film, TV or book series are you a fan of?
I’m a huge fan of the Supernatural tv series – in fact, I’m so passionate that I’m pretty much fandom monogamous!
What is it about this 'phenomena' that appeals to you?
What appeals to me most about Supernatural is its family dynamic and its willingness to explore not just the scary and the suspenseful, but the emotional. I actually watched the show casually for a year without being drawn into the fandom. I could see the good things about it – it’s well written, beautifully filmed, very well acted. But none of those characteristics made me fall head over heels for the show. It wasn’t until an intense emotional scene between brothers Sam and Dean Winchester that I suddenly sat up and dropped what I was doing and said “OMG this is the BEST SHOW EVER!” That was it – I was in love.
Those emotional moments and that family dynamic are still what captivate me, and that’s been extended to the other important characters in the Winchesters’ lives too. The idea expressed on Supernatural that “family don’t end with blood” is a powerful one, and I think it resonates with many fans. I like to say that what we call ourselves – the SPN Family – is more than just a hashtag on twitter. It’s the way the community feels for many of us, in a very real way.
The casting director for the show also deserves all the kudos, because the chemistry between the lead actors has always been what brought the characters to life, and that continues in the current ninth season. The Winchesters and the angel Castiel are deliciously flawed but well-intentioned characters, struggling to overcome repeated tragedy, and their ‘otherness’ makes them relatable to many fans.
What do you think makes it so popular and have such a cultural impact?
I think that family dynamic and the compelling characters continues to be what draws fans to the show and has kept it on the air for an amazing ten seasons. People relate to the Winchesters and Castiel – their heroism, their humanity, their struggles, and their ‘otherness’. Supernatural has retained an impressive quality over the past decade, largely because most of the cast and crew have been with the show since the beginning and remain as passionate and loyal as the fans.
In addition, the show established a close reciprocal relationship with its fans early on, even before the advent of Twitter and Tumblr, through face-to-face interaction at numerous conventions and in the fourth-wall-breaking dialogue the show itself established with its fans. We’ve been researching and writing about Supernatural since its third season, and our early conversations with creator and showrunner Eric Kripke and showrunner Sera Gamble were all about connecting with fans – from the beginning, that dynamic was something the creative side was interested in.
Kripke had a deft hand in creating ‘meta episodes’ that spoke to the fans, sharing inside jokes and making it seem like we were all “in this together” trying to save a show that was a bit of an anomaly on its network and seemed constantly on the verge of cancellation in its early years. That dynamic and closeness has continued, evidenced by the use of the term ‘SPN Family’ by fans, cast and crew to describe the Supernatural phenomenon.
The passion of the Supernatural fans has contributed to the show having a cultural impact far beyond what you might expect from a little show on the CW network. The SPN fandom was ahead of the social media curve, gaining a reputation for winning online polls and contests early on – and that hasn’t changed. The fandom’s strong presence online brought many of the Show’s iconic images and quotes into popular awareness, with quite a few expressions finding their way into the pop culture vernacular. The fandom’s online presence has in turn contributed to the show’s popularity and longevity.
What drew you to fan studies and encouraged you to write a volume of the Fan Phenomena series in particular?
It was actually my passion for Supernatural that drew me to the field of fan studies. I fell so hard for the Show that, as a psychologist, I began to ask ‘what the hell is happening to me’ and turned to fan studies for an answer. When I discovered the amazing fandom community and experienced firsthand what a supportive and healthy place it can be, I wanted to do the research that would back up those perceptions. Combining my own background in psychology with the wisdom of the acafans who preceded me, provided me with some answers – and at the same time, kept raising more questions. I’m still fascinated by my own evolution as a fan, and by the phenomenon of fandom in general.
As soon as I heard about the Fan Phenomena series, I knew that Supernatural belonged – although it’s still on the air, the Show has established itself as a fan phenomenon. We’ve been fans of Supernatural for almost nine years, and have been researching the show for almost eight, so writing the SPN volume for this wonderful series was a privilege. We knew immediately that we wanted the volume to reflect the reciprocal relationship between the creative side and fan side, so we were thrilled to include essays about the show written from multiple perspectives – fans, academics, cast (actors Misha Collins, who plays the angel Castiel, and Richard Speight, Jr., who plays The Trickster/Gabriel) and crew (brilliant cinematographer Serge Ladouceur) all contributed chapters. We think the result is a book which celebrates the show and reflects the SPNFamily.
Katherine Larson, editor of Fan Phenomena: Supernatural
What film, TV or book series are you a fan of? 
What is it about this 'phenomena' that appeals to you? 
The complex family dynamic that forms the basis of the series appeals to me on a personal level. The problems of these two brothers are at once disturbingly familiar and yet laced with enough otherworldly elements to allow the viewer some distance when that family dynamic might cut too close to the bone.  On an intellectual level, I love the ways in which the show manages to encapsulate so many aspects of popular culture.
What do you think makes it so popular and have such a cultural impact? 
Supernatural seemed to be at the forefront of changing relationships between fans and producers. The producers of the show have demonstrated a knowledge and interest in the ways in which the fans watch and then use the series and this is reflected back in the show itself.  Fourth wall breaking is becoming commonplace now, but Supernatural has been doing it for a while and doing it so well.
What drew you to fan studies and encouraged you to write a volume of the Fan Phenomena series in particular?

We started out as fans of the series and then began examining what was happening to us, in part because our reaction to the show was so visceral and compelling – really like nothing we’d ever encountered before.  This of course led to research – it’s what we do as academics – and the discovery of an entire field of study.  First we were hooked on the show and then we were hooked on the field itself.  After that there was no looking back.  And, after researching the Supernatural fandom for several years and from all perspectives (that of the fan, the producer and the academics) and producing two other books on the fandom, it seemed a natural fit to edit this volume.  It was also a place where we could allow some of those other voices – fan and producer – to exist side by side with the more academic explorations of the series. 

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