Dean + manliness and embarrassment
“They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as to not die of embarrassment […] It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather they were too frightened to be cowards.” ~ “The Things They Carried,” The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien.
So the above is a quote from the first short story in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, which shares the name of the book and is, of course, the title of spn 10.15.
The story uses some frankly awesome wordplay of ‘carry’ to explore the mental and emotional state of soldiers during the Vietnam war (starting out describing the literal physical things they carry, like guns and backpacks, and moving on to personal items like photographs or letters, then memories of family and lovers, then ideas/stories of lovers and so on - there’s even a line about how they ‘carry on’ at one point, which I enjoyed for the Kansas connection :p).
Though it’s about Vietnam, it seems to me like its descriptions are apt for most soldiers in general, and since Dean is a soldier of sorts I couldn’t help reading with an eye to how the descriptions might fit him.
There were PLENTY of things in the story, and the whole book, that are relevant to Dean imo. But I’ve picked out this ONE thing, because I found it the most interesting. Which is this idea of soldiers being afraid of ‘blushing,’ of being embarrassed about being viewed as dishonourable or cowardly or weak.
It comes up again in a later story, where Tim, the narrator (and author - I assume the book is at least somewhat autobiographical), describes his reaction to being drafted and how he almost travelled to Canada to escape being sent to war. But ultimately Tim accepted the draft because the thought of others thinking badly or him or thinking him weak was too much to bear. He imagines them, his father included, calling him Traitor! Turncoat! and Pussy! and as he describes it -
“I felt myself blush. I couldn’t tolerate it. I couldn’t endure the mockery, or the disgrace, or the patriotic ridicule. Even in my imagination, the shore [of Canada] just twenty yards away, I couldn’t make myself be brave. It had nothing to do with morality. Embarrassment, that’s all it was […] I was a coward. I went to war.” ~ “On The Rainy River,” The Things They Carried
I feel like this fear is Dean’s as well.
Like this relates to his hyper-masculine image that has been discussed a great deal throughout the show and esp. since Carver’s run. ‘Discussed a great deal’ being an understatement :p
But to give a quick summary - Dean too is a soldier concerned with keeping up an appearance. Not necessarily of being honourable, like the soldier’s O’Brien describes, but of appearing strong, manly, macho (all of which seem to have become synonymous to Dean). And to be/appear otherwise is often shown as embarrassing for Dean, he’s continually shown as embarrassed when ‘caught out’ liking anything in the vicinity of being feminine/unmanly eg. liking Dr Sexy or shown to be hiding his like of such things eg. wearing pink panties.
IMO he also considers his time spent as a demon with Crowley to have been in large part feminine/unmanly/weak, hence his terming of that as ‘embarrassing’ (which is what first made me take notice of the comments about soldiers and embarrassment in the book).
Do I have a point - beyond hey this is a cool similarity between Dean and the soldiers in the book?
Good question :p
I guess… what I like about the connection between Dean and the book’s analysis of soldiers’ psyches is that since the episode title points us to the book and its themes it implies, or perhaps confirms, that this idea of soldiers putting on a macho facade, and thus of Dean doing the same, is a theme the show is very much exploring this season.
And since the book is all about deconstructing that facade, in fact SUBVERTING it by suggesting that in putting on a facade in order to appear brave and strong the soldiers were in fact being the very things they were embarrassed to be considered as (ie. cowardly and weak), it implies that Dean’s facade too is being deconstructed this season :)
Something supported by little things like Dean enjoying the fancy coffee in the small cup that he insists ‘real men’ don’t drink, Dean enjoying Taylor Swift and, of course, the ongoing saga of the cake - little shows of Dean’s feminine/unmanly (or at least non-hyper-masculine) side showing through his macho-soldier image.
Is Dean’s desire to stop looking for a cure for the Mark, to hold out against it as long as he can and then ‘go down swinging,’ perhaps comparable to O’Brien’s soldiers going to war? Dean too embarrassed to try the alternative, fearing he will seem too emotional/feminine/weak if he continues to make his own life and well-being and safety his priority by continuing to find a way out of being Marked, just like Tim felt about trying to find a way out of being drafted.
And if so, if the embracing of macho facades and the path that leads to is to be deconstructed/criticised in spn as it is in O’Brien’s novel, then could it be that part of that deconstruction will mean that Dean embracing the parts of himself he’s been embarrassed/ashamed of (Taylor Swift, the cake, the coffee, his emotions,
his feelings for Cas…) will end up being key to him ultimately overcoming and/or controlling the Mark?
I like to think so :)