Celebration of Supernatural Panel: Breaking the Fourth Wall: Meta Supernatural
KT Torrey (panel chair)
Linda Howell: director, writing center, U North Florida
Howell: Started watching in live w/S6, which had The French
Mistake: looking back at the viewer. Thesis: The show never breaks the fourth
wall. The show is trying to build a
fifth wall, enclosing the viewers inside the text. Tropes: the fan in text, the
author in text. Chuck and almost simultaneously Becky: a Janus figure of
author/reader almost coexisting. As Chuck leaves the text, so does Becky; her
character gets assassinated. But the show can’t let go of the meta—Metatron and
Charlie, author and fan again through very different lenses. The show intuits something blatant in TV
watching. Equivalent to The Talking
Dead: now you have authorized space of commentary, authorized meta—SPN intuited
that because it was allowed experimentation that other network shows don’t
get. How does that relationship actually
affect the interpretation/hermeneutics (fancy word for interpretation) of
SPN? By SPN including the fan/author, it
creates a crisis of interpretation. Struggle over meaning becomes center of narrative,
which you see in increasingly frequent meta episodes. If you have this hermeneutical crisis, is the
show disowning its own authorship? Is
Fan Fiction a love letter to fans, or a deed of ownership to fans? Happens in X-Files and Buffy too, but SPN
does it in very concentrated fashion.
Schmidt: My fascination w/meta episodes is with emotional reactions to
them. What makes SPN unique? As a fan scholar, you have to ask yourself:
is it really because X, since those things happen in other shows/fandoms as
well? Nonetheless, meta experiment is uniquely intense in SPN, though other
shows are doing it. Participatory television: increasing across the board, not
just American Idol. Address to audience: reference that only a person in the
know would recognize: an indirect offer of participation. That’s what much of
the meta episodes are doing. You couldn’t understand why The French Mistake was
so funny if you didn’t already know a lot about the actors/production details.
Agree they don’t break the fourth wall.
Monster at the End of This Book: reaction was both pleasure
and embarrassment. And then came Becky.
At first, mildly annoyed/okay—then Season Seven, Time for a Wedding: can’t
watch again. Her theory of what’s going
on: fans are in a love relationship with show/objects within show, and it’s
like being in love with someone who’s always distant. When you want to maintain
a relationship, you want to maintain knowledge by knowing them and having them
know you. Show reaches out to us is like saying we know you and you can know
us. When the wedding episode occurred:
it was “you don’t know me, and this is what you think you know about me—slash writers
are obnoxious, immature, can’t keep hands to themselves, bad writers.” Then came Fan Fiction, and I truly felt like
someone had made an effort to educate themselves about fandom, and it was an
apology. It felt like recognition, and like them letting me know them. Marie the writer: fierce, kooky, someone I
want to know. There is a real intimacy
being created, which is a dangerous thing to say from a fan studies
perspective. Fan studies started out with the idea of “fake relationships”—it
feels like a real relationship these days.
Torrey: does the text make it meta? Or does our reaction
make it meta? For example, Charlie as a figure of the fangirl—the one that SPN
wants to have, not Becky which it thinks it has. Does that mean every episode
with Charlie is meta? Or are there parts?
When Sam & Dean look straight into the camera when interrogating a
demon in S9, is that a meta moment?
Hollywood Babylon and Real Ghostbusters seem to give creators space to
reflect on their own foibles—how bored the grip operators, or how Dean’s tropey
dialogue is mocked. Meta episodes have felt more like self-reflection and more
like “we’re doing meta.” Fan Fiction is
very giving, accepting: does that mean we are suddenly understood? Understood
by one writer? What’s the difference?
Can we treat the paratexts around SPN as SPN meta, such as Osric Chau’s
Winchester Gospels? Misha Collins’ TSA shorts which are Destiel fanfic (I don’t
know this so I may have misinterpreted)?
Or the behind the scenes short in S9?
Comment: Fan Fiction was supposed to be love letter to
fans/respectful, it was also polarizing among people I knew in fandom. People who hated it felt like it got too
close to what they held dear about fandom, or didn’t like the interpretation.
Schmidt: same with Monster at the End of this Book: some
people felt they were being outed/exposed in a way that meant them
Howell: the gaze is really not the gaze—it can never really
look back at all of thus. Every time the show enacts looking at you, there’s
someone saying “it’s not me.” That’s where my concern for meta on the show
comes from—it’s an incisive gaze, cutting someone out.
Comment: also a way to control the message. Building a fence.
Howell: like Talking Dead.
SPN did it successfully to a certain extent by putting it in the text,
but that’s a dangerous game.
Comment: some things like Moose & Squirrel ultimately
made it into the show from the fandom.
RT: The concept of interpellation—being hailed by a text—is
quite entrenched. I’d like to hear more
about how this is different. I also
remember a friend’s reaction to Ginger Snaps, the girl werewolf film: “this
text is addressed to me and my interests, and I’m so unused to that! Is this
what straight white guys feel like all the time?” Is this why we need explicit address in the
show, because this audience is unused to being hailed? (Also a note on Destiel
in Fan Fiction: a dead space because we’re told the actors are dating in “real
life” and thus unlike the Sam/Dean bits it doesn’t read on the SPN master
narrative in any way, either as authorization or shutdown.)
Comment: Changing Channels as meta, progressing from looking
at themselves to looking outward at fans in Fan fiction.
Comment: older fans anecdotally react worse to meta
episodes; younger fans happier to be engaged.
Howell: at some point the text is the text and its
annotation. Authority spaces now include things like conventions, DVD
commentaries—fans have access to information. That becomes part of the
hermeneutics (she wants to insist on the term because of the connection to
religion—fans adopt texts as lenses into the world). Annotations/midrash emerge that intense
readers, those who want to be priests/proselytizers, have access to. We know what Charlie means for fans, but not
all the casual viewers do.
Comment: the relationship as illusion—but as we’ve grown in
social media that enhances the sense of relationship. Generationally, is that dangerous in giving
the illusion more feeling of reality?
Schmidt: Yes, because the show is still the show. I don’t
know if it’s a real connection, but I can’t say for certain, and that’s the
Howell: who gets to decide whether the relationship is real?
The show or the fan?
Schmidt: I think it’s real, b/c they went to the effort to
address me. Believe they care about the
message they’re sending, want to make us happy (or not).
Comment: lack of connection between casual viewer and fan
creates different reasons and reactions.
In the beginning they were speaking more to casual viewers; now they’re
speaking to more passionate fans. May be
difficult for casual viewers to handle.
(RT: that’s pretty much necessary for a non-episodic show that goes on
Schmidt: this is true of much TV over the past few years—narrative
complexity reliant on reader’s knowledge and expertise. You can’t watch the
show if you haven’t been watching the show.
Comment: Kings of Con reinforces legitimacy of fans—they recognize
we’re the reason they exist (RT: and they’re the reason we’re here).
Comment: serialized TV existed before prime time, in soap
operas. That’s a commitment people have
been making for a long time! You could be in depth or casual.
Torrey: the assumption is that there is “a” SPN fandom and
there is not.
Comment: it’s a multiauthored text, not one that makes
coherent sense, just like other sacred texts. It’s a mistake to demand/infer
Howell: the people who wrote the episode last year in which
Sam & Dean stared into the camera and said “you’re obsessed, you’ll never
get what you want” to a “demon” also wrote Dark Dynasty, which killed Charlie.
Comment: Marie from Fan Fiction as the multi-fan: she didn’t
just have Destiel or Sam/Dean, she had both, and also robots! She represents “us” in a different way.
Howell: Had one student upset with portrayal of Marie: I am
not a teenage girl! This goes back to
the issue that having a character in a show that you can own, from Becky to
Charlie to Marie, is always fractional.
She was already upset w/ the show, and this was her moment. Then I think
about Real Ghostbusters, and all the fans in the audience being men. There’s a strange iteration/redundancy of
trying to see/fit the fans in the show. The
sentimentality of Marie might not be recognizable to some fans.
Schmidt: Multiple representations! With Charlie, we get another view.
Howell: Right, but her reaction is still legitimate as her
Comment: interesting from a generational perspective—teenage
girls working within a high school, versus adult women. Felt like they were making an apology to teen
girls specifically. A lot of the fanbase may be teens—as a teen, I found that
Torrey: if audience’s power comes from resisting the text,
what does it mean that things like Wincest and Destiel are now acknowledged in
the text? Does that take some power out
of them if it’s not a resistant reading, just reading into what the boys
Comment: variety in writers we have—in not many other shows
can we recognize the writer’s tics.
Comment: where is SPN in larger horror genre?
Schmidt: SPN is not a horror show any more. Melodrama and horror are related, and
melodrama in SPN is just using horror tropes to make the melodrama more
impactful—whether the world ends! They started out w/a desire to scare people,
but that’s not what they do any more even though they use ideas of horror.
Horror goes back to the gothic, and gothic meets melodrama.
Comment: there’s a tendency to conflate Dean’s reaction to
fandom with producers’ reaction to fandom. Dean may confuse cosplay with
LARPing, but he’s kind of a bonehead that way, and it’s consistent w/ his
Torrey: good point about role of creatives.
Comment: if the episodes by certain writers like Dark
Dynasty are lowest-rated on the show, should we really count it as canon?
Comment: meta as a purging fire for fandom. Pushes away people less inclined to be
Howell: the more the story becomes consumed by its own meta,
the more the authors are disowning the story, complicating the idea of canon
and authorization. Charlie’s death is definitely a meta moment.
Comment: the more the show is meta, the more the fans may be
protagonists, which may mean we need the writers to be bad/to be a foil.