You know, there’s nothing like going to a fan convention immediately after seeing an episode of your favorite show mocking a fan convention to completely change perspective on an episode.
When I left for the “Salute to Supernatural” convention in Chicago on Friday, my initial impression of “The Real Ghostbusters” was it was a so-so comedy episode with some great lines and funny bits that ended up overall being filler. But after spending a weekend observing the Supernatural fandom in general and actually having discussions about how things have changed in the Supernatural universe in the last year, I’ve totally changed my mind. The real meaning of the episode is this show appeals to fans for a reason and that reason comes with a deep involvement and connection. Considering how mundane many of our lives are, that can’t be all bad. It actually can be very, very good.
Sam and Dean’s initial experiences at the very first Supernatural convention weren’t unlike my own this weekend. Okay, no, there are no books about my own life around (unless you’ve read Erma Bombeck) and fans aren’t buying merchandise with my likeness on them (thank heavens!). Once they got past that though, the brothers came in thinking everyone was a bunch of kooks and came out with a new appreciation for these fans. At the Chicago con this year, most fans were so excited to be there. Many either had no idea about the recent online quibbles or they did and stuffed them in the back their minds. They didn’t care about the fan gripes over the mytharcs and angels or the Sam fans vs. Dean fans skirmishes going on in the online communities. They were there simply because they fell in love with this show. They couldn’t wait to get together with others and share that love in all sorts of ways. Okay, many were also there because Jared, Jensen, and Misha are hot. But I digress.
There was another type of fan at the con too, for every fandom has cynics. This was the long time fan, the one who knows every episode inside out, backward and forward from the beginning and has something to say about the way things are going. It usually isn’t good. This is the fan that stirs up crap on the fan sites and nitpicks absolutely everything, taking their negativity to the max. This fan becomes German dude in the episode. Despite all that bitter frustration though, they’re still at the con. They’re not ready to give up. They have hopes of getting their show back.
“The Real Ghostbusters” then becomes an “in your face” challenge to the fandom from none other than the creator himself. What kind of fan are you? Are you German guy, who nitpicks everything but still shows up at a con in full costume complete with hook? Are you Becky who will shout down anyone who disagrees in front of everyone? Are you Demian and Barnes (yes, a dig at the site that shall not be named) who love Supernatural for exactly what it is? After all, it's escapism and they’re sold on the idea that daily life doesn’t have to suck. They know the characters aren’t real, but they’re still LARPing. They also save the day together when duty calls. Why? Because that’s what Sam and Dean would do.
The episode points out to all the nitpickers and others who complain about certain things that reality in our escapism isn’t so fun. Digging graves is hard. The lighters usually don’t work the first time. A bungee for weapons? A fun idea, but what person actually does that? Ghost stories are not a novelty. They’re usually deep rooted in some type of awful tragedy. Then there’s Chuck, who’s miserable because he’s being denied his basic gift of making people feel good and give them hope (not to mention the food and shelter thing). He’s doing what he does best and what he was born to do. What’s wrong with that? Yes, it took the involvement of an archangel but sometimes all of us are pushed into battles under extraordinary circumstances. He has to fight for his choice to write just as much as Sam and Dean have to fight the apocalypse.
Sam and Dean in turn are not happy with fans taking such interest in their lives, just like Kripke isn’t happy at times with fans taking such impassioned interest in his world. Dean’s rant is the best possible projection of that frustration. “Why in the Hell would you choose to be these guys?” Why role play? Why spend hours online talking about the misery and despair these guys must experience every week? Sam and Dean realize the fans know it’s not real (at least most of them) but it’s their lives. They make their own choices, they don’t second guess, and they certainly don’t need criticism for those choices. Not unlike a certain show creator we know, huh? Kripke doesn’t need to take on his fans when he has Sam, Dean, and especially Chuck do it for him. What a nice luxury to have!
Sure, in driving the story, the standard, run of the mill, creepy kid's ghost story was used. That ghost story though existed to bring these characters to an understanding. Their experiences came from two completely different worlds and perspectives meet with unpredictable results. Not unlike when two guys meet in a chat room because they share a love for a story. Or the author and the fan finding bliss over an act of heroism. Makes for a nifty story, huh? For those who didn’t think so, especially long time viewers, I think we need to go back to the fandom thing.
Fans are passionate about their show. Their expectations are high, their notions of the way things should go sometimes large. Sure, there are also fans like Becky, who trusts the vision of the creator but something about this family drama raises passions and awareness that are unparalleled with other entertainment mediums. You know the TV shows with the highest ratings are usually the ones with the least passionate fan bases? Do you see CSI fans raising such a stink if Mendelsohn has Nick or Catherine have an intense falling out over betrayal from an addiction? No, if they didn’t like it they’d be turning the channel. So why do Supernatural fans stay rooted and raise trouble when things take the twist they don’t agree with? When characters are introduced that they don’t like? Why don’t they walk away? Because they’re too emotionally invested, that’s why. Because this show isn’t just a TV show. It’s a surrogate social network and a way of life for many.
Keep in mind that the show, despite this parody, wasn’t condemning fans. If anything, it was honoring them. I think for so many online fans who are deep rooted in negativity and raising controversy that it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. Kripke and all TPTB love the fans despite all their quirks and harsh criticisms. The fans usually respect each other too in spite of their differing opinions, especially at the cons when the barrier of online anonymity is erased. Just like Dean, sometimes it just takes just the right shift in perspective to realize that things aren’t that bad. Like going to an actual con. Like meeting average people and finding out who they are. Like finding out firsthand why they’re so drawn to the story. Like seeing everyone have their fan girl and boy moments and understanding the motivation behind them.
You see how I went kind of full circle there? “The Real Ghostbusters” taught us a huge valuable lesson. Anything or anyone that makes our lives suck less isn’t so bad. Whether it’s your brother or an online friend or a partner, it doesn’t matter. If there’s a few laughs along the way, that’s even better. Barnes and Demian in their rescue of Sam and Dean prove that heroes and fans aren’t all that different. Some just have more experience with saving people and hunting things than others. That’s one of the main themes of this show though, isn’t it? People bonding together to fight impossible odds with the hope to make the world a better place. That’s a definition of hero. That is as real as it gets.