Academics and Fandoms: You Can be a Scholar and a Fan

Academics are nerds.  I say that as an academic.  Generally speaking, we love media.  We love to analyze media because we love it.  I hear people question the idea that academics are fans of the media they analyze, as if loving something can’t co-exist with being an academic.  My favorite fandom is the Whedonverse.  I love to dig in and look at various characters and themes and pull them apart to examine every facet.  But I can also turn off my academic brain and enjoy the shows as entertainment.

I’m a casual observer of Star Wars and I see attacks hurled at academics who dare to examine their sacred texts.  I’ve known professors who love movies and see them as a reflection of the Arthurian myths; Luke is Arthur, Han is Lancelot, Leia is Gwen.  Of course, it only works for the first film, before the audience knows that Luke and Leia are siblings.  I can see people—fans—dogpiling this professor if he dismantled these characters on Twitter or YouTube.

I never watched Game of Thrones, but I enjoy listening to arguments as to why the show took a nose-dive in the latter seasons.  I recognize how passionate these scholars are about this show, only to be let down by the showrunners.  Even if I don’t know the content, I understand the excitement of dissecting a piece of media.

The only media I would consider examining lately would be DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.  I don’t know what I would say about it, but it would be fun.  I’d say go watch this awesome crazy show.  I could talk about various characters’ masculinity, and how the show presents a spectrum.  I could talk about queer representation.  Or character development or superpowers or magic or my love for Gary as a great wacky character.  I could gush about this show, but I don’t feel like doing the work, honestly.  I’d rather, in this time of Rona, re-watch the latest season, turn off my brain, and laugh.

Why do academics love looking at and talking about media?  It is a common language.  Few people have read novels like Mary Barton or Passing (humble brag).  But people have seen Wonder Woman or Star Wars.  Citing media to speak about queer theory, colonialism, feminism, and more helps people not only understand the theories, but also the very media they consume.  I, for one, expanded my understanding of feminism and language by reading books by scholars looking at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  One of my favorite papers, which I hope to revise and expand, is about Firefly, River Tam, and the weaponized female body.  I need to do more reading to expand it, but the topic makes me excited to do so.  That’s the best feeling a scholar can have, that carries us through long nights and tough times.  We study media because we care.  Instead of mindlessly consuming media, we also want you to think critically about it, to expand your knowledge base and learn new ideas.  The goal of academics is to educate.  If we can bridge our ivory towers by talking about Game of Thrones or Star Wars, then so be it.

Fandoms and Universes: A Quick Essay

151784Recently, I took stock of all the various fandoms of which I am a part.  Here’s the list: Harry Potter, Whedonverse, Supernatural, iZombie, and Veronica Mars.  Probably Marvel if you only count the MCU, not the comics.  Some of the DC CW shows almost made the list too.  I’m not a member of the Star Wars fandom, although I’ve seen all of the movies at least once (not Solo).  I’ve never seen the Star Trek shows or movies.  I’ve seen a handful of Dr. Who episodes at random but I keep hesitating to dive into that intense fandom.  There is too much content to devour it all.

The worlds are too big!

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Many of the fandoms I joined when they were just beginning.  I read Harry Potter as it came out.  I watched the Whedon shows on DVD (before Netflix was a streaming services).  I began watching Supernatural and iZombie when the first seasons aired.  I was two seasons late to Veronica Mars but soon caught up and finished before the last (at the time) season aired.  I went to my first Marvel movie because I knew that Joss Whedon was directing The Avengers, which would be the final team-up movie featuring all of these new characters (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America).  I’ve seen every Marvel movie since then (Curse you, Whedon!).  But, in short, I joined these fandoms on the ground floor.

Why do I avoid new fandoms?  Why doesn’t I just watch Dr. Who or Star Trek already?

The simple answer is that I’m afraid.

To be clear, I’m not afraid of the fandom itself.  I’m afraid of diving face first into a deep pool of content.  Dr. Who is a huge series.  Where would I start?  The rebooted seasons?  The older seasons?  What about Star Trek?  Do I begin with the original series?  In what order do I watch the Star Wars movies?  This doesn’t begin to include the expanded universe of all these fandoms.  That’s too much homework for one lifetime!

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In other areas, I’m more selective.  I saw the DC movies Wonder Woman and Shazam in theaters and rented Aquaman.  But I avoided Suicide Squad, Batman Vs. Superman, and Justice League (which I actually forgot existed while writing this post).  Continuing with DC, I’ve seen all of The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow (which I love).  I’ve only watched half of season one of Arrow though.  It doesn’t grab me as much.  Barry Allen is more watchable than Oliver Queen, in my opinion.  I prefer Grant Gustin’s Barry to what I’ve seen of Ezra Miller’s portrayal, although I loved Miller in Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Like I said, I’ve seen all the Marvel movies, but I didn’t watch Agents of Shield.  I enjoyed Jessica Jones on Netflix and liked Daredevil, but I haven’t watched Iron Fist and wasn’t drawn in by Luke Cage.  My fear with the new Disney Plus streaming service is that the new content featuring Marvel movie characters will be required viewing to understand the movies.  From what I’ve heard, this will probably be the case, namely with WandaVision and the second Dr. Strange movie (LINK).

b6c2f9925ae1d585576022bc06a20832.jpgThe MCU is becoming far too big, and frankly, I’m losing steam.  I’m a dirty casual viewer, so they have to take it easy on me.  (I’ve never read a Marvel comic and I’ve barely read any comics.)  But I know Marvel and Disney will not slow down anytime soon.  Marvel movies like Avengers: Endgame are now cultural events.  The comic book movie has come a long way.  What would Christopher Reeve think?  DC and Marvel, no matter the setbacks, are in it for the long haul.  They are not going away.

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What does that mean for the viewer?  Well, we have to learn to be more selective.  I’m not going to become a part of the Star Wars fandom, but I’ll go see The Rise of Skywalker in the theaters.  I’ll probably never watch Star Trek or Dr. Who as a whole.  I’ll continue watching the CW shows (except iZombie, which is in its final season) and go to see the Marvel movies.  I’ll wait for a week to see the next DC movie, if I go at all.  I’m not planning on seeing the next Fantastic Beasts movies after the dud that was the second movie.  Basically, I’ll seek out the characters I find interesting (like Legends of Tomorrow, seriously, go watch it now) and ignore or miss the characters or content I don’t find compelling.  I know fans of the properties I avoid probably don’t like everything I find enjoyable.  It’s a free world.  But we can both enjoy our respective fandoms without swaying the other.  I’ll praise the likes iZombie and Veronica Mars because fewer people know about these shows, but that is becoming rarer.  Everyone knows about Star Wars and Dr. Who.  For the most part, I’ll trust the recommendations of myfriend and family, but that doesn’t mean I’ll watch everything they suggest.

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The sheer amount of media in the world today (movies, shows, books, etc.) is too much to take in and not feel exhausted.  Modern media is overwhelming.  The viewer must decide what to filter out to avoid a never-ending list of shows on your chosen streaming services.

Don’t mindlessly consume.  Use your judgment and narrow the flood of media to a stream.

Good luck, fellow viewer!enhanced-17040-1446660609-11

Some Thoughts on Supernatural

I sat down to write an essay about my favorite show, Supernatural.  And then I started at a blank screen for several minutes, realizing the Herculean task I had just set myself.  How can I put into words what this show has meant to me and so many other fans?  Where do I begin?  There’s a lot of ground to cover.  This might become an ongoing series of essays, but for now, let’s start at the beginning…

Turns Spotify to classic rock station…

In 2005, a show debuted after Smallville on the WB, so I watched it because I like monsters and it might be a good show.  Over a decade later, I am still watching.  Supernatural has been a constant in my life and I’m sad to know that it will soon end.  But that will never take away what it means to me.  It is a safety blanket, a source of entertainment (and some frustration), and a link between me and every fan out there.

In the beginning, there was Sam and Dean, cruising the backroads of America in search for creatures that went bump in the night.  From these humble origins, the lore of the show added demons, angels, heaven, hell, and alternate dimensions.  But the evolution was logically, as the world of the boys expanded.  As a fan, I relish a good lore.  That’s probably what attracts me to Harry Potter and Buffy and so on.

The cast of two expanded into three, then four key characters, including an angel named Castiel and the future king of hell named Crowley.  Family, a key theme of the show, remained at the forefront as other characters populated the world of the show.  Characters like Bobby, Chunk, Charlie, Sheriff Jody, and others became family.  Actors who joined the cast could look forward to an adoring fandom; the only despised character, Metatron, might be the exception.

The show became self-aware, and I loved it for that.  It nodded at its audience all the time, including a meta episode that introduced Chuck (“Monster at the End of the Book” 4.18) and a musical episode where the boys see their lives played out in song (“Fan Fiction” 10.5).

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There were two attempts to create spinoffs to Supernatural, neither of which took off.  I loved the ideas of another show set in the same world, but I don’t think it would be the same without Sam and Dean.  The look and feel of the show, the world, is only part of the show.  The relationship between Sam and Dean, and, by extension, Jared and Jensen, is the core of the show.  Their self-sacrificing ways have become a cliché of the show, but that love is the heart of it all.  What started as a search for their father—which sets the ball in motion—becomes a fight for the world and everyone in it.

These are my initial thoughts on the series, but they are far from all I have to say about Supernatural.