Category:Websites, Blogs and Social Media
A short history of Supernatural fandom and Social media by Jules Wilkinson
Yeah, MySpace, what the hell is that? Seriously, is that like some sort of porn site?
When the first episode of Supernatural aired on September 13, 2005, the Internet looked very different. MySpace was the most popular social networking site, YouTube had only been around for six months and Mark Zuckerberg was still wondering if his Facebook might be popular with people other than horny college kids. The iPhone was still two years away.
Back then, the term Web 2.0 had just started to gain currency to describe a new form of internet infrastructure. Just like fandom, Web 2.0 --or social media as it became known-- is all about connecting people and collaborative creation, not just the individual, passive consumption of content. Fandom and social media are a match made in cyberspace.
It might be impossible to untangle how social media shaped our fandom, or indeed how our activities shaped the use of social media. Like any good partnership, fans and social media together produced synergies that bring out the best in both of them.
The only place people understood me was on the message boards. They were grumpy and overly literal but at least we shared a common passion.
By the time I watched the Pilot of Supernatural on Australian television in February 2006, the Supernatural fandom was already settling down with social media and picking out curtains.
The show itself had been part of developing that relationship. Warner Brothers had paired with Yahoo and made the Pilot of Supernatural free via streaming for a week ahead of the official airing on The WB on September 14, 2005. According to David Janollari, Entertainment Head at Warner Brothers, this was designed “to break through the clutter of other media and help reach the savvy young viewing audience that we know will embrace Supernatural.” (Futon Critic, 2005). Oh, to be young and savvy again!
During the first three seasons of Supernatural, the major centers of the fandom were on LiveJournal (LJ), message boards on fandom specific websites such as supernatural.tv and Winchester Bros, and on the forums of media sites including the WB and later the CW websites, tv.com and Television Without Pity.
In those early years fans tended to stick to one site and it was possible to feel that wherever you were was the center of Supernatural fandom. Each forum or community had its own cultural mores, in-jokes and etiquette. These were not always easy to discern – I think I was banned three times from the Television Without Pity forums without having any idea what rules I'd transgressed.
Some phenomena were common across fan communities. Wherever there were fans, there were Sam girls and Dean girls - fans strongly aligned to one or the other of the brothers - who would protest any perceived slights against the character by other fans, characters or the writers.
Fannish vernacular and memes crossed between sites. The nickname Metallicar for the iconic Impala originated on October 11, 2005 on the Supernatural thread on Television Without Pity and was soon in common use throughout fandom. It later began appearing on merchandise, and was even used by creator Eric Kripke in the commentary on the Season Two DVD.
Right from the beginning, where people lived online, and who they interacted with, shaped their fandom experience. Although mobility between fannish sites has increased hugely, many fans assume that what is represented on their timeline equates to a representative sample of fandom. We assume a commonality of experience, but the levels and types of engagement with the show, interaction with each other and areas of interest varies widely. While there are some common cultural touchstones, fandom is never homogenous and is always dynamic.
No, I really can't read your LJ short story. I get it – Sam and Dean really love each other. I just don’t need to see that.
LiveJournal was one of the first social blogging sites and from its inception in 1999 has been a popular base for many fandoms. It offers personal blogs as well as multi-user ones known as communities, and also made it easy to post text, photos, and video before this was a widespread facility. These features resulted in it becoming the largest single site for creative works in the Supernatural fandom (although Fanfiction.net for writing, and DeviantART have also been creative strongholds since the beginning). Livejournal remains a strong centre for fanfic creation, although much of the work is now stored on the multifandom Archive Of Our Own which allows the downloading of stories in formats compatible with mobile devices and e-readers, has overtaken .
When Supernatural started in 2005, it attracted fans from other fandoms such as Smallville, Stargate and DC Comics. These fandoms were already well-established, and fans knew that it takes a (cyber) village to raise a fandom. They set up communities, ran challenges and hosted friending memes. They brought with them the knowledge of how to make a group of fans into a community and build an infrastructure that leveraged the basic format of LJ to meet our needs.
By the time I joined the fandom in January 2006, Supernatural fandom was a vibrant and thriving community. By October that year, the LJ Supernatural fandom held its first meet-up at WinchesterCon, a fan-only convention held in Nashville that attracted nearly 200 fans.
Since that time, LJ has hosted just about every type of creative fan endeavor one could imagine. The sheer volume and diversity of creativity is staggering. In events such as the SPN/J2 Big Bang challenge which started in 2007, fans have produced over 1,300 novel length stories and accompanying art works. Many of these fic challenges are still running in 2014. At the end of Season Two another fan, anteka, and I self-published the first collection of essays about the show Some of Us Really Do Watch for the Plot with contributions from around forty fans. I once hosted a Supernatural-themed baking challenge.
The first serious challenge to LJ as a major fannish site came in May 2007 in what became known as "LJ Strikethrough". A group purportedly trying to protect children from online predators, asked LJ to remove sites which they saw as offensive. The owners of LJ responded by deleting many journals including some fannish ones.
This prompted fans to start to consider a life beyond LJ. While there were other websites adn messages board for Supernatural operating, LJ fans wanted the user friendly multi-media platform similar to LJ. While some fans did relocate to similar journaling sites, such as InsaneJournal, none of these offered comparable functionality to LJ and the predicted diaspora did not eventuate at that time.
The event did lead to the development of Dreamwidth which is based on an enhancement of the LJ structure, and which has an upfront commitment to serving the interests of fandom. However, by the time Dreamwidth was established in 2009, there was little motivation for the fandom en masse to move to a site that functionally, if not philosophically, was almost identical to LJ.
With the appearance on the scene of the very sexy Twitter and Tumblr, a move from LJ to Dreamwidth would have been like buying the same model car in a different color just after flying skateboards were invented.
You're like a walking encyclopedia of weirdness.
The SupernaturalWiki, known colloquially as the SuperWiki, was started by an Australian fan named Hope in August 2006 who realized that a Wiki model – an example of Web 2.0 – fitted perfectly with her aim for an inclusive fandom site and had greater potential than a Web 1.0 style static website.
I started work on the Wiki in 2006, later joined the admin group, and eventually took over running the Wiki in 2009. For me the SuperWiki encapsulates how social media can serve fandom. It’s a place that allows creation and connection and values all works - whether from the show itself or the fans – equally.
The goal of SuperWiki is to provide an extensive information resource and compendium of fan knowledge. Similar to Wikipedia, any Supernatural fan can add information to the site which means the content of the SuperWiki is as incredibly diverse and quirky as the fandom that creates it.
A unique feature of the SuperWiki is that it includes entries about the Supernatural fandom and our activities alongside that of the show, those who work on it and the many tie-in materials such as novels, comics and anime series. We document what fans create, where we are online, and also offline activities like Conventions.
The integration of fan works in the SuperWiki, means that a visit to the entry on Castiel will supply the reader not only with canonical information about the character but also about provide links to fan projects documenting Castiel's hair styles over the seasons, fan fiction featuring Castiel or people role playing the angel on Twitter. It reflects the diversity of ways fans interact with show.
The Wiki is not only a resource, it is a site for fan creativity in itself and hundreds of fans have been actively part of the Wiki project. Fans can participate in whatever way interests them; other than having a basic style guide, there are no restrictions on how fans contribute. Some people like to proofread or fact check, some update entries as new episodes air, while others take on particular projects like translating Enochian or documenting the Star Wars references.
A fan once said to me "I love working on the SuperWiki because it's big enough that it feels like I am part of a really important project and small enough that I feel like my contributions make a difference."
Certainly my own involvement in the SuperWiki took me from a very LiveJournal-centric experience of fandom into a much broader one as I started visiting other fan sites and spaces so I could include them and their fannish experiences on the SuperWiki. I found that people came to work on the SuperWiki from many different corners of fandom. Of particular note was my discovery that there were men in Supernatural fandom.
A major aim of the SuperWiki is to increase the accessibility of both the show and the fandom. Supernatural is a specifically American narrative, with many of its cultural references reflecting those of its geeky Gen X writers, yet fans of the show span generations and many countries.
The SuperWiki episode entries provide fans with information about references they may have missed or not understood -- whether it's a demon quoting from a 60's cartoon series, Dean using the name of the drummer from AC/DC as an alias, or the origins of the "Bloody Mary" urban legend. Synopses and full transcripts of each episode allow further detailed reading of the text, and possibly elucidate references that subtitles or dubbing of the Show in other languages may have obfuscated.
The Wiki records definitions for our unique vernacular, helping to explain to newer fans terms that may otherwise act to exclude them from fannish dialogue. Knowing the meaning of mpreg or knotting can help avoid some awkward conversations and also help you find the fanart you are looking for. It also provides wonderful insights into the adoption and dissemination of terms over time.
The Supernatural Wiki is not only an enormous fandom project, but an immensely popular one. I've had feedback from actors who used the site as reference after landing a role on the show ("just what is a leviathan?") and from the Supernatural writers , and different departments of the production team. The fact that a site created by fans about a show we love, is now used by that show itself as a resource, is a testament to the work done here.
You guys! You really punked me! I'm totally gonna tweet this one "Hola, mishamigos. J-squared got me good."
By mid-2008, a noticeable number of Supernatural fans had Twitter accounts. We often translocated our fannish relationships from other sites, and the first presence of Supernatural fandom on Twitter was primarily through these pre-established networks.
Over time those networks have merged. Twitter brings together fans, not only from different fandom backgrounds but also from different cultures and has brought a broader, more casual viewing audience into contact with the core of creative fandom, and with those people who make the show itself.
Twitter has provided a platform for the fandom to come together as a whole, and our fandom has proved an almost unbeatable force when called on to vote for awards such as the People's Choice Awards, even when up against TV series with many more million viewers.
As Twitter has become part of many peoples everyday online experience, it has allowed the creation of relationships between actors, the people making the show, and fans without any intervening filter. Actors Misha Collins and later Jared Padalecki were drawcards for many fans to join Twitter. Currently there are over twenty members of the Supernatural crew on Twitter, providing fans with previously rare insights into how the show is made and connections with those who make it. It also provides fans with unfiltered access to these people, which is of course a double-edged sword.
The immediacy of Twitter combined with the ability to tag tweets with a subject was has been exploited by the Supernatural fandom during conventions. Use of a hashtag creates a public forum for discussion of an event. Fans at a convention can tweet in realtime exactly what is happening at an event, like a micro-broadcast. Fansites will compile these tweets to provide a summary of a panel, and of course we link to all of these on the SuperWiki. Social media provides the tools, and fandom makes them work for us.
One memorable use of Twitter was in 2009, when in the week leading up to the start of Supernatural's Season 5, @SuperWiki started ending tweets with #luciferiscoming as a mischievous way to get attention for the show. In the 24 hours leading up to the premiere of Season 5 the tag started trending on Twitter.
A full blown religious conflagration broke out when musician Sean Combs (@iamdiddy) who has over a million followers and was unaware of the context of #luciferiscoming, started posting with a #Godishere tag in retaliation. Both tags dominated the trending topics list. Eventually Twitter management stepped in, and banned both God and Lucifer from appearing in trending topics.
Actor Traci Dinwiddie tweeted after the premiere to say:
Kripke and all were blown away by the SPN fandom's "tweeter take-over"! It was the buzz of the evening! Well done, #Supernatural! Xoxo
Livetweeting as an episode is braodcast has also added a new dimension to viewing. Actors, and writers and the crew provide a live commentary on the episode. This use of this increaed amrkedly in 2013 as Nielsen introduced a beta form of "ratings" via Twitter, measuring the rate of original tweets and retweets.
Bobby: I asked for a computer.
Sam: It is a computer.Bobby: No, a computer has buttons.
During the same time that Twitter was gaining popularity with fans, so was another microblogging site – Tumblr.
Tumblr was the new toy fandom was looking for. In operation since 2007, Tumblr started to gain a significant fandom presence in late 2009, not coincidentally soon after it launched its iPhone app.
The syndication of Supernatural on TNT in January 2010, captured a new generation of viewers, fans who had grown up with social media and smartphones. Tumblr, where an endless stream of high resolution graphics is available at the swipe of a finger, became the site of choice, one best viewed on the newly released iPad.
Tumblr doesn't require fans to work together for fandom to operate on the site as LJ does, although fans on Tumblr do of course cooperate and collaborate on projects. By contrast, LJ relies on a fan-organized infrastructure, with sites such as the Supernatural Newsletter essential to help fans find content and run the many creative endeavors there.
Graphics dominate Tumblr, primarily in the form of animated gifs and photosets, often enhanced or altered using Photoshop, which may feature dialogue from the show, or the fan's own text. It can be used to present an episode reaction, meta or a crack or just general prettiness. We have become known as the fandom who has a gif for everything!!
The ability to tag posts means a fan can easily search for posts on a topic, or even bloack posts using Tumblr Savior although this of course relies on individual fans tagging their posts consistently. If you're searching, for episode reactions and analysis, it may appear under the episode name #BloodBrother or #ALLTHEWINCHESTERFEELS, and if you really want to avoid Gabriel/Castiel content, again you really on fans tagging with good will.
Tumblr became the home base of the much of the Supernatural fandom, but in contrast to the early days of the fandom, it is now common for fans to participate in fandom on multiple social media sites at once.
A bloody, violent monster and you wanna be Facebook friends with him?
There is no doubt that Supernatural is now one of the most active fandoms in the world. By the end of 2014, there have been dozens of Supernatural conventions held in the US, Canada, Italy, Brasil, UK, Spain, Germany, France and Australia. At the 2012 Jus In Bello Convention held in Rome, fans from an estimated 46 countries were in attendance. On the Supernatural Wiki, we have had visitors from nearly 200 countries.
Supernatural fandom is more dispersed than it has ever been, but also more connected. If a fan flaps her wings on Tumblr, her feels will be felt around the Internet and comments will be made on fannish Facebook groups, trend on Twitter, pop up on Instagram, media sites and the ever quieter pages of Livejournal.
The show itself which started with a Pilot broadcast on Yahoo, is now available through streaming on Netflix and Hulu. Seven years ago it may have taken hours to download an episode; now a fan in Australia could (hypothetically of course) download and watch the episode on her phone between the time it airs on the East and West Coast in the US. She can discuss the episode not only with fans from around the world but with the people who made the show as well.
The Supernatural fandom has developed along with the social networking sites and new media. Our fandom has capitalized on this infrastructure, and it has facilitated the growth of a dynamic, global fandom that now also encompasses the cast and crew of the show, in what we call the Supernatural family.
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