Book Review: Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls (and some thoughts on fandom)

I had to divide this up between by personal feelings on fandom and conventions and my feelings about the actual book so the waters didn’t get muddied. There’s some overlap of course, but I felt this was the most fair way to go about it. The book review itself is up first, the thoughts on fandom and some of the matters surrounding it are below.

THE BOOK:

The official blurb:

Once upon a time not long ago, two responsible college professors, Lynn the psychologist and Kathy the literary scholar, fell in love with the television show Supernatural and turned their oh-so-practical lives upside down. Plunging headlong into the hidden realms of fandom, they scoured the Internet for pictures of stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki and secretly penned racy fan fiction. And then they hit the road—crisscrossing the country, racking up frequent flyer miles with alarming ease, standing in convention lines at 4 A.M.

They had white-knuckled encounters with overly zealous security guards one year and smiling invitations to the Supernatural set the next. Actors stripping in their trailers, fangirls sneaking onto film sets; drunken confessions, squeals of joy, tears of despair; wallets emptied and responsibilities left behind; intrigue and ecstasy and crushing disappointment—it’s all here.

And yet even as they reveled in their fandom, the authors were asking themselves whether it’s okay to be a fan, especially for grown women with careers and kids. “Crazystalkerchicks”—that’s what they heard from Supernatural crew members, security guards, airport immigration officials, even sometimes their fellow fans. But what Kathy and Lynn found was that most fans were very much like themselves: smart, capable women looking for something of their own that engages their brains and their libidos.

Fangasm pulls back the curtain on the secret worlds of fans and famous alike, revealing Supernatural behind the scenes and discovering just how much the cast and crew know about what the fans are up to. Anyone who’s been tempted to throw off the constraints of respectability and indulge a secret passion—or hit the road with a best friend—will want to come along.

 
I have mixed feelings about this book and its topic. I read 67% percent in one sitting and then had to force myself to get back to it. Something about it all felt…dirty? I guess dirty fits. This is why I had to separate this out. It was my feelings around hardcore fandom itself that led to this feeling for the most part, though I did take some issue with the tactics the authors took.

The ups and downs, the positives and the negatives of being a fangirl in a hardcore fandom are covered in Fangasm. From the unspoken rules of fandom to the fandom turning their collective back on fans that don’t “do” fandom right, the pages cover less of the psychological side and reasoning behind obsessive fandoms and more of the personal journey of the two writers. For the academic review of the authors’ antics, check out Fandom at the Crossroads: Celebration, Shame and Fan/Producer Relationships  by the same authors.
 

Fangasm is the story of two middle aged college professors – one university professor with a PhD in eighteenth century literature and one psychologist and researcher with a PhD in clinical psychology – that find themselves becoming certified fangirls over Supernatural and try to document their journey “inside” the fandom while attempting to discover what lies behind and beneath the crazy culture of fandom. They write fanfiction. You should know this. You will know. If you forget, they’ll tell you about 9,000 times.

Here’s where I’m torn: I was never really sure if the authors were trying to justify their fangirl ways -to the readers and themselves- or if they used their professional researcher status as a way to gain access to the cast, crew and creatives under the guise of writing this book. Those PhDs they mention several times? They seem to think that sets them apart from other people or somehow makes their fangirl ways sound less crazy and more like research. It doesn’t really work.

Kathy saw “fangirls,” subscribing to all the negative stereotypes (nerdy, socially awkward, and no doubt living with at least half a dozen cats) and south to distance herself from them. “That’s not me!” she told herself, conveniently ignoring the fact that we had flown one thousand miles to ogle One Good Man.

That pretty much sums it up. They want to do this piece about fangirls “from the inside” while consistently acting like 99.9% fangirl and .01% professionals. They wanted to highlight the positive, sane side of fandom and why it’s ok to be a fangirl. The beginning did this well, including letters and postings from different fans who had their lives altered for the better because of this show, it’s fandom and the community it has created. The rest of the book then felt like it focused on the negative or darker sides or their “OMG WE GET TO TALK TO <INSERT ACTOR HERE!> I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY’RE FALLING FOR THIS!” antics.

Through long stories, some told multiple times, it never adequately answers the question they set out to answer – is it okay to be a hardcore fan? Is it ok to take time away from your “real life” responsibilities to fangirl over a TV show?

They spoke frequently about how it’s not accepted in today’s society that women do anything for themselves or that it’s frowned upon that women doing something to have fun, something just for themselves. I really don’t agree with this mindset and frankly they didn’t pay it proper attention to convince me otherwise. These woman went to multiple conventions a year and wondered why their families said “uh hi, remember us?” They spent thousands and thousands of dollars on flights, hotel rooms, tickets for cons, photo ops, autograph signings, and on and on and on. And for what? Oh that’s right, they called it “research” while using the next sentence to basically say “we wanted time away from our families.” They touch upon the guilt this caused them but never really dug into it.

We follow these trips from their first Comic Con up to their interviews with the stars of the show on set. Ultimately, I couldn’t shake the feeling that these women took on the task of writing about the show and its fandom because there was a chance it would give them access to things, places and people a “normal” fan wouldn’t have, and less because they wanted an honest look at fandom as a whole.

There are interesting bits about fandom and some fun peaks behind the curtain once they wriggle their way into on-set visits. But the real story is essentially two women using their degrees and credentials to gain access to the show under what feels like false pretenses. Their entire goal was to get face time with stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles under the guise that they wanted to hear their thoughts on fandom. Instead it felt like they were using their book as an excuse to try to get close to the boys. They admit this much themselves about two dozen times.

No matter how legitimate we tried to tell ourselves (and anyone who would listen) our fan studies research was, nobody (including us) was really buying it.

Despite supposed good intentions, the stories meander in places, get repetitive and detract from the experience for the reader. Fangasm reads like the leftover notes that were too personal to make the cut in the academic book they also published. I wanted something more than what this turned out to be. I wanted a true story of the fan’s perspective and not a copy of someone’s journal full of notes they jotted down in hopes of remembering the details of their own experience.

And the obsession with slash fic? WE GET IT. I’m not sure how many more people involved with the show needed to shrug their shoulders and say “We know it’s there. It exists. That’s the extent of it.” before they stop asking every single person.

Enough. The only people who are that concerned about slash fic seem to be the ones writing, reading, or (flipping sides) protesting it. No one else cares about it. Move on. Write your fic. Don’t write it. Read it. Don’t read it. Just stop asking the cast and crew about it already.

We were still myopically viewing fandom through the prism of fanfiction reads and writers, since that was the fandom niche we happened to live in ourselves.

And therein lies the problem. While there is no doubt that the Supernatural fandom produces an insane amount of fanfiction, not all fans write, read, or even care about fanfiction. The authors, despite the text above, don’t seem to realize this and continue to make it the main focus of their interviews and well over half of this book.

It had been deeply, vitally important to use to show fandom as the healthy positive thing that it could be. We wanted our book to do something that had never been done before – to celebrate the subversive idea that women were entitled to do things just for fun, that women longs for a community of other women where they could be real, that women were every bit as interested in lusting after hot guys on TV as men were ogling an endless array of hot girls on film.

This may have been their unofficial mission statement but they missed the mark.

I really enjoyed the first 15% or so of the book and found that I, as an “outsider” of fandom (see more below) identified with some of it. Then the crazy was uncovered.

If you’re not a fan of Supernatural, I don’t think that will deter you from enjoying the book but you will definitively like it more if you are a fan.

FANDOM:

I have issues with the word fangirl as a noun. I hate the word fandom (even more so now after reading this book). I hate the words LARPing and cosplay and cons. It all sounds so…so…

I don’t know. Childish? Obsessive? Negative?

There are many levels to fandom and I’ve always considered myself to be on the far outskirts of it. I don’t use tumblr (it confuses me), I don’t write fanfiction, I don’t attend fan conventions or spend hours and hours each week online staying up to date on whatever bits of news leaked that day about the show or its stars. I don’t have folders full of pictures and gifs on my laptop. I don’t continuously hit refresh on searches for hashtags to experience a con “live” through attendants updates. I don’t spend hours every day updating a blog or a microblog or anything else with every scrap of info or gossip. I don’t treat being a fan of this show like it’s a job.

That’s not me. I suppose it’s fine for other folks but it’s not my story.

I hang out near the edge of fandom without investing thousands of dollars or years of my life being a true fangirl. Try as I might, I get a little weirded out by the hardcore superfangirls. The ones who aren’t capable of having a conversation about much else other than their fandom. The ones that need it like they need oxygen.

I watch. I’ll rewatch. I’ll tweet reactions (non-spoilers, because I’m nice like that) when a new episode is airing. Maybe a few comments if I’m rewatching past seasons on DVD. I follow a board or two on Pinterest. That’s about it. Compared to some parts of the fandom, that’s next to nothing. I own all the seasons on dvd and tweet about it occasional. The fandom would hardly consider me as a participant much less a full blown fangirl. I’m more than ok with that.

I thought I was pretty tapped in to the goings-on of fandom despite being an “outsider” but, as it turns out, there was a lot I didn’t know or had even heard of. Crack fic, whumped, BNFs? What?

It’s all a bit much. I’ve seen girls bitch at people who run blogs (for the ten minutes I was on tumblr before deciding it wasn’t for me) because they didn’t post screencaps fast enough after an episode aired. Really? This person is doing this FOR FREE and someone is going to harass them because this free service wasn’t done immediately? I don’t get that.

There’s a large section of Supernatural fandom that has created a fictional relationship between two heterosexual male characters and continues to get more and more angry when this relationship doesn’t become canon on the show itself. What? You’re getting angry over something you created in your head?” Really?

 

Conventions:
The idea of conventions is a weird thing for me. On the one hand, it’s a great way (and probably the only way) for superfans to be in the same room as the stars of whatever show or movie they love. Past and present guest stars along with the central cast all in one place for a few nights of silliness. I get the appeal of that part of it.

On the other hand, it’s this major money-making Mecca that charges insane fees because they know fans will pay for it. There’s no blame on the part of the stars here but on the organizers of these cons, in the case of this book, Creation Entertainment. The whole thing is set up so you, the fan, hand over cash upon cash upon cash upon cash for 2.5 seconds in interaction, a pic, an autograph, or a seat in a conference room. We’re not talking a little bit of money here. Photo ops go for hundreds of dollars at FACE VALUE. I understand that all the guests that appear are paid to be there and Creation must cover their costs while making a profit. But there’s no need to screw people out of money just because you can either. I take huge issue with people overcharging folks out of their hard earned cash just because they can.

The Gold Package – $699. Want front row? That ticket jumps to $839. That doesn’t include any photo ops. $699 to sit in a conference room. Want a pic? Add another $260 for pics with Jared and Jensen. Misha Collins? $80. Didn’t get the gold package that includes autographs? Open your wallet up because you’ll need more money. Then add in the cost of travel, hotel, and food and well…you see where this is going.

But they have to pay the guests to be there, rent the room, etc! I know. I get that. Jus in Bello (held in Rome) pays them too and their top of the line package is cheaper than the cheapest Creation package. Same for Asylum held in London each year. So to pretend that there isn’t a ton of price gouging going on by Creation seems like a lie. But why would they stop? Fans will continue to fork over tons of money each year, some at multiple cons per year, no matter what they do because they want to see pretty boys up close. That’s the bottom line. If fans have a bad experience or feel it wasn’t worth the money they paid? So what? They sell these events out every single time so there will always be another woman ready to hand over her credit card to attend.

There was a dust up on twitter between members of the writing staff and the Creation Entertainment powers that be a few months back when some fans said “hey! Let’s have a Writer’s Panel at cons!” This, if true, is another big reason I’d give major pause to going to a con.

Adam Glass, executive producer and writer of some of my personal favorite episodes including 9.07 Bad Boys (which he later described as his love letter to Dean Winchester), wanted to set the record straight.

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Finally, Creation said “hey,great idea!” The writers said they’d love to! Fans persisted.”Hey! What about that writer’s panel we asked about?”
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Creation sent the writers – Writers, without whom there would be no show, movies, books, plays, poems, or music – a lowball offer. How low? I don’t know. The figures were never disclosed (and that’s fine.)

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So take that for what it is. Creation maintains that the writers were greedy and wanted too much money. The writers feel they contribute more, and therefore should get be compensated better, than a one time guest star. And you know what? He’s right.

Yes, the famous faces draw money and attendants but there would be no guest roles to play without the creative teams that make the show happen. So maybe Creation thinks that photo ops or autograph signings with the writers wouldn’t earn big money. Maybe they wouldn’t. But with this fandom? I think they’d earn a lot more than Creation may think. The tickets for a writers-only panel would sell out as fast the rest. I have no doubt.

But the whole thing with cons? It’s all so manufactured and set up, streamlined and planned out, and fans will spend thousands to convince themselves otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pass up free tickets to stand next to Jensen Ackles for fifteen seconds but I’m not going to spend three day’s pay to do so. That’s basically what they’re paying for – half a minute sharing air with someone.

I’m also not going to pretend that it’s some intimate moment with the dude I’ve watched on tv. Some fans get that experience – search any area of fandom and you’ll find someone that was finally able to thank the boys in person for the effect the show had on their lives. That is a great thing for those fans. I really mean that. Despite how this whole piece may sound, I’m happy for those people and glad they got the chance to do that in person.

I’m obsessed with music. It’s the soundtrack to my days. Each memory has a song and each song has a memory. When life has chewed me up and spit me out, I turn to my music collection. When my brother died, I turned to select artists. I’ve since had the opportunity to meet two of those artists and said to them “During the lowest point of my life there were a handful of artists that helped me pull through and you were one of them. Thank you for writing the songs you do.”   So I get it. I get how art and artists can have a personal effect on your life. I understand being a fan and what those people can mean to a person. I’m not judging the fans here.

Listen, I love this show. Love it. Hell, I include gifs from the show at the end of my posts here. My issue with cons lies directly with the con companies and not with the stars or the fans that will attend. So the money, the dismissal of the writers contributions and the ZOMGFANGIRLNESSHIGHPITCHSCREAMS of cons gives more than a short pause.

Would I attend a con? Sure. If the costs were covered. I love Jensen’s jawline and eye crinkle as much as the next gal but there are limits.

What if I was rich? Sure, but it would only be spend some time with a couple of twitter friends that I adore. That would be my main motivation for going. They went to DallasCon last year and immediately made plans to go again. From the texts and pics, they had a great time and I was so happy for them!

I think it’s great if people go and have fun. I’ve spent more money on concert tickets in my lifetime that I care to add up. I’m not judging folks that go, but it may not be for me. Getting to sidle up next to Jensen for thirty seconds wouldn’t hurt but my life isn’t lacking because I haven’t done that.

There’s a rabidness to fandom that makes me want to run in the other direction. The authors of Fangasm tried to write a book that said that wasn’t such a bad thing and attempted to explain that it’s not what it looks like from the outside. The problem? Even from the inside, it still looks the same. There’s healthy obsession and obsession. The problem with fandom is that line between the two is beyond blurred.

Or maybe I’m just a fan and not part of the fandom.

 

 

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from Netgalley for review.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls (and some thoughts on fandom)

  1. I think I’m like you.. I’m an outskirts fangirl. But I think I want to read this book just out of curiosity!

    • angiedet says:

      It has its moments. The beginning was the most enjoyable part to me. Some of the behind the scenes stuff was interesting to me as a fan of SPN. Some of it was a little much, it seems to take over some women’s lives. It’s a good read, though, and is still up on Netgalley for request if you’re active over there. Thanks for dropping by!

  2. . says:

    RubyNibs says “Ick.”

    Allow me to boil your post down into its bare bones: Bone 1: You, Angie, are a rational, objective adult, with uber taste in men (Jensen’s eye crinkles… *sigh* He gets better every year!). Bone 2: Those two “researchers” are stalkers.

    From what you report, it sounds like the authors didn’t have a real angle for their book, so they stuffed in a few things like the horrid oppression of Western women (I have yet to find that, but it must exist, if everyone says it exists), and psychological research on fanatic fans. (Oh. Look there. Fan-atic. Never thought about the origin of the word “fan” before now.)

    The misrepresentation of their proclaimed objective–research into “fandom”–with their real objectives–meeting some handsome TV stars, getting on a set, and hoping to recoup their financial losses with book sales–might be what makes it seem dirty. Like the high school boy who tells a girl he loves her, just to get her into bed, then dumps her and plasters his conquest all over the Net, those women lied to the cast, and they are lying to potential readers, for their own gain–and they brag about it. Ick.

    Manipulative stalkers. Ick. Creepy, creepy women. I’m going to take your word on this book and skip it. I’d rather spend my time watching a Supernatural rerun. *heavy sigh*

    • angiedet says:

      To be completely fair to the authors, they did release a book on fandom for the academic end but I haven’t read it (and probably won’t, to be honest). Maybe that’s more focused and less ick. There seemed to be a lot of misrepresentation. I mean, I guess *technically* they didn’t lie when they were working angles for interviews with the creative teams and cast, but not always disclosing their fangirl sound (and how can you without sounding creepy?) seems less than honest.

      I’ll just stay here on the outskirts of fandom, admiring all things Ackles and swooning over eye crinkle.

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