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I am a huge fan of Supernatural; A big enough fan to have watched the series over from start to finish more times than I care to admit. I also follow the show’s online presence enough to be aware of the criticisms the show has faced over the years. Supernatural has been accused of everything from misogyny to queer baiting to racism. So how much validity is there to these claims? Let’s find out.
In the trial of Feminists V. Supernatural, I’ll start with the first charge of misogyny. The accuser in this instance is Misha Collins who plays Castiel on the show. According to a 2013 interview:
“Sorry, people who write the show and everybody who works on it and everything but there’s stupid things on the show that they shouldn’t do. Like, why do they have to say ‘bitch’ and kill all the women?”
As Misha says, the most common argument for why Supernatural is sexist is that they kill off all the women characters. This issue has been raised by just about everyone–fans, the media, feminists, apparently Misha Collins, just everyone. It came up again at Comic-Con this month.
If you look at the score card, it doesn’t, on the surface appear that there are more female characters killed off. Male villains (Yellow Eyed Demon, Dick Roman, Cain, Zachariah) have died just as much death as female villains (Eve, Abaddon, Lilith, Ruby). When you’re talking about “good” characters, there always seems to be a male counterpart that is also killed off who has equal screen time. Think about Charlie versus Kevin. Both dead. Both probably had equal relevance to the show. You could also make a comparison between Meg (the sometimes friendly demon) and Benny (the mostly friendly vampire). Both dead.
The real problem is the lack of long term female characters. When we’re talking about secondary characters, yes, the women and men seem fairly evenly matched. When we’re talking about main characters, not even close. Castiel and Bobby are great examples of long term characters who really became part of the Winchester hunting business. There are no female characters that have had as much screen time or have been as integrated into main plots of the show as them. That is a shame, especially when there have been some AMAZING female characters on Supernatural. My favorites are Charlie, Abaddon, Jody Mills and Lisa….Just kidding. No one likes Lisa.
But Lisa brings me to a good point. It has been hypothesized before that one of the reasons that Supernatural doesn’t have more female characters is that they don’t want to bring them onto the show simply to be love interests for the guys. I would like to tell you that there is a non-sexist, feminist reason for that but there isn’t. What I’ve read time and time again on fan sites, forums, and interviews is that the writers won’t add love interests because the fans don’t want to see Sam or Dean in a relationship. Lisa was, according to the internet, the most hated Supernatural character ever. The Supernatural fandom is a dedicated and vocal group and the show runners have always taken their opinions into account. If the fans don’t want to see Sam and Dean with a partner, it probably won’t happen. Every time it’s happened in the past (Lisa, Amelia, Ruby), the fans have reacted negatively.
So, is Supernatural guilty of misogyny? I think the jury is still out on that.
The second accusation against Supernatural is queer baiting. Queer baiting, for those that aren’t familiar, is when a show creates sexual tension between two same gender characters in order to attract LGBTQ+ viewers when they have no intention of actually having those characters hook up. Typically this comes up in reference to Dean and Castiel. Certain members of the fandom community have drawn further attention to the queer baiting by “shipping” Destiel. It creates some division within the fandom but not as much as the weirdos who “ship” Wincest which is EXACTLY what you think it is.
So let’s examine this. I can’t say it any better than the author of this TV Guide article:
“Supernatural is filled with queer references and jokes based on the idea that Dean is bisexual and that he and Castiel are more than friends. While some of these are quite blatant (“he was your boyfriend first!”), others are more subtle. There’s the time Dean referenced Purgatory, a gay bar in Miami. Or when he joked about opening a “charming B&B in Vermont,” the first state to legalize same sex marriage. What about when the characters compared Dean’s “breakup” with Benny to Sam’s split with his girlfriend Amelia? In one interview, Collins even admitted showrunner Jeremy Carver instructed him to play Cas like a “jilted lover” with Dean. In addition to these and dozens more, the show utilizes common rom-com tropes and visual cues to create a romantic atmosphere in Dean and Castiel scenes.”
When I watch Supernatural, I don’t really see it like that. I see Castiel and Dean bro-ing out in that J.D. and Turk from Scrubs kind of way. I haven’t picked up on the romantic vibe between them as much as I have noticed the occasional queer joke or reference. I’m not excusing my lack of outrage about queer baiting because, let’s face it, it’s a pretty douchy thing to try to get viewer support from the LGBTQ+ community by hinting at a relationship that is never going to happen. On the other hand, I find the insinuation that the LGBTQ+ community is going to be duped by the sexual tension between Castiel and Dean to be rather patronizing. In other words, I am not sure that queer baiting works but I do think it’s an asshole move to try that strategy. The problem with queer baiting and queer jokes and references is that it perpetuates a bigger problem which is heteronormativity.
Regarding the issue of heteronormativity, or the tendency to regard hetereosexuality as the norm and all other forms of sexuality as the “other”, Supernatural has made some progress by having an openly lesbian character. However, it’s likely that the choice to make Charlie a lesbian character was not about diversity but about removing the question of whether or not she was a potential love interest for Sam or, more likely, Dean.
So is Supernatural guilty of queer baiting? It sure seems that way.
The third accusation against Supernatural is racism. Here’s one viewers opinion:
“…any time you see a black character, he or she turns out to be trouble. There’s an unsettling authenticity about the racism in this aspect of the series, where white trash can be heroes but black people are still beyond the pale.”
In the early seasons of Supernatural, characters like Gordon and Jake Talley were some of the only black characters and the author is correct: they were “trouble”. There were a few other black characters like Dean’s love interest from the horrifically bad episode Route 666. Starting around Season Four, there were a few more characters of color. Uriel and Raphael, both angels, were also played by black actors and yes, they were bad guys, but, as Dean would say, “Angels are dicks”. All of the angels are the worst–except Cass–but they are important characters. Uriel and Raphael were central to the angel/demon/apocalypse plot. Even though they were villains, I saw their presence on the show as a positive in that they weren’t glorified extras.
Having a lot of minor characters played by black actors doesn’t make up for the fact that all the main characters are played by white actors. Given that this show is really only about a couple of heroes and lots and lots of villains, I’m not sure that it’s a problem to have women and people of color playing villains. The villains are quite often the best part. It’s more important that they introduce more non-white and female characters that have meaningful roles regardless of their status as hero or villain.
Is Supernatural guilty of racism? They’re guilty of not including people of color in the show in meaningful ways.
It might be one of my favorite shows ever but I can still see their shortcomings. The show runners need to incorporate more women and people of color as characters in purposeful and important ways. I’m talking about long term characters that fans can become attached to. I’m encouraged by Charlie (an openly lesbian character), Kevin and his mother (Asian characters), and Rowena (a female character). Even though Rowena annoys the shit out of me, she is a female character who was integral to the plot and was present throughout Season 10. She’s also not dead unlike Charlie and Kevin. But, as all of us Supernatural fans know, dead isn’t gone.
So, get it together, Supernatural. Figure your shit out. It’s not like you don’t have time. This show is apparently never going to end so figure it out. Cast some women and people of color in the good roles that last more than one or two episodes. Got it?
AND BRING BACK CHARLIE FOR FUCKS SAKES!