some general thoughts about fandoms, an inter-show comparison, and SPN 9x14 review

Feb 27, 2014 14:33

I am going to ask this even though I’m like 98% on the answer, because I really want this to be the problem: do people really, sincerely, not understand how/why a viewer might enjoy a narrative as a whole without highly and equally admiring all of the main characters?* I mean, I think the “I don’t UNDERSTAND???!?! why anyone anywhere is having a strong emotional reaction that is not exactly the same as mine???!?!??” sounds kind of disingenuous, but some people juggle geese! So off the top of my head, here are some reasons why I can really like a show even if I am only wild about 67% of the series regulars:
  • 67% is still a lot of regular to like!
  • Especially since the minimum percentage of characters who are ~good people~ in enjoyable drama? ZERO. Good shows do not need ANY lovable/admirable/likeable characters.
  • What good narratives do need are characters that are believable and interesting. Do you like 100% of people you meet IRL? Doubtful! Would you believe a world where you did like everyone, or would you think you were stuck in a creepy cult? Do you want to watch a show set in a creepy cult?
  • I happen to be a character-focused viewer for shows that I really like, but it’s perfectly plausible that someone might be interested in plotting, in metaphor, in message, in a particular genre, and not need to particularly like any of the characters involved.
  • I am taking somewhat of a departure from the general statements up there, although I suspect more than a few people will agree with me, when I say that I am especially interested in fiction about people I dislike, or like but do not admire, or love but find flat-out terrifying. Because again: there are bad people IRL, there are dangerous people IRL, we can still love someone who's hurt us very badly IRL. It is often at least psychologically unsafe to try and understand how such real dynamics actually work. Fiction can be a safe, therapeutic way to do that.

e.g. I am also a big fan of Scandal. Do we all watch Scandal? SPOILER IT’S THE GREATEST. This is largely because of, not despite but because of, how it’s the type of show where, say, someone can try to whack the lead character’s main love interest - known in-universe as the President of the United States - and you’d be like “idk who it was but knowing him I’m pretty sure they had their reasons.”

Not particularly, but that was a respectable burn, Mr. Flop-in-Chief, Sir.

So, anyway, if people actually don’t understand, I hope this makes some sense! Of course this is irrelevant if what we really have is a significant group of people not wanting to own that they’re trying to silence all conversations that might make them uncomfortable as hate/wank/drama, but I'm hoping against hope that isn't the issue.

*I'm not linking to a precipitating irritant because this is a problem I have had for a WHILE, but suffice it to say it's been a week for precipitating irritants.

Speaking of Scandal, it's back tonight (!!!!!!!!), which reminds me of a really interesting comparison that jumped out at me a couple of months ago and then I never elaborated. I’m going to talk about the last time that new episodes of both Scandal and Supernatural aired because, as different as those two shows are in lots of ways, there were a couple of storylines with really important similarities that played out that first week of December, the respective episodes being “YOLO” and “Holy Terror.” I’m going to be as vague as possible, and so much crazy shit happens on Scandal that I doubt reading this would hurt one’s enjoyment of the show. Still, I do have to give a few details away in order to explain the comparison.

On Supernatural, Dean was aiding and abetting the exploitative angelic possession (rape metaphor) of his brother Sam. This involved a lot of manipulation and gaslighting. The whole scheme fell apart during Holy Terror, and a supporting character died as a direct result of Dean’s scheme.

On Scandal, Cyrus was manipulating and gaslighting his husband James into a situation where James was likely to be sexually assaulted by a powerful man. It all blew up in Cyrus’ face, and at the end of YOLO a supporting character died as a direct result of Cy’s scheme.

These are two very different shows telling very different stories, definitely. We are highly unlikely to have the same reactions to both situations, and that’s good, that’s why there are lots of different shows! They’re different! But when two sets of narrative fact are so comparable and become available to the same demographic at the same time, it’s a really good opportunity to get some perspective on…whatever the fandom equivalent of the Overton window is.

I have never seen anyone - not once, not from professional reviewers, not on Tumblr, not from PTBs, no one - blame James for causing the problem or condemn him for his response, or proudly proclaim themselves to sympathize with “both sides” between Cyrus and James. I don’t think I’ve even seen any reviews/conversations that stayed away from condemning Cyrus by not commenting on the storyline. “We love Cyrus, but OMG JAMES, DITCH THAT ASSHOLE” is the overwhelming consensus. This, despite the way that (1) James is a supporting character and Cyrus is an extremely popular series regular; (2) there are always a million other things happening per episode, to a point where one could be forgiven for missing some of the ~nuances here; (3) while James is quite decent compared to most of the people around him, he’s no saint, seeing as the only innocents in the Scandalverse are the babies.

"Or that's what I want you to think. Goo-goo-gAHAHAHAHAHA!"

So what gives? Why is one group of people totally savvy to the moral and emotional issues here, and the other is shoving its fingers in its ears and shrieking over the 101 stuff? Is Scandal, due to the deservedly wonderful reputation of the creator, the diversity of the cast, and/or the genre, that much more likely to attract people who are literate on interpersonal power dynamics? Does James, being the primary caretaker of a young child and someone who doesn’t present as being conventionally masculine, inspire some specific protective impulses? Do people have so much respect for marital relationships and so little respect for fraternal ones that we have moral expectations of someone in the first type of relationship while anything goes in the other? Does only one of these characters come across as having a moral compass and basic reasoning skills and therefore is held accountable for failure to show basic human decency? (And we picked Cyrus as the moral compass? CYRUS??!?) None of these factors, separately or cumulatively, ought to be sufficient to explain this gaping a discrepancy. So, really, what gives?


So if closing off Heaven had consequences for human souls; what would closing Hell have done? Like they said, there’s a lot they don’t know: is it really all souls can’t get in, or are they just really understaffed at entry points?

Dean’s nonpologies continue to be so amusing to me?! Like, he apologizes to Kevin, who was unintentional collateral damages, and he doesn’t have to be looking Kevin in the eye or even entirely believe that Kevin is there. Which, you know, I think rings true for most people? It’s way easier to apologize for something you didn’t intentionally do, because it’s a show of concern rather than an admission of guilt.

I cringed hard at Kevin’s thing at the end, but then this beautiful moment happened:


And more importantly, I feel like….so many people are getting it that it can’t be an accident? On a Watsonian level, I understand why Kevin specifically thinks that way, and generally, the “you guys are the perfect couple”-ing is so realistic. Kevin’s giving the exact same spiel everyone around them has given for years and years, but Sam isn’t internalizing it anymore.

IDK. I still kind of feel like the moment was talking out of both sides of its mouth? Sam consciously choosing not to play along is a big thing; he really has to let go of being pissed on Kevin’s behalf instead of his own. This was still an important step. But, you know, people are awful on the internet. But, on the other other hand, good drama doesn’t get made if it’s worried about the reactions of the 50% of people who are below average? Ultimately, I guess, I am enjoying the show more when it’s now substantively critical of the relationship and giving lip service to the Pollyanna crap than the earlier situation of paying lip service to acknowledgement of unhealthiness and then substantive romanticization of the grossness?

The thing that tips me into being okay with it was the conflict between the angels. I can’t actually bring to mind another episode where Cas has appeared but had no contact with Sam and/or Dean. It’s either unusual or unprecedented. But even though they don't cross paths, the episode still feels cohesive because the two stories had enough thematic commonalities. Castiel’s brother takes him hostage and attempts to control him with force, guilt, and promises of a ~partnership that operates entirely acto Bartholomew’s worldview; Cas has to navigate between his desire to act in a way that comports with his new identity and his need to protect himself from Bartholomew.

Sam was working on a smaller scale, but I do think that he was making similar calculations. He can’t justify lying to Linda about her son when he’s feeling so betrayed himself, as Cas won’t sanction inter-angel aggression; he does some emotional self-defense when he doesn’t allow Kevin to tell him how to feel about his own life. Cas finishes the episode in a much more promising place than Sam for a lot of reasons, though I think the big one is that he’s less isolated in a couple of ways - there are a lot more angels and so some of his sisters and brothers do come through for him, and he’s able to act with confidence the way he does in large part because he does have a place in the world outside of the Host.

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spn: cas you so fly, spn: sammay!, supernatural, scandal, spn: season 9, spn: corpus angelorum, abuse, episode review

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