Playing God and The Fangirl: Supernatural’s Chuck and Becky Get Meta (Part One)
Few shows have dared to go as meta as SPN, and most of the time, we’ve loved the results. It takes a uniquely close and reciprocal relationship for a show to dare to incorporate both its own fans and its creator into canon, but Supernatural has done just that. Repeatedly.
We have a special fondness for ‘Monster At The End of This Book,’ which introduced the fictional book series Supernatural, and gave Show a platform to make fun of itself. The episode also introduced Chuck (Rob Benedict), the writer/creator of the books and a stand-in for the writer/creator of the show itself, Eric Kripke. We were on set when the episode was being filmed, having spent the year researching Supernatural and fandom and interviewing Kripke and the cast for our books, Fandom At The Crossroads and (in October – finally!) Fangasm. As is usually the case with our woefully unstructured interviews, we had managed to answer as many questions as we’d asked. So we knew that Kripke understood fandom, and we also knew how positively he felt about fans and fanfiction. That made ‘Monster’, to us, an affectionate poking fun at the entire SPNFamily – cast, crew, writers, and fans.
Becky the Supernatural fangirl was introduced the next season, and Chuck and Becky both returned in ‘The Real Ghostbusters’. That episode took meta a step further, taking place at a fictional fan convention (on the night before an actual Supernatural convention, no less!). We loved these episodes too, viewing the portrayals as the same sort of affectionate ribbing that the cast and crew were also taking. Not all fans agreed with us – some felt the poking fun was mean-spirited instead of affectionate, while others felt threatened by seeing fan practices previously confined to the safe space of the internet suddenly plastered across their tv screens.
By Season 7, Kripke had departed as showrunner, but Becky returned as a character. Sort of. The Becky of ‘Time For A Wedding’ seemed – at least to me — to be an entirely different character. Gone was the Wincest-writing fangirl whose encyclopedic knowledge of Supernatural saved the day and who hit it off romantically with Chuck (awww). This Becky seemed straight out of Misery, no longer ‘obsessed’ in the way we throw around the word to laughingly celebrate our passion for SPN, but obsessed in a much darker sense, willing to use violence to get what she wants. This seemed dangerously close to perpetuating all sorts of negative stereotypes about fangirls. We wrote a whole book challenging the shame that women feel about being fans (and just plain being women), and this episode seemed to be trying to bring it all back. Even Becky’s appreciation of fandom as the only place she felt validated and understood was turned on its head here, viewed as only a temporary source of fulfillment, community and identity development. That struck me as particularly biting, that the writers of the episode had some understanding of what fandom actually offers in real life, but dismissed it as fleeting and unimportant. Add to that the disturbing you’re-so-ugly-and-weird-nobody-will-ever-want-you dialogue at the end of the episode, and I was left pretty damn disappointed.
So when we finally had a chance to sit down and chat with Rob Benedict and Emily Perkins, the talented actors who portrayed Chuck and Becky, let’s just say we had A LOT of questions. (That would explain why this interview is in two parts – we just couldn’t stop talking!)
Kathy: So this is your first convention, Emily – how’s it going?
Emily: People have been really positive, nice energy, and I’m really enjoying it.
Rob: I did my first convention here too (in Chicago). It was right after the convention episode (The Real Ghostbusters) aired, so that was my only understanding of conventions, and it was so surreal – so meta! That was my only idea of what this might be, and it wasn’t like that at all.
Lynn: They purposely wrote that episode not to be realistic, I think, so it would be obvious that they weren’t trying to represent the actual fandom, which was probably a savvy move.
Rob: Right, yes. It was sort of the opposite, actually. But it’s mindblowing when you walk out for the first Q and A and there are so many people there.
Emily: (laughs) It was a little bit overwhelming.
Kathy: You said you were a fan of Star Trek – do you identify as a fangirl?
Emily: I don’t really think I have the kind of specialized knowledge that characterizes fans in general, and I don’t necessarily have the loyalties either. I did as a teenager for Star Trek, but now I’m not so much a fan of film and television as of literature. I’m a lit fan.
Kathy: (practically bouncing, which we all know rarely happens – Lynn is the excitable one) Me too!
(Turns out that Emily has degrees in psychology and women’s studies. No wonder we talked for hours…)
Emily: So I would say yes, I’m a fangirl in that sense, but I don’t have all the behaviors that might typify the fan experience. I don’t really write fan letters – fans of literature don’t write letters or request autographs, but I definitely have the enthusiasm. When I was a teenager I was a fan in a different sense. I was a Gen X-er, very kind of ironic, so right away at 13 I went to high school and I had the whole “it’s not really cool to like a boy band”, so I performed that shame in an interesting way. I decided I’d be a fan of someone who’s not even alive anymore, like someone my mother was a fan of, so I was a fan of Elvis. Even though I’m not a true fan.
Rob: So you were making a statement.
Emily: Yeah, kind of an ironic sensibility. I’d plaster my locker with photos of Elvis. I wanted to point out what other girls didn’t seem to be aware of, which was that we were participating in a sociological phenomenon that’s universal and has been going on for many generations. I wanted to distinguish myself from those innocent or unexamined fans – and I guess that was a response to the shaming of fans, because you’d hear people making fun of New Kids On The Block, that was the big boy band, you’d hear this mockery of them, and so I was like, well I can’t be a fan in that way, but there must be another way of being a fan.
Lynn: Pretty smart for a thirteen year old.
Kathy: (in true confession mode) I was in love with Byron.
Emily: I had a petition to save Byron’s ancestral home!
Lynn: (wryly) Kathy probably signed your petition.
Emily and Kathy: (possibly rolling their eyes at Lynn)
Lynn: But seriously, that’s what Fandom At The Crossroads is about. We wrote a book challenging fan shame for women. It’s about Supernatural, but it’s also about what it is to be a fangirl, about the passion and emotionality and sexuality that’s often a part of being a fan for both men and women, but women are so ashamed of it.
Emily: That’s a fascinating subject.
(Emily apparently meant it – the next time we saw her, she had already purchased and read Fandom At The Crossroads and had some great insights to contribute to our next book.)
Lynn: Gabe Tigerman was telling his Michael C Hall fanboy story yesterday. Rob, do you identify as a fanboy?
Rob: Oh yeah. I always talk about how I have this thing, this love for Pearl Jam, I always talk about my love of Eddie Vedder, my Eddie Vedder thing.
Emily: Me too, it must be the age, if you went to high school in the 90s.
Rob: So yeah, I’ve always been a fanboy of that band, I’m in the fan club. And there’s definitely a shame about it. And then you find out there are like-minded people, like I’ve got a couple of other guys who are friends that we’ve sort of outed ourselves. ‘I’m a big Pearl Jam fan.’ ‘Wait, you’re a big Pearl Jam fan?!’
Lynn and Kathy: (laughing) That’s just how SPN fans do it too. That’s why cons are so wonderful.
Rob: It’s like, ‘I’m in the fan club.’ ‘No way, I’m in the fan club!!’ So yes, that’s how I can relate. My wife ribs me about it, ‘you’ve got a crush on Eddie Vedder’ kinda thing.
Lynn and Kathy: (nodding vehemently) We can relate. (Just replace Eddie Vedder with Jensen or Jared or Misha….)
Rob: And so I finally met him, and it was like a real mind trip to meet him. That’s the other thing, you almost don’t want to meet the people that you are idolizing, because it might blow your mind.
Kathy: They might have feet of clay too.
Rob: Exactly. When I met him, unfortunately we didn’t really bond, we were just in the same room together, and I never really got to even ask him a question, but that’s okay — it was probably for the best, to keep it going.
Lynn: You kept the fantasy.
(That’s another amazing thing about SPN and its cast and crew. After interviewing so many of the people who make the show, there hasn’t been a single person who ‘ruined the fantasy’ – or, to be more accurate, what we’ve seen of the reality has sometimes even exceeded the fantasy. How crazy is that??!)
Lynn: You were essentially cast as the creator, in multiple definitions of the word. It’s weird enough that you were cast as God, but you were also cast as Kripke! When did you realize that you were symbolizing both of these iconic figures?
Rob: When I first got the part, it was Prophet!Chuck, and I knew that I was representing the writers, because it was their chance to sort of speak on episodes they’d written that they didn’t really like, like oh my god I can’t believe you had to go through that! The ghost ship episode (Red Sky At Morning) was one I think he talks about – they were like, I’m so sorry about that! I feel like it was the writers’ chance to apologize to the fans and it’s their commentary on their own show, which I love. I mean, what other show does that?
Lynn and Kathy (silently) Damn right. That’s why our Show is the BEST.
Rob: So it was his way of going, these are the characters I created, and I’ve wanted to say these things to you. But I always thought I represented more the team of writers when I was the prophet. Then when I got that final episode I was in, I didn’t even realize what was necessarily going on until I got up to Vancouver and I was shooting it and it was kinda like, you know, is this what I think it is, that I’m God?? And Kripke called me and was like yes, it is what you think it is, and this is what’s happening, but he didn’t lay it out there that you’re me specifically. Then it was while shooting that last episode, and it’s called Swan Song and it’s his final episode, his love letter to the show, taking himself out of it in this sort of very poetic kind of way, and that’s when I was really like OMG, I’m Kripke, I’ve been Kripke this whole time!
Lynn, Kathy and Emily: (are all cracking up)
Lynn: Which is sort of bigger than God!
Rob: Exactly. And again, a great way for him to speak to the fans, and to the show, and I thought his writing on that, the love letter that he wrote, basically the Chuck voiceover in that episode I thought was really poignant.
Kathy: For lots of fans, in scores of fan art and fan icons, Kripke IS god, so it felt like he was picking up on that from fans and turning it around, making fun of himself as he’s leaving, like a parting shot.
Rob: Interesting, yeah. I wonder if, when it was originally written, if I was more sort of a voice for the writers in general, but he got that idea as my episodes evolved.
Lynn: In the next season, when another actor played Kripke in The French Mistake, it would have been funny if that was you.
Rob: Someone suggested that it should’ve been me, but that maybe would’ve been too much of a scramble. Instead they cast a Kripke lookalike.
At this point, Rob had to leave, so we said our goodbyes and promised to catch up with him again soon. Then the conversation turned to the topic of Becky Rosen.
Kathy: Emily, do you have any idea what the fan reaction was to your character, Becky?
Emily: I know it was mixed, I did actually look it up. It wasn’t what I expected. I knew there would be people who didn’t like the representation of fandom, but there are different types of fans and they’re all relating to the show in different ways. There are the unexamined fans, and fans who are really into the different levels of the show and the metaphorical content, and there are people who are constitutionally more able to laugh at themselves and pick up on the humor in the show, so I strengthened myself to be able to look at the reaction and the potentially negative content. There were some people who didn’t like the character and found her insulting, but the reasons they gave for why they didn’t like her in that last episode seemed to be because she never actually succeeded in consummating the marriage! I thought it was going to be that people wouldn’t like her because she’s a hyperbolic character, she’s overly sexual, and they’ll think that reflects negatively on fans, but it was more like, she didn’t go far enough. That was the problem!
Lynn: What you anticipated, that reaction did happen too. It all depends on where in fandom you look, you’ll find different reactions in different fan spaces. There’s a split on how fans viewed Becky in TFAW and the first couple episodes when Kripke was writing the character himself. We were interviewing him for our books at the time, so we knew that he knew about fandom and fanfiction, and was very positive about fans. But when Becky returned in S7, she seemed to me like an entirely different character. Did she seem different to you?
Emily: I guess because I was seeing the episode as a whole on more of a metaphorical level, I thought that it spoke to Sam and Dean too [or Jared and Jensen], in a way. They’re the ones who are the celebrities, who are potentially being drugged by having fans, like it’s all over the media when a celebrity ‘goes crazy’ and starts abusing drugs because they’re addicted to the affection, and when they’re not getting it anymore, they kinda lose it. They’ve become addicted to getting this reaction from people. Also in the context of the show, Sam and Dean – or really Jared and Jensen – are asked to laugh at themselves and their gender, their sexuality, their masculinity, often. The show has been playing with those meanings all the time and I think out of respect, the writers are thinking, well the fans are sophisticated, they’re gonna be able to laugh at themselves and have humor and realize that this is not a literal portrayal of them.
(This is exactly how we reacted to the first two episodes in which Becky appeared, but TFAW? Not so much. But Emily gave us an alternative perspective to ponder.)
Kathy: You just did a meet and greet with a group of fans. Did they ask about Becky?
Emily: Not really, it was more like shooting the breeze. (laughs) I should be like you guys and write things down, I can’t remember! It wasn’t deep questions though, more like it was fun.
Lynn: There have been characters sometimes that fans didn’t like, but everyone can separate the actor from the character, can love the actor and hate the character. There was controversy around Becky because the episodes revealed fan practices like slash fanfiction that have a lot of secrecy around them (or used to). There’s still shame around female sexuality, and not everyone wanted those fan practices revealed. There was a cartoon that went around SPN fandom at the time where a woman is watching that episode with her husband and he turns to her in horror and demands to know if “that” is what she spends her time online doing, and there’s fighting and crying and accusations, and she decides to leave fandom as a result.
Emily: Oh, that’s so sad, that’s horrible! And it’s not their fault that there’s this shaming, it’s part of a much larger phenomenon, a cultural thing, shaming of women’s sexuality in general. And it’s sad, because fandom should be that one safe place where you’re free to fantasize, and I can see how people didn’t want to have that membrane ruptured.
(At this point, we all laugh at the sexual metaphor – you can see why we hit it off, right?)
Emily: I can see how that would be scary, but it’s also good.
Lynn: One of the things we found in our research for Crossroads is that it’s therapeutic to have that safe space, but on the other hand, the secrecy perpetuates the shame if you have to keep it hidden and can’t talk about it and have it normalized. Sort of like empowering inside the space, but not on a broader level.
Emily: And it’s a really interesting cultural litmus test too, because I guess I had thought that the fan shame wasn’t as much an issue anymore as it used to be, because there’s so much out there, like for Twilight fans or for whatever your subject happens to be. There’s a huge market, so I assumed that the market and the upfrontness of it meant the shame was no longer there, it’s now accepted, but in fact it’s not.
Lynn: (grumbles about Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey not representing the best of fanfic)
Emily: (in response to Lynn’s grumbling) I’m actually critical of that perspective, that’s the one I try to censor in myself, because it’s not really totally about the subject matter, it’s about the meaning that we make, and in a way it doesn’t even matter what that subject is, it could be anything. Like I remember when I was a women’s studies student, I wrote a paper on a series of books called Fearless, for teenage girls, and it’s about this girl who she’s kinda like a secret agent who kicks ass, and it’s not very well written, it’s written for kids, and it would be so easy to be just like snobby and sneer at this chick lit, but it’s about the meaning that girls are taking from it. Alot of it does perpetuate some stereotypes, but it also subverts them, and it depends on how it’s received. The meanings are made by the fans, not necessarily exclusively by the publisher and the writer. If you look at Twilight, I remind myself it has all those class issues, which are huge – you have to be careful to not tramp on those, you don’t know what’s going on in a young girl’s mind, maybe she’s really identifying with Bella being this working class heroine, so I think you have to be cognizant of those things.
Lynn: Very good point.
Kathy: I teach a class called Geeks, Fanboys and Stalker Chicks, and one of the things we talk about is, I think that the students are going to be on board, I say no shame, tell us what your fandoms are. And there will be women in the class who are like, well, I like One D and I know I shouldn’t, or it will be weeks before they can admit what they like. Once a student closed the door behind her and said, I just want to let you know that I’m a huge Buffy fan, but I don’t want anyone else in the class to know.
Emily: You would think that people would shout: I’M A HUGE BUFFY FAN!!!
Lynn: Seriously! (Yes, Lynn is a huge Buffy fan….)
Kathy: There are so many different types of fans too, and so many different ways to “do” fandom.
Emily: Yes! I have this idea about the stages of fandom. These are all fluid, one person may be in many stages depending on the different subjects. The unexamined fan is the young fan, the 13 year old who’s crazy about Johnny Depp or something. Then the second one would be the ashamed fan, who has realized they should be ashamed – because at first you don’t realize, and then you start hearing these mocking references. And the next one would be kind of like what I was saying about Elvis and me, the performative fan, where you have this sort of detachment and you’re quite ironic. Then the next is, there’s no name for it, but it would be where I am now, where you retain the enthusiasm but are more self aware. The self aware fan, maybe? Where you’re more directed, you think about why you like what you like, and you’re aware of the shame factor but you’ve decided that’s not that important, I’m a mature person and I can make up my own mind, thankyouverymuch.
Lynn: Yes! Fannishly unrepentant.
Kathy: It took us a long time to get there, or even mostly there — our entire journey in writing these books, I think. Even though academics are much the same as fans – we collect things, buy swag, are invested in the minutiae, etc.
Emily: But there’s not the shame, because that’s like high culture. Even though there’s so much overlap now. There are academics studying trash tv and trash cinema, like my husband – he’s a David Cronenberg scholar. You theorize it, so you’re like, I don’t just love it, I theorize it.
Lynn and Kathy: (laughing at ourselves) Researching it doesn’t make you legitimate?? It’s hard to integrate your fan self and your professional self sometimes.
Emily: But you can do it. It’s hard though, like when you see Jared or Jensen. I saw Jared when I was on my way down here yesterday in the airport. Jared, Gen and their baby walked past and you could tell they were trying not to draw attention, but Jared’s like huge, so every head turns as they walk past.
Lynn and Kathy: LOL
Emily: And I didn’t even get to say hi, because their gate was right there and I wanted to say oh, but I actually know them! As an actor I’m supposed to be relating as a professional, but there’s that side of me that bubbles up, and I’m not ashamed of it! In my case, with Becky, it actually fuels my performance.
Lynn: No wonder you were so attracted to this part, and were so thoughtful about it.
Emily: I can’t help it. A lot of parts that I’m given, it doesn’t mean anything and you can’t give the same kind of performance, or I’m subscribing to some stereotype and I can’t see any other potential in it. I’m a political person, a feminist, and some parts, I don’t identify with them on a deeper level, and then I flub the audition because, for me, I have to be in it, body and soul, or it’s no good at all. In a way it’s a liability for some parts.
Lynn: But allows you to do a really kickass job on the ones you get that you are invested in.
Emily: I hope so! Thanks.
Kathy: How did you feel about Becky in those last scenes, where it felt like she was being punished and shamed?
Emily: I know! I had actually wanted to come back and play up the potential of the relationship with Garth, and I had assumed –not kidding — until the very last minute when they were in that scene, that that’s how it was gonna play in the end. And then the director was like, uh no … maybe they didn’t want to make it seem like Becky was too fickle, for her to just be devoted to Sam, and now she’s heartbroken. But for me, I wanted it to be more…
Lynn: I was yelling at my television, please let them end it with her redeemed and moving on, not just sitting there crushed and humiliated…
Kathy: It was also the way it was done, that aside to Garth, like don’t even go there, she’s dangerous and crazy….I was like, Show, what did you just do??
Emily: That’s what happens when you have a male dominated profession, even though we have these moments of breakthrough, there are still going to be some choices that aren’t the right ones. Things are changing slowly. But in a way I’m kinda glad they did put the shame in there a little bit, because it is true to that experience. It doesn’t stop her, but she has it. I think the writers were trying to be somewhat sympathetic to her, she was bullied in school, and it does sort of universalize the experience. And look what she got to do – she got to kill a demon, she got to save Sam! And of course she had Sam tied to a bed without any pants on…
Lynn: She did save the day – in just about every episode she was in.
Emily: That last scene wasn’t so positive, but if you take stock of the whole episode, she was actually triumphant. At least I like to see it that way. You have to be careful not to confuse the intention with the meaning that we take from it.
Kathy: True. If you take the totality of the character, she saves the day multiple times. Geeky knowledge saves the day.
Emily: Yeah, she’s a pretty kickass girl!
As are most fangirls! We love the affection that Emily clearly has for her character. Like all good actors, she’s made sense of her character in order to inhabit her in a believable way. If you’d like to read our thinky thoughts about Supernatural and its kickass fans, you can find Fandom At The Crossroads on amazon.com – and Fangasm is available for pre-order on amazon too!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our chat, in which Emily dishes about working with Jared and Jensen, and shares some thinky thoughts about being an actor. Til then, share your thoughts – what did you think of Becky the Fangirl?