Fandom, Passion and Supernatural: A Chat With Misha Collins
“For me, discovering this fandom was pretty much like getting kidnapped by a dragon. I didn’t expect being inducted into this world to be anywhere near as strange, wonderful or overwhelming as it has been.” – Misha Collins, in Fan Phenomena: Supernatural
We sat down for a chat with Misha Collins at the recent VegasCon. Misha wrote a chapter for our new book, Fan Phenomena: Supernatural, in which he talks about his experience joining the SPN Family and the way it changed his life, just as it has changed the lives of so many fans.
Misha had just directed his first episode, so that was foremost on our minds.
Lynn: So, directing….You’ve directed a film, you’ve directed an episode of Supernatural [which, in our humble opinions, was awesome] – do you have the bug now?
Misha: (smiling rather adorably) Yes. Yeah, I do, I enjoy it a lot. It’s challenging, it works all aspects of your brain, you have to be attentive and with it every moment of every day, which is not the case – (at this point, he leans over and dramatically stage whispers) This is a secret – is not the case with acting.
Kathy and Lynn: (laughing)
Lynn: I’ve been on enough sets to know that.
Misha: Yeah, you can dick around all day – so yes. I think it’s a measure of success for me that I did not want to crawl into a cave and never come out when we were done with production. I felt like, I would like to do that again. I had a couple of days that were really challenging…
Kathy: Like your coworkers throwing pies in your face…
Misha: (laughing) And I had a hard time sleeping a couple of nights, but in the end, on balance, I liked it.
Lynn: I had a feeling you would.
Misha: Yeah, it was fun.
Lynn: And you’re a published author again – our new book comes out in April, with the chapter you wrote in it. Congrats!
Kathy: You wrote about harnessing the power of fandom with Random Acts in that chapter. What’s going on with RA? The new education initiative is exciting. Everything good?
“It became apparent fairly quickly that there was tremendous creative potential in Supernatural fandom. It was astonishing to me how talented and hard working people were….I started Random Acts with the ambition of harnessing those resources to playful, productive and compassionate ends.” – Misha Collins, in Fan Phenomena: Supernatural
Misha: Yeah, I think it’s finding its feet, you know? We had to go through a year and a half of reorganizing and sort of building it on a corporate foundational level but now we’re sort of figuring out what works and what doesn’t, how we can do things better, and we feel — for what we want to accomplish — well funded, and it’s kinda cool.
Kathy: Is the new education thing only K – 12?
Misha: Yes, it’s exclusive of higher education. Why we arbitrarily cut off the college campus, I don’t know…
Kathy and Lynn: [who are both university professors] Eh, we’re not important…
Our interviews are well known for veering off the beaten path, and Misha is known for that too (if you’ve read our interviews with Misha in Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, you know just how true that statement is!). So it’s not surprising that we talked a bit about what is often the elephant in the room at conventions or interviews. While Supernatural’s own Dean and Castiel just won Zimbio’s 2014 TV Couples March Madness, and half of Tumblr on any given day seems devoted to that particular pairing (known as Destiel), nevertheless there remains a taboo around talking about it.
Of course, we’ve written several books devoted to talking about things people outside fandom don’t think we should be talking about – or even doing! (Passion for something as “silly” as a television show called Supernatural; daring to be real in the supportive community that is fandom; celebrating the creativity of fanfiction, fanvids, fanart; spending our hard-earned cash on conventions and photo-ops; openly appreciating Misha’s blue eyes or Jared’s amazing hair or Jensen’s biceps….)
We wrote Fangasm because we didn’t want to be ashamed of being fans – we wanted to celebrate it! And we didn’t want anyone else to be ashamed either. Our new book, Fan Phenomena: Supernatural celebrates the Show and the fandom, in all its wonderful diversity, from multiple perspectives – including Misha’s.
“People like to imagine that I’m like the character I play on TV, or that I’m secretly screwing Jensen in my trailer…” – Misha Collins, in Fan Phenomena: Supernatural
Last weekend the Organization for Transformative Works hosted an online conversation about the “Future of Fanworks.” Guests included Sleepy Hollow star and self-professed ‘fangirl’ Orlando Jones. (He’s also a fan of Supernatural and a bit of a fandom scholar himself – in fact, we’d love to send him some of our books. And who doesn’t want the fictional but oh-so-wonderful collaboration with Robbie Thompson, spinoff “SuperSleepy”, to come true?) Orlando, like Misha, tends to talk about lots of things that aren’t usually talked about. He responded to a question posted in the chat room, saying “I admit to some confusion about the whole Destiel thing in terms of why it upsets some people. As an occasional fan of the show the potential that Dean and Cas share a deep bond (romantic or otherwise) seems cool to me. I am mindful of my own biases but it never occurred to me that this is even a problem and it confuses me when people take offense.”
Some of that offense that Jones mentioned is from non-shipping corners of fandom, or from corners with different ships. Some is around accusations of ‘queer baiting’ about innuendo not followed up in canon. In this season, which has been so emotionally draining for fans, emotions have run high about where we all desperately want the Show to go. We’ve written a great deal about ‘wank’ in fandom – with great passion also comes an intense desire to see the things that are most important to us, as fans, play out on our television screens. Of course, that’s different for each of us! And that can lead to some pretty passionate disagreements. Considering that our books are all about challenging fan shame, including the shame fans feel about fanworks and shipping and slash — and are all about validating fandom in all its glorious diversity — we touched on the subject too.
Lynn: You’re the only one who’s been comfortable getting onstage and talking about Destiel. It seemed to mean a lot to many fans, just that you were willing to talk about it.
Misha: Is that true? Really, other people don’t talk about it?
Kathy: They don’t. And when you did talk about it last fall at a convention, there were some people behind us who were very vocal that they didn’t want you to.
Lynn: Which I’m sure you know. It’s sort of like the thing that dare not speak its name (which has been the case with slash of any kind, at least until recently). Are you still feeling comfortable?
Misha: Well, I don’t feel entirely comfortable talking about it – it’s not something I feel like I can get up onstage and just sort of ruminate about, because virtually everything you say for some reason in this particular field seems to offend some faction or another.
Lynn: Well, because they sometimes seem mutually exclusive…
Misha: So when you say comfortable, no is the answer, because I feel like I have to parse my words very carefully on the subject so as not to be inflammatory or dismissive or whatever. So for me that is the discomfort, it’s not stemming from my personal reaction to the phenomenon or the material, it’s a matter of me wanting to tread lightly.
Lynn: It’s tough because it’s so polarizing and yet at the same time, so important to many fans. And if you make a misstep and say something that sounds dismissive or shaming…
Misha: Right, right. I actually mis-used the term lip service when talking about the writers and I didn’t mean that (but I said it). I meant they pay homage, they reference it, but for some reason I said pay lip service, which is not what I meant, and I got bashed — maybe rightly so — for that. But I don’t like the characterization of teasing around Destiel or around any kind of homoerotic subtext that might appear around the brothers or whatever as queer baiting. I think that that’s really unfair. Because I don’t think that – well, first of all that’s sort of a new and strange term to me, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on. I also don’t think that same kind of aspersion would be cast toward someone who is teasing a heterosexual relationship, like the tension that builds between two male and female series regular characters on any given show that’s never consummated. I understand where they’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s a fair characterization either.
Lynn: I think it’s confusing on Supernatural, because there have always been sort of nudge-nudge-wink-winks about Wincest, but there was never any possibility that the CW was going to toss the brothers into bed.
Misha: (laughing) Right.
Lynn: But the same nudge-nudge-wink-wink formula for Destiel didn’t work in the same way, because that could be a canon possibility. I don’t think anyone thought about that consciously when they were teasing that same dynamic.
Misha: I don’t think so either. I don’t think they thought about it. And frankly, I don’t think they talk about it that much either, it’s a thing that operates almost unconsciously for everybody involved in the process — writers, actors, everybody. It’s a very subtly – it’s a nuanced dynamic.
Kathy and Lynn: (are nodding)
Misha. And of course when you’re saying Wincest versus Destiel, I think that it probably makes it a little more compelling of a storyline if it’s something that one can imagine IS imaginable whereas it’s something that we know is just a fantasy. Wincest fans had to know that that was just a fantasy.
Lynn and Kathy: (are nodding)
Misha: Like, this is just our fantasy, it’s not something that’s ever going to happen.
Kathy: Yes, it made for a very different dynamic, because Wincest was just for fanworks, whereas this is canon possibility technically.
Misha: Right. But yeah, it’s interesting. So then people like me addressing it gives it a little more gravitas or makes it feel more possibly accessible and then that …. (throws up hands and looks distressed) That probably makes me an even bigger queer baiter than ever…
Lynn: But having no discussion isn’t good either. It’s what we wrote Fangasm about – challenging that sense of shame that comes with being a fan sometimes, for all kinds of reasons, and isn’t good for anyone.
“We have all absorbed these cultural norms for behavior, and there’s an interesting kind of discomfort when you don’t do what you’re “supposed to do” in a given situation.” – Misha Collins, Fan Phenomena: Supernatural
We brought some copies of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls for Misha to sign for a charity donation, which he generously did.
Lynn: It’s for a vampire ball that benefits Random Acts.
Misha: Oh, cool.
We’ve been honored to donate copies of Fangasm to a variety of charities (and actually have it bring in some decent donations). Misha was very sweet about it.
Misha: That’s awesome.
He even listened to our interview about Supernatural and Fangasm on NPR, which sort of totally made our day.
Misha: Yeah, I did. Congratulations.
Kathy and Lynn: Thank you! And thanks for the chapter you wrote for the new book.
Misha: Of course!
Kathy: That one comes out in April, so we’ll keep you posted.
Misha: (laughing) Wow! You’re bangin’ ‘em out!
Hey, what can we say? This Show inspires us!
We hope you’re looking forward to Fan Phenomena: Supernatural too – we wanted it to be a book celebrating Supernatural, from multiple perspectives. Fans wrote chapters about how much the Show means to them. Actors wrote about what the Show has meant to them too — Misha wrote about discovering the power of fandom. Richard Speight wrote about his journey from con virgin to convention king of karaoke. Cinematographer Serge Ladouceur took us behind the camera to share the secrets to making Supernatural look like a feature film. Jules Wilkinson, admin of the SuperWiki, wrote about the online love affair of Supernatural and fandom. Fan vidder Ash48 wrote about the motivation behind her incredible vids and helped us celebrate the creativity of fandom. Academics wrote chapters about their love for the Show and dissected its meaning. And we wrote about what Supernatural has meant to us, over the course of our eight years of researching the Show and being happily immersed in its fandom. We hope you enjoy hearing the diverse viewpoints and perspectives, as well as the passion for the Show that shines through in every single chapter. When it comes right down to it, we’re all SPNFamily.
“And I think, in a nutshell, that feeling of community is what makes fandom so powerful.” – Misha Collins, in Fan Phenomena: Supernatural
We think so too.
You can order Fangasm and Fan Phenomena: Supernatural from the links at the top of the page.
And here’s the link for the Eternal Nights Vampire Ball benefitting Random Acts – http://www.erispublishing.com/eternal_nights_vampire_ball__night_of_fear_festival
Stay tuned for more from VegasCon, including our chat with ghosthunter Chad Lindberg (which maybe scared Lynn a little, because….GHOSTS! Where are the Winchesters??)