Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Supernatural" and the Male Gaze

The show that I chose to watch online was Supernatural, which is a very genre-ish show that basically focuses on two brothers who drive around the continental U.S. in a '67 Chevy Impala fighting supernatural beings like demons, ghosts, and werewolves, in addition to less well-known creatures of the night based on folklore or urban legends.

One of the things I noticed immediately about the official CW site that streams the three most recent episodes for free (with some, but not too many, commercial interruptions) was that they seemed to be trying to apply marketing strategies to the TV show that were not entirely successful. Supernatural is one of the last remaining WB shows to survive the WB-UPN merger that created the CW. Since the merger, most of the standard WB/UPN fare, shows like Veronica Mars and the Gilmore Girls, has been replaced by glitzy shows like Gossip Girl, Privileged, and the re-make of 90210. All of these shows are very conducive to marketing-- for example, links to sites instructing you how to "dress like the girls from Gossip Girl" make perfect sense on the CW website. Supernatural, a lone horror/action show in an otherwise very materialistic line-up, can't really capitalize on that sort of cross-promotion. The CW mostly relies on it to pull in solid numbers from its established genre fanbase, as opposed to being the "it" show everyone needs to watch, a role which they hoped Gossip Girl would fill.

To replace these types of website options, the Supernatural website seems to be relying on the personas of the actors themselves-- the only two regulars happen to be very personable in interviews, so interviews are played up on the website. Additionally, there is a rather amusing link to Jensen Ackles's surprise on-set musical performance-- when shooting a scene that opened with him in his car listening to "Eye of the Tiger," he apparently decided to run with it and lip synch for the camera. (Interestingly, this is not just a supplementary website thing-- the CW actually aired this performance on television after the episode "Yellow Fever," suggesting that they expect their audience to know the actors well enough to be amused by the clip.)

Much more interesting than the official website, though, is the insanely active fanbase, which frequents Television Without Pity forums, Livejournal communities, and numerous fansites and seems to wield an unheard-of influence over the direction of the show-- creator Eric Kripke has even, on occasion, released statements in response to whatever nonsense the crazy fans are making lots of internet noise over.

As far as the theories we've studied so far, Supernatural seems to fit best into Laura Mulvey's idea of the "male gaze." The show is probably one of the worst currently-airing offenders with regard to the issue of objectification of the female and the female body, in particular. It sometimes seems like every single pretty girl on the show is being swept into one of two categories: the damsel in distress, or the femme fatale (whom one of the brothers will find attractive, but who will inevitably turn out to be a murderous demon, witch, or werewolf who must be finished off in a graphically violent matter). Thus far, the show has made four separate efforts to introduce recurring female characters to balance out an otherwise entirely male cast. None of these four actresses lasted longer than one season.

I am certainly not the only person to have noticed this, and in the internet browsing I did for this class, I was actually able to find a fan-made video dealing with the issue, and an interview this video-maker did with New York Magazine, in which she discusses the history of the fan-made video and addresses this specific women in Supernatural video, briefly, at the end.

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