During Sunday’s Nerd HQ panel at Comic-Con with the cast of ‘Supernatural,’ an audience member asked if the dynamic on set changed for the male dominated cast on episodes with a female guest star. The responses she got from star Jared Padalecki and panel moderator Aisha Tyler perfectly, and problematically, demonstrated why the show continues to be criticized by fans for its treatment of female and queer characters.
Before she could even finish her question, Jared joked about two of his co-stars not really counting as men- “We also have Mark Sheppard and Misha [Collins],” to which Alicia added something to the effect of “things we don’t know about Misha.” It was a little hard to hear. Jared has purposely misgendered people before to make a “joke” or be demeaning, (one example being a tweet about Justin Bieber). Statements like these are sexist and transphobic and represent the idea of masculinity which ‘Supernatural’ seems to buy into- that only masculine men are real men and that masculinity is defined by what you can’t be (i.e. feminine) rather than what you are.
The questioner rolled her eyes, clearly not amused.
Jared then mentioned his wife, Genevieve Cortese, whom he met during the show’s fourth season when she played the demon Ruby. “Well, we all know what happened to me; I ended up marrying her. So I can’t do that again.”
Obviously not. The rest of his answer is where we start heading off the cliff.
“I don’t think it makes it too different. I think it’s easy in a male-dominated cast to not have to…there are so many shows that deal with romance that there needs to be a show that doesn’t deal with romance. That’s why we have ‘Supernatural,’ to deal with all the other parts of…to deal with the many other facets of human nature and existence, even in a bizarre way. But we don’t have to worry about, ‘Oh, there’s a scene where this-;’ We just kinda make a show about something else.”
So…women on your show could only ever be romantic interests? You don’t mind having zero lead female characters because then you don’t have to worry about getting bogged down by girly romance? Does romance not exist for men in the absence of women? It’s such a strange and dismissive answer.
Over the past nine seasons, there have been several reoccurring female characters whose stories were not about romance, including Abbadon, Ellen, Meg, Pamela, Bella, Charlie, Jody, and Naomi. (Note: Only Jody and Charlie are still alive, and Charlie- our only canonically queer character- is currently in another dimension.)
Speaking of female characters who have been primarily romantic interests, we mainly have Lisa and Amelia, both of whom were ditched by the brothers in order to focus on the family business. So yes, the Winchesters have each yet to have a lasting relationship and the nature of their work is clearly what has gotten in the way. It seems impossible for either of them to have a relationship at this point that is separate from hunting.
BUT, luckily, men do not need women in order to experience romance! For a long time now, the show’s most significant and popular romantic narrative has been male/male- the relationship between Dean Winchester and the angel Castiel. As a supernatural being, Castiel has been intertwined with the brothers’ work from the moment we met him and he has stuck around, on and off, for six season. The major barrier between Dean and romantic relationships therefore doesn’t apply to Cas. It is homophobic and biphobic to assume that romance isn’t possible among men, and considering the popularity of the Destiel relationship, it was offensive of Jared to ignore that possibility.
And then Aisha Tyler jumped in and everything went from bad to worse.
“The thing that I feel is so great about ‘Supernatural’ despite the monsters and everything is that it’s a show about the interior relationships of men, the interior lives of men, and it’s very rare that the relationships are emotional, they’re complex, they’re dynamic. And when you’re looking at a show where it’s all about male/female relationships, that’s the focus, but to see these guys that are struggling with their filial relationships and their intermasculine relationships is really unusual on TV and I think the show does that very, very well. And if you like guys, you’re curious about men, or you have a guy in your life, it’s a great show to watch to understand not all men, but these men. These characters I think are really well-written guys.”
Where to begin?
1) Ah yes, the precious, white, cisgender menz, they are so rare on television and often so two-dimensional.
2) Who needs ladies when you’ve got men with a co-dependent sibling relationship?
3) Are you a lady who likes men? Are you curious about men? Got a man in your life? To understand these delicate creatures, watch this show about men who use misogynistic language!
Are you fucking kidding me?!
If there’s one thing you need to know about ‘Supernatural’ and its fandom, it’s in this quote from a recent article on The Daily Dot. “Most of the constant refrain of criticism stemmed from [Supernatural’s] status as the whitest, manliest, straightest show ever to have inexplicably cultivated a fandom that is its demographic polar opposite.”
News flash: No one watches ‘Supernatural’ to learn about men. The fandom hasn’t carried the show to its 10th season because of its masculinity. Sam and Dean being “manly” is so far down the list of why people watch the show and why so many identify with it in such strong ways that it’s almost laughable.
Most of the frustration fans feel comes from the fact that the people who work on ‘Supernatural’ still don’t seem to understand why the show has the particular audience it does and what that audience actually likes about the show. Without that understanding, they keep making decisions about the characters that keep earning them criticism. ‘Supernatural’ sees itself as an essentially masculine show, and one that feels the need to constantly prove that point. But their focus on masculinity is seriously limiting their possibilities for character development, something essential for a long-running series.
Fans want to see these characters grow, but when you limit the type of people they interact with so they only see versions of themselves, and when you put restrictions on who is available for romantic storylines and who is not, you run seriously low on options to expand these characters’ world, and therefore their storylines.