Supernatural occupies an interesting space in queer culture, internet history, and fandom. Produced in 2005, it continued for 15 years, boasting 15 long seasons. The show centers around two brothers and an angel, (Sam and Dean Winchester and Castiel, respectively) who fight against supernatural entities, expanding in later seasons to incorporate richer, more complex storylines.
“The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful” (Sontag, 13).
It was clear that Supernatural was never intended to be a queer show nor was it intended to garner such a large audience of teenage fans. It also likely never intended to be camp; however, the show embodies it. The characters are so stereotypical that it is often painful. Dean is a hypermasculine, stereotypical “bad boy.” He is a ladies’ man, slightly misogynistic, and really, really likes beer and pie. The plotlines are awful, the CGI is low-budget, and the show cannot go two episodes without Dean having sex with a “perfect” woman.
It is so awful that you cannot stop watching. Dean and Castiel are incredibly homoerotic, but the show took itself too seriously to allow anything to bloom. There are moments of intense queer pining followed by GUNS, BEER, AND SEX!!! It is both frustrating and laughable, but at its core, it is campy, playing with gender and sexuality without really talking about it.
“In naive, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails” (Sontag, 7).
With likely heavy influence from fan spaces, the directors, after baiting a relationship for years, finally allowed Dean and Castiel to have a moment. Castiel admits he loves Dean, with tears in his eyes, and then is promptly sent to hell. More specifically, he is promptly sent to Super Hell. Talk about Burying Your Gays.
Supernatural is a product of its time, but it is also a timeline of queer attitudes during the 2000s. The representation is lacking, but it also goes beyond the screen. The campy, over-the-top nature of Supernatural allowed for an online community to bloom around the show. One cannot understand Supernatural without understanding the space it has (and continues) to take up online, in queer media, and in its own campiness.
3 thoughts on “Supernatural: An Exploration into Camp”
This is really interesting, I’ve only seen the first season of Supernatural but I’ve never thought about it as a “campy” or queer show before. I love how you mention how the hypermasculinity of it all is an example of camp in that it has a certain level of naivety or a poking fun of strict gender roles. This is seen when looking at some of the most well-known examples of camp such as drag. I also think that there is a certain sub-genre of camp that comes out of television shows from the 2010s, such as Sherlock and Doctor Who, with largely queer fanbases because their homoerotic subtext and the increasing popularity of the idea of “shipping.” I think that this type of show points to not only the way that queerness was viewed at the time but the way many shows used queerness in a nonexplicit way to draw in queer fanbases without actually putting in the full work of queer representation.
I definitely see how this show could be interpreted as camp, but I wonder if the homophobic undertones, and sometimes overtones, somewhat undermine it. The fandom has for sure taken it upon themselves to make it a decidedly queer space, but the show itself does little to feed into that. To me, it does not read as camp because the producers and actors themselves took the show so seriously for so long, and even the fandom refused to admit the production flaws for a majority of the run. This is in contrast to a show like “Star Trek,” which has the similar aggressively hypermasculine main character in Captain Kirk, some definite homerotic subtext with Spock, and truly abysmal sets, special effects, and plots, but has a cast who fairly quickly stopped taking it seriously. There also was never such a blatant pushback against queerness. At the end of the day, I guess your post makes me wonder how much homophobia negates camp.
I really enjoyed the take on Supernatural on an example of camp media, and I completely agree. Supernatural is one of the many examples of media in the early 2000s that accidentally queer coded its “macho” characters. It makes one think about how playing too much into masculine stereotypes can start to feel much too intentional for the character to be 100% straight.
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