As someone who was present at the Nerd HQ panel for Supernatural at San Diego Comic Con, I heard first-hand the comments that have very clearly sparked outrage in the fandom. I knew the moment those words were said that there would be upset fans, but I assumed people would get angry on Twitter and Tumblr and things would move forward as they usually do. It’s not the first time these types of sentiments have been expressed in this fandom, by the creators or actors, or even in other fandoms with other people. These comments are a systemic issue that’s not just related to this one specific show or these specific actors. So as troublesome as I knew these comments would be, there were far more pressing matters at the time for me to focus on (I was attending as press and had several videos and articles to work on), so I let it go for the time being. However, now that Aisha Tyler, the moderator of the panel, has chimed in on Facebook things have been propelled to another level fandom-wide. It’s no longer another bump in the road of Supernatural fandom, but a direct engagement from those involved. Aisha is 100% in the right to want to express her opinions as a person who was involved in the incident, but fans also have the right to express why these things are problematic. Right now those fans are feeling as though their opinions are not being entirely understood and are feeling ‘crit shamed’ for finding elements of the media they enjoy worthy of deeper discussion.
I feel like I’m being scolded for wanting the show I love to be better.
-Anonymous Twitter user.
Aisha is an incredibly intelligent woman, and by pointing out that her comments have upset people I have no doubt that I’ll receive accusations that I actually hate Aisha or something equally ridiculous, when that’s the exact opposite of how I feel. I admire her greatly, but addressing her comments will most likely be interpreted as hatred or an attack on her as a person. This is exactly part of the problem.
If you criticize something, you are shamed into being told that you clearly don’t love it or enjoy it. Criticism and hatred are entirely different things. Criticism is recognizing problematic elements in something (a piece of media, comments from a person, etc) while hatred is less critical and more focused on viciousness. For example: name calling, social media harassment, consistent verbal abuse towards those that disagree with you – all of those things are hatred. Recognizing something that bothers you and verbalizing those concerns in a rational way is not hatred. The terms “misogynistic” and “homophobic” have been thrown around and that falls into a gray area when it comes to name calling. While I have no personally used those terms to describe the people involved, I will acknowledge that the words used during the panel can be interpreted as such. Those words should, however, be used with caution when being applied to a person. It’s also extremely frustrating that the bigger issue that arises from these incidents is whether or not you are calling someone homophobic or misogynistic, as opposed to the wider issues involving why people are hurt enough to use those terms to begin with. It once again turns the argument away from what it’s really about and perpetuates the idea of being either 100% for or 100% against something with no room in the middle for valid criticism.
This “crit shaming” was also strongly felt in Aisha’s letter to fans. The implication is that if you feel the show has problematic elements, that you should stop watching. Many fans have done exactly that, but those that stick around usually still find elements in it that they enjoy. As long as the elements that you enjoy outweigh the elements that bother you, you have every right to stick around and enjoy that show while also rationally criticizing the pieces of it that you do not like. Once the balance tips, she is right, it is probably best to walk away from that piece of media and go enjoy other things. It’s better for your own peace of mind. I’ve done this before. It happens. But as long as you still enjoy the show for whatever reason, there is absolutely no need for your criticism to be shamed or ridiculed. Rational discussion should always be welcomed. There are entire industries built up around analysis and interpretation of media. Academia and editorial journalism rely on this type of discussion. Even for those who don’t do it professionally, these discussions can be enjoyable and enlightening.
The show is a show about men. If you don’t like that, watch another show. If you are a fan, you are a fan, and you enjoy the elements of the show you find satisfying. If the show is not creatively satisfying to you, watch another show. If you think it’s misogynistic, WATCH ANOTHER SHOW. If you are pissed at Supernatural or its writers or it’s actors, WATCH ANOTHER FREAKING SHOW. The idea that women don’t watch the show because they are drawn in by these male characters and their interplay is bullish*t. That is why you’re watching, or at least part of it. If it wasn’t, YOU WOULD BE WATCHING ANOTHER FREAKING SHOW.
-Aisha Tyler, “About That Supernatural Panel…”
Once you get past the crit shaming, the actual content of what was said is definitely worthy of the discussion it’s sparked. A fan question about strong female characters got turned around into a response about how great the show is specifically because its lack of female characters.
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 kind of make a show about something else.
– Jared Padalecki, Supernatural at NerdHQ 2014 regarding why women do not play a larger role in Supernatural
Of everyone who responded to that question, Aisha’s were the most insightful and spot on. It focuses on the relationships between men, which is unique in many regards, particularly when focusing so heavily on brotherly love and other male familial relationships.
The thing I feel is so great about Supernatural, despite 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 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.
-Aisha Tyler, Supernatural at NerdHQ 2014 in response to Jared Padalecki’s remarks
The problem comes when you dismiss relationships with women and being only there for romance or dismiss the possibility of romance being possible among men. When framed like that, those comments can be interpreted as misogynistic and homophobic. I’m not calling any of the cast either of those names (again, this is a system-wide issue), but for people who want more representation for both of those groups in media, that type of framing can be extremely hurtful. Strong women can be present without being love interests (Jody Mills and Charlie Bradbury, for example) and people of the same sex can be romantic together.
Another part of the panel that sparked heated discussion was when Jared called Misha a woman as an insult. For me personally, there is nothing wrong with being a woman and I will never understand why it’s used as an insult so consistently. This is not the first time Jared has made this type of commentary and he received blow-back about it in the past. Once again, I find this extremely problematic, but it’s absolutely possible to recognize this as an issue without that criticism being translated into hatred of the person who is saying it. If I hated everyone who ever said something problematic, I would have very few friends and zero social life. I can assure you, neither of these things are the case. Yet crit shaming has reduced it to an either/or scenario. You either love everything a person says and does, or if you criticize something you must hate them. To me, this type of mindset is dangerous and poisons discussions of important social issues. It takes the discussion away from those issues and makes it a personal attack.
I’m not going to turn a blind eye to the fact that there probably were some people out there slinging hatred at people over these incidents. Thankfully I follow a pretty good group of people so I didn’t see that on my own timeline or dashboard, but to say that it didn’t happen would be ignorant on my behalf. Personal attacks also poison rational discussion and should not happen. But for those who want to engage with media on a deeper level that passively watching it, rational discussion must continue to take place. It should not be shamed or stifled. They should not be told to be silent or leave a show they still mostly enjoy. Even those that left are still allowed to have opinions if they recognize the fact that their information is coming second hand. Issues need to continue to be discussed and media needs to be continue to be analyzed as long as it’s recognized academically as a reflection and/or an influence on our society. Media has been interpreted as a reflection and/or influence for a long time so I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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