‘Supernatural’ new book ‘Family Don’t End with Blood’ includes testaments from cast, fans; Exclusive interview with book editor Lynn Zubernis

By @chelean on
“Family Don’t End With Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives” book cover
“Family Don’t End With Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives” book cover Supplied

“Supernatural” is more than just a TV series, this according to the cast who appear in it — including main stars Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard — and the fans who faithfully watch it for 12 plus years. The book “Family Don’t End With Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives” is a testament to how the US series has changed the lives of many people who have become part of it. Book editor Lynn Zubernis has explained the phenomenon behind the show.

International Business Times Australia has received an advanced copy of the “Family Don’t End With Blood,” which contains essays from the cast and fans alike. Ackles (who plays Dean Winchester in The CW show), Collins (Castiel) and Sheppard (Crowley) have included messages, while Padalecki (Sam Winchester) and some of the most memorable guest stars have shared how the show and the fandom have come to mean to them.

The “Supernatural” cast who contributed are Jim Beaver (Bobby Singer),  Rachel Miner (Meg Masters), Kim Rhodes (Sheriff Jody Mills), Briana Buckmaster (Sheriff Donna Hanscum), Ruth Connell (Rowena), Gil McKinney (Henry Winchester), Matt Cohen (Young John Winchester), Osric Chau (Kevin Tran) and Rob Benedict (Chuck/God), who lauded his co-star and friend Richard Speight Jr (Gabriel) for being there when he needed him the most.

“But the man of the hour was Richard Speight Jr,” Benedict wrote. “He literally saved my life.”

Zubernis, a clinical psychologist, professor and an avid fan herself, included heart-warming stories from ordinary fans who have either only heard of the show until a few years ago or have been watching it from day one about 12 years ago. For some of them, going to SPN conventions, which the show holds a few times in different countries each year, was the defining step forward. Their love for the show extended beyond just watching on television; it encompassed the actors playing the characters, and their fellow fans who look up to both the actors and the characters.

While the fandom appeared to be dominated by younger female demographic, that isn’t an accurate representation. Contributors in Zubernis’ book show that “Supernatural” has touched more lives. “I felt like a reserved, middle-aged interloper invading a world of young, uninhibited fans,” one wrote, acknowledging that the show has attracted a lot of fan girls.

In an interview with IBTimes Australia, Zubernis explained that the show sometimes gives the impression that it is mostly followed by young people because its older fans tend to be more busy.

“Older fans may be working a full-time job and barely get home in time to watch the show, let alone write some fan fiction or spend hours making GIFs or fan art or vids. But it has been my experience that this is a truly mixed-age fandom, even if some of the voices are louder than the others,” she said.

A portion of the proceeds from “Family Don’t End with Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives” will go to Random Acts, a non-profit organisation founded by Collins, and Attitudes in Reverse, also a non-profit group that aims to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention programs to youth and young adults. The book will hit bookshelves on May 9.

IBTimes’ interview with Zubernis follows below.

International Business Times Australia: For many of those who contributed essays, going to Supernatural conventions was the defining step forward. What is it about conventions that touches people's lives?

Lynn Zubernis: “Conventions are powerful emotional experiences for two reasons. First, they offer a space within which the rules and expectations are different than ‘everyday life.’ This is sometimes referred to as ‘play space’ or ‘carnival space’ in the research, because there are different norms. In a practical sense, that means that fans don’t have to be ashamed of being fans — they can let their ‘fan flag fly’ and be met with understanding, acceptance and encouragement. This is sometimes in sharp contrast to the reaction of non-fans in everyday life, who may react with confusion or even derision (à la William Shatner’s infamous ‘Get a life!’). At fan conventions, fans can cosplay their favourite characters, or show their love of the show by wearing Supernatural t-shirts, jewellery, etc. They can celebrate their love of the show with other fan— squee together, as it were!

“The opportunity to actually meet other fans face to face is also powerful. I’ve seen countless fans who have become very close online meet for the first time at conventions, and it’s always an emotional occasion — usually with shouts (or tears) of joy. One of the reasons the fan community (aka fandom) is so important is that we all have a powerful need to belong — fandom offers the opportunity to do that. Online fandom may be the first time someone feels comfortable enough to be real with others; being together with those others at a convention lets them take the next step, to be genuine in “real life”. Fans can express their genuine emotions, including passion, enthusiasm, and desire, all of which tend to be regulated in our culture, especially for women.

“Second, conventions allow (to some extent) a breaking down of the boundaries between the fan and the actors, and thus the fan and the show they love. Any interaction between actors and fans is gratifying, including interaction on social media, but face-to-face interaction is even more gratifying. While the ‘Supernatural’ conventions certainly create and police the boundaries between fans and actors, nevertheless some interaction is allowed and encouraged. The ‘Supernatural’ cast is unique for their level of comfort in interacting with their fans, in part because they’ve been doing conventions (sometimes up to twenty a year) for the past decade. Face-to-face interaction tends to break down stereotypes and stigma, so the actors now see their fans as just fellow human beings—the mistrust or derision that sometimes comes with fans being seen as ‘other’ is greatly reduced with the ‘Supernatural’ cast. They also just happen to be a thoughtful bunch of people, so many of them actively and consciously sought to break down those barriers instead of hiding behind them.

“Just as I’ve seen fans who met their online friends in person for the first time burst into tears, I’ve seen thousands of fans burst into tears after finally meeting Jared or Jensen or Misha. All the actors are very good at making sure each fan gets a few moments of undivided attention, and while of course they don’t know each and every fan, they are remarkably talented at remembering people and have a genuine affection and caring for all the fans.”

IBTimes: Many of the contributors shared how Sam Winchester and/or Jared Padalecki helped them with their emotional, mental and even physical well-being. What is it about Sam and Jared that allows more people to relate to him or to be drawn toward him?

Zubernis: “ Sam Winchester as a character was the audience surrogate in the early years of Supernatural, which I think drew many people to him. He was also the black sheep of the family, the outsider, the one who tried to follow his own path — many people can relate to that struggle, as could creator Eric Kripke himself. Sam’s emotionality in the early seasons, in contrast to Dean’s repression, also helped fans relate and empathise.

“In later seasons, it has been Sam’s refusal to give up which fans have related to. His bout with addiction (to demon blood) resonated with anyone who had been through such a struggle, and his life history of loss and deprivation spoke to anyone who had dealt with their own difficult circumstances. Of course, Dean has endured a great deal of loss and trauma himself, but he has always dealt with it differently than Sam, with a stiff upper lip and a lot of defence mechanisms until he takes a hammer to his beloved Impala.

“Jared, like his character, has also been more open emotionally. He’s less guarded, which sometimes gets him in trouble on Twitter, but fans have appreciated his genuineness. Working with him over the course of a year on his chapter, I came to realise what an amazingly big heart he has, and how sensitive he is. He cares, and he worries, and he empathises with others. I think that comes through every time he stops an autograph line to take someone’s hand or looks someone in the eye in a photo-op to ask how they are. People sense that he really does care, and that’s meaningful.

“When Jared started the first ‘Always Keep Fighting’ campaign, reflecting his character’s mantra and struggle, fans immediately related to that as well. Jared’s encouragement to everyone to not give up — to talk about their anxiety or depression or other struggles instead of hiding and being ashamed — was life changing, and even life saving, to many fans who heard that message. So I think the messages from the actor and the character in this case aligned to be even more impactful for fans.”

IBTimes: What can you say to those who think that Supernatural is just a TV show? Those who don't understand how it can be so much more to fans?

Zubernis: “I say read this book! I’ve been immersed in this fandom and this show for twelve years, and have watched as both became more and more influential in the lives of fans. I’ve seen fans go to the ends of the earth to help a fellow fan, and throw themselves behind the causes that the actors care about with amazing generosity and determination. I’ve seen fans find courage from the Winchesters’ example and the actors’ encouragement and the fandom’s support, to make fundamental changes in their own lives. I’ve seen the actors find courage too, in the support of the fandom, to change themselves in equally powerful ways. That amount and degree of change is pretty unusual for a little genre TV show on the CW!

“In the early seasons of ‘Supernatural,’ fans rallied repeatedly to keep the show on the air. They supported convention after convention, every side project, and every charity the cast championed. The reward for that persistence and passion has been a show whose cast feels tremendous gratitude, and isn’t afraid to express it or show it. That continuing reciprocity makes this show and this fandom unique — and powerful!”

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