A Few Problems with TV’s “Supernatural”

A Few Problems with TV's "Supernatural," blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, supernatural, winchester, castiel, destiel, supernatural title season 6, sam, dean, crowley, men of letters, assbutt, aspasiasbissas.com

Spoilers Ahead

I’m not exactly a fan of Supernatural, the long-running (and recently concluded) series featuring the monster-hunting Winchester brothers (Sam and Dean) and associates. I am, however, a fan of several of the characters, which is why I’ve stuck with the show. I’m currently re-watching older seasons in anticipation of catching up on the last couple I haven’t seen yet, including the series finale.

The thing is, no matter how much I try (and I have tried), I just can’t pretend this show doesn’t bother me on numerous levels. I’m not trying to ruin anything for the fans out there (who I’m sure far outnumber detractors like me), but someone needs to say it. Supernatural has problems. Here’s four of them.

  1. “Librarians”

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In season 8 Supernatural introduced the “Men of Letters,” a secret society that, among other things, made a point of amassing and preserving vast stores of occult and magical knowledge. Sounds pretty cool, right? You’d think so, but apparently the show’s writers disagree, as multiple characters repeatedly refer to the Men of Letters as “librarians.” And it’s never a compliment.

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First of all, fiction is full of librarians who could hold their own in the Supernatural universe. Secondly, the show itself establishes that the Men of Letters were also men of action– they just put a little more thought into their actions than the Winchesters and their fellow “hunters” tend to. More importantly, though, is that real-life librarians deserve better than this kind of casual derision. Yes, they spend an inordinate amount of time with books (not sure why that’s a bad thing), but they also help people and improve lives on a daily basis (here’s a story from last year as just one example). Librarian as an insult? You’re only showing your own ignorance.

2. Mary Shelley Didn’t Create Frankenstein

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Season 10 brought us the ill-conceived Styne family, an ancient clan into all kinds of evil, including murder, Nazism, and really poorly stitched body modification (seriously, this is your thing– learn how to sew). But– big reveal– it turns out the family’s name was originally… Frankenstein (groan), and that their family friend Mary Shelley, after spending a few days at their estate and seeing what they were up to, wrote her book to try to warn the world. In other words, Frankenstein isn’t a work of Shelley’s vibrant imagination (and one of, if not the, first works of science fiction), but rather non-fiction based on something she witnessed.

Seeing as how women writers throughout history have been consistently ignored, suppressed, forgotten, and denied credit, for Supernatural to come along and discount the achievement of one of the few who did receive her due… let’s just say that Supernatural owes Mary Shelley a huge apology.

3. The Writers vs. Castiel

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Introducing angels to the show is generally acknowledged as being one of Supernatural’s smarter moves. Castiel especially turned out to be a great character, with some decent development over the seasons. Unfortunately, the writers backed themselves into a corner with angels. Debuted as incredibly powerful beings who can destroy a human just by existing in their natural state, the writers subsequently were forced to find ways to make angels far weaker than they started out. As the Winchesters’ protector/friend Castiel gets the brunt of this– the writers spend the rest of the series finding excuses to take away his power. Poor Cas loses his mind, gets stuck in purgatory, is put under the control of another angel, and even becomes human, among other things. Even when he is at full strength, the writers ignore the extent of his abilities, inexplicably render them useless (“I can usually heal anything, but not this…”), or simply pretend he doesn’t exist. He can be summoned by phone or by prayer, yet he often “isn’t answering,” or more often, the Winchesters don’t bother calling. There are so many times when Cas could easily have dispatched demonic enemies or fixed an unfortunate situation (like, say, bringing Charlie back to life), but it’s inconvenient to the story, so he’s nowhere to be seen. What all this amounts to is a lot of poor and/or lazy writing that ultimately lowers the quality of the show. F for effort, guys.

4. Sucky Vampires

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Vampires aren’t the focus of Supernatural, and it’s a good thing because the ones on this show are awful. From the hideous rows of fangs to their bland personalities, I have to wonder why the show bothered including vampires at all. Mercedes McNab, who brilliantly played student-turned-vampire Harmony on Buffy and Angel, shows up as a vampire in one season 3 episode of Supernatural. Her character mostly spouts exposition and whines about being hungry before Dean finally beheads her. Other vampires throughout the series are similarly unremarkable (although there was one storyline that had potential, about vampires taking advantage of the Twilight craze, but it ultimately missed the mark). Even Benny, who befriends Dean in season 8 and actually gets a story arc, serves mostly as a source of tension between Sam and Dean. Not every vampire is going to be a Dracula or a Spike, but it takes some skill to make all of yours forgettable.

There are other problems with Supernatural (like Sam and Dean’s casual willingness to murder innocent people just because they’re possessed– remember when they used to at least try an exorcism first?), but I’ll leave it here. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my points? Share in the comments…

Want to read something that’s all about the vampires? Get my books!

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Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Currently Reading

Currently Reading, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Staying with the Discword series, and really looking forward to this one.

I’m sad to say that I didn’t love the last Discworld book, Sourcery. There were a few reasons for my disappointment, although one particular assumption the author made stood out for me. This is what I wrote about it on Goodreads:

Not his best effort. For the record, the scientist who discovered the shape of DNA was a she, not a he, and her name was Rosalind Franklin (although two male scientists did go ahead and take the credit).

Not that authors (especially ones as prolific as Pratchett) aren’t entitled to make mistakes or have an off book here and there, but the Rosalind Franklin thing seemed like straight laziness from him and his editors (the editing in general on this book wasn’t great, actually). Hopefully Wyrd Sisters and future Discworld books will get things back on track.

What are you reading these days?

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Currently Reading

Currently Reading, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Back to Discworld…

I also wanted to comment on This Charming Man, now that I’ve re-read it.

Currently Reading, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

In my post where I shared that I was about to re-read this book, I said I’d forgotten a lot of the details since I last read it. Well, it turns out I’d forgotten almost everything about it. I remembered This Charming Man as being mostly fun with a satisfying ending. I’ve since learned I can’t trust my memory. Like, at all. The book is well written and compelling, and there’s humour too, but it’s actually quite dark and difficult to read at times because of that. It goes into painful detail on violence against women, abusive relationships, and alcoholism (all important topics, but emotionally draining, to say the least*). I also noticed there was a fair bit of fat shaming (ugh), and some less-than-enlightened comments about “trannies.” It was published in 2008 and parts of it have clearly not aged well. It did have a satisfying ending, though, so at least I got that right.

What are you reading these days? Have you ever re-read a book and realized it was completely different from what you remembered? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

(P.S. If you want to see what else I’ve read, check out my Goodreads page.)

IWD: Taking Credit

IWD: Taking Credit, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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Some writers work for money. Some work for the sake of the art. But if there’s one thing just about all writers expect in return for their work, it’s credit. Unfortunately, this basic acknowledgement of a person’s contribution to the world isn’t always accorded to women.

The French writer Colette’s first husband, after encouraging her to pursue writing, went ahead and took credit for her work. At one point, when she refused to write more stories for him, he locked her in a room with nothing but a typewriter. Although Colette eventually divorced him and got back credit (after his death) for her popular Claudine series, her husband owned the copyright and she never saw a dime from the books, the stage adaptation, or the extensive Claudine-themed merchandise.

IWD: Taking Credit, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

“Anonymous,” a published author, recounts how at a meeting in Hollywood with actors and a showrunner (all male), her story was casually taken, altered just enough, and used for their own benefit without consideration or credit to her. They profited while she got nothing for her work. She is now forced to write as Anonymous because her ex-husband, also a writer, has been violent and is a threat.

IWD: Taking Credit, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), has a reputation as a free-spirited (some would say wild) flapper who ended up “crazy.” As it happens, she was also a promising writer whose celebrated husband stole entire passages of her work, letters, and diaries to use in his own novels (he also helped himself to his friends’ words and experiences, and accused Zelda of writing about their marriage in her book before he could do the same in his). He may have spread rumours that she was mentally unfit and likely intentionally pushed her to a nervous breakdown. Today Zelda’s writing is hardly known, while F. Scott’s is required reading.

Sadly, these are only three examples of women not getting the credit they’re due. Throughout history women’s work– writing, as well as every other kind– has been diminished, ignored, sometimes destroyed. Men take credit for it without hesitation, as famously happened with scientist Rosalind Franklin. The women who create get buried and forgotten. On this International Women’s Day, take a moment to think of all the women throughout the centuries who have had their legacies taken by men who felt entitled to their credit.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Further Reading

The Life of French Writer Colette

Colette Only Shows a Sliver of Colette’s Eventual Love Life– Here’s the Rest

Famous Bis: Colette

This Side of Plagiarism

The First Flapper: Zelda Fitzgerald

#ThanksforTyping: the women behind famous male writers

16 Brilliant Women from History Who Got No Credit for Their Groundbreaking Work

Matilda Effect

“I Made that Bitch Famous”

11 Overlooked Women From History

 

 

IWD: The Sexism That Writers Endure

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From the start, women writers have had to endure an unending slew of sexist attitudes and commentary. Pick a writer and she’ll tell you about comments claiming women aren’t serious writers, that they don’t write “important” works, and aren’t worthy of awards or acclaim. Women writers can tell you about how there is a constant assumption that they must write romance or “chick lit,” that they don’t write anything a man would want to read, that they can’t write certain genres, or that women’s fiction is fluffy and sentimental. We can tell you about how we’re questioned in a way male authors never are about work-life balance, how we can possibly work and take care of our children and homes and partners. The list goes on. And when we dare complain about any of it, we’re accused of being “whiny” and “privileged.”

On this International Women’s Day, I’m sharing a few of the sexist remarks said to, or of, women authors:

Sci-fi author Gérard Klein about Ursula K. Le Guin: ” … her art is the product of ‘a happily resolved childhood, an active feminine genitality, and her intellectual indebtedness to her historian husband.'”

 

Audience member at a reading, to Julia Fierro: “Who is taking care of your children?”

 

A reader, commenting about The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris: “The novel is ‘capitalising on the fandom of Tom Hiddleston.'”

 

Author David Gilmour, on not teaching women authors in his class at the University of Toronto: “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.”

 

Author V.S. Naipaul about Diana Athill: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not… My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”

 

Interviewer to Victoria A. Brownworth: “I don’t think women should be writing about this kind of violence.”

 

A lecture attendee to Joanne Freeman: “How does your husband handle your wit?”

 

A one-time boss of hers, about Clarice Lispector: “She was ‘a smart girl, an excellent reporter, and, in contrast to almost all women, actually knows how to write.'”

 

Random people, to Lis Harris: “Oh, you’re a serious writer? But you’re so pretty!”

 

N.S. Willis, to his sister, Fanny Fern: “[…he stated that] her writing was ‘too vulgar’ and she should continue with her needlework instead.”

 

To these I’ll add a quote from Charlotte Brontë, which she wrote in response to harsh reviews. This is (or should be) the unofficial motto of women writers everywhere:

“It would take a great deal to crush me.”

person using green typewriter on brown wooden surface
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The problem of sexism in publishing is improving–the fact that it’s finally being acknowledged is an important first step. Will it be solved anytime soon? As with other forms of inequality, probably not in my lifetime (although I live in hope). But there are things everyone can do to help get us there:

  • Read books by women (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, comic books, essays, articles…)
  • Review books by women (whether on a book site, store site, social media, or your own blog)
  • Buy books by women (let publishers know what you want to read)

If you want to start right now, you can download my free story Blood Magic. One reviewer wrote about it: “A sign of the times, this short story should be folded up, put inside an envelope, and slid inside the goody bags ready for the male attendees of the next Golden Globe Awards.”

Happy International Women’s Day. Show your support by reading more women.

Find Out More:

‘How to Suppress Women’s Writing’: 3 Decades Old and Still Sadly Relevant

Women Writers Are Over Hearing These Sexist Comments

Women’s Fiction Is a Sign of a Sexist Book Industry

Canadian Author David Gilmour Sparks Furore Over Women Writers

7 Breathtakingly Sexist Quotes by Famous and Respected Male Authors

A Woman’s Place

Sexism in Publishing: My Novel Wasn’t the Problem

Female Authors Are Speaking Out About the Everyday Sexism They Experience

The True Glamour of Clarice Lispector

I talked to 39 Women Who Write Nonfiction, and Here’s What I’ve Learned

The Evolution of Female Writers

5 Things Sexism Deniers Say to Woman Writers