February 1, 2006
A column tackling gay issues, gay themes, and just general gayness in television.Out-takes
Un-, Sub-, or Supernatural Forces
Butch-femme dynamics in the series of brotherly love
Still here? Great.
My first awareness of Supernatural came when I saw the print ads — two attractive young men, dimly lit by a car's headlights, carrying with them the accoutrements of itinerant exorcists — and thought immediately, wow, this looks like John Dies at the End, only gayer and for adolescent girls! I confess to being subtly disappointed to learn that the two strapping young lads were not the John Cheese and Dave Wong of the WB, but brothers, and my interest took yet another hit when I actually started watching the show and found its acting, writing, and special effects to range largely from the profoundly mediocre to the downright abysmal. I know good television, and this is not, by any definition, good television.
|In fact, much like the early X-Files, the show is fueled past its failings almost entirely by the chemistry between the two principals, the boys who, like Mulder and Scully, generate enough sexual tension to power a small city (or at least one craptacular ex-Walkman ghost detector).|
What makes the pair so charged is the gulf of difference between Sam and Dean; the characters may be brothers, but their roles are so unequal that the great deal of angst and longing that charges their shared past makes them seem not so much long-estranged siblings as ex-lovers. The problem with a show that perpetuates classic horror-movie gender stereotypes — e.g., the woman will sense where danger is and protect her children, the man will charge headlong into danger and get his disbelieving ass killed — is that two typically masculine characters, even if both are Mulderesque believers, will together serve to do little more than burn the house down and/or get the car stuck in a ditch. One of the pair, then, has to be the intuitive foil, the Shining refugee who can see past the other's fool-headedness while still being enough of a dolt himself to make life interesting every time he gets kidnapped by that week's demon.
Poor, poor Sam — the kid brother has to be the woman. He not only started out significantly less butch than his brother, but the moment they pointed out his precognitive abilities, his masculinity sprung a leak that, as far as I have seen, has yet to be patched. I gaped at the screen when 'Bloody Mary' actually forced Sam into the role of a mirror-summoning dumb teenage girl. My girlfriend and I have agreed that we are mostly all right about the random damsel in distress that seems to crop up every episode because, regardless of her presence, on a long enough timescale, Sam will always become the damsel. Though he is much like Buffy's Willow, in that you can't actually harm him because he's a delicate waifish mountain flower, Sam's contract states that he must be imperiled once an episode, just for tension's sake.
As far as the women on the show go, I can't tell if they're consistently uninteresting because the show has a bizarrely sexist overarching ethic, the WB is legally barred from hiring more than two actresses with talent per season, or both. The fact remains, however, that the two brothers are far more interested in each other than the ever are in the random girls. Dean's got that weird kind of sexuality where he tries so very, very hard to be the mack daddy, which might work except for the part where his heart just isn't in it, while Sam's busy pining for his late girlfriend (whom we last saw stuck to the ceiling a la Mena Suvari in American Beauty, only deader and also on fire). They operate in a kind of emotional isolation where though it initially seems Dean needs Sam much more than Sam needs Dean, the more time they spend away from anything approaching normal, chasing down invisible hook-men through churches with shotguns, the more remote everything but their world of two becomes.
|What's powering Supernatural is its ambiguously gay siblings, whose weirdly intense dynamic has at least kept me at it long past the point where good sense would have me changing the channel.|
And at the end of the day, the boys ride off into the sunset with each other, the radio blaring triumphant hair metal, off to be the variables in countless horror movies in forty-minute miniature, an unstoppable evil-fighting duo for the (teen)ages. If only someone could tell them that though they're ostensibly on a quest for their dad, all they really need in life is a good golden retriever.2
NEXT TIME, ON OUT-TAKES: The amazing true love story of two convicted felons, seriously, this time, I mean it; or Over The Rainbow.
1Such as every time the home salespersons in 'Bugs' mistook the brothers for a gay couple, and I had to pick myself up off the floor.
2That's a John Dies at the End reference, in case you missed it. Now get off your lazy tuckus and go read it.
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