Supernatural: Buffy for Blokes

Just watched Supernatural. Here is the plot summary. I was looking forward to it. Anything that plays AC/DC as the soundtrack to the teaser-advertisement is going to win me for the hour. That is for sure! As well as two good looking guys, the show stars a black 1967 Chevy Impala. The micro-scene where they are cruising through the country-side in their car with the music playing is one of the coolest things I have seen on television for a long time. Sure there are other things that are interesting or even beautiful, but that one scene makes this show cool. At least it does in my book (or blog!). (“Beauty”, perhaps, is satisfied by the intro to the anime Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which captures the sorrowful spactacle of the material loss experienced by the fast-paced female cyborg lead character of the series. Damn, I just watched it like 6 times.) However, this reviewer of Supernatural wasn’t too impressed. I suspect that it will not be the show for everyone. Let’s think about why…

Everyone in the whole world compares it to Buffy, but why focus on the similarities when it are the differences that will attract an audience (from The Age):

Eric Kripke, Supernatural’s 31-year-old writer and creator, has drawn on American B-movie cliches, ghost stories, sci-fi yarns and urban myths for his anxiety-provoking series. But it’s all the more palatable for the peppering of dark, drive-in-movie humour within its scripts. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it crosses genres without a fuss. It can be inexplicably funny one moment, bleak the next. [...] There is something very likeable about Supernatural. It’s partly the relationship of the brothers, given credibility with the rivalry and humour by Ackles and Padalecki.

There are a number of moments that have blokey Buffy-esque turns of phrase. By ‘Buffy-esque’ I mean sharing Joss Whedon’s ability to coin pop-culture neologisms. From Supernatural (IMDB and videoclip links via):

Sam Winchester: Dean, what I said about Mom and Dad, I’m sorry.
Dean Winchester: Hey, no chick-flick moments.
Sam Winchester: All right. [pause] Jerk.
Dean Winchester: Bitch.
[videoclip]

Dean Winchester: Problem, officers?
Ranger Wilkinson: So… Fake US Marshal. Fake credit cards. You got anything that’s real?
Dean Winchester: My boobs.

Sam Winchester: I swear, man, you’ve gotta update your cassette tape collection.
Dean Winchester: Why?
Sam Winchester: Well, for one, they’re cassette tapes and two… Black Sabbath? Motorhead? Metallica? It’s the greatest hits of mullet rock.
Dean Winchester: House rules, Sammy. Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole.
[videoclip, this clip has Metallica playing, but the version on Aussie tv had AC/DC playing "Back in Black"!! WTF!]

“Mullet rock”? “Chick-flick moments”? There is a masculine attunement to the show’s anti-melodramatic (or “anti-chick flick”) tendencies. Here I mean there is an interplay between the everyday relationship of two brothers, which is often mediated by their respective performances of masculinity, and the highly affective horror/fantasy dimension of the show. See my post here and Shaviro’s blog post of melodrama and affect. To repeat what I wrote about why I like NCIS and which is shared (so far) by Supernatural: “the affective dimension played out on a superficial level between the caricatured passionate ‘exteriors’ of the main characters operates in a similar way to affect amplifying machine of melodrama.” I realise now that NCIS is a very masculine show, not only because of the content and so on, but because of the masculine affective attunement between the main characters. In Supernatural it is a post-ironic blokedom. It is similar to why, from the music world, The Darkness and Wolfmother both have relatively recently had a number of hits. I will not be surprised if I hear them on the show’s soundtrack.

The post-ironic blokedom troubles the well worn feminist/grrl power tropes and “functional fantasy figures” of Buffy and extend beyond the affectivities and discursive politics of pop-culture poetics to the very basic structure of the show. Here are some first thoughts on the pilot episode…

The Home vs the ‘Open Road’

It is literally the ‘law of the father’ as the two brothers travel outside middle-America in the souped-up Impala trying to find their dad and battling supernatural nasties along the way. I noticed that the car has slightly different sized back and front mag wheels. Classic street machine style. It is not surprising that the official website is a flash site organised around the space of the car. The two brothers are apparently guided throughout the rest of the series by cryptic clues left behind by their dad as they travel around trying to find him. The state of continual movement is very A-Team like.

In Buffy, especially towards the end of its run in the last couple of series, the Summers family home was used as the base of operations for vampire slayering and general hero work. For example, it was this weapon-grade domesticity that drove the whole ‘Dawn’ phenomenon plot. Supernatural, on the other hand, repeats the unwritten social rule of non-domestic space being where men belong. The climax to this pilot episode has the two brothers forcing a ghost (figured as a sexy wife and loving mother) to return home and face her two children which she had murdered before she had committed suicide. These events were triggered by her husbands adultery. The curse of the ghost is that she can not return to her home. She has cast herself out of her ‘domesticity’ and literally becomes ‘of the street’.

For the first fifth of the episode we see the younger brother, Sam, preparing to step up into the ‘adult world’. By attending an interview for a place at Stanford Law as a grad student he will guarantee his future. He makes it back in time for the interview only to find that his girl friend being murdered the same way his mother did. They were thrust into this supernatural world as their mother and their home literally go up in smoke. Not dissimilar to John Conner from Terminator 2 they are two adult-children who never got to be actual ‘children’ because of a paranoid parent.

Importantly the ‘home’ isn’t just a space of domesticity, but a key site of adulthood. Although Sam is the more ‘adult’ of the two in the sense of being more responsible and so on in micro-social situations, the next step to macro-social adulthood is never taken by Sam. Instead he hits the road with his older brother, Dean. That is the real fantasy here. Buffy was a chick with super strength and super wit. Supernatural has two guys who never have to (or maybe can’t) ‘settle down’. The show saves itself from dwelling in the nihlistic dystopia of Two Lane Blacktop by giving the two lead characters a mission. Passion drives them. Find their ‘father’ and hunt down the thing that destroyed their ‘domesticity’. Postmodern blokes…?

3 thoughts on “Supernatural: Buffy for Blokes”

  1. Hi guys, I have been a fan of Supernatural from the beginning but I’m afraid the Dean death and hell scene was kind of lame. It was too melodramatic and old. A more subtle approach would have been better in my opinion and it could have been left to the imagination of the viewer or maybe hollywood doesn’t credit the audience with any intelligence. My opinion….Pinhead meets the original version of the fly. Help me…please somebody ….help me… They may as well have put in a big rubber spider lmao. And why wasn’t Bella hanging there tooo….lol Anyway…I’m still a big fan but come on Supernatural team….give the folks some grey matter credit points.

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