May 26

Stop Calling it Worship

The dismissal of positivity as “deification” and “worship” is disgusting. There’s a poisonous underlying idea that anyone who thinks something is good, who has a positive interpretation of someone’s work, is just a mindless zombie. It’s the idea that positivity is irrational and emotional–the sign of an inability to think clearly–while negativity is rational, inherently unbiased, and The Real Truth. It’s horrible and it’s poisonous and I wish people would actually think about what they’re implying every time they dismiss support as worship. (I’ve written about this before in terms of negative meta being valued over the positive.)

Let me tell you something, since this was about a specific person: When I make gifsets of Edlund, or flail over Ghost Tyger, or drive 750 miles roundtrip to see him speak for an hour–that’s emotional and irrational and I fully admit that. But when I write positive meta about his episodes, or praise things he’s said, or think he’s a damn good writer and apparently a good person who fucking gets a lot of things, that’s not emotional at all. That’s hours of cold hard rational analysis of his work. That’s actually looking at what he’s said over the years, not just about SPN but the rest of his work. That’s reading teleplays and books about TV writing to understand exactly what goes into TV production from the writer/producer’s side. That’s twenty years as a queer activist. That’s examining all the facts, taking the time to make sure I understand them, and coming to a well-reasoned conclusion. It’s not fucking worship.

You know, I get tired of people wanting Edlund back on SPN. But I don’t think that people who believe that bringing him back would fix the problems on the show–something I strongly disagree with, by the way–are engaging in “worship.” I think it’s more that people want there to be a simple answer–over-negativity about season 9 coupled with over-positivity about previous seasons means people look at what changed between season 8 and 9, see Edlund left and naturally feel that’s where everything went wrong. I drifted away from the show during last season and while I don’t think I hated it as much as some, I certainly have no love for it. But its problems seemed to me to be pretty much same shit, different season rather than anything new, so I don’t see how bringing Edlund back–even if it were possible–would actually do anything for those problems.

There are no saviors and there are no devils here. Bringing that favorite writer back, or getting rid of those hated writers, or even changing showrunners, would not in itself fix the show. The fact that it’s had a near-complete turnover in writers and several changes in showrunners and still has the same problems should tell you that. Supernatural’s problems are embedded in the very foundation of the show–in the idea that these two straight white men are the normal center of everything and what is different is to be destroyed. Saving people, hunting things. That’s the root of every problem with the show right there. Bringing in more women, more poc, more queer folk–it’s a fix. It would be a good thing, don’t get me wrong, I want to see that. But it’s a bandage to slow the bleeding when there’s a spike hammered through to your bone. Bandages are good. They help. They’re better than ignoring the problem. But they are not the cure. (At this point, though, I think bandages are the best we might get. Ten seasons and the infection’s spread through the body with only minimal efforts to check it; there’s probably no saving it now. Sorry, I’m pessimistic.)

Getting back to Edlund, you do realize that he’s been fairly critical over the years? He’s talked about the show’s issues with women on several differentoccasions, as well as its often toxic attitudes towards masculinity and gender expression. He’s talked about the show’s race problems at least twice. He’scriticized the show’s “different is bad” theme. He was outspoken on the importance of respecting supporting characters and snarkily condemned the “elitism” of exclusive narrative focus on main characters. (Do I think it’s coincidence that he followed up “fuck that main-character elitism” with “I’m gonna go write an episode where a Black man is the main character, no Sam and Dean at all”? –not direct quotes by the way– Yeah, I do. But considering what he said recently about always thinking of SPN as “the whitemare”, maybe not.) He’s also said that Supernatural’s issues with respect to gender and race are deeply embedded in the psychology of the writers’ room, which is not in itself a criticism but shows that he was aware of just how insidious those problems are.

Outside of Supernatural, he’s been critical of the sexualized objectification of women in comics. He’s talked about his understanding of how our patriarchal culture teaches us to devalue “feminine” and elevate the masculine both in society and within ourselves.  (Ugh, don’t even get me started on that songand how our society’s destructive attitudes towards gender/expression are like a knife to the throat and its use of folk songs which are seemingly just there and we breathe them in without realizing where they came from just as we breathe in these poisonous ideas about gender.) I’m not going to get into the queer stuff again, because I’ve done that before and I’m tired of repeating myself. And all of that is just what he’s said publicly, on panels and in interviews.

[Edited to add: While I think it’s pretty clear that he had a decent grasp on what SPN’s problems were, what perpetuated them, and possibly their source, I don’t necessarily think he understood how to fix them. It’s like yeah, you see that the bread and peanut butter are made of molecules, but knowing that isn’t gonna get your sandwich made. But it’s hard to say, because we have no idea what efforts he might have made or if he was at all outspoken about them in the writers’ room. Just looking at his episodes isn’t a very good indication, either.]

The man is not ignorant. He’s been consistently critical, in his sometimes peculiar way, of Supernatural’s problems–sometimes the criticism is solicited, but often not. (I’d say he’s been more consistently and broadly critical than any other writer on the show, but to be honest he’s the only one I’ve looked at this in-depth.) Thinking that a cursory look at his credited episodes is somehow a good indication of his values, understanding, and worth is myopic at best. It’s based on the erroneous belief that the individual writer deserves exclusive credit or blame for everything that happens in an episode.

Take “Blood Brother”, for example. Andrea’s death made me angrier than I think anything that happened in any of his episodes. (I still don’t much care for that episode.) And I was angry with him. But let’s actually look at it. Benny’s story arc required him to be completely alone, which meant Andrea had to be permanently gone. Dead. Those kind of arc decisions are broader than the individual writer.  You can’t just look at the episode and say “he chose to kill off this character” and put a check in the Bad column. You have to understand how seasonal story structure works, and how it affects the way even one-off characters are written. That goes for all writers. Showrunners, obviously, have much more responsibility.

So much of what goes into an episode, even individual story and character decisions, is beyond the individual scriptwriter’s control, for better or worse. There’s the writers’ room and showrunners and above that executives with commercial and business concerns and casting and budget and directorial choices and actors and…well, I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot. And yeah, that also means you can’t give exclusive credit to a writer just because something you like happens in one of their episodes. I would love to give Edlund credit for Cas’s character development in 8×21, but that was a larger character arc decision that would not have been his exclusive responsibility. I love it, and I’m glad he wrote it, but I just can’t give him all the credit for it unless someone actually says “yeah that was Edlund’s idea.”

And getting away from the serious stuff–it’s truly unbelievable to me that people are dismissing unhappiness about Edlund not being around to write the meta-musical episode as “more worship.” Good God, is it acceptable to like anything? I’m deeply sad that he wasn’t the one to do SPN’s musical–though in my case I just wish they’d done it sometime when he was there because I’ve got no interest in him coming back. You know why? Because he’s a fucking excellent songwriter. Because he’s got a good track record with writing songsfor TV episodes. Because–beyond the musical aspect–he writes damn good meta. (And was much more about playing with ideas about narrative structurethan “lol fans”, for those who are particularly upset about the fan fiction aspect.) People have damn good reasons to think an Edlund meta-musical would have been awesome and to regret that he had left the show before it happened. But those reasons apparently aren’t worth a damn; it’s all just “worship.”

This is kind of all over the place, and I’m not even sure what it is. But I just want to close on a personal note. I’ve always been seen by people who know me as completely unfeeling, unemotional–rational and hyperanalytical to a fault. I’ve always been criticized for having stringent standards for openly liking anything–for needing a long logical and rational list of supporting evidence before I can say “Yeah, this is good, I can like this.” That’s exactly how I approached Edlund and his work. I noticed his episodes. I was impressed with his writing. But it took a lot of research and analysis before I came to the decision that he is worth supporting (before I became a fan, in other words.) It’s just so bizarre to be seen as this irrational “worshipful” person who supports Edlund and his work (and what he says) because my mind is clouded by feelings. It’s weird.

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