Friday, August 12, 2016

Supernatural Fandom and Disability Awareness

A few years ago, my wife spent every other week or so working in Boston. It was a hard year, but a good one for her career. While spending lots of time in a hotel, she started binging through years of the show Supernatural and became a fast fan. It's a show with a large and deeply passionate fandom, and like most shows of that nature, does regular national and international conventions where fans can show up, buy swag, get autographs and listen to Q&As with the starts. At night, there's karaoke and the house band (fronted by one of the actors) plays a concert.

We went to the Friday show in Minneapolis, where we happened to be vacationing, in part to satisfy my wife's fandom urge, but also because Kim Rhodes was speaking on Friday. Rhodes, along with fellow sheriff (on the show) Brianna Buckmaster, have achieved a position in the fandom of outsized proportion given their relatively small roles on the show. Part of it is that they are awesome women. Also, the show kills off a lot of its female characters and they have survived, against all odds (helpfully they are in monster-of-the-week episodes rather than mythology episodes), meaning that the fanbase (heavily female) is left with these two as the few strong female characters to look up to. Moreover, Rhodes and Buckmaster have used their celebrity as a way to advocate for empowerment through the "Wayward Daughters" website, t-shirts, and drive for a spin-off show.

Kim Rhodes is the mother of an autistic girl, and I've gotten to know her a bit through Twitter. Sure enough, when she took the stage, the first question was from another mother of an autistic child thanking Rhodes for her advocacy. Rhodes replied (paraphrasing): "I tried something new - actually listening to autistic people!" Then she cited the work of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (friends of Thismess.net), and we were off. During the Q&A, she told a good story about acceptance of her daughter's neurodiversity on the set of Colony, the show she was more recently on.

In fact, it was striking how often disability-related themes emerged throughout the day, whether from the stars directly, the conversations of the fans around me, or the various campaigns with which they are involved. Jared Padelecki (super big star #1) has been very open about mental health concerns and has worked against both societal stigma and for health acceptance. Jensen Ackles (super big star #2) has a nephew with Down syndrome and has sponsored a "team" for the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas. There's a disabled veteran program. The twitter accounts are always focused on social causes. In general, there's a sense that fandoms should transcend merely enjoying the show, and become a way to focus efforts on improving social good, often around disability.

I like this. I also like the matter-of-fact way that the stars talked about disability and how open the crowd was to the message. As I told Kim Rhodes on Twitter:

No comments: