Humans and Machines: Exploring Tumblr-based fandoms

For my DIY project, I decided to make a Tumblr. Having never before used this medium, I was delving into unknown territory. I was shocked, impressed, and overwhelmed by what I found. The feature of “reblogging” means that a sense of community is created instantaneously and there are many references to Tumlr or “the fandom” as a community.

I knew that I wanted to analyze the several TV shows and their fandoms, but I was not sure which shows to choose. After looking at several “multi-verse” fan pages, I decided to choose Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly. I have watched all three of these shows, and so I am pretty familiar with the texts themselves and I had a vague idea of which themes I wanted to focus on. I was not expecting the size or voracity of the fandoms surrounding each show.

Initially I assumed that I would have to do a lot of uploading, screenshot-ing, Google image searching, and YouTube scouring in order to find content from the shows.

I was so wrong.

With just a few ‘tag’ searches, I was completely immersed in a whole new world. There is an overabundance of blogs devoted to each of these shows, and these blogs lead to countless ‘vids’ and fan fics. There are even cross-fandom vids and fics which ship characters from different shows. Clearly, Tumblr was the right choice for an exploration of these three fandoms. After some exploration, I settled on a theme. Technology play an important role in all three of the shows, as do narratives about humanity and what it means to be human.

In Supernatural, the Winchester brothers travel across the US in their black ’67 Chevy Impala, fighting demons and saving innocent human lives. Along the way, their own humanity is repeatedly challenged by things like demon possession.

The Impala, which the brothers inherited from their father, becomes their home and a symbol of their family. Within the Supernatural fandom the Impala, which Dean nicknames “Baby,” has become anthropomorphized as one of the show’s main characters.

In the world of Supernatural fanfics, Sam and Dean are often shipped with each other (creating ‘Wincest’), or Dean is shipped with the angel Castiel (‘Destiel’). There are also countless fanfics about the Impala being transformed into a human, usually a woman, who then proceeds to have a sexual relationship with Dean. I also found several fan fics where Dean has a sexual relationship with the Impala still in car form. Even when the interaction between the Impala and the Winchesters is not sexualized, it is still portrayed as very intimate.

In Firefly, the relationship between the crew and their “firefly-class” spaceship, Serenity, is similar to the Winchester/Impala relationship. While I did not find any sexualization of this relationship, Serenity is treated as part of the crew. When Captain Malcolm Reynolds first sees Serenity, it is ‘love at first sight’ and he is devoted to her ever after.

Battlestar Galactic offers a similar relationship between the crew and the antiquated Galactica that they call home. However, in Battlestar Galactica, the relationship between humans and technology is not a comfortable one, mostly because the Cylons have massacred most of the human population. Out of the three shows, Battlestar creates the most fascinating discourse about what it means to be human. All four seasons navigate and struggle with the definition of ‘human’ because the Cylons appear to be human in every way. They even feel emotions like humans and, throughout the show, it is revealed that there are cylon sleeper agents who think that they are human.

Model Number Six, played by Tricia Helfer, is constantly sexualized throughout the show and the fandom has some reaction to this. Posters depicting on of the more metallic cylons wearing Number Six’s trademark red dress draw attention to this sexualization and subtly mock it.

While creating this blog, “Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner,” I was struck by the interaction between the original texts and the fandoms. While Supernatural actively acknowledges its fan base, creating episodes and dialogue which reference fan culture, Battlestar Galactica does not. Since Firefly only lasted a season [and created a movie to wrap up loose ends], there was no chance for interaction with fans during the actual filming.

This type of interaction gives shows like Supernatural an aspect of DIY and participatory culture. In this way, a dialogue is created between fans and the show, mediated by platforms like Tumblr and through fan/media events. In the same way that zines are meant to be shared, Tumblr creates an environment where anyone can make their own zine-like blog which then becomes part of the Tumblr fandom community. Closely related to ‘vid’ culture, Tumblr fandoms seem to be primarily run by women. I found that the fandoms I examined do a lot of self-critiquing and exploration of subtexts (such as ‘Wincest’). Even through the extreme obsession and devotion to the shows, there is still a fair amount of criticism and evaluation coming from the fans.

“Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner”

P.S. I have one follower! Woohoo

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