Author as God? or, Kripke, We Don’t Need You to Explain Supernatural to Us

May 17, 2010
By | 5 Comments

Last week’s Supernatural, called “Swan Song,” was an amazing season finale. In fact, it could have easilystood in as the series finale it had been intended to be until the show got renewed. It closed off the fifth season’s arc of battling the apocalypse, and it brought to the fore all the things fans loved about the show: the brothers, their love, the importance of family, and the central role of humanity and free will. In the climactic scene we see archangels Lucifer and Michael inhabiting the vessels of the two brothers Sam and Adam. The third brother, Dean, stands in for the human element he has always represented. And as it should be, human free will and love win out over angelic destiny. It’s an epic story and the dramatic bang of Sam overtaking Lucifer by remembering the last five seasons (and their entire lives) and pulling Michael into hell with him would have made a grandiose ending indeed.

That is to say it could have made a grandiose ending, except that the show has become notorious in what some would consider fan service and others might deem postmodern authorial intrusions. The acknowledgment of fans as they exist outside the series and the introduction of in-show interaction with fans has been cause for much debate this past year: some fans love these developments while others feel ridiculed and/or misrepresented, seeing Supernatural’s representation of fans as yet another indication of its quite problematic gender issues. The recent Transformative Works and Culturesspecial Supernatural issue addresses some of these conflicts. Given this context, the authorial in-show complaint that “the fans are always gonna bitch” is not too surprising.

Last season introduced author Chuck, who is both the writer of a Supernatural book series within the show and, it turns out, a prophet of the lord. The entire episode “Swan Song” is framed in his authorial voice over. Unlike film noir voice over, however, his is clearly external: we see him writing the story as he interprets it for us. Moreover, whereas in the beginning of the episode Chuck simply narrates the story (author, prophet, and possibly God of this world that he is), in the scenes after the apocalyptic battle he clearly moves in to explain the story to us. We move from Dean’s question “Are You God” to an image of Chuck in front of the computer screen, dressed in white and bearded. We’ve been told all season that God is on earth and doesn’t want to be found, and when Chuck finishes the story and types “The End,” he magically (God-like?) disappears.

Since the episode aired, fans have been debating whether Chuck (as Kripke’s stand-in) is meant to be God or not. I’m firmly in the camp that feels Kripke wrote Chuck as a stand-in and made himself author-as-God. Given that, it is the voice over explanation and interpretation that ultimately bother me most. We’ve questioned and undermined and complicated the concept of subversive readings and resistant audiences and yet, as a fan and as an academic, I do feel that much of my pleasure comes from interpreting and analyzing the text. I like active viewers/readers, and while I actually don’t think that authors are dead, I don’t think they should run after their texts telling us what they mean. A good text should show me its myriad meanings, and great texts tend to contain multitudes. I really wish Kripke—and many other creators who want to protect their texts from those fans that dare to read against the grain or, worse, go and take their “children” and create new stories (for an overview of the latest incarnation of this debate, see metafandom prowriting tag)—would give us, the viewers, the free will he so passionately proclaims and advocates in his swan song. But then fans may take that freedom anyway: Somewhere on the internet….


Tags: , , , , ,

5 Responses to “ Author as God? or, Kripke, We Don’t Need You to Explain Supernatural to Us ”

  1. Elizabeth Rose on May 18, 2010 at 8:15 PM

    Nicely said. Not only was the Chuck interpretation of events annoying to me, I found it misleading, as his narrative about the car at the beginning of the ep suggested that the car would not just play a pivotal role, but would be the one sacrificed to stop the apocalypse. (To me, the car has been something of a character in the story.) Knowing this was Kripke’s literal swan song, it brought to mind the equally self-conscious last ep of Gilmore Girls that was written and run by it’s creators (the year before the show finally ended). Although the latter did a little better job of expressing itself through the visiting town troubadours.

    • Kristina Busse on May 18, 2010 at 8:45 PM

      Yes, I guess a town trobadour’s a tad less in-our-faces than…GOD…but he still was one of the more annoying characters in GG to me.

      As for the car: I actually do think the car played the role that was set up (ever so heavy-handedly) in the beginning: it metonymically stood for the home/family/love/humanity that pushed Sam to the fore. i’m not sure I needed the car sacrificed, especially since we already had seen that in S1.

      I’m still trying to figure out when an where authorial intrusions work for me. I’m not sure it’s a medium difference (I tend to like them in fiction) or a genre difference (what I enjoy in my capital-L literature I might not in my genre TV?)

  2. Lisa Schmidt on May 18, 2010 at 10:34 PM

    Hi Kristina!

    I must be one of the few people who really loved the idea of Chuck as God. Narratively, it makes a lot of sense. What is a prophet if not the voice of god?

    I don’t think that Kripke is trying to suggest that fans butt out and let him have control. The way I see it, he understands that he doesn’t have control over the text, but he is still going to assert his version of the story and let the fans do with it what they will.

    Ultimately, I saw a lot of love coming from Kripke in that episode — love for his fans, love for his story, love for his characters. I watched the show with a friend of mine who, while a loyal viewer, does not consider herself a fan, and she remarked (not for the first time) that she is very envious of us SPN fans because it is so obvious that Kripke loves us. She is/has been a Torchwood fan, and went through the extremely painful experience that was Children of Earth, and has to deal with Russell T. Davies making disparaging comments about his fans in public. From what I hear, many non-SPN fans feel that we are very lucky.

    Most of all, I see the idea of Chuck as god as completely in keeping with the world of Supernatural. This is a world where Death can enjoy a pizza, where Satan has to take out other gods with his fists, and magic guns can kill the most powerful beings in the universe. It’s a storyworld where heaven is just another place…and god is just another creature. And he happens to be ordinary and fallible, a slobby, kind of cowardly, trashy novellist. God is just a hack writer! Not perfectly good, not all knowing, as he himself says when Dean calls him. All season I was really concerned about how Show would choose to represent god, if he ever appeared, and I realize now that this is, in the end, completely satisfactory to me. I adore this idea, and I think it has a lot to do with the story that Kripke wants to tell. For him, redemption is always found in the human (as represented by Dean, of course!).

    Of course I believe completely that stories have a life of their own once they get into the world. But at the same time I’d like to say, it would be nice if, as fans, we would allow our authors to tell the story the way they want to tell it.

    • Kristina Busse on May 19, 2010 at 3:56 PM

      Yeah, I know that a lot of viewers felt that way. Just like a bunch felt like me 🙂

      I don’t think he’s really been that respectful. Becky alone makes me cringe and the con ep was really in our faces gender wise, I thought.

      So I’m already coming from a place of feeling disrespected as a woman and a fan…and now I’m feeling disrespected as an intelligent reader, so to speak.

      And I totally see how we can read Chuck as Kripke as God as creator of this world as a positive thing, his reference to bitching fans as an acknowledgment that we’ll do what we want anyway. But gut level, it just didn’t feel that way….

      [As for asserting his version of the story…it *is* his version. If he can’t show it to us, creating an external authority and telling us how to read it doesn’t really appeal to me…]

      • Lisa Schmidt on May 19, 2010 at 7:42 PM

        Yes, Becky is cringeworthy, it’s true. Just another example of how people just totally don’t get what slash is about.

        He gets it wrong sometimes, no doubt. But he gets so much right.