From the Vaults: Critical Essays and Pop Culture

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Back in the early 2000s, I discovered the then unknown-to-me world of meta-essays on pop culture, primarily via Smart Pop Books. This discovery came by virtue of the fact that two of my friends were writing/had each written an essay for a collection.

Immediately, I was hooked. Because this was the kind of nonfiction writing I adored. I not only wanted to buy all their books, I wanted to write for them. Outside of hitting my friends up for contact info, I wasn’t sure how to proceed, not knowing what they were soliciting essays for.

Then it happened. In March, 2008, I read a post in author Jenny Crusie’s blog that she was writing an essay for an upcoming Supernatural Smart Pop book. Dudes! This was MY SHOW! So I figured, what the heck, sent an email to the editor, asking if any slots were open. The answer was “yes, and send me ideas and sample writing.” I LITERALLY sent an email to my friends/beta readers with the subject line: EEEee! (no, really, because I totally just found the email.)

These are the topics I sent:

(1) Getting Your Kicks on Route 666: Mytharc vs. Road Trip
— The story of Supernatural as all-American road trip show vs. the over arching mytharc.

(2) Two hot guys and a hot car – why do we watch?
— It’s not the urban legends, nor just the ongoing storyline, but the characters–including the Metallicar–that keeps us tuned in.

(3) Another Roadside Attraction: the role of the Trickster in Supernatural
— He’s only been in 2 episodes, but has had a strong impact.

(4) If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Demons
— More than just a creature feature; how Supernatural uses the urban legend structure as a blueprint to build from.

(5) Send in the Clowns
— How the show uses humor to accentuate the horror.

For my writing sample, I sent her an essay I’d written to a private Buffy discussion group in 2003, entitled “Why I Like Spike vs Angel.”

She loved a few of the suggestions and asked me to elaborate. So I did:

 (1) Getting Your Kicks on Route 666: Mytharc vs. Road Trip
— The story of Supernatural as all-American road trip show vs. the over arching mytharc.

At its core, the show celebrates the quintessential American road trip, as the Winchesters travel from coast to coast via the back roads and small towns that are the backbone of American culture. In such unexotic locales as Lawrence, Kansas, Broward County, Florida or Richardson, Texas, the brothers investigate unnatural phenomena, usually involving a series of deaths. However, the story doesn’t stop with the Kolchak/X-files-like investigation. Each trip, each encounter, reveals yet another piece of the overarching puzzle that is the Heroes’ Journey, which eventually, we hope, will bring Sam and Dean to the Heroes’ End: completion of the quest and the return to normal life to share what they’ve learned.

(3) Another Roadside Attraction: the role of the Trickster in Supernatural
— He’s only been in 2 episodes, but has had a strong impact.

From his introduction in Tall Tales, as jokester/mischief maker, to his darker incarnation as the Chaos-bringer in Mystery Spot, the Trickster plays a seminal role in the mythos of Supernatural. Though only physically appearing in these two episodes, we find that his role isn’t just to provide humor, but manifests as the catalyst, bringing realization through upsetting the norm. As in the many myths and stories, this Trickster is a transformative character who by his actions, changes the primary characters at an essential level.

(4) If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Demons
— More than just a creature feature; how Supernatural uses the urban legend structure as a blueprint to build from.

Supernatural began as “urban legend” of the week during season one, but like Joss Whedon did with Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Eric Kripke uses demons, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters and other creatures as a blueprint on which to build the real meat of the show: the brothers’ journey to self-discovery. By fighting, by continuing the quest begun by their father and by other hunters, Sam and Dean come to accept their sibling bond and begin to realize that the reason they fight, the reason they hunt, is for Family.

They picked #3, and my essay was published in In The Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural. My essay went through several iterations, but the process was loads of fun (yes, I know, I’m weird and love editorial feedback!) and I went on to do two more essays for Smart Pop and other nonfiction work for other publishers.

For you wonderful patrons, I’ve attached a notes file that I compiled as I was pondering the shape of the essay.

Sadly, I’m not as up on pop culture shows as I was then, so haven’t really done more of these types of essays, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting paid to think critically and to expound on topics near & dear to my heart.

Oh, and nifty side note. As a result of the above essay, I reconnected with one of my college professors, who is a renowned Trickster scholar. Bill (CW  Spinks) was a brilliant professor and is still a lovely man. We’re Facebook friends now. 🙂

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