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The "Supernatural" Fandom Saved Democracy
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A Brand New Facebook
New York Times tech writer (and pretty nice guy) Kevin Roose runs a Twitter account called Facebook’s Top 10. For people who don’t have access to really expensive social metrics dashboards like Buzzsumo or CrowdTangle, the account is a really great way of keeping track of what is rising to the top of Facebook every day. Roose has been updating the account since July and usually it’s just a daily reminder that most Americans are constantly consuming the Big Mac-equivalent of information, sharing violent and unhinged right-wing news slurry instead of mainstream publications. But over the last few days, the account has become something quite different. Here are a few tweets from last week. Let me know if you notice what’s happening here!
Here’s the top 10 from last Wednesday:
Here’s the top 10 from last Thursday:
Here’s the top 10 from last Friday:
And here’s the top 10 from last Saturday:
Weird, right? Biden is declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election and, boom, just like that, Facebook flips blue. What a coincidence.
Well, maybe, but also maybe not. There are a few things happening here and I want to address them all. I also want to point out that the most-shared headlines on Facebook paint a very limited picture of what’s going on. Most of the conversation on the platform happens via memes, comments, and those weird text pictures of Minions that old people use. But I’m comfortable saying that Facebook is a right-wing information machine.
Since at least 2017, Facebook has done everything in its power to not just promote conservative media, but also hurt left-leaning websites and communities. This general moderation strategy seems to have continued all the way up until last week. In 2017, the platform’s algorithms were changed to specifically favor right-wing media outlets. The left-leaning outlet Mother Jones was hit especially hard by this. And in the lead up to the election, as Facebook announced stricter fact-checking policies, according to The Washington Post, right-wing groups and pages, once again, were given more lenient treatment. But Facebook also said it was deploying a few election tools last month that would slow down viral content. (To be fair, Facebook announces these kinds of tools ahead of every major election.)
So why the shift from Dan Bongino to NPR in the top 10? Well, there are two ways to look at this. One theory, posited by Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffrey is that Facebook immediately tweaked its algorithm following Joe Biden’s victory last week because the site is terrified of regulation. Another theory, made by my friend Ben Dreyfuss, also at Mother Jones, in the same thread, replying to Jeffrey, is that mainstream outlets were the ones to make the first election calls and those are very shareable.
Based on my own exasperated phone calls with Facebook spokespeople over the years, I’m inclined to believe both things are happening at once actually. Most Facebook true believers I’ve spoken to seem to view the platform like highway. They see bad actors as speeding cars exploiting their system. Of course, they don’t seem to ever ask why the road is built to let certain types of cars go faster than others and they’re terrified to change anything too drastically that might affect the other lanes of traffic.
A fairly high up Facebook employee once slid into my DMs a few years ago and we had a very confusing conservation where I kept asking him why the platform allowed authoritarian political candidates to build huge audiences and he kept telling me that it was because authoritarian politicians were exploiting the system. And so I then asked why Facebook was letting them exploit the system and he kept saying it was because people were drawn to the politicians that were breaking Facebook’s policies and we just went around in a circle for a while until I gave up.
I absolutely do not think a website as large as Facebook, one led by people who seem completely out of touch with the daily goings on of their own user base, can immediately overnight throttle the majority of their content without basically turning the website off. And I think it's much more likely that a bunch of American liberals got good news for the first time in four years and the platform’s thoughtless recommendation engine reacted accordingly.
But I also think it’s extremely possible that those anti-viral election tools Facebook deployed ahead of the election were meant to target non-mainstream media on both sides of the political spectrum, depending on who won. Trump wins, all the Democrat groups go dark, Biden wins, they put some friction between Dan Bongino and the News Feed.
Regardless of what Facebook is currently prioritizing though, its traffic is a poison apple. Whatever the algorithm favors is tainted by it. If it favors liberal news, we get Upworthy. It favors right-wing news, we get Gateway Pundit. It favors video, we get Adobe Premiere sweatshops churning out silent autoplaying Powerpoint presentations.
So is trading a MAGA Facebook for a #Resistance Facebook that huge of a victory? And most importantly, will the anti-Bongino friction we’re currently possibly seeing hold during the incredibly crucial transition weeks ahead where radicalized violence and misinformation could be at an all-time high?
Let’s Talk About The Four Seasons Landscaping
The above meme is from Tumblr user amistad.
So on Saturday, Trump’s lawyers possibly booked the wrong Four Seasons and tried to hold a press conference in a parking lot of a landscaping company in the outskirts of Philadelphia next to a dildo store and crematorium. Who among us has not made this exact mistake! As you can imagine, the Four Seasons Total Landscaping Yelp page is a complete mess right now. So much so that Yelp has disabled commenting on it. Sad. Here are three pretty good reviews:
“Some people are saying this is the best landscaping service. Maybe the greatest landscaping service of all time. Alot of people are saying that. You wouldn't say that though, because you are fake news and you know that.”
“I show up to get an estimate for a spring cleanup and i see several obese men in adult diapers rambling on about conspiracies and fraud. Something about maggots. The whole thing was frightening and I'm worried I might have covid now.”
“I called to get a quote on repairing a hole in our lawn. The man who answered the phone was speaking Russian and all I heard in the background was a lot of loud sobbing. So much crying. Big tears. Huge.”
The Election Endgame Video
I wanted to wait a few days and really search my feelings about this. I’ve decided that this is good and I like it. I felt a deep and powerful full body cringe the first time I watched it, but by the time I got to Sean Connery as Rocket Raccoon, I decided it was in on its own joke. Also, as far as accuracy goes, Beto O’Rourke as Star Lord and Mayor Pete as Spider-Man are extremely dead on. And while I think Elon Musk as Iron Man is funny, I have to admit it really bothers me. Michael Bloomberg would have made more sense tbh.
Supernatural’s Political Impact
Alright, buckle up people. Because there is A LOT happening here and it is a totally wild ride. Tumblr users spent the weekend putting together this absolute rollercoaster of a theory and I’m going to do my best to unpack all of it for you.
Fans of the CW show Supernatural have spent over a decade writing gay erotic fan fiction of the show’s two main characters — Sam and Dean Winchester. They are brothers and the fanfic is called “Wincest”.
In season 4 of Supernatural, the show introduces Castiel, a trench coat-wearing angel that quickly became a fan favorite. Fans, many of whom were a little creeped out by the amount of incest discourse in the fandom, immediately started writing gay erotic fanfic of Dean and Castiel. The ship name is “Destiel”. Destiel became the dominate fan pairing for the show.
Around 2012, Supernatural became one of Tumblr’s big three fandoms. Supernatural, Doctor Who, and Sherlock, which were often grouped together as “superwholock”. There are a lot of theories as to why 2014 signaled the end of the Tumblr era of pop culture (Dashcon, the Trump presidency, Yahoo buying Tumblr), but things started to shift. Supernatural stayed pretty popular up until around 2017 or so .
At the show’s peak in popularity, it gained a bunch of new fans, including 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Georgia… Stacey Abrams. In a 2018 Time piece, there’s a passage where Abrams skips church to watch Supernatural:
The next morning, Abrams skips church to sleep in and catch up on a favorite show, Supernatural. Its warrior angels and demons “create some very interesting theological questions,” she muses, settling onto her cream-colored sofa to talk about the campaign.
And Abrams also did an interview with Black Girl Nerds where she goes in deep on her love of Supernatural:
“I just don’t understand why they keep not telling each other things,” Abrams laments. “I think if you’ve watched this over years, it’s fine if you’ve watched it in a truncated fashion, where you just watched. So Galadriel just took over Sam and Sam got mad with Dean. The very next season, Sam doesn’t tell Dean he’s trying to get rid of the mark by working with Rowena. So the compression of the seasons has illuminated for me a bit of dysfunction in their relationship. You’re in the car together! The Impala, it’s not a big bench seat. Just tell each other.”
Now, I’m not going to reduce Abrams’ political career by saying that her complaints in 2018 about the Winchester brothers not communicating properly informed her political strategy of community outreach and coalition work, I will say there are a lot of parallels and our interests do not exist in a vacuum! (She also tweeted from DragonCon in 2018.)
Abrams lost her governor campaign amid accusations of Republican-led voter suppression, but she worked over the last two years to build a coalition of Black voters, led by Black female leaders, and successfully flipped George blue last week. The same week Supernatural finally made its longest-running and most popular fan pairing, Destiel, canon.
The Destiel episode led fans to resurface the old Abrams’ Time piece, which was then screenshot by Supernatural showrunner Eric Kripke, who tweeted a huge congrats to Abrams this week. She hasn’t answered yet, but hilariously, she has been tweeting with Buffy Vampire Slayer podcast SlayerFest98.
Honestly, I didn’t have the Supernatural fandom down as the ones who swoop in at our darkest hour and save the day, but honestly, I think it’s beautiful.
How Do Mirrors Work?
I was pretty convinced this was a troll account because I honestly cannot figure out how he thought this would work. Like he put the “4” in the right place if you were reading the words on the hat backwards. Which means he knew the other numbers were backwards. He had to. But he still wrote the “4” forwards. Also it appears he did this in Photoshop or whatever, which means even if he couldn’t have written the “4” backwards physically, there’s a button that could have just flipped it for him. It’s really easy. He’s also British. So like he can’t even vote here lol.
Wait, One More Thing About Supernatural
I truly did not expect that 2020 would be the year we reckon with the legacy of the Supernatural fandom, but, you know, this year is so chaotic and messy, I’m happy to roll with it. The show’s famously queer and horny fanfic writers are also the reason the “I’m weird. I’m a weirdo.” scene from Riverdale happened:
As Tumblr user horrorlesbion wrote, “to think we got the ‘i'm weird i'm a weirdo’ riverdale monologue because jensen ackles was homophobic to spn fans.... effervescent”
Dean Winchester actor Jensen Ackles has been-long accused of homophobia by big chunks of the Supernatural fandom. The accusations date back to a 2013 convention panel where several fans reported Ackles was visibly uncomfortable with homoerotic questions about his character Dean. It’s all been very messy and determining how exactly Ackles feels about erotic Destiel fanfic is above my pay grade. But the idea that Ackles is anti-LGBTQ has stuck around.
The reportedly homophobic convention interaction with Ackles also went on to inspire a scene in a young adult novel titled Ship It, written by a Supernatural fan named Britta Lundin. Lundin eventually got a job working on Riverdale. And Lundin is one of two writers on the 10th episode of the show’s first season, “The Lost Weekend”.
The same episode where Jughead utters the now famous line:
Incredible to think that Supernatural is the most influential fandom of our lifetime!
And Finally, Here Are Just Some Real Good Tweets
P.S. here’s a great TikTok.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***