"White Discussion", "Carry On Wayward Son", "Under The Bridge", Arrogance, Daily Routines, Dean Winchester, Grunge, Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Kansas, Live, Misogyny, Monsters, Narcissism, Racism, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sam Winchester, Saving the World, Supernatural, TV Shows, White Male Angst, White Savior Complex, Whitemansplaining
One of the benefits of working from home for years is the ability to take in copious amounts of popular culture in passive and subliminal ways. For more than a decade before the pandemic, my daily schedule included a multitasking routine of writing, teaching, grading, working-out, napping, running errands, and getting my son off to school and my partner off to her job. All the while, I am consuming news and pop culture. BBC World News from 6 or 7 am until I go to the car to drive my spouse to the Metro stop or run errands, sometimes longer. In the Honda Element, listening to my tunes or ESPN 980 (before Dan Synder sold the station two years ago) or WAMU/NPR. And, bouncing from show to show while writing, grading, working out, making lunch, prepping dinner, sometimes taking a brief nap between 1:30 and 2:45 (when my son returned home from school) or between 3:45 and 6 pm (when it was time to pick my significant other up from the Metro).
Of all the TNT reruns I’d put on in the midday slot over the years, between Bones, Castle, Arrow, and Law & Order, the one that has stuck with me the longest is Supernatural. Its final episode aired at the end of this past year. Perhaps it’s because it’s such a white boy’s show, or because it’s about as American as a show filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia can get. Whatever it was, I went from calling the show “Brooders” and “White Males Brooding” to actually enjoying the series, a not-so-guilty pleasure in between grading, writing, and revising, and yoga poses, planks, pushups, crunches, free weights, and plyometrics.
That doesn’t mean I’ve watched it with an uncritical mind. Just like with what I’ve called “white male angst music” in the 1990s — alt rock and grunge (think Pearl Jam and Live here) — Supernatural is a tour-de-force of whitemansplaining the world. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Dean and Sam Winchester might play classic ‘70s rock in their legendary 1967 black Chevy Impala, but they are all “White, Discussion” and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under The Bridge” in their attitudes. Seriously, how do two white dudes get away with mass murder while they constantly “save the world” with the “family business” of “hunting and killing monsters”?
The premise of the show, for the generation of folks who haven’t watched the 15 seasons of episodes between 2005 and 2020 (I watched my first episode in 2012, so there’s that), is that the Winchesters have to fight monsters born of supernatural forces while hunting for a yellow-eyed demon who killed their mother, and eventually, their father. In between bouts with demons, angels, archangels, Lucifer, Leviathans, Knights of Hell, Princes of Hell, the King of Hell, and God, er, “Chuck” himself, the Winchesters battled the usual. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, skinwalkers, jinns, Greco-Roman, Norse, Incan, and Mayan gods, witches, and whatever other supernatural monster one could imagine. Supernatural was at its absolute best when the focus was on the ancient lore around cultural considerations of the metaphysical.
But the overarching theme of Dean and Sam Winchester “saving the world” is the great white man’s white lie. How does anyone get credit for “saving the world” when they broke the world, the natural order, multiple times. Here’s a short list of the Winchester’s thirst for revenge leading to Armageddon:
– the father John Winchester selling his soul to the “yellow-eyed demon” to save Dean’s life (Season 1)
– Dean selling his soul to the same demon to save Sam’s life (Season 2)
– Sam drinking demon blood to kill a Princess of Hell and Dean torturing damned souls in Hell, breaking the last and the first of 66 seals to unleash Lucifer and the Four Horsemen on the planet (Season 4)
– Dean not allowing Sam to die after finishing the three trials to forever seal up the gates of Hell, and then tricking Sam into allowing a rogue angel possess him for months afterward (Seasons 8 and 9)
– Dean taking on the Mark of Cain, becoming a demon in the process, and Sam freeing Dean from the Mark, unleashing the Darkness (think if so-called dark matter was God’s sister here) and another universe-destroying force (Seasons 9, 10, and 11)
– The Winchesters allowing a nephilim to live and its power to open up a rift between alternative Earths, a rift that threatened both versions of the planet in the process (Seasons 12 and 13)
– Engaging in a all-out war with God, ending only when they resurrect the nephilim Jack from the Empty, as he become the new God, and the old God becomes just Chuck, “just a slob like one of us,” ala 1990s rocker Joan Osborne (Seasons 14 and 15).
Dean and Sam die and go to Hell, Heaven, and Purgatory multiple times in this series. How narcissistic do even white guys — get to be when they assume that they can come back to life over and over again in order to “save” their brother while also saving the world? Especially when they sacrifice other family and friends to keep each other living and hunting monsters? So many die in this show because of their ignorance, so many who didn’t have to. When you take apart the context of their “jobs” as hunters involves hustling pool tables, identity theft and hacking credit cards, stealing cars, and regularly killing people who’ve turned into monsters or in the midst of demon possession. Any two of these gets Black and Brown and Indigenous folks a one-way ticket to prison or a grave, with no chance for resurrection.
It’s hilariously macabre and the height of arrogance of two white guys believing they are doing more good than harm. But isn’t Supernatural really just a parable about how white guys see themselves in the world? Everything is there for the taking, it’s all about us and our lives. Between the drugs, the boozing, the meaningless misogynistic sex, the endless buffet of death by food, Supernatural is the ultimately expression of white male-dominance, or at least, the quest for it, from two average Joes.
Near the end of Season 9, Episode 13 (“The Purge”), Dean and Sam talk, not for the last time, about putting their need to save each other from certain death above the needs and lives of everyone else. Sam has a moment of complete clarity, one that fades away by the end of Season 10 (see the list above).
You think you’re my savior, my brother, the hero. You swoop in, and even when you mess up, you think what you’re doing is worth it, because you’ve convinced yourself you’re doing more good than bad…but you’re not…What is the upside of me being alive?
You kidding me? You and me — fighting the good fight — together.
It never occurred to these characters, and perhaps, even the actors, producers, directors, and writers for Supernatural, that Dean and Sam Winchester are the real monsters here. Two everyday white guys who think that killing monsters and a host of supernatural entities is the solution to everything. Did they even consider that killing monsters might be the reason they need to keep hunting, because they create more each time they kill one? Or that maybe because the US is a place full of kidnapping, rape, enslavement, genocide, and murder, this nation is a natural incubator of supernatural hauntings and possessions, a place where all monsters can thrive? Did they ever see themselves as the humans they never seem to understand in the show? Probably not until the final episode in Season 15, when Dean and Sam finally die — this time for good, and for good.
I never wanted them to “Carry On Wayward Son,” as Kansas sang it in 1976, as a choir of white girls sang it Season 10, Episode 5. As sad as it was to see the final finale of Dean and Sam Winchester, we need a world without the hundreds of millions of Dean and Sam Winchesters around us, an anti-racist world. A world without these narcissistic and yes, racist and misogynistic and homophobic monsters who see themselves as do-gooders.