Vivisecting Supernatural- The Subversion Of Sex

For the full ten years of Supernatural’s run, the advertising tagline has been ‘scary is the new sexy’. It’s probably a good thing that I only discovered this after starting to watch it, because otherwise it would have put me right off. Anyone who watches and understands the show for what it is will know what a gross misconception ‘scary is the new sexy’ is as a tagline is, since the show is primarily about Sam and Dean’s relationship.

‘Scary is the new sexy’ is a far cry what my own description of the show would be, which would be ‘two traumatised guys try not to get each other killed and occasionally fail’. Worse, it makes the show sound flippant, shallow- an injustice, given the themes of PTSD, mental illness, fate, faith, free will and reality that frequently crop up- citing The Things They Carried, The Born-Again Identity, The End, Houses Of The Holy, The Monster At The End Of This Book and The French Mistake as respective examples of these.

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Then there’s the lack of actual sex. There are very few sex scenes in proportion to the textual output of the show- with Sam and Madison and Dean and Anna being about as explicit as it got.

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‘Scary is the new sexy’ seems to suggest horror as a catalyst to sex, however, and it’s true that SPN is absolutely steeped in sexual subtext. Everything from ‘Hey, dad, d’you want to borrow a machete?’ to Season Four’s Sex And Violence in its entirety can be interpreted sexually. I’m not saying it should, but it’s open to that. Crowley innuendoes with everyone, particularly Sam, for whom he has an imaginative range of pet names.

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Then, of course, there’s the hulking shadow of Destiel. At this stage I’ll redirect you to my previous post, The Problem Of Destiel.

My point is, subtext is rife. But it’s subtext. It isn’t the point of the show, which is what the tagline is supposed to encapsulate. In fact, given that the show is about Sam and Dean’s relationship, and the tagline is concerned with sex… well, I don’t have to tell you what this looks like, do I?

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Then of course there’s the sexualisation of agents and instruments of violence. The Impala is filmed practically pornographically.

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The Colt is in a fetishisation league all of its own.

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And let me just point out where Sam keeps the demon knife.

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Then there’s the objectification of the actual Winchesters. The beauty of the cinematography of SPN is the reason for this, but they’re treated by the camera in the same way as female stars might be in Hollywood movies- Sam’s injuries are constantly fetishised, for one thing, and then there’s Dean’s movie star closeups.

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There’s the Meta Fiction shower scene.

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And then the fight in The Purge.

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Actually, more than just the fight in The Purge.

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Interestingly, though, SPN often subverts these sort of scenes. It’s surprisingly prim for such a subtext-riddled show, with fans dying over a glimpse of pant elastic (see Where Sam Keeps The Demon Knife, above). And then when shirtless Winchesters do appear, in a context that isn’t purely sexual, it’s often twisted in some way. Skin was the first time this happened, in Season One- Dean Winchester’s shirtless body was glimpsed for the first time, but in the grossest scene imaginable, as the shapeshifter who had borrowed his face peeled all his skin off.

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Then we have the king of shirtless scenes in Season Six’s The Third Man. I hardly need to remind you, but I’ll do so anyway.

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Yet this occurs when Sam is without a soul, having hired a prostitute- something his normal self wouldn’t have done (‘I don’t pay, Dean’), and all the scene does is create the unsettling feeling that something is really wrong with Sam. I mean, normal, pre-Hell Sam would never have paraded round shirtless for half an hour.

Oh. Wait.

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But the Hell House scene screencapped above was a different context- it was before the Winchesters were deluged with trauma, sexual and otherwise, as it was in Season One. It has an unselfconsciousness that the Third Man scene doesn’t. Then Sam recovers his soul, and immediately takes to sleeping in his clothes- as many rape victims do. It’s a queasy reminder of what, if Lucifer is to be taken at his word, happened in Hell.

In fact, Dean also sleeps in his clothes after getting back from Hell. I’m really starting to get this whole trauma thing. It’s so interwoven into the show that trauma and sex cannot now be seperated out- particularly with Sam, it seems, as he’s not had a love interest since Sarah Blake’s death.

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And Dean, recently, has only had a libido when he’s a demon.

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Still think ‘scary is the new sexy’ is a good tagline, CW?

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7 thoughts on “Vivisecting Supernatural- The Subversion Of Sex

  1. I had no idea about the sleeping in their clothes thing. Or that sexual assault victims do it, too. I missed that entirely and it also makes perfect sense why assault victims would respond that way.

    You and several other reviewers have made very convincing arguments on the repeated sexual assaults of the Winchesters. It’s given me a very different outlook on the show since I first began watching it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff about trauma that I find really interesting. I mean, they also keep guns under their pillows- in Season Nine Dean startles Sam awake and Sam nearly stabs him. And then there’s all the rapey comments that Hallucifer- who is Sam’s own subconscious- makes (‘you’re my little bitch in every sense of the word’, ‘the rapier wit, the witter rape’, etc etc). Plus the ‘MFEO’ comment in Swan Song. And the glaring lack of love interests for Sam since then.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Vivisecting Supernatural- On Slash |

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