TV

The Pros Of Cons: A Fangirl’s Journey Into The Heart Of A Pop Culture Convention

This sounds way more fun than just tweeting at your fave actor.

While many twenty-somethings free from the bondage of high school and parental disapproval head off to Bali on a schoolies-type holiday, I have never counted myself among them. I am a geek and proud of it. The call of the beach ends when I get sand between my toes and transform into Leonard Hofstadter from The Big Bang Theory: “I just wear the appropriate amount of sun block because I don’t take melanoma lightly.” Instead, for the past two years, my friends and I have decided to freeze our asses off in Vancouver. Why? The answer is simple: TV.

Vancouver, believe it or not, is known as ‘North Hollywood’ because of the numerous television and film productions that are shot there. It’s a huge industry in Canada and a lot of American productions set their sights on the city when they scout locations for their series. The moment you get off the plane you start recognising scenes from films and TV shows.

For us, it was Supernatural. The paranormal, modern-day western — which features brothers Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) hunting down ghosts, demons, shapeshifters and changelings, and was renewed for a ninth season earlier this year — included an episode that was shot at Vancouver International Airport back in Season One. I found myself staring at the entrance to the airport upon arrival and said to my fan friends, “Is it just me or does that patch of carpet look familiar?” Naturally, that comment was met with both expected confusion and profound jetlag. “What?” they replied. Turns out I was right; that ‘patch of carpet’ had been used in the episode and seen in numerous pap photos of television and film stars coming and leaving the airport.

The things your geeky, sleep-deprived brain notices…

Fan Interaction In The Modern Age

This was exactly the reason we were in town: to find film and TV locations, to go beyond simply watching a television show in our lounge rooms back home, to interact with the city the show was filmed in, and to take photos and fangirl over each set we found.

Supernatural is an interesting case when it comes to fan interaction. Season Four of the show saw the introduction of a fictional book series — also titled ‘Supernatural’ — written by unknowing prophet Chuck, which charted the lives of the Winchesters to the amusement of obsessive followers, including overzealous fangirl Becky Rosen, the book’s number one fan. It was the following exchange between Becky and the object of her affection Sam Winchester, meeting for the first time, that saw Supernatural take a step so far down the rabbit hole of meta storytelling that it is yet to climb back out.

Becky

We first meet Becky sitting in her room writing ‘Supernatural’ slash fiction (no judging, we’ve all done it). But being a fan with all that knowledge and love for the story, it’s not long before Becky is called into action by none other than the author of the series himself.

– Yes I’m a fan but I really don’t appreciate being mocked. I know that “Supernatural” is just a book, okay? I know the difference between fantasy and reality.
– Becky, it’s all real.
– I KNEW IT!

Fan interactivity is not a new thing when it comes to television. For as long as the Enterprise has gone where no man has gone before, fans have been latching onto characters, writing fan fiction and attending conventions. What has changed is the way in which we interact with these fictional universes: in the old days, you may have sat around waiting for an 8×10 glossy from your fave actor’s fan club to hit your mailbox; these days you get the same feels when they tweet you back.

This instant interaction with cast and crew allows fans the chance to share their thoughts, feelings, opinions and critiques of the series with the people who make the show (and, possibly, even affect its outcome). And yet, we are still separated from their world by a screen. Unlike Becky, we don’t usually get to experience the world and its characters for ourselves. Not unless we pack our bags and travel to where the show is filmed.

Take A Left At The Daily Planet

In Vancouver, the Supernatural convention was held, as it is annually, at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown. It’s three fun-filled days of geeky goodness consisting of photos and autograph sessions; panels with the shows stars, directors, wardrobe departments and others; and cosplay and parties. It’s a geek fest featuring fans from all around the globe, all armed with two sets of maps: one depicting the real layout of the city, and the other highlighting the show’s filming locations.

The highlight of the convention is the official ‘Location Tour’, run by Supernatural‘s own Location Manager, Russ ‘MovieGod’ Hamilton. We load up on a coach and drive around to exclusive locations that were used in the show that the general public doesn’t have access to. If you’ve seen Watchmen, then you’ll recognise the New York set still in use as Supernatural’s backlot.

SPN Backlot Vancouver 2012 Copyright @emmajane189 Original

Supernatural backlot in Vancouver (Copyright @emmajane189)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Marine Building (Copyright @emmajane189)

Also, down the road from the hotel is the Daily Planet (seriously). The Marine Building, located on Burrard Street, was used as the Daily Planet on Smallville, as well as an office building in Supernatural, and it appeared as the ‘Baxter Building’ in The Fantastic Four film. Depending on the fan who is looking at it, it represents a different fictional universe.

Sometimes the locations aren’t even so fanciful; sometimes they’re literally horse shit.

We also paid a visit to a waterside location at Fort Langley, where the brothers Winchester once had a heartfelt chat about that time dear old Dad told Dean he might one day have to kill his baby brother. As we stood in the same spot as the characters, we turned to our phones and watched the scene on YouTube. Experiencing the scene at the real location alongside a group of fans from a mix of different countries, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds, its emotional significance resonated with all of us.

This phenomenon is referred to as lieux d’imagination, a term coined by academic Stijn Reijnders, who took note of French historian Pierra Nora’s study of collective memory (or lieux de memorie, which outlined how geographical locations come to represent emotional symbols to a society based on their shared memories), and put a fandom spin on it. Reijnders used the example of fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula touring around Romania looking for his iconic castle; we experienced it in Vancouver.

In a way, you almost get to feel like you are part of the show’s world, even if just for a hot minute. In real life, we’ll never be able to physically interact with our favourite characters like Becky (as much as we’d like to), but we can always visit the places that hold special meaning to them and us and see the world for ourselves, meeting in a kind of fan limbo that exists between fantasy and reality.

Dubbed the ‘Human IMDB’ by friends, Emma is an Honours grad from UTS who wrote her thesis on interactive TV audiences and fan tourism. Find her on Twitter at @emmajane189