I’m currently in the last few days of my pregnancy and I’m requiring lots of walking, oranges and Supernatural-watching. My mum re-read Jane Austen novels when she was pregnant, so I’m feeling a little low brow. But, if it’s any consolation, I’m bringing a thoughtful approach to my watching …
The thing about viewing back-to-back Supernaturals is that you really notice the set design. Those cheesy motel rooms are fantastic and they tell an architectural story that runs parallel to the main narrative. You start to notice that the boys live in a transient world of kitsch and dated rooms while the people they rescue are generally upper middle American families hemmed in by white picket fences and perfect lawns.
If you were writing a paper on the topic, you might begin by noting that the Winchesters are defending against the constant threatened destruction of the idealised family unit, driven by the disintegration of their own family. But who’s writing a paper? Not me. I’m much too lazy right now. Occasionally the brothers get drawn in to the dream of the white picket fence (Dean gets a lot of love from those upwardly mobile single mums) but for the most part they are homeless, drifting through a weird world of past decors suggesting more carefree times that have fallen off the tracks (optimistic 50s and 60s wall papers, disco themed rooms with mirrored ceilings, hunting lodge hokiness – more innocent times of yore. Yes, even the mirrored ceiling carries a sense of nostalgia).
American Gothic considers what happens behind the white picket fences. The settings of traditional gothic fiction often reflect the emotional states that occur within them – cemeteries, dungeons, labyrinths, but the gothic genre (old and new) also situates the danger in a seemingly safe setting (traditionally the bedrooms of young women, the bridal suite or the convent). Supernatural continues this theme, with the family unit being in constant danger of destruction or infiltration and the illusion of safety in material comfort constantly undermined.
Knowingly or unknowingly – these themes permeate many TV series, often answering the question – small towns – what’s going on there? Jam-making and embroidering – I think not! (At least, that’s the position of the gothic). You only need to think of Twin Peaks, American Gothic and True Blood.
Apparently, the prettier things look, the more suspicious we get. Although the interiors Sam and Dean frequent are pretty crumby, there’s a kind of authenticity to their crumbiness. It’s when you see that creamy picket fence that you’d better start running.