At the crossroads of folklore and pop culture

22 09 2010

A few days ago, in preparation for the impending fall television season, I finally watched the spring finale of Supernatural. For the uninitiated among my readers, it’s a show on the CW network about two brothers traveling around the country in their 1967 Impala, battling ghosts and monsters and angels and demons. Unsurprisingly, Sam and Dean Winchester are a couple of good-looking guys who are handy with one-liners and a myriad of weapons. And, since it’s the CW, there are plenty of improbably pretty girls in impractical footwear. But what’s really great about the show is how deeply it delves into the richness of American folklore. Instead of fixating on the cosmopolitan surroundings of big cities like New York and LA, Supernatural intentionally places itself in out-of-the way towns inhabited by largely unremarkable people. These places, often unlovely and raggedy-edged, still contain vestiges of bygone eras when old-country gods held sway.

Supernatural‘s creator, Eric Kripke, has cited the work of author Neil Gaiman as an inspiration for the show – specifically his novel American Gods and his graphic novel series Sandman. (Observant readers will perhaps have noticed that I, too, have been influenced by Gaiman’s work.) Gaiman, a British writer who makes his home in rural Minnesota, has an amazing knack for drawing out the intricacies of the American tapestry. In Gaiman’s world, even un-worshipped gods brought here long ago on the backs of immigrants still inhabit the cellar of our collective consciousness. His body of work constantly reminds us that we came to this country with our own traditions and deities – so where are they now? They, too, have been changed by American culture, have been forced to carve out niches in roadside motels and run-down bars. It’s those gods and legends, jaded by time and neglect, that the Winchesters seek out.

Yesterday, James A. Williams posted an in-depth article on the site PopMatters.com: American Ghost Towns and the Anti-Apocalyptic Road Trip of Supernatural. What struck me most in Williams’ article, and what I think is also true for Gaiman’s writing, is the premise that these vestiges of quaint, idyllic Americana are not always so benign.  Our society might yearn for a simpler time, a Golden Age of American growth and optimism, but these works of fiction remind us that our collective history is rarely as pure and innocent as we imagine it to be.

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3 responses

22 09 2010
Marilyn

Martin E Marty is fond of saying and writing “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

22 09 2010
FandomFan

Have you read Catherine Tosenberger’s article with her take on folklore usage in Supernatural?

If not, here it is. It’s pretty interesting, if you ask me.

22 09 2010
Meghan Smith

I have not read that! I will have to do so. Thanks for the link!

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