Chicago's DePaul University is hosting a very special conference to celebrate Supernatural's 10th anniversary year! "A Celebration of Supernatural" will be a place of "thoughtful, focused discussion between fans, scholars and students", according to the conference's organizer, Dr. Paul Booth. The conference will be held on May 9th in Chicago, and already has a distinguished list of speakers and guests. The keynote speaker is none other than Supernatural writer and co-executive producer extraordinaire, Robbie Thompson! Robbie will also be holding a one hour writer's workshop at the conference (a "don't miss" for sure!)! Other special guests include:

Maureen Ryan, television critic for The Huffington Post. Maureen will conduct a workshop on critiquing.
Mark Oshiro, author and blogger of Mark Reads and Mark Watches. Mark is hosting an open question and answer forum.
Lynn Zubernis and Kathy Larsen, authors of Fangasm, Fan Phenomena: Supernatural and Fandom at the Crossroads. Lynn and Kathy will be selling and autographing their books as well as joining Maureen for a panel on "Writing About Supernatural".
Michael Deangelis - Director and DePaul University Associate Professor, College of Communication (Film Studies)

The Winchester Family Business is proud to be an official supporter of this event:

Managing Editor Nightsky will be chairing a panel on "Saving People: Supernatural and Social Issues".
Farawayeyes will be on the panel discussing "Family in Supernatural".
Bookdal, a professor of English and critical writing who has studied and taught about fandoms and Supernatural, will be participating on the panel "The Meta in Supernatural".

A preliminary list of other panels include serious discussion topics such as "Gender and Race" and "Morality and Religion".  Informative discussions inlcude "Genre Antecedents to Supernatural", "Fan Works", the "Fan/Producer Relationship" and a Podcasting Workshop. There will also be fun topics such as the "Monsters of Supernatural".

I was lucky enough to interview the creator and organizer of the "A Celebration of Supernatural" conference, Paul Booth.  Paul is an author and Associate Professor of Media and Cinema Studies in the College of Commication at DePaul University. He is also an enthusiastic member of the Supernatural family.


Nightsky:   What gave you the idea to hold the conference? 

Paul: It depends on if you’re asking about this specific Supernatural conference, or the Pop Culture Celebration in general. This is the third year that we’ve run the Pop Culture Celebration, and the original idea came from my students, actually. My students at DePaul know that I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who, and during the 50th anniversary in 2013 they asked me if I would host a screening of some key episodes from the past. I thought it was a great idea and started to plan, and it just grew from there. I invited some people to speak, and when word got out, others started to get excited. I decided to go whole hog and just do a conference! In the academic world, conferences are places where scholars get together to share research – but many of them have become very formalized and dry. I love the idea of conferences, but I wanted to inject some of my own fandom into it as well. Fan conventions are hugely fun and high energy, and I wanted to see what would happen if we combined the two. DePaul University has a Vincentian mission, which basically means that one of its major tenets is the spread of knowledge to the community. We aim to share academic work with people who might normally not ever encounter it. Thus, the Celebration was born!

So the Doctor Who Celebration grew to have about 20 guests and a keynote speaker who worked on the show (Rob Shearman). The following year I decided to run it again, but rather than focus on Doctor Who, I thought that a different text would be welcome – we could vary it up each year to appeal to different people. Last year we ran the Celebration of Joss Whedon, which showcased Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Firefly, etc. Interest ran high and we had about 30 guests and a keynote speaker (Cheryl Cain) who wrote for Firefly.

I try to theme the Celebrations about important milestones and with it being Supernatural’s 10th anniversary this year, I thought it would be a great subject. I also realized after attending one of the Chicago Supernatural conventions that there was a great opportunity to have some fan-led discussions and panels. The Chicago convention was fun, but there weren't a lot of formal opportunities for fan or academic discussion as there are at other convention spaces. So I hope this year we’ll have a good combination of smart academic discussion and fan enthusiasm about the show!

Nightsky:  What do you hope to accomplish with the conference? 

Paul: My main goal for the Celebration in general is for groups of people who normally don’t come into much contact with one another (fans and academics) but who do very similar things (talk about the things that interest them with passion with others) to start new conversations! I think that fans have very interesting things to say about the media and I think that scholars have a passion for what they study – but we often don’t chat about these things to one another!

In a larger sense, I would love those who are not media studies scholars to start to see some of the amazing research and critical thinking that guides our interpretation of media texts. I realize this sounds a bit academic, but I think this is something that’s really important for today’s media environment. We are surrounded by our media today – more than at any other time in our history, we face a screen! My colleagues in media studies have training in understanding how the media works and in how to think critically about it, and I think it’s crucial that more people have these skills! Being critical of the media doesn’t mean “hating” everything you see, or only looking for “bad” things – it’s about understanding how the media function to create meaning. It’s like literacy – we consider ourselves literate if we understand the meaning that words give us; media literacy is the same thing, but with the images we see.

So, I’m all about building bridges and creating meaningful conversations. And if it’s about something that people love—Doctor Who, Supernatural, Joss Whedon, etc.—all the better!

Nightsky:  What is the university's interest in Supernatural?

Paul: Ostensibly I choose Supernatural for the Celebration because it’s the tenth anniversary of the show. But I actually think Supernatural is also doing some fantastic things with media studies scholarship and presenting new ways of producer/fan interaction. Some of this has been written about in scholarly research and some of this has been written about in fan Meta or other writings. I wanted to create this conversation at DePaul, a great place for intellectual work to speak to non-academic audiences.

For example, on the surface Supernatural is about two brothers fighting demons. But as any fan will tell you, it’s also about so much more – family, honor, humor, friendship, fear. The things that drive us to do the things we do in our life! How it chooses to tell this story – through metaphor and symbolism – is of importance for the way that people understand their own lives. Having an intelligent discussion about this helps make it clear for everyone while also giving people the critical tools to do this in their own lives, scholar or fan.

The way that Supernatural talks back to the audience with meta- episodes like “Fan Fiction” or “The French Mistake” helps illustrate the close ties between production and fandom in the 21st century. With fandom becoming a more important and relevant audience today, from a production standpoint, it’s crucial that we analyze the way this functions and why it is important.

In a larger sense, this is why the Celebration is important each year, not just in terms of Supernatural, but the more we can start to think critically about the things we love, the more we can make them better. That’s a wonderful goal of any thinking person!

Nightsky: How did you chose your panelists (and thus your panels)?

Paul: Since my goal of the Celebration is to celebrate meaningful conversation about a pop culture text (in this case, Supernatural) my research assistant and I scoured publications and the web for people who have written about Supernatural. Because this is a university event, most of the speakers are coming from the academic world, and many have published in books aimed at a popular market. As with any academic conference, though, we also opened up a “call for papers” to get people to submit if they’re interested in speaking about particular topics. We don’t want this to be just our view, but rather a celebration of all views about Supernatural.

Nightsky: Almost 300 people have already replied that they are coming or are going to try to come to the conference. Were you expecting the conference to get that big?

Paul: I knew that there was a large Supernatural fan audience, but I wasn’t expecting this much excitement about the conference! I’m really pleased that this seems to be something people want to talk about. Of course, with this many people coming, and because we are still dedicated to keeping this a free event, there have been some adjustments but I’m excited to meet everyone and hear them discuss the show.

Nightsky: Are there any plans to make videos of the panels or Robbie’s talk?

Paul: Sadly, we can’t video Robbie’s talk because of his contractual obligations, but he’s eager to see all the Tweets that come out of the event!

Nightsky: Besides the panels, what can you tell us about the other conference activities?

Paul: The focus of the conference will be the panels, of course, but we are opening up a vendor’s room for some one-of-a-kind art from local artists and vendors, and there will be a fan discussion room and a game room. The other event I’m most excited about, though, is the Silent Auction we’ll be running to benefit Random Acts. A number of local artists and vendors, as well as some authors and publishers, have donated some amazing merchandise and all proceeds benefit Random Acts. In addition to the Silent Auction there will be a bake sale – so if you’re coming, plan on bringing some sweet treats too!

Nightsky: Anything else you’d like people to know about the conference?

Paul: If you’re planning on attending, please sign up on the EventBrite page so we can get accurate numbers. It might get a bit crowded in some of the panels (they are in classrooms on campus), and we do not charge admission to any panel or talk, so it will be first come, first serve. (And we will need to respect the room capacities posted by public safety.) There will be multiple panels going on at once so hopefully there will be something for everyone!

*****
This promises to be a very exciting and fun event! Future announcements about the conference can be found on the “A Celebration of Supernatural” Facebook page. Of course, The Winchester Family Business will provide full coverage of the event, so check back for future reports!

If you can be in Chicago in early May, this is definitely something you’ll want to experience for yourself! We've love to hear who is expecting to go and what you are looking forward to the most!

If you cannot attend the conference in person, are there any questions you would like us to try to ask Robbie or other presenters?





Comments  

njspnfan
# njspnfan 2015-04-14 17:26
Hi Nightsky - Paul mentioned that Robbie's panel could not be videotaped but it wasn't clear whether the other ones would be made available. Could you clarify please?
nightsky
# nightsky 2015-04-14 20:51
I checked with Paul. He looked into audio and video recordings of the other panels but it won't be logistically feasible. Since this is an academic conference, they are committed to not charging admission. If he had to hire an A/V crew for the weekend, the conference couldn't continue to be free (all the panelists are donating their time and paying their own expenses). He is actively encouraging the conference attendees to tweet everything that goes on, though! The WFB will also put together a report(s) as soon as possible. We will be in the last few weeks of Supernatural's season so we'll have our hands full interpreting and reviewing the conclusion of the season!
YellowEyedSam
# YellowEyedSam 2015-04-14 18:18
Dammit. I live on the other side of the pond! Would love to see Robbie's panel :(
nightsky
# nightsky 2015-04-14 20:50
Bummer about the distance! I'm finally in the right city though! We'll cover it for you!
YellowEyedSam
# YellowEyedSam 2015-04-15 08:58
Many thanks!
eilf
# eilf 2015-04-14 18:28
Congrats to so many of the WFB people for getting to be in such great panels ! I hope you all have fun. :)

I am really hoping that Bookdal is going to RT's panel. she has many of the same issues with the canon and characerization that I do - I would like her to get the opportunity to discuss some of the show's recent problems - and it would be cool to see them being addressed in an academic setting. I assume we will get feedback from the panels even if no video?
nightsky
# nightsky 2015-04-14 20:49
With 4 of us there, I hope we're able to provide "group" coverage! Of course, we will be busy with our panels..
eilf
# eilf 2015-04-14 21:51
Hi Nightsky, sorry I hope I wasn't coming over as uninterested in people's own panels or of the perspective of any of you that are going to the conference? :o That wasn't my intention at all. I am interested in everyone's take, both on what the panelists will say about the show directly, and also on the world that surrounds the show. I am sure that the range of perspective will be fascinating... if the range of perspectives in the WFB little corner of the internet is anything to go by. ;)
By 'academic setting' I meant that we (commenters) tend to get a little hot under the collar discussing things in fandom - and most of it doesn't seem to get near the people in charge - so it will be fascinating to see slightly cooler heads with the chance to communicate directly with the people who actually make the decisions.... course I am not that used to academia outside of science, and maybe 'cool heads' isn't the correct description :D
nightsky
# nightsky 2015-04-14 23:14
No worries. I wasn't bothered at all by what you wrote. What I meant was that I'm concerned about being able to tweet and take notes for articles when we will all be giving our own panels. At cons, we are all watchers. Here we will be doing a bunch of different things in addition to trying to soak it all in. I didn't interpret your comment as uninterested at all.
nightsky
# nightsky 2015-04-14 23:06
I've deleted several comments and replies. I'm sorry but the WFB doesn't allow attacks on anyone by anyone.
nightsky
# nightsky 2015-04-14 23:53
Everyone - I've deleted the entire thread of the conversation. Some comments were personal, some were hurtful, some tried to defend and some were reasonable, but the tone of the topic overall was not in keeping with our guidelines of respect for absolutely everyone who posts here.
novi
# novi 2015-04-15 00:31
I 'm here to congratulate the site and us all with such a rare and amazing opportunity - the whole conference about SPN! That many people to come! Such interesting topics to discuss! Maureen Ryan's workshop, and so many other attractions! Never envied you more guys, those who's able to visit such a great event. But we, the readers from distant lands, will get the complete report with as many details as possible, right? And hey, we're still friends, okay?;)
nightsky
# nightsky 2015-04-15 09:53
Thank you Novi. Supernatural has the attention of many scholars/academ ics and it is truly an honor for the show to be studied and discussed at its own conference. I am very excited by the opportunity for fans to be able to interact with and hear from so many PhDs and entertainment industry professionals who have extensive qualifications in these topics.

Yes, we will write up as many reports as possible! It will give us all something fascinating to discuss during hiatus!
quickreaver
# quickreaver 2015-04-15 02:33
This sounds like such an awesome event! If I lived closer to Chicago, I'd be there with bells on. Looking forward to the reports after!
njspnfan
# njspnfan 2015-04-15 07:32
Congratulations to our WFB all star lineup of panel chair and panel participants! Chicago is a little outside my quick trip range, otherwise I would be attending. I look forward to reading reports about this afterwards.
katherine
# katherine 2015-04-15 09:29
Wow, Congrats!!
I am actually off that weekend.... sounds like an awesome road trip!! I am off to plan to see of it is possible!!!
Congrats once again and hope to see you there!
Katherine Kinkead
st50
# st50 2015-04-15 10:29
Looking forward to the reports - I would love to be able to hear a more academic based discussion of the show and how it has evolved over the years.
Everyone have a great time!
Lilah_Kane
# Lilah_Kane 2015-04-15 10:34
As I live in a land furthest from I would be so glad if I could visit an event like this. So, I hope everything works well and you have some great reports for us!

- Lilah
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-04-15 22:10
Not to be a nosy parker Lilah, but where do you live?
Lilah_Kane
# Lilah_Kane 2015-04-16 01:29
It's no secret and I am sure you are not going to stalk me (or are you *winkwink?) anyway, I live in Finland so basically I am off everyone's timezone. :D

- Lilah
LEAH
# LEAH 2015-04-15 13:01
I would love to attend this. A discussion in an academic setting would be very interesting to me. It would be refreshing to hear opinions from "cooler heads" both positive and critical.
LEAH
# LEAH 2015-04-15 16:25
Wow, if this is what twitter is like I want no part of it! Why can't people respect the wishes of the site administrators?
st50
# st50 2015-04-15 16:33
I haven't seen anything on twitter or tumblr, Leah, nor do I want to. It guess it all depends on who you follow, and what you go looking for.
st50
# st50 2015-04-15 16:33
I haven't seen anything on twitter or tumblr, Leah, nor do I want to. It guess it all depends on who you follow, and what you go looking for.
Barbara Maake
# Barbara Maake 2015-04-15 17:44
Excellent interview Nightsky! I really wish I lived close enough to attend but I guess I'll just have to enjoy it vicariously through everyone's reports. Have a great time!