Published: June 15, 2008 By

“Redneck Aliens Take Over Trailer Park.”

—Weekly World News (2006)

[1] The gothic, a pan-media mode that migrated from novels to drama and poetry and then to film and television, has a long history of engaging the binary construction of gender and race as well as class (see, for instance, Palmer, Thiele, and Wright 186-94). The television series Supernatural (2005- ), created by Eric Kripke, not only exhibits the superficial features of the gothic—gloomy settings, suspense, supernatural threats—but also participates in this larger gothic tradition, particularly in its depiction of white, blue-collar masculinity. The first two seasons, widely available on DVD, are my focus here because they trace a larger narrative arc; the third season is, at time of writing, airing on the CW network (formed in 2006 by CBS and Warner Brothers). In the series, Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) follow their father, John, in what is euphemistically called “hunting”: they scour local media for news stories that indicate supernatural phenomenon, road-trip to the locale, and end the supernatural threat, putting ghosts and vengeful spirits “to rest,” exorcising demons, and killing various creatures from vampires to werewolves.

[2] The series was conceptualized, according to Kripke’s “Commentary,” as a way of exploring “urban legends and American folklore” through a narrative that combines some elements of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) and George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977) in its use of the quest motif and its characterization of the two “blue-collar” “tough guys,” Sam and Dean. In his “Commentary” and numerous interviews, Kripke highlights the series’ engagement with a wide, multi-media array of cultural materials, and on terms that suggest not only the semiotics of bricolage (Hebdige 103-06) but also overt cultural referencing, akin to literary allusion. Indeed, Padalecki has indicated in interviews that, for Supernatural, preparation unusually includes extra reading: “There’s so much literary value to the show, so I wanted to know the deeper sides to the stories” (“Celebrity”); for a third-season episode, he read Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s “original stories” for the first time (Rudolph 36). At the same time, Kripke’s well-documented awareness of cinematic and television genres, as well as the very conventionality of the interrelated gothic and horror modes in general, make it easy to identify typical features that link the series to other television and literary works in popular culture: a bevy of supernatural series to begin airing around the same time, including Medium (2005- ) andLost (2004- ); American fantasy filmed in and around Vancouver, Canada, from X-Files (1993-2002) toSmallville (2001- ), Battlestar Galactica (2004- ) and The 4400 (2004- 2007); the Route 66 tradition in literature and film after Kerouac (overtly invoked in the Supernatural episode, “Route 666”); the law-and-order programs that emerged post-9/11 to indicate that danger is everywhere but that various agencies are working to protect Americans (for instance, NCIS [2003- ] and Criminal Minds [2005- ]); and a very long tradition in the gothic of addressing national fears as a kind of haunting or possession by the “Other” (see, for instance, Hogle, Malchow, Savoy, and Sedgwick).

[3] The first two seasons of the series, along with Kripke’s slightly earlier work, the film Boogeyman (2005), also participate in what recent critics have framed as a post-Clinton interest in masculinity and an alienated white underclass (see Ducat, Glass and particularly Malin), an interest now emerging in interesting ways on mainstream television. While they do not seem to have been much discussed (if at all) in connection with each other, the similarities betweenSupernatural and the comedy series My Name is Earl are striking: both air on Thursday nights, premiered just one week apart in 2005, were renewed for a third season, foreground rebuilt classic cars (a 1967 Impala in Supernatural and a 1973 El Camino in Earl), and are recognized for their retro music choices. In fact, the two series often use the same 1970s artists, from Free to Blue Öyster Cult. Moreover, both focus on the relationship between two brothers who habitually sleep in a shared motel room, stress the brothers’ longstanding use of petty crime to support themselves, and centrally rely on non-Christian, even non-Western, belief systems. In My Name is Earl, the Buddhist concept of karma is the mechanism through which Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) imagines turning his life around, away from crime and towards communal harmony. In Supernatural, the beings fought by the brothers are taken from a globalized mythology, explicitly traced to belief systems from Europe, the middle East, and pre-colonial America. In “Scarecrow” (season 1, episode 11—hereafter 1.11),Supernatural even decenters the myth of a Christian origin for the United States by representing the pilgrims as only one religious group among many. The comedy (in the Aristotelian sense) of My Name is Earl allows karma to take Earl step by step closer to being middle-class, particularly towards the end of the second season when Earl finally gets a white-collar job, moving explicitly from coveralls to a white shirt as he is promoted to sales at an appliance store. But there is no such progressive narrative in Supernatural. With a “supernatural” twist, class emerges in Kripke’s series as the “beast in the closet” (Sedgwick, Epistemology) that is haunting America, as in the headline of the Weekly World News that forms my epigraph: Ackles (as Dean) holds this issue, its headline clearly legible, in a promotional picture for the episode “Tall Tales” (2.15) on the network website for the series. More specifically, I shall suggest, the series and Kripke’sBoogeyman use the supernatural to gothically tie downward class mobility to the heightened vulnerability of children.

[4] “Class” is, of course, a suspect cultural category. As Gwendolyn Audrey Foster notes,

The defining terms we have traditionally used to discussclass and class mobility are outdated and outmoded. Terms such as blue-collar and white-collar are as dated as the concepts of neat, distinctive categories such as “high culture,” “middle culture,” and “low culture.” Fantasies of cultural mobility are so pernicious throughout popular culture that the realities of classed experience are frequently masked and perhaps even, arguably, surpassed in importance by postmodern ideas about the self and performed identity. (79)

Foster’s phrasing itself marks a blindness about class: mobility is, by tacit definition, upward. But even if the “realities of classed experience are frequently masked,” including the fact of downward mobility in the wake of the erosion of the manufacturing sector and the employer-driven shift to part-time labor, the fictions of working-class experience remain, and are perpetuated largely on terms that stabilize class hierarchy: the blue-collar work ethic and its attendant construction of stoic masculinity that will accept hardship; lack of access to education and hence the cultural capital it helps to accrue; and the centuries-old comic type of the lower-class buffoon. Hence, the official website forMy Name is Earl remarks on Earl’s “seemingly limited intelligence” and his “dim-witted friends” (see webpage, “About”), overlooking the series’ complication of these stereotypes and tacitly assuming a viewership that enjoys feeling superior to the show’s characters rather than questions the socioeconomic conditions that limit their options, even though Earl must win a lottery to finance his turn away from crime, his successful attempt to get his G.E.D. (equivalent to completing high school), and so forth. Supernatural, engaging questions of educational differences, cultural mores, and even conflicting religious perspectives, while also confronting the ways in which the Winchesters appear to conform to the profile of members of dangerous rural militia groups, offers a particularly complex depiction of working-class masculinities. Instead of simply repeating the condescension implicit in the comic type of the working-class buffoon,Supernatural also depicts class through the gothic devices of containment, oppression, and violence and through gothic conventions for comparing wealthy and impoverished spaces via the binaries of light/dark, safe/dangerous, beautiful/ugly, and so forth. In Kripke’s Supernatural and Boogeyman, these gothic structures are highlighted through the rendering of downward class mobility as productive of terror and of upward class mobility as always-precarious class-passing rather than achievable economic security.

“Just a Kid”: Working-Class Origins and Male Vulnerability

[5] While Supernatural has done well enough to be renewed for a fourth season, despite a difficult timeslot,Boogeyman (2005), for which Kripke wrote the original story and co-authored the screenplay, had some early box-office success but was largely panned as clichéd and slow-paced by reviewers who focussed on the disappointing monster and the movie’s stylistic debts to Japanese horror movies and their Hollywood imitations (see, for instance, Cole, Leyland, and Scheck). Conventionality can be deceiving, however. In bothBoogeyman and Supernatural–setting aside the gothic apparatus, CGI, and horror set pieces–the failure of a father to protect his son from a violent world is represented as disabling the son’s access to the American dream and confining him to a class position lower than that he enjoyed before the central crisis. This new class position is defined in multiple ways consistent across both the film and the series: the lack of a stable home, a single-parent family, retro cars and work clothes (though with fashionable flourishes for the Hollywood aesthetic). Both the movie and the series, moreover, deal with a traumatized boy’s failed attempts at class-passing.

[6] Boogeyman opens with an eight-year-old boy, Tim, afraid of the title monster because of the stories his father has told him, asking his father to search his room for hidden threats so that he can sleep. As the father checks the closet, the Boogeyman abruptly drags him in. The next scenes, focussing on Tim as an adult (Barry Watson), establish first his professional success and then his ongoing trauma: we see him at a party in a luxurious office space for a magazine where he works as an associate editor alongside his rich girlfriend, Jessica (Tory Mussett), then at his home where there are no closets and his refrigerator has a glass door. While the opening scene places Tim within a middle-class, rural, perhaps midwest environment, the next scenes situate him as a young, urban professional who can afford good housing and high-end consumer goods that accommodate his fear of closets. The visual reminder of his fear is contextualized by a phone call from his uncle, pressuring him to spend Thanksgiving at home so that his mother can see him. Tim’s separation from his family and access to urban success are thus linked, but they are then simultaneously undercut when Tim arrives in his retro car at the palatial home of Jessica’s parents and sits down to Thanksgiving dinner with them. In seconds, another dimension of the closet trauma is revealed. The father’s abduction by the Boogeyman has officially become a stereotypical narrative of lower-class dysfunction in which Tim and his mother were abandoned by a ne’er-do-well father and then fell into a spiral of poverty and mental illness:

Jessica: Tim’s had kind of a strained relationship with his parents. Tim’s father ran out when he was eight.Jessica’s sister: Oh, that’s sad.

Jessica: Then he had to go live with his uncle, in a tiny room in the back of his bar.

Jessica’s father: Well, what about your mother?

Tim: She sort of had a tough time after my dad left. It was pretty hard on both of us.

The mother’s mental health problems are frequently noted in the film, and there is a lengthy scene in which Tim visits the children’s psychiatric centre where he spent significant time as a boy. “Pretty hard on both of us” encodes the devastating psychological effects of the family’s fall from middle-class normativity just as “a tiny room” hints at economic deprivation and “the back of his bar” suggests stereotyped working-class alcoholism. Any of Tim’s illusions about fitting into Jessica’s world are brought to an abrupt end in this brief scene, and he asks Jessica when they are alone, “Is that why you wanted me here, to freak out your family?”

[7] While the film draws on conventions that suggest sexual child abuse, including an overtly Oedipal scene between Tim and his mother’s spectre, the Boogeyman is strongly tied to Jessica’s father: in the first scene with Tim as an adult, a friend, on finding out that Tim is spending Thanksgiving with Jessica’s family, scoffs, “if he can survive the weekend with Jessica’s father!” and then reminds Jessica that her father terrorized her as a child by throwing her into the water to teach her how to swim. Since the film centers on Tim surviving a weekend with the Boogeyman, the parallel is in plain sight along with the broader message that fathers terrorize their children. But class is not simply articulated through the rich-father-as-Boogeyman. In nearly every conversation Jessica has with Tim, she ignores his feelings and family attachments while berating him for not behaving as she thinks fit: at the office party, she asks, “You’re not getting weird on me again, are you?”; at her house, she complains, as he talks on the phone to his uncle about the urgent need for him to return home (his mother has just died), “What is wrong with you? Gawd . . . !” Later, she tries to seduce him as he sits nearly catatonic on a motel-room bed, still in shock after being surrounded by the spectres of dozens of children abducted by the Boogeyman:

How’re you doin’? [silence] Tim, come on. I drove four and a half hours to see you here. [silence] I can’t do this anymore, okay? It’s too much, and I’m too tired. Look, can’t we just forget about all the bad stuff for one night? Try to have some fun? Pretend that nothing else is out there? [kisses him]

Tim is, as Sam and Dean frequently describe themselves inSupernatural, a “freak,” at least from Jessica’s perspective. He is alienated from the very upward mobility he seems to have in the early scenes by his inescapable family history and his concomitant failure to react as Jessica expects: he cannot stay with her family as she planned or be seduced on demand, and both of these failures are immediately preceded by gothic eruptions of Tim’s family history into his class-passing present (namely the Oedipal nightmare and a waking vision of the Boogeyman’s many child-victims). The logic of the film is straightforward: knowledge of what “is out there” is denied by Jessica, but must be faced by Tim. That Jessica goes missing soon after this scene and is never found, despite the film’s positive conclusion, furthers the suggestion that the appearance of the Boogeyman is tied to the precipitous horror of class difference–the gap between Tim’s family’s class position before his father’s disappearance and that after his loss, and the gap between Tim’s newfound professional status and that of Jessica’s very wealthy family. Jessica, secure in her bubble of wealth and privilege, is unaware of such horror. Tim, necessarily moving between classes, must constantly confront it, and so the movie ends with Tim in a world that cannot include Jessica, the corollary of the dinner’s implication that Jessica’s world cannot include Tim. The ambiguity surrounding Jessica’s disappearance leaves her unpunished, but removes her—and with her the horror of class difference—from the movie’s resolution.

[8] In Supernatural, the trauma also begins with a variation on the Oedipal myth in a large non-urban family home, here in small-town Kansas. But instead of a father leaving the boy alone with his mother, Kripke offers a more gothically rendered violation of the mother. It is a scene repeated in many episodes’ opening sequence: supernaturally held to the nursery’s ceiling, on fire, with a bloody gash across her torso, Mary Winchester drips blood onto her infant son Sam’s head until her husband, ex-marine and garage co-owner John Winchester, enters the room, picks up Sam and flees the nursery to give the baby to a four-year-old Dean who is ordered to take his brother to safety (and, rather incredibly for a pre-schooler, carry him down a flight of stairs). This is the origin of the arc narrative that shapes the first two seasons of the series: in the first episode of the series, Sam’s girlfriend dies the same way as his mother, so the two brothers join their father’s hunt for the demon that killed both women; in the finale of the second season, the demon is destroyed with the participation of all three Winchester men.

[9] Sam as an adult follows Tim’s upwardly mobile trajectory: in the first episode, he is pre-law at Stanford and living with an idealized girlfriend who is also named Jessica. His friends at Stanford include Rebecca, whose family home is as palatial as that of Jessica’s parents in Boogeyman, and he retains from this life a smartphone through which he accesses e-mails from his Stanford friends and a notebook computer that he uses in nearly every episode (“Skin,” 1.6). Completely out of contact with his family while at Stanford, Sam, like Tim, cut off all familial ties as he entered a higher class. InSupernatural, however, there is also a brother who, like Tim at Jessica’s dinner table, inhabits stereotypical narratives of lower-class dysfunction.

[10] For most of season 1, the circumstances of the Winchesters’ childhood after their mother’s death are vague: they travelled with their father but somehow got a formal education, were sometimes left with other hunters while their father was away, and were trained as hunters by their father. In “Something Wicked” (1.18, written by Daniel Knauf), however, where the demon of the week is a Shtriga, known for feeding on children, a bleaker picture is drawn: their father would also leave them alone for days while he went hunting. Through flashbacks, the episode depicts Dean, about eleven years old, solely responsible for taking care of his younger brother in a motel room with a kitchenette. In a flashback triggered by the discovery of a Shtriga’s footprint, Dean and John Winchester rehearse the instructions for staying safe alone. The conversation is on one level quite mundane: how many rings indicate that John is calling, who to phone if there is a problem, and so forth. But as they discuss phone security John readies a shotgun and props it up against the wall, and later asks Dean what he is supposed to do if “something tries to bust in”: “shoot first,” the child answers, “ask questions later.” The disorienting effects of these details are compounded by having the actors stand during the conversation, John (played by 6’2″ actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan) physically towering over his slight, pre-teen son (Ridge Canipe). In another flashback, Dean makes his brother dinner but, when Sam demands “Lucky Charms” instead, throws out the hot meal and gives him the last of their cereal. After three days alone, Dean gets bored and leaves his brother asleep in the motel room to play arcade games, but returns to find the Shtriga feeding on his brother. He picks up a shotgun and aims, but hesitates–as his father bursts through the door saving the day. Dean finishes telling the story to Sam:

Dean: Dad grabbed us and booked, dropped us off at Pastor Jim’s about three hours away. By the time he got back to Fort Douglas the Shtriga had disappeared–just gone. Never resurfaced until now. You know, Dad never spoke about it again. I didn’t ask. But he uh he looked at me different, you know, which was worse. Not that I blame him. He gave me an order and I didn’t listen and I almost got you killed.Sam: You were just a kid.

Dean: Don’t. Don’t. . . .

Dean is represented on pathetic terms as he tries to deal as a child with adult responsibilities and as an adult with his guilt over his failure to protect his brother from the Shtriga. This crisis is echoed by another child, Michael, who inhabits the same position in the present as Dean in the past: his mother runs the motel where the Winchester brothers stay, and Michael is not only shown staffing the motel’s reception desk but also pouring milk for his brother’s dinner, triggering Dean’s memory of doing the same for Sam. And, with narrative compactness, the Shtriga attacks Michael’s brother and the Winchesters help him to defeat it, keeping both younger brothers safe and both older brothers in single-parent, lower-class families as effective surrogate parents.

[11] At the critical moment when the pre-teen Dean leaves the motel room, the camera lingers on him locking the door and then putting the key in his pocket, visually reinforcing the episode’s identification of him as a latchkey kid–a near-euphemism in post-WWII popular culture for lower-class children at risk. The episode repeats many of the elements that Riley and Steinberg identify as popular assumptions about latchkey kids, and stresses the aspects of “self-care” that they suggest should be addressed through educational programs, namely “how to avoid being victimized by strangers” (here the Shtriga) and “coping with fear, boredom, and loneliness” (97), emotions which overwhelm Dean and drive him to break the rules and leave his brother alone. That he leaves the room at night and is only sent back when the arcade closes adds to the sense of threat–about eleven years old, he is out for hours after dark and he has left his brother, about six years old, alone in a motel room with a loaded shotgun. The Shtriga emerges as a gothic symbol of various economically marked threats in plain sight: two young children left alone for days in a cheap motel, their food running out, the sole parent absent because of work, and a loaded shotgun leaning against the wall as their only means of protection.

[12] The gothic rendering of lower-class children’s vulnerability is repeated in a series of conversations about childhood innocence (in the conventional sense of being “unacquainted with evil” [OED]). When Michael confesses to seeing the Shtriga, he tells Dean, “I thought I was having a nightmare,” and Dean replies, “I’d give anything not to tell you this, but sometimes nightmares are real.” More suggestively, in “All Hell Breaks Loose 2” (2.22, teleplay by Kripke), Dean soliloquizes before Sam’s (temporarily) dead body:

You know, when we were little, and you couldn’t have been more than five, you just started asking questions. How come we didn’t have a mom? Why do we always have to move around? Where’d Dad go? He’d take off for days at a time. I remember I begged you, “Quit asking, Sammy. Man, you don’t want to know.” I just wanted you to be a kid. Just for a little while longer.

Childhood innocence is here, as elsewhere in the series, simultaneously threatened by two kinds of “evil”—both the supernatural and an unstable home life, the first troping the second. All of “little” Sammy’s questions could be asked within any narrative in which a child, in a variation on the Lacanian “mirror stage,” recognizes the difference between his life and that which mainstream media tells him is normal (middle-class, nuclear-family suburbia), but the answers to all of these questions lie in the gothic: their mother was killed by a demon, their father’s pursuit of the supernatural after their mother’s death drew the attention of child services so they had to flee Kansas (“Home,” 1.9), and Dad is away hunting monsters. That Sam’s age marks Dean as nine or ten years old when Sam was asking these questions only reinforces Dean’s childhood loss–as his brother’s primary caregiver and armed protector “for days at a time,” he has already long lost that innocence.

[13] In “The Uncanny,” Sigmund Freud famously argues that the nineteenth-century gothic tale “The Sandman,” by E. T. A. Hoffman, metaphorically depicts castration anxiety through the boy’s fear that the Sandman will steal his eyes (230-33). In Kripke’s Supernatural andBoogeyman, class rather than sex is the ground of boys’ vulnerability. Tim spends part of his childhood in a psychiatric centre, while Dean spends most of his parenting his brother or helping his father fight demons, and both find themselves tied to those same worlds as adults. In both instances, the supernatural marks the moment of shifting class position as one of horror. Before his father’s disappearance, Tim lived in a comfortable rural home with two parents and lots of toys, and afterwards he had to live with his uncle (though not in the back of a bar, as Jessica claims while she is trying to shock her parents). Before the death of their mother, the Winchesters lived in a comfortable home in Lawrence, Kansas, their father the part-owner of a business; after Mary Winchester’s death, they move from motel to motel, living on credit card fraud because their father is always hunting rather than working at a paying job. Downward mobility is narratively triggered not by economic crisis but by a gothic displacement of it–a supernatural event that propels young boys into a world where they are not safe because “nightmares are real.” “Nightmare” gothically tropes a state of general vulnerability: without a home and without the regular presence of even one parent, these boys grow up in circumstances defined by instability and insecurity.

“Kind of Butch”: Rejecting Middle America

[14] The Winchester brothers, as suggested by their popularity on fansites and The CW network, broadly fill the popular type of hunky heroes who fight the bad and protect the good. They drink beer out of the bottle, win fistfights, outsmart nearly everyone, can (if they want) get the girl in each episode, interact easily with children, often making them feel safer, and engage in witty banter. But despite their shared background and status as “tough guys,” the brothers are classed and gendered differently, precisely because of their different relationship to the originary supernatural trauma. Sam does not remember his mother, her death or much of what Dean associates with a difficult childhood; he is depicted as the more sensitive and soft-spoken brother, and is capable of, as well as invested in, upward mobility. Dean does remember their mother, having to carry Sam out of their burning home the night she died, and much more of their childhoods; in short, he remembers the downward turn, from the big house where his mother tucked him in to the rundown motels where he had to care for his brother. He neither pursues upward mobility nor accepts middle-class values; he is “the rugged bad boy” as the official network site for the series puts it (“Cast”), with significant debts to the “strong and silent” type of film noir and westerns. While fan response has tended to see Sam as the series’ protagonist, Kripke has another view:

I’ve heard this comment before, and I just don’t get it. Not even a little. It’s never been a show about Sam. . . . A big brother watching out for a little brother, wondering if you have to kill the person you love most, family loyalty versus the greater good, family obligation versus personal happiness. . . . These are all issues that Dean faces, and in my opinion, they are just as rich, if not richer, than psychic children and demonic plans. (Kripke; second ellipsis in original)

In other words, while Sam is the chosen hero of a mythic quest, it is Dean who is at the centre of the series’ exploration of competing ideologies and values. As the first two seasons unfold, Sam pursues his quest while his brother, the stoic blue-collar hero, unravels because of these very conflicts.

[15] Dean’s “bad boy” masculinity is repeatedly marked as a mask or performance, explicitly by Sam and implicitly by Dean’s frequent references to movie tough guys and rock drummers. After they are mistaken for a couple (a mistake also made in “Bugs” and “Something Wicked”), Dean asks Sam why: Sam replies, “Well, you are kind of butch–probably think you’re overcompensating” (“Playthings,” 2.11). But this constructed masculinity is significantly conditioned by class. As Foster argues, in much mainstream American culture, “Class mobility is marked by the contradictory impulses implicit in the capitalist American Dream. On the one hand, the consumer is taught to work hard, the idea being that with pep and determination she can be upwardly mobile. On the other hand, the consumer is taught that, above all, he must be a hedonist, he must be wildly acquisitional” (22). Sam’s ties to his Stanford life follow this pattern. Sam is so successful as a student that he is awarded full funding for his undergraduate work, allowing him to acquire a nice apartment, cell phone, computer, and so forth, and he is about to be interviewed for a full scholarship to law school when the series opens. When Sam leaves his brother briefly in “Scarecrow” (1.11), he is weighed down by a backpack, a satchel, and a dufflebag. But Dean, who has experienced downward mobility (and not as mere downward class-passing, briefly discussed by Foster), is strikingly unconsumerist: he has a simpler cellphone than his brother and drives his father’s old car, and both are essential for his job. He has had the same music cassettes for years (“Pilot,” 1.1), despite his keen interest in music, and borrows Sam’s computer. The difference between the brothers’ consumerist ethics is used to comic effect in “Phantom Traveller” (1.4) when Sam laughs at Dean’s homemade technological device. Dean fails to see the problem or the joke; it works, and the fact that he did not buy it is irrelevant to him. As hunters, the brothers follow Dean’s lead. Although they have access to money through credit card fraud, the money is directed entirely at basic living expenses and the work; they stay at cheap motels, eat take-out food, and only buy new clothes when needed for hunting as in, for instance, “Phantom Traveler,” so that the same shirts, jeans, and jackets often reappear in different episodes. If, as Susan Jeffords suggests, “identities are defined increasingly in relation to patterns of consumption and shared product references rather than to historic affiliations with concepts of region” (219), then a series that takes as its focus local legends logically allies itself with characters who function aslant this trend. To hunt in Supernatural is to be immersed in the local, not the multinational-driven culture of brand recognition and globalized consumerism, and this is understood in the series as an insistently classed move.

[16] Dean’s separation from middle-class mores goes beyond consumerism and socioeconomic circumstances. For instance, Dean is represented as skeptical of Christianity and, more generally, he does “not believe good’s out there” (“Faith,” 1.12). As the series develops, this skepticism is connected explicitly to the trauma of their mother’s death. In the middle of season 2, Dean tells Sam, for the first time, of a childhood memory. Throughout the first half of the episode, the brothers argue about the existence of angels, with Dean insisting with uncharacteristic vehemence that “there’s no such thing” and referring to “those angel yarns” and “this angel crap”:

Dean: OK, alright, you know what, I get it, you’ve got faith. That’s, hey, good for you–I’m sure it makes things easier. I’ll tell you who else had faith like that. Mom. She used to tell me when she tucked me in that angels were watching over us. In fact that was the last thing she ever said to me.Sam: You never told me that.

Dean: What’s to tell? She was wrong. There was nothing protecting her. There’s no higher power, there’s no god. I mean, there’s just chaos and violence and random unpredictable evil that comes out of nowhere and rips you to shreds. (“Houses of the Holy,” 2.13)

Sam, however, with no memory of his mother or her death, does have Christian faith: he not only takes Dean to a Christian faith healer in “Faith,” but also tells him in “Houses of the Holy” that he prays every day. Both “Faith” and “Houses of the Holy” end with Dean’s skepticism slightly shaken, but with Dean placed firmly outside of normative Christianity—a belief system strongly associated with middle America, particularly in the so-called “red states” (see Dochuk), a group that includes the brothers’ home state of Kansas and most of the series’ major settings. Moreover, in “Houses of the Holy,” this skepticism is explicitly tied to their mother’s supernaturally caused death. The childhood vulnerability stressed in “Something Wicked” is sustained in the adult’s atheism, his belief that the world–in which he was propelled from middle-class security, with his mother and angels guarding him, to a latchkey kid armed with a shotgun–is “just chaos and violence and random unpredictable evil.”

[17] Even more suggestive is Dean’s reaction to middle-class homes. Early in the series, Dean walks through a new suburb and tells Sam, “Growing up in a place like this would freak me out. . . . The manicured lawns, ‘How was your day, honey?’ I’d blow my brains out” (“Bugs,” 1.8). The ideal suburban domestic does not conceal or repress, or even exhibit vulnerability, as in much horror film and television (see, for instance, Beuka and Michasiw). It is, in its ideal form, a site of terrible strangeness to Dean. And perhaps with good cause: one of the early expositions of Dean’s complexity as a character occurs in the next episode, “Home,” when Dean sneaks away from Sam to call their father. With trembling voice and choking back tears, entirely at odds with his “tough guy” persona to date, Dean leaves a message that he has returned to the suburban house where their mother died and needs his father desperately. This is not, then, simply the cliché of the hypermasculine man who fears suburban conformity as a threat to American individualism or the longstanding gothic threat of domestication-as-emasculation–although there is at least one joke in this vein in “Bugs”–not least because it is imagined from the space of boyhood (“Growing up in a place like this”). As Samira Kawash notes, “Throughout the postwar period, the house has held a signal place in the American cultural imaginary, providing an affective and symbolic locus for the virtues and desires through which the national subject is interpellated and normalized” (185), including the “American Dream” as Foster defines it.Supernatural is a radical intervention in this imaginary. It is less concerned with threats to the middle-class normativity that defines the American subject, or with a critique of that normativity, though certainly a number of episodes do work through these established gothic themes in relation to single-episode characters. Rather, the series views class in relation to masculinity from a new perspective in which the experience of downward mobility shadows the dominance of the fantasy of upward mobility–a dominance reinforced by fans’ perception that Stanford Sam is the real hero of the series. Dean does not desire the suburbs, as a return to his pre-school childhood or as the effect of adult economic security or social privilege: his notion of “family,” of the ideal he seeks to restore in the first season as the ground of the terms on which he has been “interpellated and normalized,” is grasped as the three Winchester men on the road hunting together (“Shadow,” 1.16), “blue-collar” and “greasy” as Kripke puts it (“Commentary”). As Dean’s phone call to his father in “Home” suggests most strikingly, the suburban house remains a site of loss–of a childhood terror that voids all desire for it.

[18] At the same time, the series avoids conventional critiques of middle-class homogeneity which would depict Dean as simply freed of middle-class constraints through his lower-class position. The negative effects of class on Dean are instead as sustained as the effects of the childhood traumas that haunt the character and shape his obsession with protecting his brother. While Dean is aesthetically and narratively valued in terms of blue-collar masculinity–that “rugged bad boy” on the network website–the dialogue often undercuts his masculinity by challenging his authority on the basis of precisely his classed gender performance. For instance, Dean, like Tim inBoogeyman, is frequently instructed on proper conduct. The pre-teen Dean of “Something Wicked” defends himself when his father complains that he is not paying enough attention to his instructions, but the adult Dean is simply silent when he is corrected–taking his chastisement “like a man,” and orders like an inferior. Sam, with years invested in the world of Stanford University, lectures him on middle-class morality and corrects his behavior when they attempt to masquerade in more mainstream roles–telling him to “tone it down” when they are impersonating priests in “Nightmare” (1.14), for instance. In “Home,” Missouri, John Winchester’s friend, snaps at Dean, “Boy, you put your foot on my coffee table I’m going to whack you with a spoon,” smacks him on the back of the head and calls him stupid when she thinks he has been impolite, and orders him to clean up a kitchen that has been destroyed by a poltergeist, while speaking softly to Sam, calling him “honey,” and telling him how sorry she is about the tragedies in his life. Even when he is behaving properly for the context he is marked as deviant. While they are undercover in prison, Sam asks Dean, incredulously, “Does it bother you at all how easily you seem to fit in here?” (“Folsom Prison Blues,” 2.19). WhileDie Hard (1988) famously batters the body of the hypermasculine hero, Supernatural also batters that hero’s ego through a discourse of class that aligns Dean with the immoral, even criminal, and represents him as subject to the orders of others and less valuable than his upwardly mobile brother–a battering that comes to fruition in the final episodes of season 2.

[19] Alluded to in the first season and explored for much of the second season through Dean’s apparent death-wish, self-abjection gradually emerges as the keynote of Dean’s characterization. In “Skin,” a shapeshifter masquerading as Dean exposes his secret: “I know I’m a freak and sooner or later everybody’s going to leave me.” In “Faith” and the early episodes of season 2, he is weighed down by guilt that he lives because another, to him more worthy, person has died. At the end of the second season, Dean’s problem is fully revealed when family friend Bobby, a hunter and surrogate father to the Winchester brothers throughout the season, discovers that Dean has made a deal with a demon to resurrect Sam in exchange for Dean’s soul after just one more year of life. Dean tells Bobby that the deal will make him worthwhile at last: “my life can mean something.” Standing in the middle of his junkyard, uncharacteristically verging on tears, Bobby asks Dean, “What? And it didn’t before? Have you got that low an opinion of yourself? Are you that screwed in the head?” (“All Hell Breaks Loose 2”). In the same episode, the demon that the brothers have pursued through two seasons also comments on Dean’s self-esteem, mocking Dean, as he lies prone on the ground, “I couldn’t have done it without your pathetic self-loathing, self-destructive desire to sacrifice yourself for your family.” That Dean’s “self-loathing” is seen and condemned by two powerful male figures who are, like Dean, well outside of “mainstream” America, stresses the pathologization of Dean’s internalization of class abjection and narrative resistance to the identification of it as an inevitable feature of blue-collar masculinity.

[20] Dean’s masculinity is thus consistently classed but within a contradictory framing of his “blue-collar” status that recalls Malin’s understanding of President Bill Clinton’s popular image as “simultaneously hyperand hypomasculine” (18): in one frame, Dean operates outside of the consumerist, homogenizing aesthetic of suburbia, freed of property, legality, and other middle-class constraints in a Route 66 ideal of “butch” power, and in the other he internalizes his class position as self-abjection, incapable of moving anywhere but downward to annihilation and, literally, hell. Both are overtly tied to the loss of innocence from which he tries to protect Sam and others, and as such are inextricable from each other. As in Boogeyman, the problem is not a particular class position or even the so-called “crisis of masculinity” in which men compare themselves to unachievable masculine ideals (see Malin 11-15). Rather, Dean and Tim are caught up in a “crisis of class” through the juxtaposition of different classes–a juxtaposition pursued in Supernaturalthrough the Stanford-educated Sam and AC/DC fan Dean, though not as a neatly opposed pair.

[21] Even as Sam operates as a normative gaze, judging Dean’s behaviour according to middle-class notions of propriety and ethics, his upward mobility is marked as performance. Sam never talked to Jessica about his family or told her about “the family business,” for instance, though they were together for over a year–but Dean told his girlfriend Cassie after just a few weeks (“Route 666,” 1.13). Sam, in short, while widely accepted at Stanford through a rich circle of friends, felt that he had to conceal much about his family and childhood, even to the woman he was planning to marry. When Dean says he wishes Sam could be “Joe College” again, while Free’s “All Right Now” plays in the background, Sam replies, “That’s OK. You know, truth is, even at Stanford I never really fit in” (“Skin”). The first two seasons of Supernatural thus keep class clearly in view without falling into simple stereotypes or determinisms. The brothers represent not different classes—one the working-class buffoon, the other the upwardly mobile student–but rather the difficulty of negotiating class, most directly by firmly identifying Dean as a blue-collar hero while decoupling him from any secure or stable sense of self but also by repeatedly noting Sam’s ease with lying, even to those closest to him, when he is class-passing.

Black and Blue: Racing the Latchkey Hero

[22] While the first season focusses on the brothers’ search for their father, the second follows their integration into a larger world of “hunters”–almost universally depicted as white, rural, working class, and inhabiting junkyards, roadhouses, and remote rural cabins. In its depiction of demon hunters, the series risks veering into the allegorical idealization of rural militia, a connection that is explicitly addressed in “Nightshifter” (2.12) when an FBI agent describes John Winchester to Dean: “Ex-marine, raised his kids on the road, cheap motels, backwood cabins, real paramilitary-survivalist type. I just can’t get a handle on what type of wacko he was. White supremacist, Timmy McVeigh? Tomato, tomahto.” Here, the series overtly addresses an easy reading of the hunters in Supernatural–protecting post-9/11 America from evil with their secret caches of heavy-duty guns and other weaponry, ex-military personnel, and low-tech concealment of their activities. The military-like rearing of the Winchester brothers is clear from their interactions with their father: he gives them “orders,” sends them map coordinates for hunting jobs and, when they are reunited after months apart (years apart for Sam), the brothers answer “yes, sir!” in unison (“Shadow”). In the first two seasons’ handling of race in the US, the “white supremacist” threat is assuaged somewhat through Dean though not always on particularly reflexive terms. Overall, Dean is depicted as having greater access to a multi-racial America than his upwardly mobile brother—recalling the depiction in My Name is Earl of the lower classes as more racially integrated and overtly engaged with the nuances of racism–but is still insistently separated from blackness through the one hunter in the first two seasons who is not marked as white. Moreover, he is most emotionally and physically battered in the only episode of the series to address a demon associated with Islam.

[23] Dean is central in two episodes that deal with black history in the south. “Route 666” (written by Brad Buckner), in which the brothers help Dean’s African-American ex-girlfriend, Cassie (Megalyn Echikunwoke), deals with the ghost of a racist white man who, when alive, assaulted local African Americans out of rage that his white girlfriend was dating a black man (a couple who would become Cassie’s parents). “Crossroad Blues” (2.8, written by Sera Gamble) is a tale of deals with the devil that draw on a blend of Judeo-Christian and animist beliefs, particularly hoodoo, in an episode dense with references to African-American history in the Mississippi Delta. In “Crossroad Blues,” a man buries some artifacts at a crossroads to raise the devil and make a deal, sealed by a kiss with the demon, with his soul as the price–a price due in ten years. In the narrative present, it is an African-American painter, George Darrow; in the narrative past, provided through a series of flashbacks that punctuate the episode, it is Robert Johnson (1911-1938), the African-American blues artist historically rumoured to have made such a deal. But, in the narrative present, the closed economy of the deal has gone awry: instead of leaving after making the deal with the painter, the demon stayed and made more deals at a nearby roadhouse. These deals are all with apparently white characters who are now extremely wealthy: a woman who wished to be chief surgeon at a hospital, a man who asked to become a successful architect, and a rich man who, in an ethical complication of the brothers’ position that the dealmakers are getting what they deserve, asked for his dying wife’s health to be restored. Now, ten years later, the hellhounds are coming to collect the devil’s fee; the architect dies first, then the surgeon. Darrow is still alive because he has used hoodoo to protect himself in an apartment full of compelling paintings but unknown because he asked for talent rather than socioeconomic success–the implication, too, of the framing narrative’s account of Johnson.The racialization of both the dealmakers and class position is obvious: white characters are associated with economic privilege and ambition, while the black characters focus their desires on cultural rather than material success. Racial divisions are compounded by the different appearances of the demon. Nearly four decades after the first inter-racial kiss on mainstream television, the episode’s creators went to the trouble of casting different actors for “the crossroads demon” to appear differently for different characters, matching skintones. The demon is apparently a black woman when making a deal with Robert Johnson, but apparently a white woman when dealing with white characters—even in later episodes where different actresses are used. The episode does not depict the woman’s deal being made, avoiding the complication it would cause for the mainstream, youth-oriented CW network, in the sexualization of the pact as a seduction. The episode is unreflectively conservative in these choices, reinforcing heteronormativity as well as going to some trouble to maintain racial segregation in depictions of sexuality, despite the positive representation of Dean’s and Carrie’s relationship in season 1.

[24] While the Winchesters typically rely on research–town records, the father’s journal, locals talking about folklore, or calling on their father’s friends–to identify supernatural threats, in this episode Dean already has the expertise to solve the mystery, beginning with his recognition that a plant used in spells is growing on all four corners of a crossroad near the bar they are investigating. Sam contributes significantly, but it is Dean who sees the full implications. For instance, Sam recognizes the features of a spell “to summon a demon,” and Dean clarifies, “Not just summon one. Crossroads are where pacts are made. These people are actually making deals with the damn thing.” Later in the same scene, Sam makes the connection to Johnson and is again corrected:

Sam: So it’s just like the Robert Johnson legend, right? I mean, selling your soul at the crossroads kind of deal.Dean: Except that wasn’t a legend. You know his music. [no reply] You don’t know Robert Johnson’s songs? Sam, there’s occult references all over his lyrics. I mean, “Crossroad Blues,” “Mean Devil Blues,” “Hell Hound on my Trail.”

In two seasons of Supernatural, this is the only expansion of Dean’s musical interests beyond classic rock and it is explicitly distinguished from Sam’s knowledge of music. Moreover, in the next episode, “Croatoan” (2.9), Dean verbally echoes Darrow, indicating he is weary of fighting the supernatural and prepared for death. Despite the firm colour lines used in the episode, then, Dean is represented as being at the crossroads, so to speak, of those lines–knowing some hoodoo though not as much as Darrow, knowing the blues better than Sam, being like Darrow in his weary waiting for death, and being lower-class like Darrow and Johnson but white like the surgeon and architect.

[25] Moreover, “Crossroad Blues” (2.8) is tacitly bracketed by two episodes, “Bloodlust” (2.3, written by Gamble) and “Hunted” (2.10, written by Raelle Tucker), in which Dean confronts another “hunter,” Gordon Walker. “Bloodlust” extends the moral complications of the second season by forcing the brothers to address the conundrum of vampires who choose not to kill. The episode overtly alludes to Joss Whedon’sBuffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) and Angel (1999-2004), where this conundrum is central: Gordon’s sister was turned into a vampire, just like Angel‘s Gunn, the first regular in either Whedon series to be cast with an African-American actor (J. August Richards); a Buffy cast member, Amber Benson, plays Lenore, the lead vampire in the episode. Gordon is introduced as a hunter like John Winchester–a model of masculine determination, confidence and power. Dean and Gordon bond over beer, telling hunting stories, while Sam rejects the glorification of killing and sulkily returns to the motel room where he is kidnapped by one of the “good” vampires who brings him to Lenore so that she can explain their situation; he is then safely returned to the motel and argues the vampires’ case with Dean. Dean instead goes to help Gordon kill the vampires with some macho swagger about killing evil–an extension of the repeated characterization of Dean as a hunter who enjoys the kill, as well as a response to Sam’s concern earlier in the episode that Dean is taking unwarranted risks with his own life. But Dean arrives at the vampires’ house to find Gordon torturing Lenore, and his horror at the scene causes him to quickly reverse his position and his loyalties. Dean and Gordon fight, in a protracted and particularly violent exchange that ends with Dean tying up Gordon and Lenore freed. Dean defines new ethical boundaries for himself when he sees Gordon’s pleasure in hunting turn from homosocial bonding through the hunt and story-telling to the perverted heterosexuality of torturing a female vampire for pleasure.

[26] Casting, however, adds another layer to the narrative. Gordon is played by African-American actor Sterling K. Brown, and Benson, as Lenore, is made up to look especially white. This defines Dean’s new ethical position in opposition to blackness, strongly echoing Toni Morrison’s argument in Playing in the Darkand especially her call for “studies that analyze the strategic use of black characters to define the goals and enhance the qualities of white characters” in light of “the image of a reined-in, bound, suppressed, and repressed darkness [that] became objectified in American literature as an Africanist persona. . . . [T]he duties of that persona–duties of exorcism and reification and mirroring–are on demand and display” (52-53, 38-39). Morrison’s study deals with some of the key American gothic texts that inform Kripke’s series, most notably the gothic literature of Edgar Allan Poe (for instance, “Lenore” is the name of central characters in Poe’s “The Raven” and “Lenore”). Visually, the episode takes as its moment of horror, the moment that triggers Dean’s ethical revelation, the image of a black man standing over a bound white woman and taking pleasure in hurting her–an image with a long genealogy in racist discourse. Morrison’s account precisely defines Gordon’s function in the narrative: his body beaten and bound at the end of the episode (“reined-in, bound, suppressed”), his character reduced to a capacity for rampant violence that Dean has now transcended, his role is simply to reframe (and so “enhance,” in Morrison’s term) Dean’s ethics. The second episode with Gordon, “Hunted,” uses him the same way. Dean’s father, just before dying, issued a new order to Dean: kill Sam if he becomes a danger to others. This is part of an arc narrative about Sam having some supernatural powers granted, through a drop of demon blood, by the demon that killed his mother. Dean is in effect caught between two longstanding moral principles propounded by his father–protect Sam and kill the supernatural–that are suddenly contradictory. Gordon has discovered Sam’s secret and again is free of moral ambiguity: Sam is tainted by the supernatural and therefore must be killed. In both episodes, Gordon embodies the hunting principles laid down by John Winchester as Dean has to establish his own ethical judgment–and so establish both his adulthood (as a separation from his father’s law) and his superiority to the only black hunter in the first two seasons of the series. Gordon is not only visually situated by the racism described by Morrison but also serves verbally to state the racist position allegorically rendered through the figure of the vampire in gothic television such as Buffy: he insists that vampires as a race must be annihilated (“Bloodlust”) and, in a clear evocation of discourses of miscegenation and racial purity, one drop of blood is enough to racially Other Sam (“Hunted”). In rejecting Gordon’s racist stance on vampires and demons, Dean establishes his authority as an ethical white man: he is above racism, and so able to freely move across color lines, but he is also more moral than the only African-American hunter he meets. The series, then, recycles racist paradigms, detailed by Morrison and endemic in the gothic generally, in its conservative (and remarkably rare) depiction of non-white characters—introduced largely for the purpose of developing the moral superiority of the white male hero.

[27] The problem of racism takes an orientalist turn in the last season 2 episode written by Tucker. In “What Is and Never Should be” (2.20), Dean faces a Djinn, a demon that shimmers blue and is explicitly associated with Islam but also implicitly with the Arab tradition of the genie (the European rendering of “Djinn”), available to the West for centuries through translations of Arabian Nights. Dean is captured by the Djinn and suddenly finds himself asleep in an apartment, a woman by his side. Within a few minutes of episode time, he realizes that he is living a life in which his mother was not killed, the surviving Winchesters did not become itinerant hunters, Sam’s girlfriend is still alive, and he is married to an attractive nurse. Dean relishes all of the suburban details of life with his mother, from getting her to repeat that angels watch over them to eating her sandwiches and mowing the lawn. He has also fully replaced his father in somewhat Oedipal terms: the father was co-owner of a garage before the tragedy, and Dean is now working as a mechanic at a garage. As with the series as a whole, the dominant narrative is not neatly sustained: this is supposed to be Dean’s fantasy based on his unspoken wish when attacked by the Djinn, namely, “Mom never died, we never went hunting.” But Dean is alienated from his brother in this fantasy life, and Dean also finds himself generally at odds with this middle-class world: he is uncomfortable at the nice restaurant his mother and brother like, and the pattern of correcting Dean in the series is stressed in this episode through various comments on his behaviour, including drinking, gambling, stealing, not being at work or at home with his wife (like a good suburbanite), and so forth. He accepts these critiques, as he has throughout the series, and only wishes to leave the fantasy because not hunting means that the people the Winchester men have saved were left to die. Dean, in short, rejects middle-class security and success in order to pursue self-sacrifice in hunting. More suggestively, the episode ends by closely recalling “Bugs,” thirty-four episodes earlier in the series. In “Bugs,” Dean claims, “Growing up in a place like this would freak me out. . . . The manicured lawns, ‘How was your day, honey?’ I’d blow my brains out.” In “What Is,” he realizes that he can only escape the middle-class fantasy created for him in a similar way. Stabbing himself through the heart, he wakes up in the real world to discover that the illusion was created to keep him passive while he was hanged from a ceiling and his blood drained to feed the Djinn. In both episodes, suicide is the only way out of the nightmare of middle-class privilege–a self-annihilation that, like Dean’s general ethic of self-sacrifice and concomitant problem of self-abjection, counters the American Dream’s emphasis on consumption and being “wildly acquisitional” (Foster 22).

[28] On one level, the episode is an elaboration of Dean’s discomfort with middle America–and middle America’s discomfort with him. The allegorical reading is straightforward: well-to-do surburbia, and the possibility of a blue-collar, latchkey kid having access to it, is simply a remote fantasy through which men such as Dean are kept passive while their bodies are used and their egos bruised. But, as with casting in “Bloodlust,” the selection of the Djinn as an orientalized mythical figure significantly compounds the episode’s implications. Post-9/11, the representation of the lower classes is rendered more contemporaneously than general socioeconomic conditions and cultural practices (as in, say, Roseanne[1988-1997] or Malcolm in the Middle [2000-2006]) to suggest the War on Terror. In the West, the military offers the lower classes access to education and the possibility of upward mobility. That Dean is offered a fantasy of middle-class privilege and security–a well-to-do family home, a professional wife, a successful brother (though, of course, Dean himself remains “blue-collar” as a garage mechanic)–to acquiesce to his body’s violation by an Islamic demon extends the series’ exploration of the position of the lower classes in the American imaginary in new directions. That he rejects that fantasy in order to defend the lives of others further allies him with a foundational military ethic in which self-sacrifice, rather than upward mobility, is supposed to be the central motivation. Legible as both a foreign threat to lower-class men’s bodies and as a symbol of the impact of the war itself on those bodies, the Djinn, on screen for only a few seconds, functions as a device, like so many of the series’ supernatural beings, through which to explore America’s haunting by class after the series has safely disposed of the racist resonance of the hunter’s persona through Gordon Walker. Dean, in short, is a “good soldier,” not a “white supremacist, Timmy McVeigh,” in a gothic depiction of the disproportionate effects of war on the lower classes–a point elaborated in the second season’s final episode, when an African-American soldier who serves in Afghanistan is blackmailed by a demon who reminds him that outside of the army he has only low-paying career options.

[29] While My Name is Earl finds comedy in the lives of its characters and sentimental reassurance for middle America in Earl’s determination to make amends to all of those who he has wronged,Supernaturalrenders class difference and working-class alienation in gothic terms. “Overcompensating” through masculine performance for a childhood trauma tied to downward class mobility, a gun-toting hero who is chastised by powerful male figures for his pathologically low self-esteem, Dean Winchester functions as the site at which popular depictions of class and masculinity unravel, including those embodied, though occasionally complicated, by his more conventional brother. That this unravelling is propelled by gothic machinery keeps the focus of the series on the unravelling itself rather than any actual socioeconomic and cultural crises perpetuated by the dominance of the myths of suburbia, white masculine autonomy and ethical confidence, and the American Dream. But the series nevertheless undercuts those myths, using the gothic to explore and challenge depictions of class and masculinity in twenty-first-century American popular culture from the perspective of a latchkey hero who has lost, rather than seeks to secure or escape, middle-class privilege and its assurances of bodily security and a well-ordered, knowable world.


I am grateful to the Canada Research Chairs Program for its generous support of my research, as well as Jason Haslam and the anonymous readers of this essay for their very helpful comments.

Works Cited

  • “About.” My Name is Earl. NBC website. Date of access: 14 July 2007.
  • Beuka, Robert. SuburbiaNation: Reading Suburban Landscape in Twentieth-Century American Fiction and Film. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Boogeyman. Dir. Stephen Kay. Perf. Barry Watson, Emily Deschanel, and Lucy Lawless. Special Edition DVD. Sony Pictures, 2005.
  • “Cast.” Supernatural. CW website. . Date of access: 12 July 2007.
  • “Celebrity Q & A.” Interview with Jared Padalecki. People Magazine29 November 2005.,,1133515,00.html . Date of access: 30 October 2007.
  • Cole, Stephen. “Bogus Horror Flick Belongs in the Closet.” Globe and Mail 5 February 2005.
  • “Commentary on ‘Pilot’ with Eric Kripke, David Nutter, and Peter Johnson.” Supernatural: Season 1. DVD. Warner Home Video, 2006.
  • Dochuk, Darren. “‘Praying for a Wicked City’: Congregation, Community, and the Suburbanization of Fundamentalism.” Religion and American Culture 13 (2003): 167-203.
  • Ducat, Stephen J. The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.
  • Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey. Class-Passing: Social Mobility in Film and Popular Culture. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2005.
  • Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Vol. 17 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1955. 219-52.
  • Glass, Loren. “Publicizing the President’s Privates.” Postmodern Culture 9.3 (1999).
  • Hogle, Jerrold E. “The Gothic and the ‘Otherings’ of Ascendant Culture: The Original Phantom of the Opera.”South Atlantic Quarterly95 (1996): 821-46.
  • Internet Movie Database.
  • Jeffords, Susan. “Breakdown: White Masculinity, Class and US Action-Adventure Films.” Action and Adventure Cinema. Ed. Yvonne Tasker. New York: Routledge, 2004. 219-34.
  • Kawash, Samira. “Safe House? Body, Building, and the Question of Security.” Cultural Critique 45 (2000): 185-221.
  • Kripke, Eric. “Eric Kripke Fields Your Questions about Supernatural.”TV Guide 15 February 2007. Date of Access: 28 June 2007.
  • Leyland, Matthew. Rev. of Boogeyman. Sight & Sound 15.4 (April 2005): 47.
  • Malchow, H. L. Gothic Images of Race in the Nineteenth Century Britain. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1996.
  • Malin, Brenton J. American Masculinity Under Clinton: Popular Media and the Nineties “Crisis of Masculinity.” New York: Peter Lang, 2005.
  • Michasiw, Kim. “Some Stations of Suburban Gothic.” American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative. Ed. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1998. 236-57.
  • Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.
  • My Name is Earl. Created by Greg Garcia. Perf. Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Jaime Pressly, Eddie Steeples and Nadine Velazquez. NBC, 2005-2007.
  • Palmer, Louis. “Bourgeois Blues: Class, Whiteness, and Southern Gothic in Early Faulkner and Caldwell.”Faulkner Journal 22 (2006-07): 120-39.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Edward H. Davidson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956.
  • Riley, Dave and Jill Steinberg. “Four Popular Stereotypes About Children in Self-Care: Implications for Family Life Educators.” Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies 53 (2004): 95-101.
  • Rudolph, Ileane. “A Grimm Supernatural.” TV Guide 29 October 2007: 36.
  • Savoy, Eric. “The Face of the Tenant: A Theory of American Gothic.”American Gothic: New Interventions in a National Narrative. Ed. Robert K. Martin and Eric Savoy. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1998. 3-19.
  • Scheck, Frank. Rev. of Boogeyman. The Hollywood Reporter 7 February 2005.
  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985.
  • –. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990.
  • Supernatural. Created by Eric Kripke. Perf. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. WB, 2005-2006; CW, 2006- .
  • Thiele, David. “The ‘Transcendent and Immortal … HEEP!’: Class Consciousness, Narrative Authority and the Gothic in David Copperfield.” Texas Studies in Language and Literature 42 (2000): 201-22.
  • Untitled Promotional Picture of the Winchesters Reading Weekly World News. The CW website. Date of access: 30 October 2007.
  • Wright, Julia M. Ireland, India and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.