November 2016. Published in Celebrity Studies Published Online.
‘Jensen Ackles is a (homophobic) douchebag’: the ‘politics of slash’ in debates on a TV star’s homophobia
This article analyses discourse on the DataLounge LGBT Internet forum that debates whether Jensen Ackles (star of The CW’s Supernatural) is homophobic. Textual analysis is performed on five relevant threads created between 2007 and 2014, which have attracted in excess of 1150 responses. This discourse is considered in conjunction with existing scholarship on Supernatural as a cult phenomenon, in particular Ackles’ portrayal of the character Dean Winchester, who has been read by scholars (and members of the DataLounge forum) in relation to a certain hegemonic view of masculinity and heterosexuality, often at odds with the popularity of the series among ‘slash fans’, who undertake homoerotic readings. In light of this, I argue that the defensive and offensive posturing of participants on DataLounge can be understood as a case study of what I term the ‘politics of slash’. Such politics underscore some of the main pieces of presented ‘evidence’ for Ackles’ homophobia, such as unwillingness to discuss subtext at fan conventions. While Ackles is the catalyst for the discourse created, I argue that what is most interesting is the insight offered into ‘slash’ as a fan practice, and the subcultural groups most affected and energised by this debate, namely male homosexuals and slash fans. The study brings to bear new insight into understandings of slash and subcultural celebrity by considering the practice as it is constructed through the debate of a TV star’s supposed homophobia, a debate that is itself framed by certain ‘politics’ of representation, visibility, and identity.