Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Supernatural Understands The References! A Look at Pop Culture in the Show.

by Lindsey

Like all of us, Guest Writer Lindsey is a big fan of the literary, filmic and pop culture references in Supernatural! So she put together some of her favourites! Check them out, and let us some of your favourite references in the comments!

For ten seasons, we have been graced with the wonderful writing of some of the most talented people working in television right now. From Eric Kripke to Adam Glass to Robbie Thompson (just to name a few), the writers for Supernatural have kept us entranced and entertained for episode after episode. One thing that I have enjoyed just as much as the insanely intricate storylines are the pop culture references and influences that have been a part of the show since episode one.

From undertones to one-liners, the presence of popular culture on Supernatural has ranged from hilariously obvious to cerebrally subtle. As a self-confessed pop culture geek, it’s one (out of the many) element that I love about the show, that the writers are themselves, fans. From music to movies/TV to books, they love these things as much as we do. And they express this love by writing it directly into the show in many different ways, whether it’s a direct reference or overarching inspiration for a script. 

So, to help pass the time until we’re blessed with a new episode, I thought I’d share what I consider to be a few of my favourite pop culture influences we’ve seen so far. 

Sam and Dean, Dean and Sam. The innocuous first names of our beloved Winchester boys, right? Well, not so much. You’ve probably heard of Jack Kerouac; you may have read On the Road, which many consider a defining work representing the American counterculture movement of the 40s and 50s. What you may not know is that Eric Kripke took his inspiration for naming his characters from that book. On the Road is a stream of consciousness narrative of the cross-country travels of Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise; it embodies the never-ending search for something that neither character can define and is continuously changing. 

Enter Dean and Sam Winchester; a pair of brothers endlessly driving on a mission that has no real end in sight- doing what they must when the moment calls for it before moving onto the next objective, questioning what they’re doing but never stopping. While the Winchester boys are not Kripke’s attempt to modernise the Beat era characters of the famous novel, the connection is still a meaningful and powerful one. 

A fan of another illustrious author, Eric Kripke has said that Supernatural is basically Sandman meets American Gods. The influences of Neil Gaiman and his works are evident all throughout the show. When we are first introduced to Castiel, it is like looking at a doppelganger of John Constantine from the Hellblazer comic book series. Our favourite King of Hell, Crowley, shares his name with one of the two main characters in the Good Omens novel. These are just two instances where we can see how the works by Neil Gaiman have helped shape the show.

Good Omens also features a prophet by the name of Agnes Nutter, who writes The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. While Chuck and the Carver Edlund series of books had more than one significance, it’s possible that the inspiration for it was taken from Agnes Nutter.

But of all the aspects of the show that have been influenced by Neil Gaiman, my personal favourite was the Hammer of the Gods episode in season 5.

If this wasn’t a shout out to American Gods then I don’t know what else could be. As you’ll remember, that episode has Sam and Dean trapped in the Elysian Fields Hotel by a group of gods from the old world religions who were planning on banding together in an attempt to stop Lucifer and the Apocalypse. In American Gods, the gods and creatures of the old world exist because of the belief people have in them. But as time goes by, they are being replaced by gods of the new world such as celebrities, media, and technology. Infighting and a bid for power ensues between the two sides before they are convinced to return to their homelands and make the best of what they are given. This episode paid much respect to Gaiman and his concept was flawlessly incorporated into the story arc. Not only is this a theme we have seen in several other episodes, I think it’s an interesting notion from a mythological point of view as well.

One of the more recent homages was during one of the first few episodes of the current season with Demon!Dean. And it had to do with one of my all-time favourite movies, The Shining. And let me tell you, as someone who has watched and dissected that movie more times than I can count, this made my day. I absolutely loved it. What we saw went above and beyond all the references that have been made in previous episodes.

At the most basic level is the parallel between Dean and Jack Torrance, right down to the red shirt both are wearing when the action finally goes down. In The Shining, Jack is slowly influenced by the supernatural that inhabits the Overlook Hotel and we watch as he descends into madness.

At the beginning of Season 10, Dean is now demonic and fully under the control of the Mark of Cain. We watch as he parades around, clearly not giving a flying…well, you know…about what he is doing or the damage his actions are causing.

In The Shining, Jack’s wife Wendy finally looks at the novel he has supposedly been working on, only to find ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ written over and over, page after page. This leads into one of the most iconic chase scenes in cinematic history (in my opinion, at least). Cut to our show. After Dean is able to slip out of the spelled handcuffs, he stalks through the bunker looking for Sam in a way that was so reminiscent of Jack looking for Wendy that it gave me chills. Watching him taunt Sam in an attempt to draw him out was outstanding; it really cemented the point that this was not the Dean Winchester we knew and loved.

Jensen definitely channelled Jack Nicholson as we see him finally bust through the door, seeing his face only through the splintered wood. While I’m glad that Dean didn’t suffer the same fate as Jack Torrance did, I thought the entire sequence was wonderfully done and the effort put forth by the writers and actors to make it happen was remarkable.

Finally, on more lighthearted note, the fact that it is written into the show that Dean is a movie buff is one of most subtly brilliant characterisations on the show. It makes his character that much more relatable and lovable. Especially when he makes a reference that no one gets, because let’s face it, we have all been there. Dean has made a plethora of one-line movie references, some so clever and subtle you almost miss them and others comically recognisable. Some of the actual movies Dean has mentioned are: Apocalypse Now, Psycho, Evil Dead Trilogy, Star Trek, Star Wars, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Pretty in Pink, Thelma and Louise, Wayne’s World, Deliverance, Blade Runner, and Beaches.

The fact that there is a healthy dose of chick flicks along with the sci-fi and horror movies is one of the funniest things ever. It makes you think, how exactly does Dean not only know that movie but well enough to use the reference correctly…late night cable at the motels they’ve lived in all their lives or secret obsession? We’ll probably never know.

Sam is no slouch in this area either. He has made his fair share of hilarious movie references over the years, including Hellraiser, Mary Poppins, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Animal House, to name a few. We also know that Sam has read the Harry Potter series as well as some of Game of Thrones. I wish we could see a little more of these sides of Sam and Dean. Or maybe it’s because I wish they could catch a break and indulge themselves in what most people take for granted, the chance to relax and zone out by watching a good movie or reading a good book.

So while Supernatural has made its own impact on pop culture, I’m sure the writers will continue to give homage to those that have come before them, to pay respect to the people or things that have inspired them over the years. I look forward to seeing what they do, to analysing what it means, and to crying or laughing at the brilliance of it all.


  1. Love this! I never realized what a strong connection there is to the Neil Gaiman works, although I did wonder about Crowley's name ;)

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Interesting read. I'd not thought about much of this and although I've never actually watched The Shining all the way through, I've gotten enough of it (and heard enough) to get the parallels. Didn't catch the shirt color though, ha! Also had no idea about the On the Road book either.

    So, Dean might be a closet chick-flick fan then, hmm... hehe