Teen Wolf is one of my favorite fandoms.
No, not the film. I wasn't a big fan of the 1985 Michael J. Fox adventure where the hero discovers he's a werewolf due to lycanthropy running in his family. I missed the heyday of some of the more campy fun 1980s films by being too much of a rural kid for my own good. I didn't find a lot of these films, Teen Wolf included, very engaging. No, my Teen Wolf foundation is, perhaps unfortunately (and depending on whether you're asking me post-episode), always going to be Jeff Davis's re-imagining of the teenage werewolf trope that has very, very little to do with the film it's ostensibly based on. My Teen Wolf is always going to be Scott McCall, asthmatic teenager turned into a teenage werewolf against his will, and his family, friends, and enemies in Beacon Hills, California.
I was lovingly peer pressured into the show by my best friend, who popped up one night to talk about it. We ended up mainlining the first 12 episodes on Netflix as we discussed it on Skype, which probably contributes to my love for it; we still watch it together years later. Bad television is great with friends! I still maintain I was weak, coming off earning my college degree and a rough finals season. I needed a distraction and an entertaining creative outlet, and Teen Wolf, with its adorable/angst-filled characters, great interpersonal relationships, and an attractive potential slash ship sold me. After watching it I wrote my friend about 22,000 words of fanfic in six days. I was hooked.
Being of a particular fannish inclination means that how I engage with media has always been different than people around me offline. That's been true my whole life. I'm not alone; there's a reason online fandom is a very popular thing. I had to come online to find communities of people who didn't like that episodes trailed off, seasons or books ended, and series resolved with so many empty places in their narratives. My friends were always pleased to take the source material at face value and not ask more questions. I used to bother people about it enough to get actively told to shut up and just enjoy the TV show/movie/book/game, Renay, come on, why can't you ever be happy with anything? I was seemingly never pleased. What if X scenario had happened instead? What if Character Y and Character Q got together instead of Character Y and Character Z? What if that one element of the story had never happened? What if that one character we loved never, ever died?
I couldn't explain well enough that it wasn't that I was unhappy. Although, to be fair to myself, some things I did think were super dumb and I wished they had never happened. I would often write tons of fix-it fanfic on wide-ruled notebook paper after I watched or read certain things because wow, writer! What a cop out. That's always been part of it for me, but it's never been the whole. It's much more complicated. I really enjoy sinking into stories, meeting their characters, and then wondering what else could be out there for them or how they would change in dramatically different circumstances. There's an element of comfort to the way I engage in media: the idea that I can go and visit characters whenever I want and tell new stories and let myself know how they're doing. I have a lot of trouble with engaging one-and-done on stories. It's why I tend to like series books, or shared universes, and copious amounts of rereading instead of searching out something new. Once I realized I didn't need to wait on creators or ghostwriters or whoever to tell me more stories, I was set. I could just write my own. It didn't negate the canon, it didn't spoil any future work the creator might put out, and nothing I did was permanent, so why not?
Finding fandom online was wonderful and revelatory, but structured shipping of characters did change how I engaged in media to a point. I got, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot more judgmental of writers making what I saw as easy choices in a narrative, more critical of romance portrayed in the stuff I watched, and more bored by the heterosexual trope fests being fed to me by mainstream media. And so I fell into slash fandom, which is primarily focused on relationships, often sexual, between men. This was somewhat out of boredom with mainstream stories available to me and somewhat because I found way more stories in those ships that were scorchingly hot, entertaining, and readily available very quickly, for free.
But being a slasher definitely meant I had to come to grips much sooner with the mainstream media I did read and watch, specifically in the vein of romance. In the media I had access to I was never going to find the type of interpersonal relationships or storylines I wanted to see. I had to balance liking a piece of media and its characters while knowing I would probably go a different fannish direction. I love romance of all types, but my favorite is slash, especially if the dudes are in space (I love makeouts in space!). Because mainstream media wasn't going to pair up the people I often thought should be together, I learned very quickly that my ability to hold multiple stories about the same characters in tons of different scenarios in my head was an extremely useful skill. I no longer needed the source material to provide it (even as I wished for a world where this didn't have to be the reality). Plus, I very rarely actively shipped the right heterosexual couple, and in extreme cases didn't find any of the alternate heterosexual couples very engaging. Some of this was undoubtedly internalized sexism, but not all of it. Media was still too focused on a binary concept of sexuality, gender presentations, and development of heterosexual relationships I left behind very early on in my young adulthood. I wanted more nuance and complication along a spectrum of sexuality and gender expression, and fan writers were some of the best writers available providing that nuance.
I learned fast to appreciate whatever media was doing on its own merits, especially when it came to interpersonal relationships. Because whatever the canon did, hey, I knew if the fandom was large enough, they would likely supplement it (or just straight up fix it) in a myriad of ways. They would do something funny or suspenseful or heartbreaking and they would show me tons of ways the story could have gone. Every different way would be able to exist as its own thing without challenging or eroding the point of any other ways, even the original source. Fans would create new things with a keen eye toward the interpersonal relationships between characters, giving them depth and inner lives the original couldn't do for whatever reason: time, money, social restrictions. I lived through years of fan writers or artists or vidders who told their stories that existed parallel to the canonical sources, and changed them, challenged them, or enriched them. So many books, shows, or games I would never have considered or thought about that deeply were irrevocably changed by my participation in these fannish feedback loops. I've grown as a viewer and a creator in this area of nuance. There is never only one story for me and there's never only one way. There's a canonical way and then there are the stories the fans tell each other, and the stories that grow out of the worlds we build.
So in 2011, when my friend hooked me on Teen Wolf and I threw down so many words of my own, I was writing within the fannish space I've long inhabited by being able to enjoy a show but also being able to imagine different directions and futures. When those avenues were immediately jossed when Teen Wolf's second season aired, and a direction for the show taken so wildly different from what I and tons of other fan writers had been imagining for months, it wasn't a complete disappointment. We groaned and complained (which we would only do louder as subsequent seasons did continually weird things and made mindboggling characterization choices), but we kept watching the show. And in our communities, we wrote our stories. They existed together, and it was mostly peaceful, as long as you didn't dig too deeply into fandom drama.
It became clear that by the time season two ended, the show itself was never going to follow through on the most popular fannish ship, which is, of course, their right. It wasn't ever very likely, given it was a slash ship, but it was a new world, there were explicitly gay characters on the show already. Some of us had hoped for recognition of bisexuality at the least, even if the ship didn't go anywhere. But even though the show deviated, the fandom continued to grow and develop with that ship at its core. It continued to develop when the show killed off many of its women, its people of color, and Jeff Davis continued to engage in an ongoing war against consistency and continuity. A running joke is how much fandom, and fan creators, really want to understand the continuity of Teen Wolf. We want to know how old characters are, where they came from, their back stories, their details, so we can create more stories. But Davis doesn't seem to care about it like we do.
And so we shrug and move on, creating our own details, making our own character histories from the pieces of what we're given, or in serious cases, ignoring the really terrible decisions in favor of blatant fannish retconning. Teen Wolf has a vibrant and creative Alternate Universe (AU) fandom, people writing tons of different kinds of AU fics. Lots of people quit after season two, and their stories borrow elements from later seasons but go their own way. There are stories where important characters never died, where important characters did die, where character relationships developed differently or not at all. And this community continues to exist separately from the show's canon, and that's pretty cool. I still read all sorts of fic and love so much of it, and I love it along with the show, even when I roll my eyes about some of the decisions it makes.
It's not, as my friends thought when I was younger, that I was unhappy. It's more that I could see all the potential avenues, the paths not taken, and I wanted to explore as many of them as I could because I loved the source material deeply. I've most recently been able to conceptualize this to people who don't understand fandom by explaining it in terms of comics continuity, even though I barely understand comics continuity myself. This, strangely enough, seems to work much better at getting at how and why I engage with stories this way. After all, if you've followed a favorite superhero longer than five years and know tons of what's happened to them, but are still interested in their future, it's not so different.
Teen Wolf season 5 airs on June 29, 2015, and it's been the first show in over a decade that has been able to get me to watch it week to week, even when I want to send Jeff Davis edited scripts going "WTF are you doing?!" and "Here is a dictionary with the word continuity highlighted in rainbow colors!" But hey, it's okay if the story goes a way I don't like (again); the original is just version 1.0.
There's a fan writer out there just waiting to take me somewhere new.