Saving people, changing the world: Supernatural fandom-based charity work makes lasting impact

For the past six years, the international multi-media scavenger hunt G.I.S.H.W.H.E.S. has captivated the world. Founded in 2011 by “Supernatural” star Misha Collins, GISHWHES (which stands for “the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen”), is a week-long competition held in early August. Teams of 15 have one week to complete items from a list. The winning team receives a grand-prize, all expenses paid trip with Collins. Basically a series of what social psychologists call ‘breaching experiments,’ GISHWHES items range from random acts of kindness (ex – give flowers to strangers) to slices of public performance art (ex – a brass quartet performing Kansas’s ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ at a busy intersection). All proceeds benefit Collins’ charity Random Acts. Some of the amazing charitable acts completed include: funding health care for Syrian refugee families and building an orphanage in Haiti.

Gishwhes 2015. Item: Have a going away party for favorite board games and donate them to a local shelter. Photo Credit: Tanya Cook

A few weeks ago, Collins announced this year would be the last of “GISHWHES as we know it.” Determined to make a significant, lasting impact, Collins partnered with Rainforest Trust. For every new person who registers for GISHWHES or donates what is called a “Gisholarship” (registration donation for those who need it), Collins will purchase an acre of rainforest in Nepal. The goal is to turn the ownership of 20,000 acres of forest over to the Rainforest Trust to protect the biodiversity of the area in perpetuity. As of the writing of this article, the campaign is more than halfway to the goal.
GISHWHES benefiting Random Acts is one of many successful fandom-based charity and social activism initiatives. A recent panel at Denver Comic Con, “Always Keep (Nerd) Fighting: Fandoms as Social Movements,” on June 30th highlighted other campaigns based in the Supernatural and Nerdfighteria Fandoms. Researchers Tanya Cook and Kaela Joseph are currently interviewing fans and studying these initiatives in order to understand how and why social movements are emerging from fandoms. Riley Santangelo with Wayward Daughters and Anita MonCrief with Fan Fic 4 Flint both spoke about their Supernatural Fandom-based charity work.

AKNF panel photo DCC 2017
Always Keep (Nerd) Fighting Panel, Denver Comic Con 6-30-17, Photo Credit: Tanya Cook

Santangelo and collaborator Betty Days started Wayward Daughters as a twitter campaign two years ago after an episode of the show explored relationships between some female recurring characters. The original goal was to create support for a female-centric Supernatural spin off based around fan favorite characters Jody Mills and Donna Hanscum and support positive female representation in media in general. What began as an online petition of sorts, however, has transitioned into an emerging social movement. Since their founding, Wayward Daughters has amassed a large Twitter following and has run several successful t-shirt charity campaigns benefitting Random Acts and New Leash On Life. Earlier this summer, many wayward prayers were answered when producers announced a “Wayward Sisters” pilot episode would be featured in Supernatural’s historic 13th season hopefully leading to a full series order.

Wardward Daughters
Photo Credit: Riley Santangelo, Twitter modeling the #WaywardStrong t-shirt benefiting New Leash on Life USA

Fan Fic 4 Flint, another Supernatural-based charity campaign, is the brainchild of Anita MonCrief. After working alongside the people of Flint to assist with bottled water drops, MonCrief recognized the need for lead-filtering water filters for residents who have been without potable water for over 1000 days. Inspiration struck when MonCrief was watching Supernatural’s 200th episode “Fan Fiction” and noticed it was set in Flint, Michigan. This summer, fans can submit full drafts of “Supernatural: The Musical” and fan art to the Fan Fic 4 Flint contest. Next summer a full production of the musical will be staged in Flint and all proceeds will go to help residents purchase water filters.

Fan Fic 4 Flint
Photo credit: Fan Fic 4 Flint

For more information on how fandom-based charity work and social activism are changing the world for good, follow the Always Keep (Nerd) Fighting Research project on Facebook or Twitter.

By Tanya Cook

Tanya Cook
Tanya Cook is a sociology professor at the Community College of Aurora. Her current research project “Always Keep (Nerd) Fighting,” explores fandom-based charity work and activism. When she’s not teaching or writing, Tanya enjoys learning new cosplay skills and playing Settlers of Catan with her children.

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