I never thought I would end up this way.
I remember it very clearly. In 2009, I was watching television with a guy I was dating at the time, and while flipping through channels we came across the first Twilight movie. "Ha-ha, why are they sooo pale? Why is Kristin Stewart perpetually pissed off? This is stupid," we pondered, very intellectually. After ten minutes of teenage vampires, we promptly shut them off.
Fast forward a few years later. I'm seated in a sold-out movie theatre in the suburbs of Philadelphia with by my mother, sister, and hundreds of other women screaming during the final scenes of the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2. Full disclosure: I was undeniably Team Jacob, the werewolf who, like vampire Edward Cullen, is fighting for one human's heart in typical teen drama fashion. As I sat on the edge of my seat, I realized that I, like many others before me, somehow fell under the spell of teen wolverines and vampires. Would I call myself an obsessive fan? Not exactly—but I did pre-order tickets to the movie nearly a month in advance. This was absolutely not something I was going to share with my friends at art school.
I didn't give much thought to werewolves again until this August, when I found myself in the dilemma of having exhausted my Netflix queue. Without a new show to watch, I turned to Amazon Instant Video, where I came across Teen Wolf, the MTV drama series created by Jeff Davis that's based loosely on the 1985 film starring Michael J. Fox. "Sure, why not," I thought to myself. MTV's rendition of the cult classic is centered around Scott McCall, played by Tyler Posey, who is bitten by a werewolf and must learn to balance the the impact that has on his life while being a normal, lacrosse playing teenager in a fictitious California town called Beacon Hills. Other characters include Stiles, the token quirky-completely-human best friend who is later possessed in Season 3, Allison Argent, Scott's love interest who unknowingly comes from a family of werewolf hunters, Lydia Martin, Allison's best friend who later develops psychic-banshee abilities, and Derek Hale, a werewolf in Beacon Hills who rarely wears a shirt and takes Scott under his wing after his bite.
After hitting play for the first time, I couldn't stop. "That's devastating. You were SO cool," one friend said to me. "What percentage of your liking this is ironic?" asked another. But to my friends' amazement, I was far from alone. Since its debut in 2011, the show has developed a fandom that has taken on a life of its own online—largely on Tumblr. And on a recent November weekend in Newark, N.J., roughly 325 Teen Wolf fans congregated and met IRL at the Newark Hilton for Howlercon, a Teen Wolf fan-operated convention.
"There are a lot of people at the hotel. All of them are women. I really don't get what's going on," shuttle driver shouted on the way to the hotel.
As someone who has covered TV-centric fandom conventions for everyone from Bronies to Whovians, I was prepared for chaos at Howlercon. What I found was the opposite—and I mean this in the best way possible. I entered the convention and immediately saw Eaddy Mays, the actress who plays Allison's werewolf-hunting mother, smiling from ear to ear with a handful of fans in the vendor area. Howlercon attendees agree that Eaddy is essentially the unofficial Pack Mom of the event. While the fandom is otherwise nameless, Eaddy calls everyone "Wolfies."
At one point early on, multiple fans were taking a photo of Tyler Hoechlin, aka Derek Hale, who was holding an attendee's baby. The fans were sharing the photo on social media, which upset the mother of the child, and per Howlercon policies, was technically not allowed. Eaddy grabbed the mic and was quick to shut the entire thing down, asking the attendees to delete the photos. Though Eaddy's character was killed off in season 2 of the show, she explained why she still came to Howlercon during a panel about the parents of Beacon Hills: "I'm lured by the fun of the fandom."
In a room full of men and women dressed up as Beacon Hills lacrosse players, it was visually obvious the fandom is fun—but for some, both the show and sense of community can be life-changing. Through the show, Cass, pictured below, a 26-year-old artist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, created her own "pack," which she titled #HautMess. "It's the best thing, they have been so supportive. We all met at Days of the Wolves, the Teen Wolf con that happened in Burbank. We all just clicked. I had never met any of these people before and we've been friends since then. I lost my mother in March and these people were my rock even though we only met a few months before. Even if the show ends, I know I've got this pack of people to always be there for me," she said.
Seated next to her mother outside of the hotel Starbucks, 14-year-old attendee Emma Hinchcliffe, seen below, explained to me why she loves the show. "I never thought a TV show would impact my life in this way," she said. "The cast makes me so happy. Just seeing pictures and interviews of them makes me happy no matter what." Her mother chimed in to inform me that Emma had been retweeted multiple times by cast members. When I ask Emma what she was most looking forward to, she gushed over the experience of meeting Tyler Hoechlin. "I was like, shaking. I couldn't believe I was finally meeting him. I told him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me—he just smiled at me and gave me the biggest hug. It was so incredible to see how I have an impact on him too."
Later, as I sat and listened to the male-centric cast member panel "Boys Will Be Boys," I became more than certain that fans have an impact on the cast of Teen Wolf. The energy in the room and the effortless rapport between the audience and cast members was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Attendees went to the microphone with questions. One teenage fan dressed in normal, non-cosplay attire asked, "If you had to choose a song that played when you entered a room, what would it be?" I was not prepared for what was about to happen. Comedian Orny Adams, who plays aggressive non-werewolf Beacon Hills lacrosse coach Coach Finstock, placed his phone next to the microphone and "Don't Stop Believing" came over the speakers. In an instant, the hundreds of fans in attendance started singing along—for the entire song. At a certain point my foot accidentally unplugged one of the speakers, yet with so many voices in the room singing along nobody seemed to notice. This felt like a situation I had made up in my mind. But it was not. It was real life.
When I sat down with a group of attendees outside of the panel area, they started to tell me how they really felt about the fandom. Gender issues, lack of LGBT presence, and diversity have been serious issues for fans of the show. These sore subjects are nothing new. In 2012, the show's creator even addressed it in a now-deleted Tumblr post that caused an uproar. The issues can be summed up by charts created by a Tumblr user named dudski that examine the female/male survival rate and the "white dudes vs. everyone else." Since then, the show has added characters that—arguably—address these concerns. Still, this group in particular doesn't blame MTV and the show's creators specifically for not doing so earlier. They saw it as a larger problem for most shows with similar themes. "That's why [we] don't watch Supernatural," they agreed in solidarity.
"If you're not into Sterek, it's going to get toxic," explained Gloria Carfagno, pictured above, a 25-year-old attendee who runs a Tumblr that identifies articles of clothing that appear on the show and directs you to where you can purchase them. For those unknowing, Sterek is the wildly popular "ship" that imagines a romantic relationship between Stiles and Derek Hale. Prior to season 3, the sexual orientation of both characters had been unclear. Fans began to create erotic fanfiction and Sterek became a force to be reckoned with even after it was unveiled that both characters were straight. A look at the Sterek tag on Tumblr shows Sterek on their honeymoon, intimate fan art, and public outcries about Sterek never getting the chance to be in a real, tangible relationship.
Sterek isn't the only fanfic to come out of the show. At Howlercon I met Suzanne Lahna, above, who alongside Amanda Disley helps run an extremely popular tumblr, TeenWolfPunk. In this alternative universe, every single character on Teen Wolf is reimagined in punk form. You'll see photoshopped images of Lydia resembling a Suicide Girl and Scott proudly wearing a studded denim Misfits vest, among other ensembles. "Our slogan is punk rock don't give a fuck," she said. "You should never be ashamed for what you ship, what you write or what you like. We want everyone to find their pack."
On the subject of fandoms, the concept of "shipping" characters can be a perplexing one. Why is it that people are compelled to create these relationships in the first place? Sydney, an artist/vendor at Howlercon, insisted the act of doing so is an art in itself. Whether it's Sterek or TeenWolfPunk, it's a form of reappropriation. "It's not a bad thing. People do things like this all the time. That's why there's fantasy football. They want these people to be on the same team—so why can't we have fic? It's the same concept. Fantasy football is just like our fandom," she said.
The afternoon carried on, and more attendees piled in dressed as Lydia, Allison, Scott and Stiles for the blacklight party happening later that evening. Countless fans iterated to me the same lesson the show has taught them: Even through failure, don't give up. You have to keep going no matter what. Just as fantasy football does not make sense to me, the Wolfies might not make sense to the general public—fandom and passion in general isn't always supposed to make sense. Somehow, controversies aside, MTV and Jeff Davis have given teenagers and adults alike a sense of purpose and willingness to keep going. And even if it's through wolverines, banshees, and kitsune, that's worth acknowledging.
All photos by Amy Lombard.