My nerdy, queer, social media archaeological outreach deep-dive into a yeehaw sci-fi TV show

By: @PurgatoryArcheo

‘Wynonna Earp’ is a TV show that first aired in 2016, so, forgive me if this all seems like old news to those of you who have been privy to its greatness for going on three years, but I didn’t start watching it until early 2019. It took me a while to jump on the bandwagon (I had to first find the bandwagon since this small Canadian production hadn’t seen much mainstream traction), but once I did… I latched on.

I watched the show for the science fiction and comedic tongue-in-cheek writing: There are demons, gnomes, vampires, witches, immortal gun-slingers, zingy one-liners primarily from the show’s namesake, and more than a little playing with Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ in the overarching structure of the show (the name of the town is called Purgatory, for a start).

But it was the heartfelt storylines and inclusive queerness that made me stay: Queer main characters who don’t get killed off in the first season, strong female leads, strong and supportive-of-female-lead male characters, a steady narrative of family and ‘chosen family’, struggles and successes with self-acceptance, belonging and otherness (read: the broad definition of Queer), battling internal-demons while fighting “real” ones (see what I did there?), and did I mention queer main characters who are still alive after three seasons?

Then there is the history element.

As you might have guessed from the name, this very science fiction-y show does have links to very non-fictional individuals such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bass Reeves, and ‘Big Nose’ Kate. Of course, with this kind of show, liberties are taken with historic figures and events, but I massively enjoy how the show flirts with the non-fictional and dips seamlessly back into the fictional, effectively using the history to ground the storylines and character development. 

As I watched the show and saw some of the social media involvement of fans (known as #Earpers) and the shockingly interactive cast and crew, an idea popped into my head: A fictional Purgatory Archaeological Survey social media account.

Hear me out. Science fiction and creative writing aside, this was still a show foundationally resting on real history, an established fandom very active on social media, and a fandom very open, inclusive, and supportive of creativity. The idea was that I could use this platform to:

A) Nerd out on all things ‘Wynonna Earp’

B) Support and share queer/creative content

C)  Share real archaeological content and news with the goal of heightening the exposure of archaeology to a broader (albeit ‘niche’) audience

D) Use the show’s historic foundation to discuss fictional and non-fictional elements of the show speaking as if I were the local archaeologist of Purgatory, (hopefully) passively educating on topics like NAGPRA, NRHP nominations, the lives of historic people, the history of certain towns, how to safely interact with archaeological sites, the diversity of archaeological sites… and mix in some humor of our discipline as well.

Let’s be clear – this Twitter account is first and foremost a fandom account where I fly my nerd-flag (or Earper-flag, more precisely) proudly.  I naively thought I could stay ‘in persona’ for the account, but that quickly faded once I was immersed in the fandom, hence points A and B above. In terms of point C, the archaeological content during the week is a mix of archaeological/historical tweets covering everything from current research, new discoveries, dig projects, and discussion threads in varied fields from academia, to CRM, to podcasts, to gaming. The persona does re-appear each weekend, however (point D). On the weekends I slip back ‘into character’ to choose an element of the show to analyze through a historic or archaeological lens as the “Purgatory Archaeological Survey”. The reaction from the fandom was just as I thought it would be – accepting, supportive, and all around positive for the archaeological content.

Because this is the Queer Archaeology blog, let’s pivot back to the queer element of this post (besides the author).

Refreshing depictions of rather healthy and stable (as ‘stable’ as they can be in a science fiction drama TV show) queer relationships aside, ‘Wynonna Earp’ has effectively assembled a fervently LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ+ allied cadre of fans.  Earpers, including the cast and crew, pride themselves on being safe spaces for people to be themselves and – perhaps more importantly – find support and encouragement. I’ve seen this ‘Earper Support’ tent stretch over everything from people struggling with coming out drawing on offered reassurance, trans people needing support while they physically transition, people gathering some comfort after losing a loved one, and folks struggling with their mental health and finding some encouragement. Also, perhaps one of the most fascinating shows of Earper Support was watching the fandom rally behind one of the supporting actresses publicly coming out as queer herself. And honestly, archaeology aside, it’s nice to see a daily dose of humans being kind to one another.

“Wynonna ‘Indiana Jones’ Earp” Artwork is by the talented Olivia Joy Taylor (https://www.redbubble.com/people/oliviajoytaylor)

Come give me a peak on Twitter if this elevator pitch of Wynonna Earp/Queerness/and Archaeology was at all interesting (@PurgatoryArcheo).

If you’re not sold on the show but you’re only slightly curious in seeing what these fictional/non-fictional archaeological/historical analyses look like, check out the Instagram account (@purgatory_arch_survey).

Finally, if you too like thoughtful, witty, sci-fi TV shows with an unkillable gay squad, strong female characters, and a fantastic overall cast and crew, check out ‘Wynonna Earp’.

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