Yesterday, Martin Freeman appeared on the Graham Norton show, as part of Comic Relief 2013.
As is very nearly tradition, Martin and Benedict usually also get asked a couple of questions on the Sherlock fandom and the fan fiction and fan art that’s been published over the past three years. Both of them, though Benedict especially, have made an effort to acknowledge that fan works are a good thing, because it means that people engage with something emotionally and intellectually; and that inspiring such a mass of fan works is a mark of how popular the show is.
Now, I enjoy all kinds of fan works. I enjoy the art, I enjoy the fiction—I write some of it myself—and I am generally fond of everyone who dedicates their time and, in many, many cases, considerable skill to expressing their love for the characters and the show itself. I respect all manner of fanon pairings: even when I don’t actively ship something, even when I might not see the characters having any chemistry at all, I can see the emotional worth and value that is attached to them. I know how important pairings can be to readers, writers, and artists; and they’re all equally brilliant. I may personally draw the line at some things, but that is no measure of quality. (Note how that is entirely separate from not agreeing with canon writers.)
Every fandom has all kinds of people; just as humanity does. There’s nice and respectful folk, and there’s wankers. Every fandom’s got them; and in some they’re more vocal than in others. I don’t wish to start a debate whether the Sherlock fandom is particularly embarrassing or screechy about things—the only thing I’ll say is that the fourth wall is there for a reason, and that the veil shouldn’t always be pierced with such force. The fandom gets a lot of attention from the writers, cast, and crew as it is. Don’t fret, it gets read.
What I can talk about in detail, however, what I can analyse and argue against is the way the media have dealt with us.
Fan fiction as a whole, since the infamous “Fifty Shades of
Twaddle Grey,” has garnered more and more attention. The NY Times, I believe it was, once featured fan fiction in a leading article, presenting the world with the most bizarre pieces—note: mostly crack!fic, which isn’t even supposed to be taken seriously, for goodness sake—they could possibly have found; exposing the lot of us to ridicule and a seriously bad rep.
And a similar thing happened on the Graham Norton Show last night: porn. (Edit: porn here being shorthand for explicit works of fiction or art, regardless of the negative connotations the term usually carries in this context.)
There’s nothing wrong with focusing on a specific aspect of fan art, or on a niche. There is nothing wrong with highlighting a specific corner of fandom, if you will. There is nothing wrong with porn, full stop. It’s not a piece of fandom that anyone should be ashamed of.
What’s wrong with that kind of representation of fandom is that it’s being used to reduce the public’s perception of the fandom to us being hopeless, perverted idiots, who don’t have anything better to do than fuel our fantasies; and it suggests that we cannot distinguish between canon and fanon. Now, the point isn’t to say that one kind of fan work is better than the other. But the media should acknowledge the fact that there is wonderful, perfect gen Sherlock & John as friends and flatmates fan fiction out there as well. They’re using people’s hard work to paint a picture of us as one-track-minded loonies, when in fact the fandom has a range of approaches and works to offer that provides Something for Everyone.
When fan work is used to paint an exclusively negative and condescending/patronising picture of those who’ve created it, that’s Bad. Even if Graham presented most of it (well—he tried and failed, veering off into judgemental) with an air of, ‘Aww, bless!’ and though Martin was entirely lovely, it’s not accurate; and it’s not equal representation of the fanbase. Fandom is a strange place, no-one denies that. But I’d appreciate it if the media outlets didn’t consistently make it look more scandalous than it is just to get a laugh or an indignant squawk out of their audience.
And it’s just a pity, because there are so many nice things that could be said about fandom. Benedict once made it a point to acknowledge in an MTV interview that the skill and the work that go into fan works are admirable—yes, even into the porn! Someone sat there for hours and drew that. And that it’s a good thing that people do that; no matter what one’s personal opinion on topics, pairings, or modes of expression. Yes, there’s badly written fic out there that desperately needs a beta—just as there’s horrible novels on the shelves in the bookshops, and no-one can quite explain how those got published. But it’s still fan work, and it’s still an expression of love for something that pop culture gave us.
I want to be able to say, “I’m part of fandom,” and not get the side-eye from outsiders. I don’t want to be chalked off as a talentless weirdo. I don’t care if fandom is being associated with porn. But I want that porn to be afforded the respect of serious media analysis, and I want it to be recognised as the expression of care and skill. Being a fan is a good thing, because it means that you have found something that excites you, that invites all your enthusiasm for something you love. And channelling that into fan works is entirely respectable.
So, please, outside world. Accept that. Accept that there’s all sorts of people.
Don’t judge the fan by the fandom.
Don’t judge the fandom by the fan.