There’s something that has annoyed me for a while about fandom and I’ve struggled to work out what it is. At least, I’ve struggled to understand exactly what it is, until tonight. It’s this: the smugness of a certain aspect of fandom that’s trying to prove how clever and cool it is.
As fandom has grown up it’s assumed a kind of self-satisfied middle-age that chooses to show its superiority to other fans using a white-hot scorn that’s directed at people who don’t like the way that the new series of Doctor Who has embraced sexuality, self-referential mythos, soapy character arcs and a heavy dose of emotional manipulation.
The way this tends to be expressed is to suggest that the kind of people who dislike this modern form of storytelling in Doctor Who and other genre stuff are probably emotional cripples or sexual inadequates who take themselves far too seriously.
This latter suggestion is particularly prevalent in fandom wars and it’s the one I find most interesting. While there are undoubtedly plenty of joyless virgins in genre fandom, I think it says a lot more about the accuser than the accusee: you are joyless and haven’t had much sex – I look down on you because I am full of joy and have lots of sex. Of course, thanks to the McGann movie, we all know what Freud might say about this.
I’ve seen this primarily in Doctor Who fandom, as it’s the only sort of fan circle I’m really part of (I’ve yet to locate a Blake’s 7 fan circle) but it’s been quite noticeable on social media recently in discussions over Sherlock. While I’m not the greatest fan of this latest vehicle for Moffat and Gatiss to indulge their childhood fantasies, I’ve appreciated the slickness and general wit of the reimagined series. However I thought the cop-out of The Empty Hearse and eye-watering smugness of The Sign Of Three were very weak and see the series echoing Doctor Who’s collapse into its own mythos and clever-clever post-modernism.
On Twitter the latest episode saw a polarised reaction and one of Smug Fan’s most identifying – and annoying – traits: A kind of glee at the fact that other fans did not enjoy the episode. Here’s one example:
Wriggling with delight at how annoyed the Internet will be at this week’s Sherlock.
To me this kind of statement is thick with a horrible superiority; implications and inferences that judge one person in relation to another. Let’s be honest here, if we’re tweeting our reactions to Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes we simply ain’t that cool – and the implication of a certain hierarchy in science-fiction fandom is as funny as it’s tragic.
There’s another aspect to this. The loudest voices in this scorn-pouring are frequently professional fans – the kind who write stuff for Big Finish or even the new series – lording it up over the rest of us mere mortals by sucking up horrifically to Moffat and co and telling everyone else that they’re not allowed opinions if they happen to conflict with their own. This is, in many ways, understandable even if it makes for one of the least edifying sights on the internet.
Tonight’s Sherlock was frequently very funny; plots are skillfully woven together and its impeccably cast and directed with real verve and imagination. But rather like Doctor Who (lead character = lonely, tragic, unreachable, impossible hero; unrequited love; pleased with himself; winks at camera) it’s in real danger of disappearing up its own fundament.
Most of the stuff I object to most in Doctor Who and Sherlock can be summed up with ‘look at us; aren’t we clever’? Tonight the latter spent 90 minutes giving its two main characters a metaphorical handjob while wearing a deerstalker. The Whoification of Sherlock was complete – on television and online.