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Fandoms… September 25, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I was a bit surprised recently to discover that controversy in fandom over ships and slash go all the way back to the late 1980s and early 1990s in relation to Blake’s 7. Now as it happens I’m still fond of B7, even if it had ropey sets and occasionally dodgy acting there was a weirdly modern aspect to its writing particularly around Vila and Avon which even today resonates – for me, at least. But these controversies are fascinating.

In essence there was a conjoined aspect to the controversy. On the one hand there was a dispute over profits and fandom (in relation to conventions) and on the other there was the issue of slash fiction using characters from B7 in this instance, but more broadly fandom. Anyhow, the upshot was that Paul Darrow who played Avon sent solicitors letters to some of those involved in creating artworks or written fiction using his and other characters.

Predictably:

Fandom was divided between those who supported their fellow fans, those who supported the actors, and those who wanted to stay neutral. A fan in Rallying Call #15 wrote: “Some fans began loudly taking sides, generally divided by what they thought of slash and/or the actor. My favourite button that it spawned was ‘I’m NOT on Your Side Either!’ or ‘Just Shut UP about it!'”

It was, as might be expected, an almighty mess. Part of the problem was a sense of ownership on the part of fans at conventions with regard to Darrow, but also arguably his sense of ownership of the character of Avon. Throw in the issue of slash and the attachment or aversion of fans and actors to same and it made for a combustible mess. 

 

So what were fans saying about slash in Blake’s 7 fandom at the time? Some argued that because slash offended a few of the actors, slash fans should not be a visible presence at Blake’s 7 conventions. Another goal was to make certain that slash zines and fanart not be allowed to be sold at these events. At least one, if not more, actors from the show weighed in and announced their opposition to both slash fiction and slash fans. There was much focus on publicly identifying who was a slash fan, who was a secret slash fan, and who could be outed as a slash fan to the actors.

The upshot? Well, slash continued to be produced, conventions with the actors continued to be held, but these moved from the more amateurish/intimate ones of the early years to more expansive and sophisticated ones. Whether all this would have happened anyhow is an interesting point. Fandom in other areas went through a similar dynamic as the reality that the appetite was there for same. I have attended one Star Trek con in the early 1990s and that was pretty professional – to an extent. And certainly Gates McFadden, the guest, was kept well away from the non-organising fans. Interestingly a science fiction con I was at back ten or fifteen years ago was a lot more fun, and a lot less distanced. 

But that sense of ownership is intriguing to me, that sense that the fan – who, of course, hasn’t created the cultural artefact, has some sort of rights equal to, or superior, to those who do create it. We’ve seen this with Star Wars fandom, and others. And the cultural tropes of the era have been fought out over these fandoms. For myself I’ve no real interest in fan created works – never have. But that’s a personal prejudice, something along the lines of if you can create something solid around someone else’s characters why not do it with your own characters – others mileage may vary. But that’s not to say the fights around fandom aren’t intriguing and indeed the way that the balance between creators and fans has shifted.

There’s a bizarre one around the BBC reiteration of Sherlock – entitled Johnlock where there’s a controversy over a relationship (or not) between Sherlock and Holmes. What’s telling is that despite the disavowals by the creators that no non-platonic relationship would be explored…

fans continued to ask and even demand that Sherlock/John become canon, tweeting at Mark Gatiss.

And then there was the conspiracy:

Some even subscribed to the Johnlock Conspiracy, a fan theory that posited that the creators were, in fact, lying to the audience and would definitely end the show with Sherlock and John getting together. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But while slash and queer representation are not synonymous, the fact that slash fans felt comfortable demanding that a slash ship become canon would have been unfathomable even just a decade prior.

The thing is not the nature of the relationship, but that some fans were so heavily invested in it that they felt not merely that it could exist, but that it had to exist because they wanted it to. But this is remarkably similar, is it not, to that dynamic, noted above, with respect of Star Wars where reactionary fans were appalled at the welcome diversity of the cast. It was taken as a personal slight that Star Wars would begin to extend out the range of characters beyond the initial films rather limited  scope.

And it reminds me of a comment I once read on YouTube by an equally appalled ‘fan’ of Star Trek bemoaning the latest iterations of Star Trek on television for their supposed ‘wokeness’, something they breathlessly asserted any who would read their comments that Gene Roddenberry would never have stood over, since he himself had served in the military and then as a policeman. Apparently the intrinsically progressive liberal vision Rodenberry had of the future (if perhaps limited by today’s standards) had escaped the person writing that comment entirely, or perhaps they knew and chose to ignore reality. It’s not that newer Star Trek is particularly great – anything but, Discovery and Picard are both flawed, but those flaws are a function of bad and sloppy writing, not the overall vision that lies at the heart of them. 

And what is striking is how the mobilising effect of twitter – at least to a degree, merely reflects dynamics already long in play where fandom, or parts of fandom, already felt they owned a property to some degree or another.  But perhaps the difference is that where those pre-twitter disputes were arcane and to some degree unknown to all but those involved now with social media and the internet when these disputes break out – particularly in respect of massive income generating franchises, they are noticed much more widely. 

 

 

 

Comments»

1. EWI - September 25, 2021

It’s not that newer Star Trek is particularly great – anything but, Discovery and Picard are both flawed, but those flaws are a function of bad and sloppy writing, not the overall vision that lies at the heart of them.

I honestly couldn’t tell you what the ‘overall vision’ is supposed to bel, probably a function of that atrocious writing. There *is* one good Trek show out there which unapologetically hews to the pre-2000s ethos, and it’s in animation.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2021

I guess that positive humanist approach is the overall vision and fair enough they’re not deviating from that – but the thing with Disco is it gets it horribly wrong, seeing that as the centre, rather than understanding that that is a foundation, that good coherent internally consistent stories well acted without excess melodrama is necessary. I like the lead, and the cast, but the amount of eye rolling at crazy melodrama, unearned ’emotional’ notes etc is off the scale. It’s just amped up to a ridiculous level – modern Doctor Who levels and more. And it swamps what could and should be good stories (I have other issues like rebooting styles and appearances and say Klingons rather than updating them but they’re lesser problems). Re Picard… hmmm… not quite the same problems but more ones of pace and story. Simply put too much dull stuff and few good episodes. But then again some weird choices – sub plots that go nowhere, great ideas (Borg cube decommissioned) just frittered away. Strange arcs about how the Federation would act. And so on and so forth.

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EWI - September 26, 2021

Both Disco and Picard’s use of mawkish melodrama (and murdering off the more innocent characters) has gotten really old, really fast. The Picard series, as you’ve mentioned, just dropped what seemed like a central plotline which might have gone somewhere useful in the finale, as opposed to what we got. It’s not interesting, and it’s not clever. OTOH Lower Decks – a comedy show – has actually addressed topics such as power relationships and a not-very-veiled critique of the militarised premises of the other 21st century shows.

Foundation’s first two episodes seem quite good.

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2. Arthur Owen - September 26, 2021

Me and my son were enthralled by Blake’s 7 all those years ago without being in any way aware of this controversy.

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WorldbyStorm - September 26, 2021

Me too! Sailed right over my head. Still love it. Got the DVDs second hand a few years back and working my way through them. They kind of stand up.

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3. mal - September 29, 2021

As a cynical ex-Sherlock fan I stumbled across the Johnlock Conspiracy right before series 4 aired and watched with fascination as the shocked conspiracists realized that series 4 of Sherlock a) wasn’t very good and b) in no way confirmed a romantic relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I wasn’t unsympathetic to the Johnlockers (Holmes/Watson shipping is about as old as Conan Doyle’s books and there have been books published portraying them as a couple since the 70s) but the evidence for the conspiracy was flimsy at best and incoherent at worst. As I remember it, after series four some TJLCers suggested conspiracy on behalf of the homophobic BBC, some suggested a deliberate betrayal on behalf of the showrunners and some suggested that it was “all part of the plan”, even going so far as to claim that there was going to be another surprise episode aired after the end of series 4 that would a) make Johnlock canon and b) rectify all the writing decisions they didn’t like from series 4. It’s not for nothing that TJLC has been compared to other cults and to QAnon: the stakes are much lower but the reaction to disconfirming events is all too similar. I am given to understand that there were a few major players on Tumblr who built and shaped TJLC, who in retrospect were accused of effectively running a cult: failfandomanonwiki (ffa is a very snarky fandom gossip community) would have the details. It’s worth separating TJLC proper (who believed the showrunners had always intended for Johnlock to become canon and were sending secret hints of this through the show) to Johnlock shippers who petitioned for it to become canon. The latter is an increasingly common phenomenon (although fan campaigns for ships and against characters being killed off arguably date back as far as the 90s) that has even sometimes borne results: last year saw a major ship in the American programme Supernatural confirmed at the last minute in their final season, likely due to consistent interest and pressure from the fans about the ship. While less an example of fans accurately predicting a ship becoming canon than of fans persuading showrunners into pursuing a ship storyline (albeit at the last minute, unrequited and aborted by the deaths of both characters concerned in pretty quick succession), it left a lot of people pretty shocked that a commonly mocked ship was given confirmation. There were more than a few jokes that maybe Johnlock would become canon now, and maybe Liam Payne’s baby son really was fake…

Rant presented since i wasted much of my teenage years following this stuff instead of studying. It’s useless knowledge and I have to put it somewhere!

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