Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fandom - A Place Of Some Saints, Many Sinners And A Few Snakes

Torchwood: Children of Earth ended last night with another audience of just under six million (5.8m, audience share 26.7%) having done what, frankly, even I never expected it to; held the majority of its audience across an entire week on BBC1 whilst providing, in dramatic terms, one of the - genuine - TV highlights of the year. And this, remember, from a Doctor Who spin-off! Remarkable. So, everyone was happy. Well, not happy, per se, the last couple of episodes in particular were as grimly harrowing and distressing as Schindler's List. And just as brilliant. A necessary reminder, perhaps, that not all stories have happy endings - we know this to be true. One of the correspondants on my Gallifrey Base thread noted that he's spent four hours in a darkened room listening to Joy Division that have been "happy-happy-joy-joy" compared to episode five of Torchwood. If that is, indeed, the end of Torchwood - and the conclusion was ambiguous enough to leave the way open for a fourth series if commissioned by the Beeb, but had enough elements of closure to satisfy most of the audience if they don't - then it was, genuinely, 'going out with a bang.' Sometimes you need drama like that - whether you want, or even deserve it or not. However, in the midst of all this celebration, something rather dark cast an unwanted shadow over the last two days of the week. Thursday's episode, in which the popular character of Ianto Jones was killed, caused something of a reaction among a small - but vocal - element of Torchwood fandom. They went off-it, basically. I mean, full-on, pouty-stroppy-drama-queen off-it. I suspect a lot of these people - particularly those on the LiveJournal network - don't really watch Doctor Who all that much. Or, if they do, then it's purely because of that show's connection to Torchwood rather than the other way around. This is possibly quite hard for many of us longer-term Doctor Who fans to realise but there is, actually, a very distinct side-branch of fandom that exists completely seperate to the main Doctor Who/Torchwood one. It's mainly online, it's mainly - although not exclusively - female, it's predominantly - although, again, not exclusively - American and those who are part of it are mainly interested in Jack and Ianto (Jack and Ianto together, specifically). Most of you, dear blog readers, won't have a clue what I'm talking about if I start dropping in terms like 'squeer', 'slasher' and 'shipper' at this point so, don't worry about it over much. Just know that some people watch their favourite TV shows and then like to take the characters in these shows off into their own world of fan-fiction. No problem with that, lots of us do it, even if only in our heads. Many of the Doctor Who novel authors, myself included, started off in fan-fiction and I have a lot of time for the genre personally. The point is that many 'shippers - fans who like to watch the show because of a particular relationship between two characters (not, necessarily a sexual one, often it's just a friendship) - do tend to be a bit ... How can I put this without sounding horribly judgemental? Insistent (even propriotorial) that these relationships be resepcted by the show in question, I think is the nicest way of phrasing it. A lot of these fans came to Torchwood fandom from those of other series, like some of the fringes of Buffy and Angel fandom, for instance, or Stargate. So, therefore, unlike many of us they're not as familiar with the concept of members of a show's central cast leaving on a reasonably regular basis. Last night I was talking to a friend of mine about this who was saying exactly what I imagine a lot of Doctor Who fans were when they first heard about the rising tide of outrage - 'what's the fuss about, people leave our show all the time?'

This is important to understand because, whilst the kind of sackcloth and ashes malarkey that Thursday and Friday brought to parts of the Interweb isn't something we've seen that much of previously in Doctor Who fandom (at least, not over a character being killed off), lots of it goes on in other fandoms. A feeling appears to exist that because some fans have 'an investment' in a particular character or a relationship between two characters that, somehow, they have an exclusive right to have that investment repaid by the writers and producers 'not messing with it.' And woe betide any producer, writer or actor who dares to think otherwise. I think that's all rather silly and immature, personally - but then, so (undeniably) is being a TV fan in the first place. And we're all guilty of that so none of us are in any position to throw stones. Who died and made us King of the World? However, some of the stuff that I saw directed towards poor James Moran on his blog yesterday (regarding aspects of an episode that he didn't even write, incidentally) was quite simply, sick. There is a point, and we all have to acknowledge this, where 'being a fan of something' turns into 'being an obsessed nutter about something.' It's a risk we all in TV fandom struggle with, daily. And, sad to report, that line was unquestionably crossed by some individuals over the last forty eight hours.

I saw some ridiculous things said by folks who are, I'm sure, normally perfectly sensible and rational. I saw somebody actually accuse Russell Davies of 'homophobia.' Seriously! I read that with my own eyes. And, after I'd spent five minutes laughing at the idea that Britain's most prominent gay writer could be accused of such a thing, I moved on to the next example of sage wisdom from the more deranged corners of naked obsession. A useful round up of some of the more outrageous examples can be found here. This one is particularly good if you're looking for an excuse to feel morally superior to others. Ultimately, what it all meant was that perhaps as many as a couple of hundred angry Torchwood fangirls (mostly fangirls - I don't want this to be seen as being in any way sexist, I'm sure there were some guys in there too) were in a big, overly-dramatic strop for a couple of days - and probably still are if a few posts on the rant-the-episode thread on Gallifrey Base are anything to go by. Yesterday, they were threatening all manner of dire and terrible retribution. Like 'stopping watching the show,' for instance. Fair enough - it's a free country, and all that. I'm positive that the BBC, Russell, the actors, and indeed mainstream Doctor Who/Torchwood fandom will manage to struggle along without them. What it will also mean - in the longer term - is that a portion of what had so far been a rather marginalised and obscure branch of Torchwood online fandom will now, like as not, spend the rest of eternity bemoaning, loudly, to anyone that will listen (and, frankly, anyone that won't) about how Russell-James-Barrowman-Gareth-other fans-somebody-delete-as-applicable 'killed my Ianto.' Just like there are still ladies, now somewhat getting on in years, who continue to take up vast megsnots of bandwidth in certain corners of the Interweb sticking metaphorical pins in effigy's of Joss Whedon because he did something 'bad' to their Angel-Spike-Angel-and-Spike/Willow-Tara-Willow-and-Tara. Etc. Or, the notorious SG-1 fandom 'we want our Daniel back' campaign. That was equally embarrassing and equally, in places, disturbing - death threats, boycott campaigns and so on. It's sad (old sense) isn't it? When you get something as ephemeral and as a fictional character leaving a TV drama becoming so unpleasant. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Same as it ever was. It's not pretty but, cruelly, it is sometimes quite entertaining to watch from the outside. Do not, however - do not, do not, do not - become involved. Because you're only asking for a lot of grief in the long run. There have been times in the past where I've been saddened or angered by the fandoms that I've - in theory at least - been a part of and their actions. Not infrequently either. There haven't been many occasions, however, where I've actually been ashamed to call myself a member of a particular fandom. That happened on Friday ... and it wasn't very nice.

If there is a fourth series of Torchwood - which there may or may not be, it's up to the BBC to make a decision on that - then, I'm guessing many of these angry individuals will, despite what they're currently saying, be back along with it. And, some of them will have got over the issue. Others, I know from experience, will not and, as a consequence, will have become bitter, angry commentators on how wretched the latest episode was/is and how it was all so much better when Ianto was not dead. To be fair, we've got plenty of those sort of characters over in Doctor Who fandom too - and, Tom Baker didn't even have to die to get on their collective bell-end. So, again, casting stones - not really a good idea. No one is innocent. Right, that's television fandom sorted for the next millennia. Next, Keith Telly Topping solves the Middle East crisis...

TV presenter and professional Geordie Wor Jungle Jayne Middlemiss has been named the winner of this year's Celebrity Masterchef. Gotta say, however, being a professional Geordie myself, it's far better than being an amateur one. My thanks to professional Scouse playwrite Alun Owen for that joke. The thirty eight-year-old, from Bedlington, beat Olympic athlete Iwan Thomas and former Coronation Street actress Wendi Peters in the final. It's so nice to see that, unlike just about everybody else involved in Celebrity Wrestling, Iwan's career hasn't gone completely down the netty. And, I loved the look of his prawn chilli soup, too. Might try that one myself, tonight. Jayne said taking part in the BBC1 show was 'a truly incredible experience' and that winning had helped her realise her 'passion for cooking.' She then burst into tears as she had done approximately once every five minutes during the previous dozen episodes. Judge John Torode said: 'Jayne is a natural cook. She has complete understanding of modern food. Jayne really pulled it out of the bag and is a deserving winner.' Fellow judge Gregg Wallace added 'Jayne truly understands what it takes to make great food.' After hearing the news, Middlesmiss, a former presenter of Top Of The Pops, said: 'It's so exciting to be crowned MasterChef Champion. I hope this is just the start of my culinary journey.' There was probably some bubbling in there as well, I'm guessing.

Strictly Come Dancing's Len Goodman has said he is 'sad' about Arlene Phillips' departure as a fellow judge. Choreographer Phillips, is being replaced by former Strictly winner and pop star Alesha Dixon, thirty six years her junior. 'It sort of changes the whole dynamic of the panel maybe, which is a little bit scary,' Goodman told The Stage. 'I hope the BBC are not trying to introduce a younger audience.' Well, you could always walk out in sympathy if you're that unhappy about it, Len. It would mean you losing a lot of money, of course, but you're a man of principle, I'm sure. The BBC has denied claims that Phillips had been dropped because of her age. 'I would imagine the show attracts an older audience to what you get on The X Factor,' said Goodman. 'I hope it does not affect the fan base.' Time will tell. It usually does in such matters.

6 comments:

Matthew McIntyre said...

A very good post Keith. I don't feel particularly superior to anyone in this. In some ways I admire the passion and commitment of the fans who are sounding off - as well as the power and quality of a drama that produces such a response. I just think it's sad that people can get so wrapped up in themselves and the (very emotional) moment that they can't think clearly and don't realise how hurtful their comments are. I'm sure I've done the same in the past (and probably will in the future) - all of us can be snakish at times, I fear, but I hope that very few are truly snakes and that most of the people currently sounding off will calm down somewhat. In some ways I'm finding this campaign to be quite charming - I hope they stay polite and that BBC Wales gets some free coffee for their tea-room.

Mainly, I've left them to their own devices - and if they hadn't have posted on James' blog I wouldn't have engaged them at all. I doubt if, currently, arguing with them will make much difference but I wanted to show James some support, especially after he Twittered (or is it Tweeted?) to say how much he appreciated supportive messages.

Also, I just couldn't let the who "bury your gays" thing go. My first response was probably a bit too intemperate, but I'm reasonable pleased with my latest comment.

Keith Telly Topping said...

Indeed. Thanks for the comments, Matt. The last thing I wanted to do was to add flames to a situation or be nasty to or about anyone. I was trying, in a ham-fisted way, to explain to the uninitated that some fandoms work in different ways to others and, also, like you show a bit of support for James - a genuinely lovely man who really is the last person on Earth who deserves "the fan-wrath of the disppaointed." I hope it was balanced and fair, I certainly tried to make it that. I'm the first to admit that all fandoms have a wee bit of a silly about them, that kind of goes with the territory. I'm keeping well out of the dead/evil lesbian debate. I've already said everything I intend to on that subject in an piece I wrote in my Buffy book, Slayer, some years aog entitled 'Playing the Homophobia Card.' But, I repeat what I alluded to yesterday, anybody who even attempts to describe Russet T Davies as in any way of producer of, supporter of, or purveyor of homophobia needs to grow up, and quickly. Anyway ...

Anonymous said...

Not normally an avid viewer of Torchwood, but the episodes shown over 5 nights on BBC1 had me glued to it. I thought it was excellent!

Ian Gettings said...

I enjoyed your comments. I shared annoyance at the way some fans responded. But over the last few days I have been wondering about this. I haven't thought this through at all fully, but I wonder if tv has changed a lot now. Audiences are far more involved via the internet and fans are now writing the series. The authorial control that writers obviously want can come across as a bit high handed in a more audeince-centred culture - a bit of an 'us' and 'them' attitude maybe. A lot of fans feel very involved in ongoing relationships in the series and maybe, just maybe, when they say they have invested a lot of time, emotion, support in following a series - that is produced FOR the audience and its regular as well as casual viewers - they can stake a claim. As I say, I haven't thought it all through, but I think I may have a point. What do you think?

Matthew McIntyre said...

The fans deciding a direction of a show could be a model in the future, but I've always preferred the idea of giving talented creative people free reign as much as possible. Audiences will typically not know what they want in advance of seeing it and fans, if they have an opinion, will typically want more of what made them fans in the first place. Neither group will contain many experienced programme makers or talented writers. Also, some fans didn't want Ianto to die - but that's not the same as all fans. And why should self-declared fans have more influence than any other viewer? The audience as a whole absolutely loved Children of Earth.

Keith Telly Topping said...

Well, yes, that's the main point at the end of the day - an AI average of 89.5 across four episodes doesn't lie. I think some of the reaction from a small proportion of a small proportion of fandom was a bit O-T-T (which I did understand, even if I didn't agree with).

Sadly, there was an even smaller proportion of THAT small proportion who went far beyond 'a bit O-T-T' into 'a lot O-T-T' and, I'm not going to stand idly by once the death threats start. As somebody on Gally Base noted, when it comes to fandom outbursts 'you're either part of the solution or you're part of the problem.' And, by being silent, then you're part of the problem.

So, yeah, I've got no problem at all with the 'sending coffee to the Beeb' thing (good on then, I think it's rather sweet and charming and it hurst nobody). I got no problem with people sounding off on a web forum. But, when it comes to James being driven from the 'net by crazy people that's the point where, I think, it's beholden on every fan to stand up and saying 'you are *not* doing this in my name.'