It’s a running joke that Tumblr is fueled by two things: hipsters and fandoms. But mostly fandoms. Seriously, I dare you to find a hipster photography post that doesn’t get hijacked by the Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Merlin fandom at some point. I dare you.
The beautiful thing about social media like Tumblr is that it has generated even more participatory culture amongst fangirls and fanboys everywhere. It’s easier than ever to paint your favorite character, remix a song, or make a fan video and share it with millions on a variety of platforms where fellow enthusiasts can offer criticism, praise, and even their own responses. Let’s not even get started on the gifs. Some shows, such as BBC Sherlock, have been gif’d so much that you can probably watch the entirety of the series in gifs.
The instantaneous nature of the internet also means that fandom news travels fast. In fact, news travels so quickly that this photo of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman turned into a fandom phenomenon in just a few hours’ time on Monday, March 11th.
Yes, a simple silly picture taken between cast mates led to fan art, gifs, copycat pictures, and my personal favorite, the #ReplaceSherlockQuotesWithGrape tag on Twitter.
Instead of relying on traditional news media, which can take days or even weeks to spread the word on a beloved show, we can all flock to our computer screens and have the latest news in a matter of minutes. And then we can all flail together.
You may be thinking: “Okay, so fans have all this access to other fan-generated content now. So what?”
The point is simple. Technology has changed the way in which we interact with each other as fans and has created a giant network of fans all across the world. We are not limited to sharing our love of a particular book or television show with only those in our immediate vicinity; the only limit to fandom groups now is internet access. However, this accessibility has lead to some criticism of the new generation of fandom.
Recently, the new wave of internet fandom has come under scrutiny, particularly in the Sherlock Holmes community. Some of the more traditional fan-based groups that pride themselves on their scholarly approach to their passion showed disdain for the new generation of Sherlockians. It is no secret that some prominent members of the Baker Street Irregulars (we’re looking at you, Shreffler) expressed their disapproval of popular podcasters, The Baker Street Babes. The situation even warranted a mention in a New York Times article. The fact that anyone’s “fan cred” can be questioned is ridiculous. The fact that female fans were targeted specifically YET AGAIN is outrageous. Didn’t we just fight this “fake geek girl” battle? Clearly the war is still ongoing.
The BSI and BSB situation raised an interesting dialogue on what it means to be a fan, one that we believe the majority of the BSI responded to well. The fact of the matter is, anyone can be a fan of something. It doesn’t truly matter how long you’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes or the Avengers. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read every single canon story and if you don’t write academic essays on the homoerotic subtext of Batman comics. It doesn’t matter if you don’t regularly discuss the deeper symbolism of Doctor Who episodes at dinner parties. If you love something you are free to express that love and connect with others in any way you see fit. This is a truth that should go without saying.
Why then, does fan snobbery exist? The answer is quite simple. We, the online fandom generation, are a threat. In fact, we’re completely taking over. Not only do we interact with each other in new ways, but we also interact with the writers, actors, directors, artists, etc. in ways that traditional fan avenues could never hope to achieve. Sure, you can meet an actor at a convention, but do you really think that thirty second interaction is going to have as much impact on say, Martin Freeman, as does the existence of Tumblr? I don’t think so.
We, the online fandom, have everyone’s attention. We’re the ones helping to shape the shows we love. We’re the ones taking over social media as we know it. And people are taking notice.
We are fandom, hear us ROAR.
P.S. We know you’re out there, Mr. Freeman, trolling us with your red pants and your grapes. We’re watching you watching us watch you.