The Validation of the Internet Fandom: Bridging the Gap Between Traditional Fandom and the Age of Tumblr

Photo by June Matics

At A Scintillation of Scions V, I (Curly) presented a paper entitled The Validation of the Internet Fandom: Bridging the Gap Between Traditional Fandom and the Age of Tumblr. It was very well received and made a lot of people cry (gyah sorry!). My heart sort of swelled as I walked back to my seat and kept getting stopped, Sherlockians new and old thanking me, telling me how fantastic it was, and that they were so proud and pleased. I hadn’t felt like I had done anything monumental or extraordinary, but after awhile I realized that maybe I had done something important.

So, here is the paper in its entirety, as well as the recording from the actual presentation (so I can prove people laughed and clapped!) I hope you like it.

To listen to this presentation please [CLICK HERE]

To read, look below!

The Validation of the Internet Fandom: Bridging the Gap Between Traditional Fandom and the Age of Tumblr
By Kristina Manente
Scintillation of Scions V
June 9, 2012

I have an addictive personality. I’ll get addicted to outfits or hummus sandwiches, movies and songs. I should have known I’d end up here at Scintillation for one simple reason: as a child I watched The Great Mouse Detective. I watched it so many times over and over again, I’m sure it’s melted my brain. And drove my mother insane. I was hopelessly in love with it. I still am. It was a staple of my childhood and while I was vaguely aware of whom Sherlock Holmes was growing up, I wasn’t a Sherlockian.

I didn’t start reading the canon until last year. I thought Watson was always rotund with a bushy mustache (well, part of that is true), and I had no idea who Jeremy Brett was. In fact, when the Robert Downey Jr movie adverts first showed, my first thought (other than god Jude Law is hot) was that of Basil of Baker Street. Of the cartoon mouse who unashamedly stole my heart. I didn’t know what would happen in the next two to three years. I didn’t know about Sherlock or how it would change my life forever.

Sherlock is my first fandom, and I use fandom in the sense of a distinct internet community. A community of thousands who all love the same thing, who write about it, laugh about it, argue about it, art about it, cry about it, and lust over animated gifs of Benedict Cumberbatch together. It’s a beautiful mad thing. I stepped in unaware and I have never been more glad. Fandom has introduced me and countless others to the original stories. It has celebrated these magnificent characters and it has changed my life, and many others.

As such, Sherlock has one of the most vocal and dedicated fandoms out there. The Believe In Sherlock campaign should be enough indication of that. If you don’t know what that is, following the transmission of The Reichenbach Fall in the UK, a fan movement was started much akin to Frodo Lives. We had to restore Sherlock’s reputation and prove Richard Brook was a fake. The original post by earlfoolish on tumblr charged believers in Sherlock to take to the streets. It was a bit meta, but we did it. The Believe In Sherlock movement spread worldwide, popping up in schools, places of work, and along the streets of cities and towns. The campaign went completely viral and has been reported on numerous blogging sites and even The Radio Times. Fans are finding one another through the movement as well, going to tumblr to try and find original posters of the fliers and artwork. It’s bringing the Sherlock community together, promoting the show, and including the fans into the universe of BBC Sherlock.

And it’s all fan made. Those involved in the BBC show have mentioned numerous times how staggered they were by the movement, and still are. Steven Moffat called it “the best viral marketing campaign ever,” and that he and Mark Gatiss didn’t need to do any promotion for Series 3 because we had done it for them. The parallels to the legend of Victorians marching along the Strand in black armbands are obvious. Just as they did, we mourned the “death” of our hero, allowing ourselves to enter the Sherlock world and bring it into our reality. Some have called it childish and ridiculous, but we had fun. And I won’t apologize for that.

No one can doubt the sincerity and absolute dedication of the Sherlock generation of Holmesians. If Believe In Sherlock isn’t enough how about the thousands of votes that pour in when someone from the show, or the show itself is up for an award? Countless number of trending topics on twitter have been started by the fandom, and as I said before, those involved in the show have remarked multiple times how floored they are by their fanbase. We’re a fanatically dedicated bunch, which is why I get surprised when older Sherlockians get annoyed at us and fear us.

Are we not the same? Many of you entered Sherlockiana through more traditional means. You might have read the canon and found a group. You might have started your own or subscribed to a newsletter. Some of you as Baker Street Irregulars and are quite distinguished. Others just run a blog or are Holmesian authors, both scholarly and pastiche. I like to yammer into a microphone with friends and it’s in that way I express my love. That and reblogging some gratuitous photos of the cast, because they’re gorgeous. And that’s okay. I’m sure Victorian women and men were oogling the Paget drawings. Don’t even try to tell me they weren’t.

With Sherlock, and to a lesser extent the Robert Downey Jr films, has come a surge of new Sherlockians. Some very learned in canon, others encountering the characters for the first time. It’s a global Holmesian Renaissance and it’s come to life and spread rapidly through social media, primarily through tumblr, twitter, and the fanfic communities on livejournal and AO3. I can understand how the massive surge can be terrifying for the more traditional minded Sherlockian: hoards of teenage and twenty-some-year-olds descending upon their Holmesian world. They’re afraid of, dare I say it, The Cumberbitches, and afraid they aren’t in it for the stories. But if they took a moment to go beyond the surface of OMG and FEELINGS, they’re realize that it’s more than that. They may have come for the cheekbones and the dishy silver fox from Scotland Yard, but it’s not why they stayed.

They’ve fallen in love. Just like everyone in this room has.

Those of us from the Sherlock generation are vocal and opinionated. We care about this show an obscene amount and we aren’t afraid to show it. There are around 30,000 Sherlock tumblr fans and that is a conservative estimate. There are thousands upon thousands of fanfictions and beautiful, stunning pieces of art. A fanartist was actually contacted by Sue Vertue, producer of the BBC series, and her stunning portraits of the Sherlock cast will be going in a board room at Hartswood Studios.

Along with the art are the essays and heated debates. Emotions run high in the tumblr world and never have I seen such detailed responses to questions. There is plenty of scholarships on tumblr. They research to an obsessive level and have enough references to even make Les Klinger happy. I’ve read beautifully researched essays on the canon as well as on the BBC show. Character essays. Theories. Everything you can imagine. Where you all have journals and newsletters, we have the internet.

They’re also not afraid to have fun, and will gladly trend topics on twitter like replace a Sherlock quote with pancake.

Why so silly? Why not? Why is it a crime to have fun? We can interact in a whole new way: live chatting with writers and actors, Q&As, and spreading out ideas to the public. The Sherlock generation is a force to be reckoned with, and yes, some are silly, but so are some BSI members. They are, however, genuine fans, and you should never doubt their sincerity.

When I was privileged enough to attend the judicial review for the Undershaw Preservation Trust, for which I am the London Ambassador, on May 23rd, I wasn’t surprised by who was in attendance. There were a handful of middle-aged and older people, but the vast majority of those who had come out to sit in court for seven hours were young. Teenagers. Twenty-somethings. It was the youth. It was the Sherlock generation.

We love Sherlock Holmes. We are the same. The Sherlock generation just has more toys to play with. And yes, it is intimidating, and yes it’s all changing quite quickly. But it’s a good change. So this is an open invitation for every person who may ever hear or read this. Interact with the young fans. Invite them to your meetings. Talk Sherlock Holmes with them. Don’t underestimate them. Just because we blog doesn’t mean we’re not genuine and earnest, or intelligent. The hesitation goes both ways though. You young’uns, newbies, and those who only came in with BBC Sherlock, don’t be afraid. Read the canon. Explore the world. Be willing to be taught. I have never met a more gracious group of people in my life. Try. You won’t regret it.

If you challenged me to a canon quiz you’d most likely beat me. And I am fine with that, because I am still learning. I’m still exploring these stories for the first time, as are many of my tumblr colleagues. We’re not subpar to those of you who can quote the canon word from word, because at our core we all love these characters. Some of you are just further ahead than us, but we’re on our way and we want to be on our way. Those of us from the tumblr generation don’t expect some of you to understand our weird jokes about how John Watson is obsessed with jam or understand why animated gifs are perfectly acceptable responses to questions. That’s fine. We’re two different camps, but we have a lot in common and we’re starting to meld. I think it’s okay if we still have our own worlds, but coming together should be a priority. It’s starting, and it is my hope that we can all work together to enjoy the great consulting detective and his steadfast partner Dr. Watson as Sherlockians.

I and the Baker Street Babes owe a lot to the Sherlock fandom. It’s where we came from and as such we are fiercely protective of it. We also couldn’t have gotten where we are without the acceptance of all of you and for that I offer my sincerest thanks. We’re flattered by our popularity, having hit over 110,000 listens as of June 7th. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to getting fanmail. We’re also frankly gobsmacked by the opportunities we’ve had. I remember literally faceplanting onto my bed when I got a DM on twitter from Sue Vertue and New Year’s Eve shall always be highlighted by Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman’s wife, posting on our facebook wall about how to become a Baker Street Babe. A few months later we’d be having brunch with her. A month after that we’d be on the red carpet at the TV BAFTAs. I don’t think I’ve actually gotten over it. I don’t say these things to gloat and boast, but rather to count my stars. I’ve enjoyed every moment of this, even the masochistic sound editing until the wee hours of the morning and the terrifying moment when you send a query letter to an agent in hopes of an interview. Through the good and bad it’s been a beautiful time, and it’s a beautiful time to be a Sherlockian.

Whether you’re a BSI or a Sherlock tumblr fan, you are a Sherlockian. Whether you’re 65 or 15, you are a Sherlockian. Whether you discovered Sherlock Holmes as a child or yesterday, you are a Sherlockian… and you should be proud of that.

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