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The theory of clams was first developed by Dorinda somewhere around 2000 to describe certain characteristics in fannish BSOs. It posits that there are certain types of characters some fans are drawn to that she called "a clam." A clam generally has these characteristics (plus others that came up in later personal discussions that haven't been codified):
- Intense and passionate emotions, BUT
- Very strong control and repression of those emotions
- Attempts at stoicism
- Cracks in the stoicism where the passion can be seen seething and glowing.
Passionate emotions can be found across the board; it's the intense and powerful (but not always successful) effort to control and repress said passions that makes someone more or less clamlike.
Anger/rage/explosiveness may be what most often spurs people to think a given character isn't a clam. However, these are not part of the softer emotions/vulnerabilities that clams by definition keep suppressed inside--the rage/anger/explosiveness are often part of their shells. As an example, Frank Pembleton from Homicide: Life on the Street is a character who is hugely verbose with his rage. But that is a defense, a way to keep the soft stuff safely protected. It took things like a stroke and his wife leaving him to make him admit something of his need for Tim (Bayliss, his partner on the series), and it took Tim shot and bleeding in his arms for him to express the depths of his tenderness for Tim. The need and the tenderness, the vulnerability, were the emotions he was suppressing and protecting.
For fans of clams, an intensely pleasurable moment occurs in the (canonical or fanfictional) event of a "clameurism": "The moment when the pressure has built...built...built...on the clam...and he's trying...to repress...and control...but......blam!" This is not necessarily a simple angry tirade, usually, unless that anger also inadvertently reveals the softer feelings that the clam has heretofore managed to hide (immense depths of love, fear, loyalty, need, etc.). It is important that the event be both rare and in extremis; "that's part of the definition of a clam, is that he would never lose it like that if he could at all help it, he keeps the reins tight--until something hits him just right, gets in one of the cracks. Then...pow."
Some examples of a clam having a clameurism include:
- In The West Wing, when Jed gives Leo the carefully-saved napkin that Leo had originally given him years ago, and Leo (once alone) slides down into his chair and starts to weep, his hand helplessly shaking.
- When Spock discovers Kirk is alive after Spock thinks he has killed him, and Spock grabs him by the shoulders and shouts his name.
- Captain Pellew treads the edge of clameurisms a good amount in canon, but almost always manages to catch himself and slam his mouth closed ("A man as dear to me as my--")
- In Person of Interest, when Harold Finch drags a shot John Reese to a doctor, upends a giant dufflebag of cash, and yelps, "Fix him!" (or really, almost any other exchange between them on the show.)
Many fans feel clams are at their best as characters when paired with an "anti-clam": someone who wears his heart and his sensitivities on his sleeve, and whose emotions are generally right out there.
The clam theory of characters became popular enough that there was a panel devoted to it at the 2005 Escapade convention. Early in the panel, the participants brainstormed a list of favorite fannish clams: "Clams include: Fraser (due South), Pembleton (Homicide), Horatio Hornblower (some argued instead that in that fandom the clam is Pellew). Leo (West Wing). Skinner (XF). Batman is a superclam. Spock is the Ur-clam. Clams are often older guys, and often damaged in some way." That panel also included discussion of whether the clam is necessarily a male archetype. (Consensus seemed to be that some women -- notably Dana Scully and Xena -- fit the clam mold.)
Examples of Clams
- From Still There by K. Hanna Korossy Blair contemplates Jim Ellison's clamness: "Jim wasn't the kind to push on something like this. In fact, Blair was surprised Mister Denial had even brought it up, but he certainly wasn't the kind to want to talk about it, God forbid, have a little soul-baring, some honest emotional displays. It might tarnish his image or something."