My Conversation with the Millions Elizabeth Minkel: The Full Text
|Interviews by Fans|
|Title:||My Conversation with the Millions Elizabeth Minkel: The Full Text|
|Date(s):||January 30, 2014|
|External Links:||My Conversation with The Millions' Elizabeth..., Archived version|
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- fan service
- Sherlock (BBC) as expensive and powerful fanfiction
- violating the fourth wall
- trusting, and not trusting, the showrunners
- fannish expectations and disappointment
From my perspective—viewing Sherlock as a very high quality, very clever, very well-written fanwork—this show has always challenged the fourth wall. Their mission statement is to mess with canon and to redefine it as inclusive—if they feel like it. They are not writing the kind of reverent, in-universe missing case or missing scene pastiche that has long been popular with Sherlockians.
But, of course, structurally, the fourth wall is very much in place in any television franchise because these are culturally and economically powerful people with loud mouthpieces and tons of authority, and many of their fans (as a group, and in some cases as individuals) are culturally belittled and marginalized. Moffat and Gatiss, Freeman and Cumberbatch—the most visible faces and voices of the show—they’re men. The face of online fandom is invisible, depersonalized, gendered female or queer and very often disparaged as perverted and unhinged.Even when they are explicitly including and picturing the fans, going out of their way to say nice things, this imbalance is so apparent, it looks intentionally staged. In the DVD series 3 extras when they’re discussing fan theories about Reichenbach, you have images of these four men talking, one or two recognizable faces in a shot, sitting comfortably and with all the power and knowledge on their side, and then you have shots of crowds of young female fans outside talking about their theories, some of which are presented as very outlandish. It’s quite striking. Of course you sometimes also have shots of Sue Vertue, and one young male fan talking about his theory, but that doesn’t change the overall impression.
Everyone thinks creators are like Oz the Great and Powerful, but they’re really the little guy behind the curtain trying to manipulate everyone in sight to accepting their power and vision through some very skillful lies and tricks. I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’d rather hang with the little guy, personally. And then brilliant fans find all this meaning and if the creators are smart, they say—yep, totally planned it. How clever you all are to have figured that out. As for me, I’d say that in the way Sherlock is written and shot—it’s a romance, that’s clear enough. It’s not weird, crazy, or wrong that people want the romance consummated sexually, nor is it weird, or crazy, or wrong to want a different kind of romance, to have it acknowledged that not everyone’s most important relationship is a sexual one. I think what is really wrong is to pathologize either one of those potential narratives.
But, where people have written 200K word fictions about Sherlock’s return, it only makes sense that some of those writers and readers are very invested in what will happen. They’re not a passive audience, they *are* co-creators in their own experience. Many writers have woven elements of their own experience and their own issues into the fan stories and into the show, based on points of connection they see onscreen—as in the case of some who identify as neuro-nontypical, or asexual, or gay, and see Sherlock as at long last a representation of one of their own. So when the official creators take the show in a different direction, to those active fans who have been co-creating something different, it can feel like it’s “not their show.” That’s part of it. But, of course, all those fans are not creating the same show, and the “The Empty Hearse” nods to that as well.
I think Sherlock *is* fanservice but I think that the creators themselves are the fans they are servicing. They couldn’t make this show if they weren’t incredible Sherlock Holmes fans. Sherlock is in the enviable position of being event television that people will tune in for. They can afford not to play it safe. By going over familiar ground—with Sherlock Holmes—and by doing so few episodes, they buy the opportunity to do very new things in television. Just like fanfiction writers always do—people will tune in for the characters and read something more experimental than they might otherwise because there’s enough there to make them feel at home.
But “His Last Vow” did feel very different from the first two episodes. Somewhere I had a bit about HLV being Moffat’s fix-it episode: “they’ve changed my action figure into a girly man—Jim, will you fix it? WATCH ME MAKE A BADASS MYSTERY!! WATCH ME DO A PLOT TWIST! WATCH ME HAVE A SHOOTING! WATCH ME REPRESS EMOTION LIKE A REAL MAN DOES!” It felt like that a bit. But Moffat also wrote the wedding speech, so it’s more probable that—shocker—he simply wants to tell more than one kind of story. My problem with HLV was that I couldn’t see any reason for Mary to shoot Sherlock, or for Sherlock to be so selfless about it. I didn’t buy it (but I thought it looked really cool.) And I thought it was odd she ended up sweetly silent, pregnant, and drugged after all that. I didn’t like that they had Sherlock shoot CAM instead of a woman do it, because it’s one of the few moments of female agency in all of ACD canon. But like I said—I don’t have to love it all. I thought there were sequences there that were brilliant, I loved the villain, I just wasn’t impressed by the mysteries or plot twists... I’m hoping it gets worked out in interesting ways the next time.
It’s totally normal for a fandom inundated with new canon. OMG is it normal. But I loved Series Three. I even loved the parts I didn’t love the best. Then, I’d probably love it if they did a whole episode where I could watch Martin Freeman watch paint dry. Because while I don’t get surprised by plot too often (it’s great when I do), Martin Freeman’s expressions can pretty much always surprise me. Other things that surprised me: I didn’t call Sherlock dancing, or Operation, or “sitty things” or, you know, “lick” or “flick.” I’m delighted. I’m teaching it. Squee. But for me, loving something and being critical about it aren’t mutually opposed. It’s what I first loved about online fandom. Look! Discourse!