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17 May 2005 @ 16:42
not quite a thinky but still slightly thinky "Doctor Who" fandom essay  
So, I've been working on this rant-cum-essay on and off all, and I've been a bit on the squirrelly side, regarding posting it... But I figure what the hell.

Okay, remember how a few weeks back I was sad, because there had been over the course of one week-end major polarisation of Doctor Who fandom, mainly in regards to the new fans versus the old fans, and the Doctor/Rose fans versus the folks who are very anti-Doctor/Companion? What bummed me out was seeing about a year's worth of fannish evolution smushed into such a small span of time.

However, in the last 2 weeks, what has really started to depress me is an alarming homogenisation of current series "Doctor Who" fanfic, particularly Doctor/Rose. I realise that the series has only been airing for 8 weeks--that's barely 2 months. And as such, long, plot-driven stories are rare because they take time to write, which is part of why I'm pouncing on them like catnip when I do find them. So we have been seeing a plethora of missing scene and episode codas posted each week.

The thing that's alarming though is the sameness of a lot of the stories posted since "Dalek." I don't know if it's a case of hive mind so much as it's writers reading each other's work and picking up trends. But there are a depressing number of clichés that have surfaced in Doctor/Rose fanfic of late. I say depressing because we're much too young a fandom to have glaringly obvious clichés already. But if you go to fanfiction.net or Teaspoon or time_and_chips (the main forums and archives for Doctor/Rose fanfic and fannish discussion thus far) you'll find increasingly common patterns:

The Doctor and/or Rose is upset. They comfort one another. They may or may not be sharing a bed due to nightmares (a plot idea that I really though had great potential when I first saw it, which now makes me cringe every time it's been cloned since) There is kissing, which leads to sex, which leads to heartfelt "I love yous." End scene.

I'm not kidding. If you were to randomly sample anything shorter than 2000 words currently up at FFN, I think 8 out of 10 would fit this bill, and that's not a happy statistic. I wish I could just laugh about this. But it's getting to the point where I'm half-way through reading a vignette and then have to walk away from my computer because they all go the same way.

Every kiss leads to sex.

Every orgasm leads to "I love you."

It's as if there's a recipe out there that everyone's following to turn out "The Perfect Betty Crocker Doctor Who Fanfic" and all the Bree Van de Kamps are lined up next to their differently-coloured iced cakes at this long table and you taste a slice from each cake and they all end up tasting exactly the same and you can't tell one from another, even if, if there had only been one cake and you were really in the mood for cake, you would have really loved that cake. And now all you can think is "I've gone off cake forever, now."

Does that make any kind of sense?

Fanfic which is based on other fanfic does not equal good fanfic.

I think part of the reason I sometimes have these conflicted feelings about identifying myself as a Doctor/Rose fan is that there have become different kinds of Doctor/Rose fans on a scale of "I love the canon relationship with all its flirting and subtext" to "OMG they are SO DOING IT ON THE CONSOLE ROOM FLOOR!andalsothedoctorswillyisginormous." And if you're at one end of the scale, you end up resisting the idea of being automatically identified as being at the other end (tho pretty much everyone admits that the one story where the NC-17 language was replaced with **** was A Very Bad Idea. Hurrah for solidarity.), and there's plenty of room in the middle, but it's lonelier there. And there's a very clique-ish "us against the world!" thing going on as well, which turns one's own preferences into a kind of fannish political statement.

What I love about the on-screen relationship I really want to see reflected in fanfic. I don't want every story's plot to be a race to the finish line of The First Kiss, or The First Fuck. I love fanfic which has the same range as the series--from humour to drama, and everything in-between. I love exploring their relationship, their reliance on one another, the giant age gap, the shared love of adventure, the rows and the sniping, the tactile nature of it, the genuine caring, the genuine frustration. I adore that, and fanfic offers a medium where you don't always need exploding aliens as an A plot to justify your character driven B-plot, because television is a visual medium and prose doesn't have the same requirements.

But I'm getting bummed at the sameness. I'm getting bummed at the volume of short fics tossed off in the hours after the episodes air, which may have a kernel of a really good idea at their heart, but aren't given time and care to develop into an actual story.

(And I'm frankly getting very tired of the Doctor's enormous penis. Honestly, with 900 years experience, don't you think it really would be all about how he uses the equipment, not how big it is?)

Maybe in 2 months time, when we're faced with months and months wait between the 13th episode and the Christmas special, and the only way to get new Doctor/Rose or "Doctor Who" current series adventures is from fan fiction, that is when we'll really see that kind of variety, of stories of every stripe and colour, length and complexity, and startling simplicity become more than the exception, but the norm. These first two months have been a shakedown cruise, after all, for many of us--first time writing in a new fandom, first time writing for many, and the series is new and shiny and feeling its way along just as we are, so maybe that's a big part of it too.

But when I see people complaining about the quality (or lack thereof) of fanfic based on the new series, my initial instinct is to leap to my fandom's defence and point out the wheat among the chaff. But lately, it's been harder to deny that not only does the chaff exist, but it's getting harder and harder to find those kernels of goodness among all the chaff. And I worry that there's an element of "if I write a certain type of fic because there's an audience for it, then I will get positive feedback, because I'm giving people what they want" rather than writing a story for the sake of the story, and not giving people what they want, but managing as a result to maybe give people what they didn't realise they wanted until they got it. There's no real challenge, giving people what they've said they want. That's easy. That's working at McDonald's, handing out Big Macs and fries. And as we all know from "Supersize Me" one cannot live on McDonald's alone, forever. Sure, you crave it once in a while, but as a steady diet, it kills you a bit at a time.

Clichés become clichés when they go from something true in the moment, to something over-used and commonplace and taken a short-hand for truth, in lieu of establishing truth. But it's getting to the point where a lot of us are feeding on each other's fan fiction, instead of the series itself. So we're getting a fuzzy Xerox copy of the characters that subscribes to whatever "popular" view of the characters presented by a handful of influential, prolific authors. Whether its conscious or subconscious, the end result is a depressing sameness to the output of the sub-fandom.

As for clichés, hey--I'm as guilty as the next gal of jumping onto moving bandwagons. I've written "chipfic." I've written a post-"Dalek" hurt/comfort coda. It's not as if the same ideas that have occurred to many of us at once aren't valid ideas, worth exploring, and that no one has explored them well. It's that so many people all seem to be saying the same thing, with little variation to make them stand out. It's gotten to the point where, if I have a post-ep story idea, I have to stay away from the fandom until I've finished it, and once I have, I am seriously debating posting it because I don't want to end up just another anonymous vendor of generic fiction.

(and before anyone laughs, I was actually delighted to have been completely mistaken for Ponygirl, after "Dalek" aired, because I quite like Ponygirl's work. But it doesn't change the fact I do worry that my work stands out not one bit.)

But not every story has to end with the Doctor and Rose going off for chips. Or falling into each other's arms. Or screwing like space-bunnies. Or declaring their undying love. There's room for taking things one step at a time, instead of jumping straight to the end. Cause the journey really can be the best part.

ETA: I'm not trying it single any one writer out. This isn't about pointing fingers and assigning blame. What I'm getting at is that it's not just one writer. It's the trend appearing in a large number of writers' work that's depressing me. My show is too damned young to have this many fanfic cliché already.
Tags: ,
mood: depresseddepressed
HawkMoth: plotisgoodhawkmoth on 17th May 2005 23:59 (UTC)
Excellent thoughts and essay.

So, we have insta-fanfic and insta-fanon, then?

I think that's a trend in other genres, these days. If you look back at the dates of some of the earliest Firefly stories, fics were being written within the first--well, it's hard to pin down with the stupid FOX scheduling--ok, let's say several weeks of first-run episodes. Granted that Joss and his actors had these characters pretty well defined from the get-go, but some people were doing a lot of second-guessing, establishing motives and traits and backgrounds that really didn't fit as we came to know more. I didn't get inspired till after Ariel, and even then I didn't feel entirely comfortable until I'd rewatched tapes, saw the last few episodes, and wrote a few more stories (longish ones that took time).

Random observation, just from what appears up on LJ and in other forums:

When other new shows that are attractive to fannish people debut, there seems to be fic popping up within a few episodes. Boom! You get the impression that some people tune in just to see the fanfic potential, especially for shipping (and a lot of times, it seems, for whatever HoYay subtext they can find). I'm not saying this happens all the time, but it is noticable--at least to me.

Does the immediacy of getting feedback on the net spur on the need to write immediately?
Samantha Wilkinsonsamantha2074 on 18th May 2005 02:56 (UTC)
I was thinking something along similar lines. I think the nature of fandoms, or at least the composition, has changed over the past 5-10 years. I think young people, instead of writing fanfic for themselves and/or their friends, are now posting it to the Internet, where it reaches a wider audience. We see them publicly going through the stages of writing, when before they often got through them before connecting with the fandom at large.

In addition, I think that many people come online, see people shipping pairings and believe that's the purpose of fandom. I recently read a post by someone in another fandom saying she'd look for good slash and then read the book/watch the show. Which seems strange and backwards to me, but I think I'm approaching fandom from a completely different mindset. I was flummoxed months ago when by episode 2 of "House," people were already shipping House/Wilson, and I was still trying to get to know the characters. I like shipping as much as the next person, but I don't have a ship for everything I watch, nor is it necessarily my primary focus. I'm not saying my approach to fandom is better, just that it's a different.

I realize I'm making gross generalizations here, but I think the phenomenon taraljc is describing can be generalized to a description of a style of fannishness that is prevalent among, although not exclusive to, young people. As you say, I've seen it in other fandoms.

As an aside, I get a little bit of cognitive dissonance when people describe Doctor Who as a new fandom. I realize that for many people it is, and the new show has in many ways a different feel from the old one. But for me, it's still Doctor Who. I've been watching it for more than 20 years, there's a long-established fan base, and this "new fandom" stuff is just... weird.
HawkMoth: losthawkmoth on 18th May 2005 03:14 (UTC)
I recently read a post by someone in another fandom saying she'd look for good slash and then read the book/watch the show. Which seems strange and backwards to me, but I think I'm approaching fandom from a completely different mindset. I was flummoxed months ago when by episode 2 of "House," people were already shipping House/Wilson, and I was still trying to get to know the characters. I like shipping as much as the next person, but I don't have a ship for everything I watch, nor is it necessarily my primary focus. I'm not saying my approach to fandom is better, just that it's a different.

Right on! "House" was definitely one of the shows I was thinking of, and I think close to the same thing happened quickly with "Lost."

Do people start watching a show, not because they're intrigued by the premise, or because of the cast, but because they're looking for characters to 'ship (het or slash)?

I've always approached writing fanfic as a way to tell more stories. That doesn't seem to be the primary focus for a lot of the current generation of fans, does it?

New Who is essentially a new fandom, I guess, but it's got a foundation to build on...I know what you mean about it feeling weird, though. Fans who've only known the Internet, and have no idea of the long print/zine history online fandom owes a debt to, make me crazy sometimes. And those who do know about that past, and dismiss it as unimportant, make me mad.