Caitlin Moran’s Sherlock Fanfiction Stunt Isn’t a Big Deal

Caitlin Moran

On Sunday, Caitlin Moran — bestselling author of How to Be a Woman and longtime writer for The Times — hosted a Q&A panel for the BFI following the screening of the newest Sherlock episode, due out New Year’s Day.

And people are pissed.

Apparently Moran dared to ask stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to read out some of the homoerotic fanfiction dedicated to their characters and now the author and many casual and devoted fans of the show are furious. Furious at her lack of tactand decency. Furious at the disrespect she’s paid to the original writer, to the actors, to the show and to all fans. But here’s where I’m confused: though she might have a reputation as something of a “punk feminist” writer, Moran hasn’t done anything particularly new or edgy by doing this.

For a while now, it’s been fairly routine for major TV interviewers to force Tumblr-favorite stars of geeky franchises (like David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Tom Hiddleston) to interact with R-rated fanfiction and fan art based around their characters. 

And nobody’s ever really made a fuss about it. The author or artist chose to share their work publicly, and at worst it makes for an uncomfortable interview — which is the interviewer’s prerogative. The one caveat I’d add is that there is a difference between a TV interview intended to promote a project which will be screened to thousands (or millions) of people, and a very intimate Q&A intended for a small audience of die-hard fans. So if Moran made one gaffe, it was in not really understanding her audience — which may be an interviewer’s prerogative, but it’s not very smart.

In any event, for anyone not caught up on this story, it began with this twitter conversation:

Which got reported as “Caitlin Moran calls Sherlock fans a bunch of virgins,” somewhat inaccurately. And then heated up as reports came out that Moran had — despite protests on the part of the actors — demanded that they read explicit Sherlock fanfiction out to the crowd.

This is where things get a little more complicated. Some people claim that Moran was making homophobic remarks, or was at least laughing at the idea of the relationship between Holmes and Watson being anything other than arrow-straight, despite the fact that suggestions of “something more” have dogged the stories since their inception. And especially despite the fact that this show, of all the adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes tales, loves to play with and wink at that suggestion. Regardless, people have argued that Moran having the cast read fanfiction was effectively homophobic, as she was doing it to laugh at the idea that they were — or could be — gay.

To make that argument, you have to ignore a rather large elephant in the room: most fanfiction is bad. I don’t mean in terms of its erotic content, I mean that it’s typically poorly written. And most of the time, when people laugh about fanfiction, that’s what they’re laughing at — not the gayness or the sex. So it feels unfair to immediately tar Moran with a bigoted brush because she invited people to laugh at something that people have been laughing at since the internet was born.

I’ve been embarrassingly devoted to a few different fandoms in my life, but I know when my “rights” as a fan stop, which typically is at a point called “copyright.” If you want to get terribly technical, all fanfiction is illegal. But more importantly than that, just because you have devoted an insane amount of time to a show or a movie or a book series, it doesn’t mean that people have to defer to you or respect your copyright-violating content.

If Moran was genuinely homophobic, then that’s a problem and she should make a public apology. But otherwise, reading some goofy fanfiction out loud at a fan event, while uncomfortable and not well-tailored to that particular audience, might have been stupid. It might have been tactless. Or — worse — unfunny. It might have even been a little mean-spirited. But none of that makes it automatically offensive, homophobic, bigoted or wrong.

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18 thoughts on “Caitlin Moran’s Sherlock Fanfiction Stunt Isn’t a Big Deal

  1. Pingback: I’m An Author, And I Love Fanfiction

  2. If it was not such a big deal,then benedict wouldn’t have reacted at all.I don’t know if you have seen the video or not,but here’s the link -: http://johnlockedness.tumblr.com/post/70112561550/diifinity-multiple-cumbergasms-this-is

    Ben in his dignified way told her off.This is exactly what he said ”Is there a punchline? Is there something you wanted to say after we read this? Are we ruining the joke?” and further makes his point that he was not happy with this stunt by saying “It’s just the point- fans can do what they like, but there’s a point, we do what we do with it and that’s the fun we have with our fiction of it- is to point out that that is ludicrous in our universe of its storytelling. So, sorry to be all ‘nyeghhh’ about it but…”

    In plain words,what he meant was ”this is about premier of Sherlock episode and not the time to display homoerotic fan fiction”.He was clearly pissed off.

    Two middle aged respectable actors made to read pornography about themselves infront of a group of educated dignified adults and to top it all,there was no relation between the ”fanfiction reading stunt” with the episode premier. And to add insult to injury our dear host degrades the fanfic writer by calling her art as clumsily written.

    I hope now you get it why the fandom are enraged with such unprofessional behaviour from the host.

  3. Pingback: What Steven Moffat Doesn’t Understand About Grief, And Why It’s Killing Doctor Who | Tea Leaves and Dog Ears

  4. While I haven’t read or heard the exact content she had them read to the crowd, I would say one reason that fans might jump down her throat about such a tactless move is that it is a bit of “straw that broke the camel’s back” situation. I know that I have seen where Mr.Cumberbatch (I believe while promoting a stage production he was in between Sherlock seasons) was made to view some R-rated fanart and talk about it – even though he was clearly uncomfortable, then it progressed to giving him crap about his name. In another interview, Mr.Freeman was given very similar treatment. I’ve noticed there are a lot of Sherlock fans who are fans of other actors/shows/etc., so I’ve seen a good deal of fans referring to interviews where Mr.Hiddleston has been shown R-rated fanart (Loki as a pole dancer appears to be a favorite for interviewers to pull up) and made to talk about it, when he is clearly uncomfortable with it. Likely if you are a fan of Sherlock (including the actors involved) AND a fan of other Tumblr-favorites (such as Loki/Tom Hiddleston/Hobbit/etc.) that this was probably a case of being one more incident (the setting also not being at all the place for such a gimmick) than fans were willing to put up with, so they are making it clear that they would appriciate it if this were stopped. I have seen interviews where the show creators/producers/etc. were asked about Sherlock and Molly (Sherlolly – of your into shipping them) as a couple, where Watson and his girlfriend from the first season were asked about, and other couplings on the show, yet whenever Mr.Cumberbatch or Mr.Freeman are interviewed, it seems that they are predominately asked about “JohnLock” as a pairing. As a fan, the question gets old, I cannot imagine how irritating and old it must have gotten for the actors (crew and more, as well).

    • I guess my problem is this: if the fans are truly upset about the actors being confronted with it, maybe they need to stop producing embarrassing content? Because if you are going to share something to the internet, people will find it. And what most people associated with fandoms seem to forget is that most people are still totally bewildered and fascinated by the way a fandom behaves. So it’s somewhat natural for a talk show host in his 40s or 50s to be sort of stunned and amused by Loki as a pole dancer, and the little information I have about TV interviews is that most of the discussion or conversation is — or should be — cleared through the actor’s PR person before it goes live. So while the actor — keyword “actor” — might look uncomfortable, and might actually be uncomfortable, he has likely already agreed to it before it’s gone live.

      So it’s interesting to me that the reaction to “talk show host shows star awkward fanfic” isn’t, “Maybe we should stop producing fanfic,” but rather, “They shouldn’t do that.”

      Why? When you share something online, you do open yourself up to that. If you can’t handle the sheer exposure of it, you shouldn’t be doing it. Period.

      • There is a difference between putting something on the net where someone might read it if they choose to do so and forcing the actors to read porn – any porn – at a fan-event.
        There are a lot of undercurrents to the incident you miss…this might help you out in this regard. http://swanpride2.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/thoughts-about-the-fanfiction-incident/

        But to simplify it: Most fanfiction writers make a difference between the characters and the actors. They might be okay with porn about characters, but their stance towards RPF is way more negative. Giving a story about the characters to the actors was destroying this line.

        Plus, BC and MF have said multiple times in the last months that those fanworks are not for them, and the fans are totally okay with them not wanting to get confronted with it. So a lot of the reactions also have to do with the fans wanting to defend the actors.

      • Its not gone live,as that part was not officially shared.Some person who was at that premier uploaded the video.If it would have been cleared through the actor’s PR person,benedict wouldn’t have told her off in his dignified manner.Its clear from the video when he says ”I should have read the script before agreeing to it”. None of them knew that moran was going to pull this stunt.It was not acceptable either to the actors or to the broadcasters that’s why they deleted this particular fanfic reading scene from their official video.

        About the fanfic writer,she has every right in the world to create the fanfiction about her fav actor.And to have her writings be exposed in such a way that too before the person she idolises and to made fun of,and on top of that Moran calls it ”CLUMSILY WRITTEN”.Who the heck gave that right to Moran to belittle the fanfic writer like this.Was it right?Was it nice?Was it professional?The answer is no.No matter what you say,nothing justifies such unprofessional unkind behaviour of Moran.

        When we share something online,especially fanfiction,we are to open to feedbacks,but not humiliation on a public platform and that too infront of the man we love n adore.You saying that its ok to take a person’s creativity and have it torn to shards infront of the man she idolises,and that too without any prior notice either to the fanfic writer or to the actor on which this stunt was pulled on.

      • Before I start, I’d like you to know that I don’t intend for any of the following to come across as offensive. This post was thought-provoking and although I disagree with much of it, I did enjoy coming up with my response and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do note, however, that I am highly inexperienced with the Sherlock fandom. I’m familiar with the TV series and with this issue in particular but I can honestly say that the only thing I really liked about Steven Moffat (co-)creating this show was that at least he wasn’t ruining someone else’s work. My only real fandoms so far have been Harry Potter and Les Misérables, both of which have received considerable creator/cast support (I’m mostly referring to the musical/film versions of the latter, although I swear Victor Hugo shipped e/R toooo), so I apologise if that has coloured my perception.

        I take issue with you calling it ’embarrassing content’. Was the author genuinely embarrassed about her work, or merely having it poked fun at without her permission by people she didn’t know? I’d hazard a guess at the latter.

        I can’t assume that I know what your stand on fanfiction is from this post alone, but do you truly believe the reaction should be to stop producing fanfic? Even if, as I presume you do, one assumes that fanart is inherently or predominantly poorer in quality than published original work, should we stop, say, children from producing similarly amateurish content? Should their automatic response to careless words from an authority figure be to stop creating art? Usually, we do our best to prevent this response. We discourage adults from inhibiting the creativity of a child.

        Therefore, I feel like you’re contradicting yourself slightly here. You believe that most fanfiction is “poorly written”- or amateurish. A good deal of those in the fan community do not profess to be more than amateurs. So why is it not “a big deal” for professional artists or those associated with them/ their promotional teams to make fun of amateur art? And that too mostly for its sensational nature?

        The only obvious answer I could discern from your post and your comments is that you don’t consider fanfiction to be on par with original works that may be of similarly horrendous quality. (You need only take a look at sites like FictionPress and and WattPad to see what I mean- and, actually, a sizeable percentage of published fiction and poetry.) I cannot say I completely disagree with you on this, for I’m not certain what my stand is on this issue.

        I can point out, however, that the legal issues with fanfiction are not as clear-cut as you make it out to be. They warrant a far more detailed discussion than this one, even after which I’m not sure a conclusive answer would emerge.

        And so I believe that this stunt /is/ a big deal, simply because it illustrates the need for tact and diplomacy when addressing such a large group of people, despite personal views on the issue discussed. It wasn’t just a small group of die-hard Sherlock fanatics who were affected by this incident, but everyone who has ever engaged in these ‘quaint’ or ‘exotic’ fannish behaviours. Fanfiction is still growing. The amount of good fanfiction is increasing. More and more people are becoming involved with it each day. Nobody’s asking public figures to pander to all the demands of fandom, but exercising sensitivity would go a long way.

  5. Well agree or disagree, it was still a weird weird weird embarrassing thing to do, for everyone involved, especially in that forum. I’m truly baffled as to why Moran thought it was in any way appropriate.

    • I don’t disagree that it’s horribly uncomfortable, but I guess where my confusions stems from is the fact that I’ve seen countless interviewers do it. So that doesn’t make it “right” or “okay,” but I wonder why people are exploding at Moran specifically.

      • I think, from what I’ve read at least, the issue stems primarily from the setting, and the fact that the audience had gathered to watch the new episode and talk about the episode. It was not a random fun/entertainment/personal interview session. It was for the sole purpose of screening the new ep, and Moran had, by all accounts, very successfully and PROFESSIONALLY chaired a previous Q&A for the same show. That she chose THIS venue to push fanfiction reading on the actors was just bizarre and completely unexpected. And, ultimately, humiliating.

      • Yes — without a doubt, Moran was being a dick and was doing something that was totally inappropriate for that setting and that audience. But then why did someone hire a self-professed punk feminist writer who loves to be controversial to host a straight-forward Q&A. Even if they didn’t know the results would be quite *that* awkward and terrible, they should’ve known Moran’s style better and been comfortable with it, or else they should’ve asked somebody who would’ve treated it with deference and respect. There are plenty of hosts they could’ve asked whose fees would’ve been much lower. They picked Moran, and so — for better or worse — this is as much Moffat or Gatiss or the BBC or the BFI’s fault as anyone else’s.

      • Apparently she was picked because of personal connections. But that is the point, she is not some random interviewer pulling a stunt which was never funny to begin with, she is someone who knows those people and the fandom. She should have known better.

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