I wrote this article a while back for The Indiependent (it can be found in it’s original form, here).While it’s been nearly a month since Benedict Cumberbatch and Sophie Hunter became engaged, the media is still relentless in portraying Fandoms – the CumberCollective especially – in a negative light. What I set out to argue in this slightly updated part-rant, part-plea piece, is that actually, fandoms can be the most wonderful, enlightening and creative communities, if you just take the time to look past the dickheads.
I think it’s safe to say that everyone everywhere is a fan of something.
Whether it be a band, an actor, a TV show or a football team – it’s a part of human nature to want to find things that not only bring you pleasure, but also give you something to admire and look up to. So being part of a ‘fandom’ should be relatively easy – and half of the time it is. It’s nice to be able to share your opinions and feelings about a common love with other people. It’s great being able to make friends with people from all around the world, thanks to this one thing that brings you all together. But while social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr do inspire such wonderful human connections,- there is an ugly side to fandom.
Horrible fights are made over the cattiest things, like ships (idealised relationships between two characters or people, in case you didn’t know) and the personal lives of our famous idols. And quite often, the media chooses to portray this side of fandom to the world, making the act of fangirling seem to be something of a joke. Despite the fact that the majority of most fandoms are made out of passionate, intelligent people – of all ages – who are inspired to create works of fiction and art by their favoured things, the media is more occupied by the image of the pathetically delirious teenage girl who seemingly has no sense of reality or decency. While every fandom has it’s dickheads, it’s important that this small minority doesn’t overshadow an otherwise decent batch of people.
One of the most media-obsessed fandoms, of which I personally am a part of, is the ever name-changing ‘Cumber-Collective’: a very large group of people who love the Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch, and all his work. It seems, ever since members of the media heard the term “Cumberbitches” (a nickname which has pretty much been scrapped by us all for it’s anti-feminist undertones) they have become more and more obsessed by the culture of fandom, than we are of the actual man. Most recently, as I’m sure you have no doubt heard in various papers and websites, “We are all absolutely devastated/heartbroken/ready to kill ourselves any day now BECAUSE HOW ARE WE EVER GOING TO COPE” after the news that Benedict has become engaged to the really rather lovely Sophie Hunter.
But actually, that’s not the case for all of us. Obviously, the news hit some harder than others – and I can’t say that the entire fandom was not as the media have reflected. There are some who are embittered and hateful towards Sophie. But fuck those lot, because from what I’ve seen is that the majority of the Cumber-collective are completely and emphatically excited about Benedict’s engagement and could not be more pleased that their idol is now happy and in love. Many are even taking to ship the couple (#Benephie) and speculating about their hopefully very joyful baby-filled future. Some don’t even really care – because not everyone sees Benedict as a potential husband-to-be; some just like his work and aren’t bothered so long as he keeps acting and being that dorky guy who can’t say ‘penguin’ properly.
I suppose what really grinds the gears of many fair-minded fangirls is that, a lot of the time, we’re being misrepresented and portrayed as something we’re not – to the point of public ridicule, where there is almost a stigma of shame about what is otherwise a perfectly natural thing to do. How many times on TV shows, have you seen someone like Graham Norton for example, exhibit Fan-Art to an audience and quite often the person featured in the art themselves, in order to get a cheap laugh – because “ha, ha, ha – it doesn’t matter that someone of immense talent passionately created that work for the benefit of other fans – let’s all just laugh because they’ve drawn that person in a sexual position and how weird is it for someone to express themselves like that?”
How many times has Fan Fiction – a trend that should surely, despite it’s sometimes overtly sexy nature, be commended for getting young people to express themselves through writing and reading- been read out in front of a crowd for people to dubiously scoff at. And how many times are pithy tabloid publications going to focus purely on the “obsessive love” fangirls have for their idols, without consideration for the fact that these idols, more often than not, do more than just look good, and that we as fully minded people can see more to them than just the aesthetics. From what I could gather from this recent Cumber-photoshoot, the time when fans are viewed as anything other than screaming, invasive crazies ready to chase after any ‘bae’ they see, looks a long way off…
The sad truth is that in most media publications, you will see stories that focus on the ‘fans’ who hide in bushes and lash out; The ‘nutters’ who chase after these poor guys in pursuit of a selfie and a chance to ask for their hand in marriage. It is rare that you ever see the charitable efforts that many fandoms contribute to, in honour of their heroes. It is even rarer to see supportive tweets and excerpts of blogs from fans that are anything other than the crazy heart-eyed obsessives. Because the more kindly, polite and respectful efforts of fans (like those who collate scrapbooks together to send to their idols), just don’t make headlines.
I’m not saying we don’t get excited. We do. And while we are the advocates of various capital-lettered abbreviations and sayings (e.g: ASDFGHJKL, OMFG, I CAN’T) – that is not all we are. And that is not the only way in which a fandom can function. For the most part, all we fangirls want to do, is appreciate our chosen loves and enjoy the camaraderie of others who share our view. Yes we fancy some of the people we look up to. Yes, we enjoy the fantasy of fan art and fiction. But in the end, we are as grounded in reality as anyone else. We know nothing is ever going to happen between us and our celebrity crush – we don’t need you to emphasise that truth. It would just be a lot nicer, if everyone – both in the media and in general – could stop generalising the acts of a few into the perception of a culture that is quite literally home to many.