TV Land: I believe in fandom

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Lester Butterfill was in the bathroom for the second time that day. This was not uncommon, for Lester dearly loves the porcelain thrones of the restroom. Occasionally, he would sit on one to relax or to take a load off (in the figurative and literal sense). But this time was different. His day had been horrible. His manservant had left him, but he entered his favorite stall in his usual manner — with swagger and a molded brownie found in the pocket of a homeless man’s leather satchel. Lester was going to eat through his pain. He was going to savor that spread of chocolate and hobo lint until the last bite. Then, he saw those cryptic words: “I Believe in Sherlock.”

Etched into the walls of Dwinelle Hall’s women’s bathroom, Lester saw scribblings of this Sherlock everywhere he looked. On the run-down toilet stalls and the hallway bulletin boards were those words: “I Believe in Sherlock.” Lester wondered to himself if this was the same Sherlock he had read of as a small lad — the one with the deerstalker cap and chubby doctor friend. Yes, these Sherlocks were one in the same. So, why had he infiltrated the basement of a California university hall?

What Lester didn’t realize is that this sinister text was part of something much larger than he and his hobo brownie combined. The “I Believe in Sherlock” is a movement that has been steadily gaining speed since the final episode of BBC’s “Sherlock” aired in January. In a display of impassioned loyalty, fans of the show have taken to the streets in a guerilla fashion. Everywhere from Berkeley to the Czech Republic has seen an influx of “Sherlock” propaganda in the form of text, buttons, shirts and flyers. But Lester’s question remains. Why exactly is this going on?

The phenomenon, which has already been covered in detail by the British press and my rival TV columnist at UCLA’s The Daily Bruin, seems to be an entirely fan-initiated campaign. Though the objective of this mass gesture remains mysterious, its expansive reach and level of dedication signal something novel in the world of television fandom. In fact, those two terms — “television” and “fandom” — may no longer need to be separated.

“Sherlock” isn’t the only program with an energetic and rabid fanbase. When NBC benched “Community” this last fall, fans of the offbeat but brilliant sitcom took to the streets. The “Save Community” crusade had begun. Twitter feeds blew up with hashtags urging for six seasons and a movie. YouTube became inundated with “Community” tribute videos and original songs. I even dedicated an entire article to the subject in November. Finally, “Community” has returned and this week marks its glorious comeback!

The fans have won. They now dominate television culture across the board and “Community” has integrated this fan universe into their show. Last year, the show aired an episode entitled “Paradigms of Human Memory.” The usual shenanigans were present: a stay in a mental asylum, Chevy Chase as a ghost and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Jim Rash doing his best Tina Turner impression. But the episode also featured a spot-on parody of real “Community” fanvid popularized on YouTube. In one episode, “Community” shifted the entire dynamics of television production. Now, the fans are part of the creative process.

So “Community” is all that and a bag of potato chips. But the reciprocity the show has developed with its fans is far more important than fried Irish currency (they do use potatoes for money in Ireland right?). Where the fans have won, I feel the casual TV viewer may have been lost.

Fan fiction is now mainstream, fan art is now cultivated and an immediate intimacy has been forged between fan and show by social media forums like Twitter and YouTube. The world of fandom has intensified with participants being more active and the television industry being more receptive than ever. I’m afraid the passive fans of the world are being gradually phased out. Now that fandom has arisen from the underground, even toilets aren’t immune from its touch.