I’ve started seeing something in the ranks of Doctor Who fandom. It’s probably not anything new, but it’s something I’ve noticed, or noticed more, recently. And by “noticed” I mean “let get under my skin”. This blog post is a rather selfish attempt to work through this, understand it a bit more, and maybe even make myself feel better. If the phenomenon I’m about to describe has been bothering you too, then maybe we can help each other. And if you notice a bit of yourself in this, perhaps you’ll think twice about how you interact with other fans. (Or both! Being bothered and being a culprit are not mutually exclusive.)
For a long time, I’ve had a picture in my mind of the stereotypical “grumpy fan”*: a person who once liked Doctor Who and just can’t get over the fact that it’s not the same as it was in 1977, and why can’t I have my show back the way it was and rant rant rant.
Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it covers what I mean. As a podcast listener, I find myself shying away from ‘casts where the hosts are consistently dour about Doctor Who. It’s valid to dislike something, but acting like it’s a personal affront that the current show doesn’t conform to one’s individual tastes? That just rubs me the wrong way. It’s whiny and entitled. And continuing to put yourself through watching the show just so you can complain strikes me as sadomasochistic—masochistic to keep watching, sadistic to inflict that bile on everyone around you.
I don’t think that description will sound unfamiliar to many folks who’ve dipped their toes into the wave-pool that is fandom. But lately, I’ve noticed a very different (but not very different) type of grump. In fact, this grump is grumpy for almost the opposite reason—because other people don’t like Doctor Who enough. I’ve found this crops up more for certain episodes than others. (I’m looking at you, “Listen”.) It seems to me, the episodes that are the most-strongly beloved are the ones most apt to bring this insidious ugliness out.
Here’s where it gets personal: I have a podcast on which I review Doctor Who every week. I’ve found myself feeling anxious and hesitant to record when I’m not fond of an episode. Yes, it’s true I’m usually bummed in a general sense when I don’t totally dig on an ep of Who, but this particular feeling of anxiety comes from the anticipation of the backlash** that’ll come after it drops.***
After the last Verity! recording, I felt bad. I thought I was the wet blanket of the group because I didn’t care for “Robot of Sherwood”. A wise friend reminded me that as a reviewer, it’s my job and my responsibility to be honest about what I feel. And that as long as I’m not harshly judging others’ reactions (and, in fact, am happy to find out other folks enjoyed it), then I shouldn’t feel like I’m letting anyone down.
Let’s compare a couple reactions: I used to have trouble ignoring the negativity when I loved an episode. Sometimes the old-style grumps try to make people feel bad for liking Doctor Who. I no longer fall for that nonsense. I’ve now come to a place where I just feel sorry for people like that. It didn’t even take me very long to get here.
On the other hand, it’s much harder to ignore the people who seemingly try to make me feel bad for not liking some eps of Doctor Who. Now I think about it, I realize that’s because I so badly want to like every episode. I already feel like I’ve failed myself when something doesn’t hit me right. So when other people pile on (even in a very mild fashion), it’s prodding a splinter that’s already there.
So my new quest is to start ignoring the people who get judgey about negative reactions. Not everyone is going to like the same things. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s good! Can you imagine how boring life would be if we all liked exactly the same things? I will also take a good close look at myself and try to make sure I’m practicing what I preach. So here’s my pledge:
When I adore something and a fellow fan doesn’t, I’m going to be extra careful to make sure my comments and communication about it highlight what I liked about it. And no more. I will recognize that other people might dislike it for the exact reasons I enjoy it. And I will accept the fact of our disagreement without actively trying to change their mind.
If elucidating the bits I love happens to turn someone around on an ep, that’s great! But nothing is going to alienate folks faster than trying to tell them they “should” like it “because X.” Yech.
I can’t even be all that judgey at the people who do the judging, because I see seeds of this in myself. I’ve said many times I view Doctor Who as a part of my family. Thus when people don’t like the things I am so in love with, it kinda hurts a little. That’s something I need to get over, and I’ve come a long way towards doing so.° I well-understand the instinct to lash out when people are critical of something beloved. It’s all too easy to intimate there’s something wrong with not sharing the same love,°° but I manage to avoid it…most of the time.°°°
Okay. Now that I think about it, this really isn’t anything new. People have been defensive about TV shows for a long time. I guess it just finally hit a critical mass in my timeline. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been on the receiving end of the scowly tweets and comments lately. Either way, the fact that it’s not new doesn’t mean we should just accept it mildly. No! We can do better!
Having different opinions is okay! If I don’t like something you love, it doesn’t mean I don’t like you, and it shouldn’t make any difference to your enjoyment of said thing! There’s no need for hurt feelings! I don’t see anything wrong with being honest about our opinions, as long as we’re all kind about it.
Thank you for coming along on this little examination with me. I think I’ve identified two truths as I’ve puzzled this all out:
- Disliking Doctor Who doesn’t automatically make you a grump.
- Liking Doctor Who doesn’t automatically exempt you from being a grump.
We must all be vigilant against our inner grumps, whatever our stance on Doctor Who. We’re already a great fandom. We can be an even better one.
*Note that here I’m talking about Doctor Who specifically, but I suspect it holds true for most (if not all) fandoms.
**I should point out that by “backlash” I usually mean a mere handful of tweets. It’s not a big thing, but it only takes one to make someone feel bad, and I’m not the only person at whom these things are aimed. Often they’re subtweeted at the world, and I happen to catch them like an arrow to the chest. And yes, I’m working on thickening my skin, but just like different reactions to Doctor Who are perfectly valid, so are emotional reactions to random tweets. I’m only human, after all.
***Yes. After it drops. Meaning, I do not fear this from my podcast cohosts who are awesome and never make me feel bad for holding a different opinion than they do.
°Podcasting with wonderful people you care about, who happen to have wildly differing opinions really helps with that!
°°FYI, expressing bewilderment that others don’t share your opinion makes you look like a jerk. It might not feel like “lashing out”, but you hit the mark nonetheless. As I’ve said before, intent only goes so far.
°°°Yeah, I’m not perfect either. So feel free to (kindly) call me on it when I slip up!