So what are the new questions that you’ve been thinking about for Sherlock? Has anything sparked new analysis?
Within Sherlock I’ve partly been looking at how the fandom has reacted to Series 3 in terms of the types and number of fanworks they’ve produced, as compared to earlier seasons. And it’s also fun to track the excitement around filming and production — on Tumblr you can see spikes of activity that are higher and quicker than on AO3 whenever the show creators are doing something interesting. I want to start that kind of analysis again with regards to the Sherlock Christmas special and see what’s getting people’s attention.
There was a different pattern in the Sherlock fandom after S3 than the previous two seasons. Following the first two seasons, we saw a big increase in activity and it didn’t go down very much. Then after S3 we saw a much bigger spike in interest immediately following the episodes airing, and then it actually dropped off some. Not to less than it had been before, but it didn’t plateau at the new level. I think S3 was much more divisive. But also much more than just being divisive, as a writer S1 and S2 both ended on these large romantic gestures that left open a very interesting and specific question. With S3 there’s some of that, but it’s a lot less clear even what question you have to resolve. There’s not like the one big question for fandom to focus on. I think I see some of corresponding patterns in the stories that fandom tells now — following S2, “Post-Reichenbach” was one of the most common tags in the fandom, and no similar tag has emerged in the wake of S3.
I’m very very curious to see what effect the Christmas special will have on the fandom, especially because the one-off special is a totally different entity. I’m so curious what the fandom will look like afterwards. If it will look like Series 1 or 2 or more like S3? Or totally different? Will there be a surge of new fan creators again? I’m looking forward to following that without having any specific burning question that I want to answer. Though I often get prompted to do Sherlockian analyses when a reader or the Three Patch Podcast asks for stats on a particular topic.
I also started doing a little bit of digging in and looking at in the actual transcripts in the show, like who has the most lines in which episode and what interesting things can you see from the Sherlock canon. So that’s another thing I’m thinking about. As well as thinking about how I can use the data on IMDB or other sites to analyze aspects of canon. But I think in the bigger picture, beyond Sherlock, if I can figure out a way to look at any international archives and I can figure out a good methodology that isn’t really time-consuming that would be really compelling.
Another thing that happened recently is that I got really into the first season of True Detective a little bit ago. It’s so good and it has such a fun little fandom in the sense of they do a lot of the same things but they’re so much smaller. I can actually read all the things that have been produced. So I’ve also been thinking more about doing some comparisons or case studies between large and small fandoms, to try to get a better sense of some of the differences.
So what inspires you these days? What pushes you to want to create?
Almost always, if someone asserts something about fandom, for example, “Well everyone knows that all Omegaverse is mpreg,” or “Everyone has read such and such.” Those kinds of statements often make me go, “Oh is that true?” Then I’ll run off and do research. The other thing that also often prompts me is a specific idea or trope that’s new to me, and that I’m curious about. With Omegaverse, for instance, I ran across it and thought it was amazing, because there is no canon that this is attached to. Coffee shop AUs — those are something that I can imagine how it evolved. I understand how you would write a cute one of those and other people would pick it up and run with it. But I was so fascinated by the collaborative world building aspect of Omegaverse and the fact that it didn’t come from somewhere outside of fandom. I did a few analyses that were just trying to look at the history of Omegaverse and the changes over time. I wanted to understand how things are now, but also where they came from and what’s changed over time. I’m also inspired by other collaborative world building things that fandom does that are really unique. A lot of AUs are popular in fandom and not in mainstream fiction. Those things I find very compelling, even if I don’t always have a specific question. It’s more just, is there anything that I can learn about this by putting a statistical lens on it.
I also am fascinated by Tumblr culture and how it’s changing fandom and online interactions. Tumblr has its pros and cons but I love how it allows for rapid creation. For example somebody will make a GIF set and then a bunch of people will write ficlets and create fanart about it. Or someone will have a meta or a thought, and then a lot of people will respond with images or art or other things. I love this easy multimedia collaboration and the fact that you can end up with all of these different ways to get all of these conversation branches that go interesting places about the same thing.
I don’t have any immediate thoughts on how to capture stats on that but I’m very curious. I would love to understand more about which types of works inspire which types of responses, and which combinations get the most attention. I’m very curious to see if fandom manages to find ways to highlight and archive those collaborative moments. I feel like there’s a lot of brilliant collaborations in Tumblr threads — or series of posts in a Tumblr tag — that aren’t really getting archived. For example, this person created art, and then this person created meta, and then this person created a GIF set…
I’ve also become more interested in the processes and creative methods that are more unique to fandom and understanding and how ideas and creativity spreads and evolves over time. I think fffinagain, who does some really excellent fandom stats, is trying to figure out how to track the spread of ideas. She’s also looked at not just how many works are being produced in the fandom but when the authors were coming in and leaving. So she’s doing some really great work on changes across time and I suspect she is going to have insights on some of that sooner than I am.
If I wanted to find more fandom analysis where should I look? Can you recommend some people who are doing interesting things in that space?
Definitely fffinagain, she does some very fantastic writing and she looks at some questions that are somewhat different than a lot of the things that I do. Strangelock is also great, she grabbed all of the ace Sherlock fics and looked at those. The two of them have done some really neat things. Unreconstructedfangirl’s breakdown of her Sherlock fandom survey results are just excellent.
centrumlumina, she’s the one who did the demographic survey and the yearly shipping stats. She also runs Femslash Revolution, a giant femslash rec blog and stuff, she’s awesome. There’s a guy named Shay Guy who doesn’t have a tumblr so he has published some analysis via mine. He’s done a lot of scraping of data off of fanfiction.net, looking at how the common fandoms have changed over time there. His post is under read, it’s full of gems.
There’ve been some good folks doing a bunch of Marvel shipping stats over time, because there are so many ship combinations. It’s like the opposite of the Sherlock fandom. There are juggernaut ships but there’s so much diversity, like when they introduce new shows or some event happens in the Universe. Watching the matrix of relationships is very cool. thisisevenharderthannamingablog and melannen have done some really cool shipping stats on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Les Mis respectively. There are tons of people have done very cool one-off analysis for example, CurlicueCal did one on what the Homestuck fandom looks like right now on AO3. Lately, I’ve seen some analysis of the Harry/Draco ship from snowgall, the Daredevil kinkmeme from dusty-soul, and Supernatural/Supernatural RPF from mycommonreader. I’m sure there are lots of others out there that I’m forgetting; apologized to folks I’ve missed!
Most of the things that I’ve seen are very particular to a given fandom. Shay Guy and Lumina stand out as being very cross fandom. There is also a neat project called Fandom Then/Now where Katherine Morrissey did a whole bunch of fandom surveys in 2008 and now she’s bringing up the data she got at that time and asking questions about which of these things match current experiences, and trying to gather some data on current times to compare.
I recommend the #fandomstats and #fandom stats discussion tags on tumblr, and also the LiveJournal community Fandom Stats — which is better for threaded conversations but it’s not getting that much traffic, because fandom is mostly on Tumblr these days. I used to get so many people writing to me as an individual about fandom stats, and I was failing to be able to respond quickly or thoughtfully. And I finally realized, I’m not the only person who knows stuff about stats, and some fans have more or different expertise than I do; I wanted to distribute the fandom stats talk and try to build more of a community. So those are some of the places that some of us have been trying to do so, and having some interesting conversations.
Where do you think fan works are headed?
I think fandom is predictable in some ways and totally unpredictable in other ways. So I feel like the only predictions I can make are that fandom is likely to get more diverse over time, in terms of the kinks, the AUs, and the other ideas that are explored. New ideas will come in and get picked up and people will run with them. As fandom learns more about personal identities and orientations in our own world those will also get explored more in fanworks, even before they’re as well-known in mainstream culture.
It’s hard to tell if the opposite will also happen, if some ideas will fall out of favor and don’t get written about as much. It seems like in my experience so far, people are mostly becoming more aware about different human experiences and also specific things like different sexual practices and acts, and also different AUs and different worlds. It’s nice how ideas are spreading and diversifying over time. I see this in AO3 tags, people use more and more tags over time. I think as as people see new ideas or new ways to describe ideas, creator will get better and better at listing the things that are relevant to their works. So I think works will become better described and indexed, and more diverse in some kind of nice cross pollination of ideas. Beyond that, I don’t know what’s coming but it will be exciting to see.
As Destination Toast is a multifanworks wonder, her fanworks are scattered around the interwebs. You can find more of her fandom studies at her stats blog toastystats and her masterlist of fandom stats. Her collection of Sherlock fiction lives on AO3. And you can find all of her thinky meta on tumblr. If just want to look at cute pictures of Toasty’s kittens, they have a web presence as well!