Curious: I love to talk about the Elephant in the Room segments you did after Season 3 aired. It was so impressive how you took on what some might consider controversial or divisive fandom topics in such an inclusive and mindful way. How did this series come to be?
Drinkingcocoa: That was my baby. It was very upsetting to be in the Sherlock fandom at that time, because it was so unified during the Reichenbach hiatus. Everyone’s hearts broke in more or less roughly the same way, but then after Series 3, everyone’s hearts broke in wildly different ways. People lost friends over it. It was really painful, as people couldn’t go to their normal support networks. The way that people identified with some of the issues that were explored in Series 3 were so personal, and so difficult to talk about. It was also so difficult to disagree about, because what any of those conflicts meant to any two people could be wildly different. If someone said, “I think this person was a bad person,” they don’t know that to you, that person might represent yourself.
It was so volatile and we felt that even amongst ourselves. We had to be careful with each other because something that made one person thrilled was something that someone else couldn’t even think about. So it was happening for us and it was certainly happening on tumblr for other people that we knew. So we figured if we talked about what we were going through, surely others would be able to identify at least with some of it.
A lot of what made people upset was not just the issues, but the fact that everyone was upset. Sherlock had been such a source of joy and something we had been craving and craving for so long, and now everyone was afraid to talk to each other. Or, unfortunately, not afraid, which made it even worse.
So I wanted to bring in a therapist who was a real expert at conflict resolution and getting people to learn how to talk to each other when the emotions are that riled up. There were others among us in the podcast who didn’t want an expert and wanted to just have it be amongst ourselves, so we decided to do different segments, one or possibly two with the therapist (who was actually the person who got me into Sherlock fandom) and then a bunch of other people who wanted to do it internally worked as their own group on a separate episode.
We wanted to model that we knew that whatever was going on was important, even if it was upsetting. If we could actually get through this and learn how to talk about it, if we could listen to each other we could learn so much more about other people who weren’t like us at all than if we tuned each other out. So it really seemed like the segments were worth doing.
Emma Grant: One of the things that I think is interesting about the segment, though, is that we haven’t really gone back and done another one. I wish we could at this point but we don’t have a place to put it. I think we’re all just kind of waiting to see what happens after the Special.
Last spring, after 221B Con, everything just got so awful for many of us in the fandom. At the time, I remember thinking it would be great to be able to have one of these again, but I don’t think we could wrap our heads around how you could talk about what was going on without focusing attention to people who didn’t want to talk about it, or on people you didn’t want to give more attention to. We had people on our staff who left the fandom as a result of this. There was just so much awfulness. It was almost too much. That’s why we went in the direction of making a fluffy happy holiday episode instead.
Curious: Thank you for talking about all of this! It definitely wasn’t an easy time, but your segment really helped me to get a better perspective on what people were going through in the fandom during that time. Okay, I’m going to switch it back to a lighter note! Do each of you have a favorite episode or segment?
Emma Grant: The first Sexpisode we did was my one of my favorites, just because it was so much fun. We had this really fun conversation during the very first 221B Con. We were all on Skype. I was in India and you guys were all over the place. Dixie and Qui were at 221B Con and Dixie said, “People keep coming up to us, telling us that we need to do more sexy content on the podcast.” Some of us had been drinking, probably, and at some point someone said we should just do a sex episode and everyone went “Yeah!” We looked at the calendar and the first opening was September, and so we had four months to plan it and it was so much fun. I interviewed Reapersun for that and that was awesome. We had these great discussions. Shannon led this amazing discussion about sexual fantasies that you had about the characters. That whole segment just blew me away when I heard it because we weren’t pulling any punches, we’re not ashamed of our sexuality, we’re not giggling in a corner saying, “You know sometimes, hehehe, sometimes I think naughty things.” No, we’re all like, “This is in your face!” It was great! I thought this was the best thing we ever put on the internet and I still think it’s amazing. I love it.
Caroline: I suppose I have fond memories of the State of the Ship: Johnlock Edition.
Drinkingcocoa: Yes, I love that segment!
Caroline: That was my first segment where I was part of a roundtable, and subsequently I’ve been told by more than one person that I was really funny on it. So in a very retroactive way that is kind of my favorite, only because I’ve gotten kind of positive feedback on it. I listened to it many months later on and I was like, okay, I was funny! I just kind of took ownership to it. At my first 221B Con, someone who grew to be my friend was like, “Oh my God, you are on that roundtable! I love that roundtable!” So that always has warm memories for me. My segment is actually That’s My Division, and I still love that because I get to be on it every month and I get to talk about fics that I love, so that is also sort of an everyday squee that I like.
Drinkingcocoa: I don’t have a favorite episode, but I have segments that stand out in my mind. I was very impressed with the drug roundtable that Fox Estacado did. She did a lot of really hard work on a topic that is so fraught. Anybody who’s passionate about the topic is going to have such difficult feelings about it, and different speaking styles, and different key points that they want to get across which could set off somebody else. She put so much prep work into that segment. We wanted to do that topic for more than a year and when she finally put together, it was very stressful to make sure that she didn’t misrepresent anybody and to find the right tone. It was a phenomenal achievement. When I listen to it, it’s a great pleasure knowing that I felt like I could hear everyone’s unique voice and it was balanced. There’ve been quite a few segments where I could really respect the person who put it together, because I could just tell how much work they put into it.
Curious: You did a user survey a few months ago. Did you have any surprising or unexpected insights from the results?
Emma Grant: When you’re doing something like this, it’s so easy to listen to closely too your critics, and we don’t really get a lot of feedback. We try to solicit it, but we just don’t get that much. If you look at the numbers of downloads we have versus the mail we receive, what we get is just tiny, so you just really never know how you’re being perceived. So when an angry comment comes up in the tags, that becomes a huge percentage of our feedback.
In the first year in particular, we got a lot of criticism that we were “all Johnlock all the time.” There were people who would say, “I don’t even bother listening because I know it’s just Johnlock or when you mention another ship it’s in a joke or something.” That was really hard for a lot of us to hear because you know I’m a multi-shipper and so I felt really sensitive about this. So we started trying really hard to represent more of the fandom. But in the survey, we got the feedback that said, “I wish you would talk about Johnlock more because it seems like you’re trying so hard to represent everyone that you forget that Johnlock is like 90% of the fandom.”
I think with that I kind of hit this point where I realized that maybe it’s okay not to try to please everyone. I mean it’s so hard to let go of that, I’m a Hufflepuff so it’s really hard for me to let go of the need to please everyone, so looking at the survey kind of reminded me of that in a big way and I shifted my perspective a little bit as a result.
Caroline: It is literally impossible to please everyone because the same things that people complain about, other people praise us for. So it’s like, let’s just do more of the same. It was like licking your finger for direction in the wind and there was nothing. So we’re just gonna stay the course.
I’d like to add that the survey was largely Finn’s baby and brainchild. I didn’t feel too terribly qualified to talk about the survey results, but I don’t want to minimize the data that we got from it or the effort that our listeners put into it. Besides very useful feedback which continue to influence our plans and procedures, we did get some
surprising results about our listeners, such as the majority of those who participated were creators of fanworks themselves. And we were very heartened and excited that we had so many non-U.S. listeners, and some results were funny too, like no matter their gender identity, sexual orientation, or relationship status, there was a 50% chance these listeners would be happy to shave for Sherlock Holmes!