First, a warning: this post, and the article I link to within it, contains spoilers for series two and three of BBC’s Sherlock. Stop reading now if you don’t want any information about it.
So, although this interview with Steven Moffat (co-creator of Sherlock) is from January, I only recently came across it. In it, Moffat claims that what many read as a meta-engagement with the show’s fandom in the first episode of series three, “The Empty Hearse”, was nothing of the sort. Here’s a lengthy quote from the piece, which captures Moffat’s general argument:
“"They're seeing themselves in the show," Moffat said when asked if the Sherlock team was engaging in a conversation with their fanbase to some degree. "We don't look. We can't look. I'm running two shows that have got very large and very vocal fandoms. I wouldn't admit it to myself if I had to look at it. No, the meta feel comes from the original Sherlock Holmes, the original stories. In the stories, when they were published in The Strand Magazine, it was part of the fiction that these were being published in The Strand Magazine. Sherlock Holmes would say to Dr. Watson, 'I cast an eye over your last account of my case. I congratulate you on the results.' It was very exaggerated. So that's the first thing. I can't think of any other set of stories in history where the main character reviews them -- and he doesn't like them. He doesn't like them very much. He's constantly saying 'your hideously distorted accounts.' [Laughs] He's constantly making suggestions. So the meta thing comes from the original. It's not from us being in dialogue with anybody."”
…for reals? I mean, it’s not like the argument that Moffat is more than a tad sexist is a new one, or anything, but I find the form it takes here particularly compelling. Does he truly think he’s fooling anyone by saying that an episode involving a scene that so clearly mocks slash-fiction writers, calling them “out of their mind” and arguing they are not “serious” enough, comes to us from the ACD canon? I mean, I’m happy to be proven wrong here, but I don’t think Watson in the original text was a very strong Sherlock/Moriarty shipper. And it’s an entirely different critique for Sherlock to troll John on the style of his writing than for a young woman to be depicted as foolish and derailing for bringing queer sexuality into a discussion about how and why Sherlock may continue to be alive after the events of the series two finale.
Of course, it’s one thing to point out that this is slightly ridiculous, and another to get into questions of why Moffat is bothering with to make this claim in the first place. And, surprise surprise, I think a lot of it comes down to labour and gender. This move on Moffat’s part at once allows him to use the canon of the show to respond to the fans he deems not ‘serious’ enough, while also deeming their engagements with the show as any meaningful form of labour worth forming a dialogue with.
It also performs another interesting erasure. While we might take Moffat at his word that he doesn’t spend much time on fan sites, there is absolutely no way there are not people affiliated with the show whose entire job it is to keep an eye on these types of discussions. For folks affiliated with shows on major networks to pretend that those corporations would allow them to operate in isolation from their fanbase, their market, seems nothing short of bizarre, and reads (at least to me) as an attempt to present a façade of strict artistic control. It’s not that I think Steven Moffat isn’t accorded more power than folks who aren’t in charge of two incredibly successful shows, but he’s still accountable to his fanbase because he is accountable to BBC. And while BBC is publically funded, it’s also a corporation that generates a ton of revenue, revenue that is directly tied to the happiness of its fanbase.
Yes, even the ones who ship Sherlock/Moriarty. Some might in fact argue especially them.