Your Friends Are Not Watching the Same Show You Are (And That's Okay)
Merlin Missy has been active in online fandom since 1994. She likes fanfics with plots and happy endings.View all articles by Merlin Missy
(Note: The following contains spoilers for Battlestar Galactica through "The Ties That Bind," and Doctor Who though "Partners in Crime," so consider yourselves warned.)
Just three weeks ago, when The Sarah Jane Adventures first premiered in the U.S. on SciFi, Dr. Merlin was very excited. Now was the opportunity for her friends to enjoy the adventures of Sarah Jane, Maria, and the rest of the gang. Yet when she went to read the comments from her friends -- horrors! -- the very first reviewer declared it too kiddie and had tuned away within two minutes. No amount of swearing SJA is one of the best new shows out there would convince her. As she wept silently into her cartoon-printed pillowcase (okay, I lie about the tears, but not about the pillow), Dr. Merlin recalled many other times when this had happened: she and her friends watched the same series, but were clearly watching different shows.
This happens quite a lot, really.
In new school Doctor Who fandom, fans are often watching very different shows. Some are watching the "Rose Tyler Show," and are vexed at the continued absence of the lead. Others tuned in late to enjoy the "Martha Jones Show," and were surprised but pleased when their show took over Torchwood for a while. While no one yet seems to be watching the "Donna Noble Show," Dr. Merlin has already observed a large shift among her friends to enjoying the "Ten and Donna Are the New Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant But Could Also Totally Be Karen and Jack From Will and Grace Show," which one can only imagine is hard to fit on the title cards. Still other Who fans have been in the fandom long enough that they're just along for the ride (or else they're still watching the original "Sarah Jane Adventures" and wondering where Harry went).
The friend who didn't like SJA is also a Battlestar Galactica fan, specifically one who watches the "Kara and Sam Anders Show." Other friends watch the "Mom and Dad Are Prom King and Queen of the Universe Show" (this would be Dr. Merlin's favorite Battlestar-related series), the "Lee and Kara Perform Sam and Diane Show" (very popular), the "Many Faces of Gaius Baltar's Mental Breakdowns Show," and even the "Billy Keikeya Show" (which has been on hiatus, alas). One friend recently admitted to watching the "Chief and Cally Show," although that series has also gone on permanent hiatus. During the Farscape days, one friend watched the "Aeryn Sun Rocks Show," and has not yet seen the episodes in which Claudia Black did not appear. Similarly, Dr. Merlin did not watch Star Trek: Voyager, but instead an infrequent but bubbly series called the "Kes Is As Cute As a Button Show" which sadly ended after three seasons. Visiting with fannish friends later, she was witness to the birth of the "Tom and B'Elanna Channel" via VHS-to-VHS recording, and found out firsthand just how much someone can literally be watching her very own personally-designed series.
Not a one of these examples has addressed those friends who watch shows with their slash goggles on, but rest assured that much of Stargate: Atlantis fandom is all about the "John and Rodney Show," while most of Torchwood fandom revolves around the "Jack and Ianto Are Having Hot Monkeysex on Jack's Desk Show." When Dr. Merlin recently rewatched "Star Trek III" with goggles engaged, she was fascinated by the sheer amount of Kirk/Spock that was right there up on the screen, which changed it from "The Saavik and David Movie" to the "OMG, K/S Is So Canon Movie."
You and your friends may be tuned into the same thing, but there's a good chance you're not seeing the same things. Think of this as the evil clone of the potato salad theory: as it turns out, we’re bringing different things to the picnic after all.
To summarize the potato salad theory, fanfiction works for readers because the readers are already coming to the story with enough history and background to enjoy the story without piles of world-building and setup, much like stories that feature historical or mythological characters. We are bringing our own utensils and plates to the picnic, not expecting restaurant service. That's fanfic. When it comes to our source material, we're all bringing very different things to the table, and that's going to affect what we consume.
Due to her own background, Dr. Merlin's choice characters on a television series tend to be female, often tend to be blue and/or feathered (oh like you've never had a crush on a woman painted blue), tend to be maternal or else really good at beating people up, and usually aren't the lead. (Also they die or leave the show a lot. NEVER SHARE A FANDOM WITH ME, I AM LIKE ANTHRAX, OMG. IT HAPPENED AGAIN TODAY. *is bitter old fanhag*) Dr.
It's not always a character or even a 'ship, though 'ships are quite often the center of a series for fans. Sometimes it's a theme. One friend noticed an ugly pattern in new school Whoniverse, and now watches the "How Did Rusty Screw Up the Racial Subtext This Time? Show." She's not alone. Other friends, and Dr. Merlin herself, have been forced to watch the "No, Seriously, Did You Learn Your Gender Studies in the Boys' Lockeroom? Show" because ignoring it was too hard. Then of course there are the "Your Grasp of Basic Science Makes the Baby Newton Cry Show" and the "Explosions Show," which is a favorite of Mr. Merlin's, no matter what channel it's on, the characters or cast -- if it goes BOOM, he's there. Many networks bank on the continued popularity of the "Scantily-Dressed Women Show," and Forever Knight in fact was launched on CBS with the command that there should be a corpse in lingerie to begin each episode. The "Witty Banter Show" has been declining in popularity lately, but since Dollhouse is coming soon with Joss Whedon at the helm, it's sure to see a recovery.
We all watch what we like (or what we can't look away from because trainwrecks are messy but interesting). Some of us like blue women. Some of us like explosions. Some of us like boysecks and some like girlkisses. Some like chicks with guns. As it happens, these preferences not only inform what we choose to watch in the first place, but also what we see when we get there. As when we sit in English class and interpret poetry, we each have our own particular take on the canon that's unique to our backgrounds and histories.
And that's okay.
We don't need to be watching the same show. Sure, it makes chatting about it afterwards kinda hard, but as long as no one comes to blows or flamewars over which personal show is better, there's really nothing at all wrong with focusing on a completely different character or plotline than your best friend does. Just make sure you're both willing to indulge the other's interests from time to time. (If you're not, find another subject to talk about. Fast. Is it really worth ending a friendship just because your friend doesn't understand that Dan and Casey are soulmates no matter how much you explain it to her?) Sometimes it means you'll drift away from parts of your circle of friends, especially if your favorite storyline or character goes one way and theirs goes another. That's tough, and it's tougher when you are the kind of person to see this coming the minute your friend tells you Boomer is her favorite character and she's 'shipping Six/Eight. But it's true in all fannish circles: friends don't always overlap in fandoms or favorites, and still they stay friends. You can, too.
When your friend outs herself as a Harmonian, don't mentally drop her down a well or ban her from your blog. Try seeing the books from her point of view, even if you think she and Rowling are both interrogating the text from the wrong perspective. You might find something you didn't see last time. If your friend writes a ten page footnoted essay on how Bela and Ruby are really the most interesting characters on Supernatural, at least read it and think about her ideas before you never speak to her again. Instead of cringing whenever there's a post on your Friends list about the holy and true righteousness of Jack/Gwen, take a moment. Read it. See what Torchwood looks like from the perspective of a J/G 'shipper. See what she's noticing that passed you by because of the far superior awesomeness of Ianto. Even if you don't agree. Even if you think her POV is so skewed that she's got to be hearing the dialogue wrong. You can go back to disagreeing when you're done, or better still, you can shrug and say that's her squee and join in your own squee with your fellow J/I 'shippers.
Because that's the key. As sure as there are stars in the sky there are other fans who are just as giddy about the show you're watching as you are. Not just Smallville, but the "Chloe Sullivan Rocks the Known Universe Show." Not just Torchwood, but the "Do Not F@&$ With the Teaboy Show." Fans who aren't reading Harry Potter, but instead Luna Lovegood and the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Fans who watch the Hellboy movies for Abe Sapien. Fans like you. They're out there, wanting to squee about their own private versions of canon with you, and the very best part is that you don't have to lose or replace your current friends to find them. You'll just meet even more.
You won't believe the shows that those other folks are watching.
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