Caitlin Moran's Sherlock Fanfiction Stunt Isn't a Big DealS

On Sunday, Caitlin Moran — bestselling author of How to Be a Woman and longtime writer for The Guardian — hosted a Q&A panel for the BFI following the screening of the newest Sherlock episode, due out New Year's Day.

And people are pissed.

Apparently Moran dared to ask stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman to read out some of the homoerotic fanfiction dedicated to their characters and now the author and many casual and devoted fans of the show are furious. Furious at her lack of tactand decency. Furious at the disrespect she's paid to the original writer, to the actors, to the show and to all fans. But here's where I'm confused: though she might have a reputation as something of a "punk feminist" writer, Moran hasn't done anything particularly new or edgy by doing this.

For a while now, it's been fairly routine for major TV interviewers to force Tumblr-favorite stars of geeky franchises (like David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Tom Hiddleston) to interact with R-rated fanfiction and fan art based around their characters.

And nobody's ever really made a fuss about it. The author or artist chose to share their work publicly, and at worst it makes for an uncomfortable interview — which is the interviewer's prerogative. The one caveat I'd add is that there is a difference between a TV interview intended to promote a project which will be screened to thousands (or millions) of people, and a very intimate Q&A intended for a small audience of die-hard fans. So if Moran made one gaffe, it was in not really understanding her audience — which may be an interviewer's prerogative, but it's not very smart.

In any event, for anyone not caught up on this story, it began with this twitter conversation:

Which got reported as "Caitlin Moran calls Sherlock fans a bunch of virgins," somewhat inaccurately. And then heated up as reports came out that Moran had — despite protests on the part of the actors — demanded that they read explicit Sherlock fanfiction out to the crowd.

This is where things get a little more complicated. Some people claim that Moran was making homophobic remarks, or was at least laughing at the idea of the relationship between Holmes and Watson being anything other than arrow-straight, despite the fact that suggestions of "something more" have dogged the stories since their inception. And especially despite the fact that this show, of all the adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes tales, loves to play with and wink at that suggestion. Regardless, people have argued that Moran having the cast read fanfiction was effectively homophobic, as she was doing it to laugh at the idea that they were — or could be — gay.

To make that argument, you have to ignore a rather large elephant in the room: most fanfiction is bad. I don't mean in terms of its erotic content, I mean that it's typically poorly written. And most of the time, when people laugh about fanfiction, that's what they're laughing at — not the gayness or the sex. So it feels unfair to immediately tar Moran with a bigoted brush because she invited people to laugh at something that people have been laughing at since the internet was born.

I've been embarrassingly devoted to a few different fandoms in my life, but I know when my "rights" as a fan stop, which typically is at a point called "copyright." If you want to get terribly technical, all fanfiction is illegal. But more importantly than that, just because you have devoted an insane amount of time to a show or a movie or a book series, it doesn't mean that people have to defer to you or respect your copyright-violating content.

If Moran was genuinely homophobic, then that's a problem and she should make a public apology. But otherwise, reading some goofy fanfiction out loud at a fan event, while uncomfortable and not well-tailored to that particular audience, might have been stupid. It might have been tactless. Or — worse — unfunny. It might have even been a little mean-spirited. But none of that makes it automatically offensive, homophobic, bigoted or wrong.

Originally posted here.

I want to say that this is a sharp left turn from my discussion in Krampusberg's original article, Caitlin Moran is a Bad Feminist (And a Shitty Fan), borne mostly of me taking a look at some of the links associated with this story and thinking about it for a little while longer. It's not meant to be rude to Krampusberg, who I think made some excellent points — this is more of a counterpoint.