I don’t know if things really do converge this way, or whether we all have a sort of hard-wired confirmation bias built-in to our perception where we tend to notice things once they have been brought to our attention. Have you ever been introduced to somebody and then you see that person everywhere? That person probably was always there but now they are on your radar. Or you talk about something with someone and wouldn’t you know that very thing is being discussed elsewhere the next day?
This kind of thing happens to me all the time, and I really don’t know if it is fate or coincidence. The Robert Shaw Messiah CD arriving unexpectedly in the mail the first Christmas after my Dad died, for example.
So anyway, Sherlockian members of the fanbase are probably wincing at the obvious typo in the title of this post, but before you fire off a corrective email to the editorial offices, I meant it to be this way, because today I’m going to talk about Caitlin Moran.
Before yesterday, I had never heard of Caitlin Moran, guys.
If you have heard of her, you may think it’s weird that a sort-of literary type and an unrepentant anglophile such as myself wouldn’t have CM on his radar, but there it is. Her name came up in a Guardian article about a literacy fundraiser involving Gillian Anderson and Benedict Cumberbatch that I happened to read in my daily pursuit of “all things Cumberbatchy”. CM was hosting the event and was identified only as a “Times Columnist”. Then out of the blue, last night at work, a co-worker asked me if I had even heard of Caitlin Moran. She thought I would like her writing style, (and apparently she wrote an excellent essay about visiting the “Doctor Who” set) and sure enough we had a copy of her collection of essays “Moranthology” checked in. I briefly flipped through it before sticking it in my bag, thinking that somewhere after reading the Chris Hadfield book, the new Michael Connelly and even bloody Anne of Green Gables (this is the year! blog post to follow, bitches!) I might be able to squeeze CM in.
In fact, I thought I might read an essay on my lunch break this very day when my twitter feed exploded with Caitlin Moran news, and none of it was positive.
Apparently there was a BBC “event” recently where they premiered the new “Sherlock” series. It’ll been seen by Britain on Christmas Day and the rest of us on Jan 19, but a lucky 100 fans were invited to watch the first episode with the cast and creative team. Caitlin Moran hosted a Q and A afterwards, which was fine, but she unexpectedly produced a piece of fanfiction (fanfic) and made Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman read it “out loud” in character. Like a lot of fanfic, I think it suggests that Holmes and Watson were more than buddies and I don’t think it really went over the way Caitlin Moran was hoping. I don’t know for sure. I haven’t actually watched the clip. I’m not really interested in the actual content, to be honest. I’m more interested in the backlash generated by Moran’s taking a piece of fanfic out of context, making fun of it, and then exposing it without even asking permission or giving credit to the author.
In a season of “open letters”, one blogger wrote what I think was a really good one to Caitlin Moran in response to this incident, and I’ll link to it here. She makes a lot of great points, and I’m not really ready to defend CM’s actions. Heck, before yesterday, I didn’t even know who she is. But I sort of feel a little bit of kindredness towards CM. She kind of does what we attempt to do here, from what I can gather from the 30 seconds or so that I’ve spent looking at her book. She writes funny essays about her childhood, or pop culture, or anything that seems to interest her and appeal to her. She’s witty and heartfelt, but like everyone else, not every column, essay or article will be gold. Looking back over the 150+ blog posts I’ve written here at Mountains Beyond Mountains, I have a few favourites, a lot are forgettable too. The difference with CM is that she is getting paid for it and has developed connections through her writing. Without knowing anything about the situation at the BBC the other night, she probably thought it would just be “a bit of fun” and everyone would have a good chuckle over it, but it backfired on her.
I remember when I was the features editor at my student newspaper at university, I wrote whatever I wanted each week with minimal input or editorial censor. I was my own editor and I suppose if I was doing my job right, I would have looked ahead to special events happening at the school and maybe write little “in-depth” background pieces for them, but I was too lazy. I knew I had two pages in each issue to fill, so I normally just filled them myself with goofiness. It was great practice for writing for this blog, actually! I remember the deadline for articles was always a Sunday, and there were many Saturday nights when I would let myself into the newspaper offices and just start writing some “stream of consciousness” blather on some weirdo topic and left the poor copy editor the next day to make some sort of sense of it.
I made the mistake one time of writing about a camping weekend that went terribly wrong. It was written in my usual “look how dumb I am” style, but I actually used real names of the people involved. My friends didn’t care, and actually thought it was a lark that they were mentioned in print, but there were some shenanigans with the neighbouring campsite, and I dumbly used their real names too. (Just first names, obviously. I’m not THAT dumb), but one of our camping neighbours had an unusually distinct name and she also just happened to be a student at the university. Apparently when that article came out, she was roundly mocked by her friends, classmates and even a couple of professors! She came down to the newspapers office to complain, and I was so dumb I thought she was coming to congratulate me on a “super hilarious and successful” article, but she yelled and me and ended up crying and told me her reputation was ruined and that it wasn’t how things “went down”. I remember distinctly that I referred to her in the article as a “goth girl” and she took an exception to that. (Friend, I think she was.) But I felt really bad about hurting this person’s feelings and I realized then that she was a real person, not some character in a story that I was making up as I went along. She didn’t see it as funny at all, even though I thought she came off rather well in the piece. It was me and my friends that looked like incompetent stooges (I thought) and we were fine with that. I apologized to her, but the damage was done in her mind. I offered to write an apology, or a retraction, or make some acknowledgment of my dumb lack of judgment in the next issue but she didn’t want to draw any more attention to it. It was a real “eye opener” for me, and I made sure I never used real names again in those university articles. Looking back on it, I wish I had kept copies of those old articles. I am sure one or two are in some box in my Mom’s basement, but not nearly all. I wonder if they were microfilmed?
On this blog, I sort of take a split personality view when it comes to writing about people. I have written posts where I’ve used real people’s names, and I’ve used pseudonyms. I have sometimes used combos of real names and pseudonyms in the same post, and someone who might appear “as themself” in one post may recognize themselves (or a part of themselves) as a pseudonym in another post. I don’t obsess over it, because I know there are only about six of us that actually read this blog regularly, but let me just put this out there that if I ever write something that you feel is about you and you are uncomfortable with, SEND ME A MESSAGE and I’ll take it down/change it/clarify it, or do whatever needs to be done to make it right. Take comfort that if you appear in these posts at all, you are probably going to come out looking amazing next to the general dumbness of me. My wife, who rarely reads these posts, because she sensibly says, “I’ve already lived through it once, why would I want to revisit it”, sometimes asks, “Am I in this one?” and if she is I almost always reply, “Yes, but you come off really well.”
So I don’t know what to say to Caitlin Moran, except to maybe apologize to that fanfic writer for taking her work out of context and making fun of it in such a public way. Personally, I’d apologize privately rather than in a tweet or something. What I know about fanfic writers, is that generally they really are not interested in having the spotlight on them. They write mostly for themselves and their specific fangroup, (sort of like this blog, I hear you whisper!) And sometimes something is written in private, intended for no one other than that writer. Having it read in front of a crowd, (or in front of a high school English class, for example) can be destructively humiliating, with the worst result being killing that person’s ability or interest in writing anything again.
To Caitlin Moran: You screwed up. You miscalculated. So what? Who hasn’t? Apologize and move on. You don’t seem like someone who lacks confidence and I am really looking forward to reading your essays.
To the fanfic writer: keep writing. Don’t let this knock you off your game too badly. Keep writing: For yourself, for your community of readers, but mostly for yourself. Keep writing and don’t worry what other people think. Even if your content isn’t my thing, who cares? Keep writing. The world needs more fanboys and fangirls.
Speaking of fanboys/girls. I’ll leave you with this pic of Benedict Cumberbatch. Enjoy.