One anxious owner…

Interesting remark from Michael Moorcock re his recently-announced forthcoming DW novel. I should mention it’s addressed, mainly, to Outpost Gallifrey forum people rather than the general fanship:

"I share an enthusiasm for the current Dr Who broadcasts with quite a few friends who are ‘literary’ novelists and I sense in some of the Gallifrey remarks a suspicion of the ‘outsider’ which you used to get when someone with a reputation as a non-sf writer would decide to write an sf novel. All I can answer to this is ‘wait and see’. I’m certainly not a non-watcher! Neither am I someone who ascribes a kind of religiosity to an enthusiasm. This phenomenon crops up a lot, these days associated with sf/fantasy, LOTR, H.Potter, Twilight and so on. I hate these presumptions of exclusivity either in my own corner of the literary world or elsewhere. Mike Kustow, once director of the Royal Shakespeare Co, described this as ‘the anxious ownership syndrome’, when faced with his first confrontation with sf fandom in Brighton 1968. He’d found the same sort of expression with Shakespeare fans when someone from ‘outside’ showed an interest."

You don’t often see DW and Shakespeare yoked together in one statement like that (though someone on my flist made a similar connection a few days back). It’s been interesting for me to do a further degree in Shakespeare and Theatre and find out just how often something comes up that reminds me of Doctor Who. There do seem to be links in the way something that was, after all, initially designed as an ephemeral form of popular entertainment has become canonized and culturally codified in many ways. And many of us have exploded when faced with a particular production that, we felt, traduced the Bard and destroyed his original intention.

It’s always been my belief that Shakespeare would have understood fan fiction perfectly. Almost every play he wrote was a similar kind of adaptation of an existing story. I would love to see someone fic an interview between him and RTD. And I once raised academic eyebrows by saying that of all the books I’d read the one that gave me the best insight into the pressures Shakespeare would have worked under was "The Writer’s Tale."

However, that was nothing to the expression on my tutor’s face when I told her that people really did write Shakespeare fan fiction – and most of them seemed to be graduate students.

In other news, my daughter told me this morning that I was disgusting to fancy David Tennant – officially because of the 12year age gap. Interesting – I’m sure the age gap between Georgie and him is even wider. Which makes me wonder what her own little lad thinks about it all. He’s a pretty cool father figure to have in your life, though. That must help.

Came in last night to find the kids watching "City of Death" of all things. Best fun I’ve had in ages, and it did make me realise how seriously Who takes itself these days. We spent a lot of time howling with laughter at Duggan’s behaviour and saying things like "They had real men in DW in them days, not a load of raving poufs!" in our best Gene Hunt voice. And wondering how Romana’s hat stayed on.

I’ve got a lot of chocolate in for this evening. Nuff said.

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17 thoughts on “One anxious owner…

  1. Oh so many comment hooks here to make me repeat myself.
    You don’t often see DW and Shakespeare yoked together in one statement
    Patrick Stewart did it, or did it for Shakespeare and Star Trek, in an interview once, which I paraphrased (not having archived the original source) in my essay on fanfiction: “Patrick Stewart in something I read once told a story, back when he was still appearing as Captain Picard on our screens every week. The press was always nagging him, ‘How does it feel to have had this illustrious career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in I Claudius and all, and then doing this silly science fiction thing?’, and finally he blew up at them: ‘All that Shakespeare was just preparation for Star Trek! It’s the same exotic language, the same fantastic adventure, the same high philosophy and moral discourse! Get a life!’ [He didn’t actually say, “Get a life!” in what I read; I’m paraphrasing.]”
    Almost every play he wrote was a similar kind of adaptation of an existing story
    A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Crossover.
    Actually most of what Will wrote was reenvisioning an old story instead of writing new stories from an old premise. But he’s a prime subject for rebuttals of the “Why don’t you invent your own characters?” fallacy. Against the rest of human history, the hiccup in normality today isn’t that fanfiction writers behave as if we own the characters, it’s that corporations own the characters.
    Shakespeare fan fiction Poul Anderson’s A Midsummer Tempest.
    “anxious ownership syndrome”
    The ramification of this concept on my argument that the concept of canon doesn’t apply to fictions is yet to be determined.

  2. RE: Romana’s hat in “City of Death,” if you look closely there’s a string holding it on — mostly hidden by her hair and chin, but it’s there. and I saw that ep again recently and were wondering the same thing, so we were watching closely. πŸ˜€
    RE: Age gaps, I once dated someone *19* years older than myself, and it worked splendidly, even though everyone else kept thinking he was my father (to our great annoyance, and sometimes amusement). The age difference genuinely was not a factor; we were just two people who got on very well together, and if one of us was greyer than the other, who cared?
    RE: DW and Shakespeare, yes, exactly. All of it. πŸ˜€

  3. Occasionally I happen across articles on Shakespeare fanfic that address it as a kind of outsider art that resists academic readings of Shakespeare. This always annoys the hell out of me, because almost everyone I know who writes it is in fact an academic or an aspiring academic and thus quotations like this —
    Though admittedly a minor cultural phenomenon, Shakespearian fan fiction nevertheless brings into focus how profoundly popular culture shapes contemporary understandings of Shakespeare. For popular audiences often engage Shakespeare through the lens of pop culture, because pop culture provides mass audiences widely shared models of plot construction, character, style, and ideology — in E.D. Hirsch’s term, a ‘cultured literacy’ — for making sense of narrative, canonical and popular. Without a doubt, this can lead to misreading […] But, I want to suggest, it can also become a potential source of interpretive productivity and a source for critique of traditionalism or academic authority. Like all fan fiction, Shakespeare fan fiction reveals tension between iconoclasm and fidelity to Shakespeare. it recognizes certain formal and ideological limits of its Shakespearian source (or the limits of how that source has been traditionally interpreted) and seeks to push against those limits, in a spirit of critique, anarchy, pleasure, recuperation, participiation.
    — don’t really describe my experience with the genre.

  4. Excellent post. I don’t really have much to say other than “Yes! This!” I like the “anxious ownership syndrome” phrase to describe fans’ reactions to outsiders taking control of their beloved shows.
    Writers have been playing in each other’s sandboxes since the dawn of time, and the stigma attached to fan fiction these days is the only part that’s unusual.
    I can understand your advisor’s surprise at the concept of Shakespeare fanfic on the internet, but if one thinks about it there is Shakespeare fanfic all over the place in literary or commercial form. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead pulls the common fanfiction trick of giving a story a new meaning by looking at it from minor characters’ perspective, while Ten Things I Hate About You is nothing but a high school AU. Shakespeare in Love could be considered RPF. Then there’s all the Victorian productions that changed endings they didn’t like, which were just cheesy fixit fics.

  5. Well, kudos to Patrick Stewart for such a brilliant comment. I’ve thought at times that when Shakespeare set his stories in say Verona or Vienna (Measure for Measure) and then wrote about London, it was kind of an SF thing to do. It allows you to look at the world you live in as an outsider, to see it as real by making it one removal from reality, as it were.
    The point about whether he adapted or re-envisioned stories is interesting – where to draw the line is a debate in itself, of course. It could well be argued that some modern performances of Shakespeare cross that line – one example being the Macbeth I saw which began with three teenage girls being raped and becoming the witches. Does it matter that Shakespeare never wrote that scene? Discuss.
    I’ve not read the Poul A you mention. But I would class fanfiction differently from something like – say “Forbidden Planet” vs “The Tempest.” FF for me is when you take fictional characters and you either develop the backstory as meta or you write an alternative outcome. I did a workshop with Vivien Helibron on Hamlet, for instance, that came up with a wonderful backstory explaining Ophelia’s character, and it made me want to go off and write the scene where Hamlet comes into her bedroom with his doublet unloosed and scares her – a temptation I’ve so far resisted.

  6. People’s attitude to age-gap romance is influenced by two things, in my experience – one if your parent(s) are involved, that’s never quite all right and two, it’s often much harder for people to accept if it’s the woman who’s the senior. I remember years ago BBC had to pull a sitcom about a woman dating a man sixteen years younger, but “May to December”, the equivalent with an older man, ran for several series.
    With the first, I know whereof I speak, since my own mother had an affair with a 21 year old at the age of 62. A very upsetting experience for me, probably very much connected with my own leaving home at the time (I was an only child and my mother a widow).

  7. I think it’s a 14 year age gap between David and Georgia. I think David would be a great dad. He’d be fun but not over indulgent, as I think his own parents raised him quite well.
    So many times in the Tom Baker days you can find him gently poking fun at the hokeyness of it all, but still having a grand time doing it. (“Ooh look, rocks!” is probably my favorite) πŸ˜€

  8. You know, I would really love to read more (and more about) Shakespeare fan fiction. You are the only link I have with that world. As a previous commenter remarks, the difference today is that characters are owned by corporations and that has made it legally questionable, at least if it’s published.
    I’ve been reading an anthology by Anne Thompson called “Women Reading Shakespeare 1660-1900” and some of the work in there is very close to meta/fanfic – speculation on Lady Macbeth mourning her dead baby, for example. Maybe women have always done such things in the privacy of their homes? Has anyone done an academic study of the phenomenon?
    Of course, if you’ve got an hour or two to spare, we could start on Terence Hawkes’ – “Shakespeare doesn’t mean we – we mean by Shakespeare.”
    What is your experience with the genre? Mostly Histories slash, or more varied? I’ve written loads of DW fanfiction and in every case my best work was thinly disguised criticism. The best example, without resorting to self-pimpage, would be my series “Emotional Baggage” when I just sat down after every S4 episode and made up a debriefing between Ten and Donna. Plot, I’m useless at. But then, Shakespeare usually borrowed those. It was character he took into new directions.
    I watched a very by-numbers, generic RSC Twelfth Night a couple of weeks ago. I watched Waters of Mars a couple of hours ago, and saw far more of the stuff I look for in a riveting Shakespeare tragedy there. It’s fascinating that one is considered high culture and the other popular culture.
    Do write back if you’ve time – ruth.waterton@gmail.com or LJ if you prefer.

  9. Oh, word to that. It surprised me that she was so startled by it. This is someone who’s worked as a dramaturg at the highest levels on both sides of the Atlantic, including a stint at the Globe. And she’s under forty, I’d guess.
    Fixit fics – yes, that’s a fascinating area. Good old Nahum Tate, for example. And plenty of criticism, particularly the more character-driven kind that’s out of fashion now, strays into fic territory without speaking the name.
    Shakespeare in Love as RPF – brilliant! Never thought of that. But it has a lot of the knowing metatheatricality of the best fanfic, doesn’t it? The bit at the end where he meets Webster as a boy, for instance.

  10. is on record as suggesting that if Shakespeare were alive today, he would be writing SF, and he would be winning Hugos.
    So did you get through any of the chocolate? I was too busy staring fixedly at the screen with my knuckles jammed in my mouth. In fact I thumped the Resident Geek several times for eating popcorn too loudly. Am currently feeling mind-blown, though will be processing for hours yet I suspect…

  11. First Small Person had a similar effect on me in the nights after Empty Child first aired when he used to wake up and go “Muuummm-eeee…”
    Have you tried suggesting to her, by the way, that actually you fancy a nine-hundred-year-old Time Lord so that has to be OK?… (Well, you never know)

  12. Does it matter that Shakespeare never wrote that scene? Discuss.
    I once saw a production of Hamlet called Hamlet ESP that had three Hamlets onstage at once.
    I think there’s a difference between (re)interpretations of the same work and new works that are derivative of another. Fanfiction can be either. But technically it’s not fanfiction unless it’s derivative of a work under copyright without license. The concept of derivative work has been with us a long time even if it wasn’t called that. The concept of fanfiction is a function of modern intellectual property law. Though people are beginning to use the word generally as a synonym for derivative work, so who knows what the future holds?

  13. I was quite disturbed with Hamlet to find myself lusting after a prince meant to be at least fifteen years my junior, and had to rationalise that to myself by reminding myself that actually I just fancy DT who is, conveniently, exactly my age πŸ™‚

  14. Yeah, there’s definitly a gender double-standard to age gaps. Dang twenty-first century. 😦 (Speaking as a single, fortyish woman, anyway . . . If I can’t aim for something a little younger, I’ve got a damn small playing field at my age!) πŸ˜‰
    Ouch. Sorry you’ve had a bad life experience on that front, though. 😦

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