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So, Ianto is dead, and I am devastated. No, seriously. I came home last night after watching the episode, and alternately cried on the phone with sonatineAlice, cleaned my kitchen while listening to angsty Indigo Girls ballads, put all the fanfics that I was waiting to read in a file on my desktop (as I don't have the heart to look at them-- at least not yet; possibly not ever), and barely slept all night. I'm still feeling pretty teary, and I'm pretty sure that I'll break up with Russell T. Davies over this. I still felt a certain amount of loyalty to him and his oeuvre, even after most of my Doctor Who fan friends were going after him with metaphorical torches and pitchforks-- after all, he wrote Queer As Folk, and that still counts for something-- but unless we get a miraculous "He's not quite dead!" moment in tonight's episode, I just don't see myself hanging on for a fourth season.

(Which, I would argue, is saying a lot-- after all, I made it through the first season.)

I'm trying to sort through my feelings here-- about what it means to grieve the death of a fictitious character, and about fandom reactions to Ianto's death. I feel ambivalent about the fact that I'm investing so much energy in sorrow over the death of someone who never really existed anyway-- is that an understandable response, or does it mean that I'm becoming (have already become; have always been) an overly obsessive fan? I'm thinking about the long tirade I wrote about Jack on Monday night, and about the reasons I have for getting involved in fandoms. What I know is this:
  • I never get involved in fandoms that revolve around a text that I love unequivocally. Buffy is my all-time favorite TV show, but I have never been involved in Buffy fandom because there is nothing within that show that I feel would be improved via fandom involvement. For me, the Buffy canon is complete unto itself, and doesn't really require any outside interference. That's not to say that there aren't aspects of Buffy that bother me; I find some parts of it disturbing, boring, and/or just plain wrong. But the text, for me, is not so broken that it needs fans to fix it. Ditto with Doctor Who: I may not like all the decision the writers make (hello, Series Four finale), but generally I don't view the show as a broken text that needs fixing. I can wish that RTD hadn't made some of the decisions he did, but I don't feel the need to take matters into my own hands (or ally myself with fans who have).

  • The fandoms I do get involved in revolve around texts that frustrate me because they're almost good. There is enough there to compel me, to keep me going on, but there are enough serious gaps, ideological problems, etc. that I feel the need to step in, to fix what is wrong, by participating in fandom. Not that I'm a big fic writer-- and that used to bother me, but I've decided that to the extent that I do get actively involved in fandom, I'm basically a meta writer, and that's... okay. (I was born that way, okay? It's not a lifestyle choice.) But I do feel the need to make my critique known in a community of similarly-minded people, and I do read fic in order to, in some way, be involved in the process of a creative patching of the gaps. I got involved in Harry Potter fandom for that reason-- because while I found the story compelling, I got frustrated with the inconsistencies, the plot gaps, and what seemed to me to be the closeting of obviously queer characters *cough*Remus,Sirius,Tonks,McGonagall,andHooch*cough*. Anyone who's watched Torchwood can only imagine the sheer number of gaps, contradictions, ideological shortcomings *cough*evillesbiansyndrome*cough* and so on that I might have been compelled to fix via fandom involvement.

  • Because I tend to get involved in fandoms where I feel the need, somehow, to intervene in canon, I feel a greater sense of ownership of those canonical texts than I do of the texts I merely enjoy. Therefore, when something happens in those texts that I don't like, I'm more inclined to take it personally, to get angry at the creators, etc. While I was upset at the way RTD ended Season 4 of Doctor Who, I didn't take it that personally-- he just made a decision that I would not have made. However, because Torchwood is a flawed text, I don't see it as RTD's-- I see it a collaboration between RTD and the fans, and a necessary one, dammit. I mean, Christ, the first season of Torchwood is terrible! The show survived the first season because it featured a great cast of actors who acted the shit out of it and made it bearable. It also survived because of a great community of fans who saw its potential and fostered its growth, and let it grow to the (admittedly) fantastically written, well-paced miniseries we're watching this week. Because of my fraught relationship with Torchwood, I'm less inclined to feel that RTD can do whatever he wants with it in order to advance the plot (which, what a load of shit. No one watches Torchwood for the plot! We watch it for the characters, dammit), and more inclined to feel that he is heavily indebted to his cast and his fans for his success. Therefore, pulling what he did at the end of the last episode of CoE feels more like a betrayal-- of Gareth David-Lloyd, of the fans-- hell, of me personally.

  • I've also become uncomfortably aware this week of the extent to which my involvement in fandom, and in specific individual fandoms, reflects whatever personal needs I'm seeking out at any given time. Like I wrote on Monday night, I got involved in Sailor Moon fandom when I was 16 or 17, because at the time I was questioning my sexuality, and Sailor Moon was the only show I had access to at the time that portrayed a committed romantic relationship between two women, and so participating in that particular fandom helped mitigate my coming out angst by combining it with the pleasure of playing creatively with a TV show. I still haven't quite parsed out what personal needs may have been met by getting involved in Harry Potter fandom, but it isn't lost on me that that happened around the time I finished up my undergraduate work. (Escapism, perhaps? A source of pleasure during a particularly difficult time?) And as I've watched Torchwood this week, it's certainly occurred to me that my involvement in that fandom may be part of me working out some of my own identity crises. I'm still dealing with the fact that last year, after years of unequivocally declaring myself a lesbian, I fell in love with a man-- and who knows; it may happen again. My attempts to contain myself within a clear identity label have failed-- and that really scares me. I'm also, as I'm sure is obvious, dealing with the fact that so many of my friends are getting married, realizing that monogamy and marriage aren't for me, and trying to figure out what that means-- what I want instead, and how to live that life in a world where, even increasingly in LGBTQ spaces, marriage is just The Thing You Do. And I think that my involvement in Torchwood fandom was sort of a more pleasurable, more creative way to feel my way though those dilemmas. So when something like Ianto's death happens-- something that just ruins my ability to continue enjoying the show-- part of what I'm mourning is the loss of a certain pop culture text as a form of creative therapy. I think I'm also mourning the part of myself that found solace in Ianto's character, or in his relationship with Jack.

So those are my thoughts on grieving a fictitious character at the moment. I'm not fully sure what they mean, yet, but they help me understand my grief better, and put it into perspective a bit.

And I think, maybe, they could help put the general fandom reaction into perspective. Not that everyone reads Torchwood the same way I do, of course. But when we talk about grieving a fictitious character, or about hating the creator(s) of a show for a given plot twist, or about breaking up with a fandom, what underlies that, but remains unspoken, are the personal investments in a pop culture text-- the extent to which we come to see ourselves as co-owners of a text; the extent to which we watch these shows, read these books, etc. in order to see ourselves in them.

I've mostly avoided the outbursts of fandom grief over the death of Ianto. They don't do much for me. I think that every time something like this happens, the same old tired debate happens: the fans who feel betrayed argue that we alone are the source of the creators' success, and that they had no business doing something like this without our consent. Other fans argue that no, the show actually belongs to the one(s) who created it, and they have a right to do whatever the hell they want, thankyouverymuch. I think the truth (if there is one; if there is only one) is somewhere in between that. We don't want the show to belong entirely to the fans, because we want to be surprised. We want there to be spaces for us to play in, and deep down, we know that a show that existed only to cater to our every whim (as if such a thing were possible) would, ultimately, be a very boring show. At the same time, I think that the creator(s) of a pop culture text can sometimes be too close to their work to see the big picture, that they do not see it in the same way that the fans see it, and that they can make grievous miscalculations based on their limited perception. As I mentioned above, I think sometimes that RTD honestly believes people watch Torchwood for the plot, when in fact I think most of watch it (I know I do) because the characters are interesting, and because he's managed to collect a great cast of actors that do an amazing job of bringing the characters to life, even when they're really badly written. So to him, it might make sense to sacrifice a beloved character in order to advance the plot, even though to us that seems like an obviously stupid thing to do. I also think that, given that Ianto barely escaped the axe in the previous season, RTD can be kind of stupid sometimes when it comes to understanding what drives his fans. Which baffles me-- I would think that the fandom reaction would make it obvious that Ianto is a highly beloved character that is essential to the continued success is a show, but RTD seems to have this incomprehensible (though slightly more comprehensible, given her increased awesomeness in CoE) attachment to Gwen that the fans don't reflect. So to him, Gwen is the indispensible character; while to the fans, it's clearly Ianto.

Of course, none of this undoes what happened. But maybe, by understanding what it is we grieve when we grieve characters like Ianto, it can help us get past some of the initial anger, as writing this has done for me. And maybe it can help provide us a way of thinking through the arguments that usually sweep fandom in the wake of this sort of thing.

I ♥ you, fandom. Stay crazy.

Date: 2009-07-11 12:00 am (UTC)
luinied: And someday, together, we'll shine. (Default)
From: [personal profile] luinied
I got involved in Sailor Moon fandom when [...] Sailor Moon was the only show I had access to at the time that portrayed a committed romantic relationship between two women

If it helps, my own involvement in Sailor Moon fandom wasn't even grounded in something as sense-making as that. And I held onto it for years despite that.

(Alas, not following Torchwood I cannot really find much else to say, although others on my friends list are similarly grieving for Ianto.)

Date: 2009-07-11 12:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think sometimes that RTD honestly believes people watch Torchwood for the plot

AHAHAHAHAAAAA. I find this a really interesting juxtaposition to Due South, which is also a character-driven show with the most ridiculous--I might say terrible, actually--plots ever (I think my favorite has to be the one with the chickens). The difference is that DS is so much more meta than Torchwood, and has a healthy sense of its own ridiculousness (which was provided in ample quantity by Ask!verse).

RTD can be kind of stupid sometimes when it comes to understanding what drives his fans.

I think this is very interesting given that he is basically a Doctor Who fanboy who got his dream job--creating and mucking about in a fandom he's loved since his childhood. One would expect that would give him a more critical perspective on things like Ianto, but apparently not.

The problem I see is that he creates these characters, gets very attached to specific ones and then doesn't understand why everybody else doesn't think they're as gosh-darn awesome as he does (like Rose). And I wonder what in those brainmeats of his makes him so attached to these specific types of female characters. Does he feel like he did the guy thing with QaF already, or does he not want to reinforce his reputation as The Gay Dude?

It's funny, because I took what happened during Journey's End much more personally. I don't know if it was the manner or the character, but I was absolutely livid over what he did. This, to me, feels like a more honorable exit, even if it was not the one I would have chosen.


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