Britain and fandom

Every so often I get contacted by someone who wants me to slip a commercial post into the blog. Or to get out of the way so they can slip it in. They swear that what they write will blend seamlessly into my style, to which I can only say, “Oy vey.” (That’s Yiddish–most of the Yiddish I know, in fact. It means, roughly, oy vey. You can translate it to holy shit if you like, which preserves just the tiniest bit of the spirit and is an extremely non-literal translation.) But back to the commercial posts: The writer would have to be as unlikely as I am to make a post blend.

I’ve also been asked to review products, during which review I’d have to swear blind that I haven’t been paid/asked/whatevered to promote whatever it is. I’d need to present myself as objective and moved by who knows what spirit to let you know about this thing. It’s not clear what happens if my post consists of “this product is crap.”

The whatever that they offer in return for any of this is generally a bit of promotion–tweets, mentions, that sort of thing. Whether anyone pays attention to their promotion they don’t say.

Admittedly, Notes isn’t such a massive blog that I get approached often, but it does happen.

Irrelevant Photo: Why Wild Thing hasn't been able to take a photo of the puppy.

Irrelevant (and blurred) photo: Why Wild Thing hasn’t been able to take a picture of the puppy.

The most tempting approach was a request to review the Poldark series that PBS had picked up from the BBC to broadcast in the U.S. It wasn’t tempting because I like the show but because it just screams to be made fun of. (Note: I don’t dislike the show, I’m just lukewarm on it.) But I’m never going to win the making-fun-of-Poldark sweepstakes, so what’s the point of trying? It’s already been won by whoever put together the Proper Poldark series, which adds a new soundtrack to the clips from the show. The characters look serious and discuss silly topics in the thickest possible Cornish accents. I don’t know why they haven’t been sued, but—. Oooh, come to think of it, I don’t know that they haven’t been sued, I’m assuming it. I hope they haven’t.

Poldark’s strengths seem to be: 1. Aiden Turner taking off his shirt to (pant, pant) cut hay. I welcome the scene as a counter-balance to all the under-dressed women who get shoved in front of a camera (although the scene is less gratuitous than under-dressed women’s usually are), but personally? Not interested. Men’s pecs just don’t do it for me, even when you add in a nice set of stomach muscles. 2. The scenery, which is beautiful, although I don’t think that’s what keeps the ratings up. 3. I’m sure there’s something else but I’m not sure what it is. The costumes, I guess. The re-creation of the period. Aiden Turner without his shirt, which if you’re into that sort of thing is very much that sort of thing.

Last fall we were down west (translation: in the part of Cornwall where the show’s filmed) and fans were so busy mobbing an outdoor set that the crew could barely get its work done. Did Aiden Turner have his shirt on? I don’t know.

Anyway, I said no to the invitation to review it. I don’t do reviews, and that saves me a lot of grief.

Then last week I got an email with a link to a map of Downton Abbey locations, in case my readers might be interested in using it to plan their vacations. Did I want to mention any of my favorite locations, review them, and link to the map? No, I didn’t. No language on the planet can hold a description of how much I don’t want to do that.

Wild Thing and I did watch Downton Abbey for a while—I’m usually a sucker for a costume drama—but after a while we just couldn’t stand it anymore. All that sentimentality about an ossified class system got to us. Plus we weren’t impressed with the writing and Wild Thing passionately wanted the noble valet, whatever his name was, hanged. Or hung. Whichever form of the verb would get him off our screen fastest. And since the scriptwriters wouldn’t cooperate, we found our own way to doing him in: We turned the TV off.

Why am I writing about this? Mostly, I think, because when I wrote back and said I wasn’t a Downton fan, the woman who’d contacted said she hadn’t been sure I was (translation: she’d figured I wouldn’t be) and she came off as an actual human being, which is rare in this sort of interaction. But also because her email started me thinking about fandom in general and fandom of all things British in particular.

I live near where Doc Martin’s filmed. Now the character Doc Martin started life in a very funny movie, Saving Grace, about a widow and quintessential English gardener who turns to growing weed as a way to keep from losing her house. Which is in Cornwall. If you haven’t seen it, you should. (That’s as close to a review as you’re likely to find here.) For reasons I can’t begin to understand, someone gave the Doc Martin character a personality transplant and a TV series all of his own. I’ve watched it once or twice and don’t like it. (That’s close to a review too, isn’t it? You see how easily a person can abandon her principles?) The scenery’s great and any number of people from our village have been extras, but that hasn’t been enough to hold me.

But never mind what I think of it, because its fans love it and have turned Port Isaac, the village where it’s set, into a no-go area in the summer. They love the show so much they want to crawl inside it and live there.

What is it about fans? I understand fantasy. I understand loving a show or the world it takes place in. I understand wanting to live inside it. But I also understand that it’s not possible. No matter how much you rub yourself against the stones of Port Isaac, you won’t be transported inside Doc Martin. You’ll be the same person you started as. Even if you moved there, you’d still be you. The people who do live in Port Isaac have real lives, with real problems, not TV-show problems.

Ditto Downton Abbey and its locations.

But here’s the link to the Downton Abbey sites anyway.  If you want to rub against the stones of the great houses, I won’t stop you, but someone who works there might ask you to stop before you scare a busload of other tourists.

If you’re non-British, be aware that there’s an entire real country over here and it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than the pretend places we watch on TV.

And all that should be enough to get me in trouble with the fans of both Doc Martin and Downton Abbey. It’s also enough to remind me of my own hypocrisy, because I’m not above trying to tempt fans into reading me.

But whatever you want to say, go ahead and throw comments. I welcome them.


On an almost related point, my thanks to the people who’ve suggested topics for new posts. I’ve followed up on some of them and haven’t written about others. If I haven’t tackled your topic, it’s because I just couldn’t make it work. It may have been a brilliant suggestion, but nothing I wrote did it justice. Maybe at some point the light bulb will switch on and I’ll come back to it. In the meantime, I’m not ignoring you. I look at the list nearly every time I start a new post and check for the switch that would illuminate that light bulb.

If anyone wants to suggest new topics about life in either the U.S. or the U.K., I’ll write about them if I can. I love getting suggestions.