To what extent does technology fuel “fandom”?

I was only just into double-figures when Jeremy Brett made his first appearance as Sherlock Holmes in 1984 so I feel positively ancient compared to the new generation of Holmes fans. For me, in the pantheon of great Holmes actors Brett occupies the throne but I acknowledge that it is a generational thing. For the generation before me Douglas Wilmer was number one and for the generation before them it was probably Basil Rathbone.

For the younger generation it is very much a certain Mr Cumberbatch. Why him and not RDJ? Well, I think you need to make a minimum number of appearances before you can be the Holmes of a generation and it is for this reason that Robert Downey Jr will not enter the pantheon (although his appearances will be remembered). A certain Mr Miller might manage it in the eyes of some if Elementary runs for a decent time but I honestly think that Benedict Cumberbatch’s claim on the throne is pretty secure (at least in the eyes of anyone under 30).

Rathbone, Wilmer, Brett & Cumberbatch - some of the pantheon's finest

But how famous would BC be without today’s social media and how famous would Brett and Wilmer have been if Twitter and Facebook (or indeed the internet itself) had been around to not only celebrate them but to also unite fans in their appreciation?

People have told me that there was a significant Brett fan movement in the 1980s and 90s but it managed to pass me by. He has a huge following now but, at the time, I considered myself to be alone in my appreciation of him. In 1994, when Brett last appeared as Holmes, the internet was only just really coming into being and fans probably communicated through good old-fashioned post/mail (aka snail mail) and the letters pages of magazines.

In some respects the lack of technology may have been a bonus to Brett and those before him. It may have been a comfort to know that there was a certain amount of clear blue water between them and their fans. Perhaps this is why Cumberbatch keeps away from social media (at least as far as we all know). Perhaps he wants to maintain a certain amount of distance, a certain amount of mystery, a certain amount of sanity?

I find it especially amusing to speculate what it would have been like for Basil Rathbone had he and Twitter been able to encounter each other. He made no secret of how he came to dislike the character and people’s inability to see him as anyone other than Holmes. How on earth would he have coped with immediate (and sometimes ill-thought out) critiques of his performances on the internet? How would he have coped with knowing that if he ever lost his temper with a fan the news would be global in minutes?

I suspect, not well…..

For more information on Arthur Conan Doyle and his time at Undershaw please refer to my book, An Entirely New Country which is available through all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Classic Specialities, and in all electronic formats including iTunes, Kobo, Nook and Kindle .


  1. I think you hit on something here. I am actually more of the Basil Rathbone generation. I watched all his programs (not in their original airing, but he was my first Holmes. I saw several of the various Hound movies afterwards, (there have been quite a few versions of that) happily watched the Jeremy Brett series, and now am contentedly watching the Cumberbatch episodes. I think social media has been good, and bad, for fandom. I think it drives a different kind of fandom--or maybe adds new layers and attributes to the fandom. I remember the days when fans read about their favorites in the pages of magazines, far after things happened. Now, fans can keep open their feeds and hear various versions of events almost immediately.
    If I had to rate social media in connection to fandom, I think I would give it a 7 out of 10. It loses points, for me, because too often, it allows too much of the darkside through. Even when those moments are not the majority, they tend to overshadow all the wonders social media brings to fandom.

  2. As individuals, the daily negotiation of social media and the boundaries of privacy is just that: a negotiation. While it may make fans and fandom a far more visible force to be reckoned with, there will always be those who cross the lines from fan to creepy stalker, from fan to harrasser. Those people don't need social media to engender those behaviors, they never did. The upside is that for the predominant segment of fans, in or out of fandom, we're able to nip a fair amount of bad behavior in the bud. We're also collectively able to support the things we love from every corner of the globe. I'd rather see that than have a show/film/book/band languish and die in obscurity. Still, we have to retain a sense of both our personal boundaries and those of other people. That is the constant state of social evolution, is it not?

  3. Excellent point, Kristen. We can negotiate with ourselves and with each other, as fans. It is spectacular to talk about TV shows, books, and movies that we love with people all over the world. And hopefully, more often than not, all involved in those things we love feel more of our support, than not. Perhaps social media will teach us what we did not fully appreciate about personal boundaries for ourselves and others.

  4. If Twitter would have been unpleasant for Rathbone, it would have been an utter nightmare for Conan Doyle himself. The outcry from fans would have been even worse than the outbursts Steven Moffat has received. Can you imagine?

    My first Holmes was book!Holmes and then Jeremy Brett. I didn't even know fandom existed when I was reading the books and watching the Granada series. I'm enjoying participating in the BBC Sherlock fandom, though, for the most part. Social media does make it easier for people to get carried away. It makes it easier to connect with other fans, though, as well.

    Very thought-provoking post. Apologies for jusr rampbling in response.

  5. Just thinking.... I have a few years on you (just a few!), and Granada was my first real exposure Sherlock Holmes, and *the* first Holmes I ever saw onscreen as well. I really liked it, and Jeremy Brett will always be my mental Holmes, but it never occurred to me that I could discuss this with anyone else, much less contact any of the actors in the series. Back in pre-internet days, it was hard to be a geek in the small-town Midwest, because one felt so isolated. You just kept your obsessive head down and felt vaguely cut off from most people--and rarely shared your interests with anyone, particularly if they didn't even fit the common geeky interests, like Tolkien or Trek or what have you.
    The internet has changed all that, and made it so much more comfortable to be in your own skin. Social media just crackles with the thrill of people realizing, every day, that "I'm not the only one." It's exciting and valuable. The one thing about it that bothers me is that boundaries between people are not always as strong as they should be. Perhaps it's an age thing, but just as I wouldn't feel comfortable writing JB a fan letter, I don't feel very comfortable talking to a celebrity on Twitter. Why would I? I don't know them. I don't feel comfortable to talking to most of Twitter for the same reason. But it seems that when people are allowed the tiniest bit of access, they believe they have a level of intimacy that they don't, in fact, possess. It's one thing to trade about public shots of an actor and gush over how hot he is; I've done it myself. It's another thing to think that you have the right to determine what happens in a script, invade someone's privacy, or become ugly when people don't behave or speak as you think they ought. If someone did that to any one of us, we would feel upset or angry and, if it persisted, block/defriend/report them. Since celebrities have a public persona to uphold, and want to seem generally friendly, it only makes sense to withdraw when interactions get too negative. It makes even more sense not to allow that level of access at all. If we didn't put celebrities of any sort on such unrealistic pedestals, and if we treated everyone as we would like to be treated--on social media as well as in daily life--the internet would be a little more pleasant.

    Leah Guinn

  6. Great post; an interesting subject. Perhaps, during his manic 'highs', Jeremy Brett may have loved the attention he now receives on Twitter & other social networks ... but I imagine it would have been the antithesis during his 'black dog' periods. Especially during those latter years of the Granada series when budget cuts, leaner material & JB's ill health dogged the production.

    On the other hand, Cumberbatch & Freeman's updated 'dynamic duo' positively thrives on all this new technology ...(although the actors themselves might have some misgivings about the pros & cons of 'instant information'?!). I'm possibly about the same age as you, Alistair, and computer-related 'stuff' generally makes my head whirl!? However, I love the Internet Age feel which permeates the "Sherlock": it injects (if you'll excuse the pun) such thrilling energy into the series ... that furious pace driving the plots forward at breakneck speed, then braking comfortably for the quieter, more thoughtful or comedic scenes. Now. I'm NOT a fan of the "Bourne" movies which I feel are edited far too brutally ... nor the dog's dinner that was "A Quantum of Solace", which tried to copy that style & was left positively butchered?! But somehow, the producers of the "Sherlock" series get it just right, adding tremendous wit & visual delight!

    As one whose interest, nay PASSION, for all things Sherlockian positively ERUPTED on 'discovering' Brett's Holmes performance just over a year ago, I'd admit to having truly embraced social media as a result. I would echo Marie Parsons' comment that it really is a revelation to be able to make so many wonderful 'virtual' contacts all over the world via Twitter, the JB Info Forum & the WWW in general. I've also developed a circle of like-minded friends through more traditional routes - ie. word of mouth, attending book fairs & so on. But to also have access to this instant form of international communication is a welcome added bonus. And, although areas of the internet remain littered with the undesirable & the inaccurate; at its' BEST it is a tremendous source of educational information & pure entertainment!

    So yes, 21st century technology "fuels fandom" ... but, for the most part that's a good thing, isn't it? And not JUST for the 'new kids on the block', like Cumberbatch & his followers. Clearly there's a growing fraternity of middle-aged (like myself!) & upwards "fans" who are eternally grateful for certain technological advances ... after all, HOW ELSE would we have been able to access & enjoy so many rare images & film/TV/radio recordings of our own personal favourite Sherlock Holmes - whether that be Basil, Douglas, Peter, Jeremy OR Benedict??! ;-)