Watch Out for the Canons, Moffat!

Sorry about the last few weeks — things at school sort of piled up. To make up for it, you will (possibly) be getting two updates this week! Yay!

Today, we are going to delve deeply into the philosophy of writing, so hold onto your hats and other precarious pieces of clothing as I ask you a very important question:

What is canon?For those of you that are not quite as far into the world of fandom as I am, ‘canon’ is anything made up by the writers of a show, novel, film, etc. If your favourite novelist has just told you that the story world they write has a blue sky, then it’s canon that the sky is blue.

Or is it?

This is what I’m currently mixed up over, and why I decided to write a post — what if the author is wrong? What if you’ve been imagining that the sky is green — is the sky canonically blue? If the novelist explained in a previous novel that the sky was yellow, is it canon that the sky is both blue and yellow? Do we pick our favourite? The most recent one? And if the novelist only implies that the sky is blue, is it canonically blue or not?

That’s a lot of questions, so I’ll put them into context to explain them a bit better. I’ll even list them for you, because I’m that wonderful.

  1. What if you’ve been imagining that the sky is green — is the sky canonically blue? I have this problem almost constantly when I’m reading. In fact, it’s become almost a dilemma to me (as sad as it sounds). If I’ve spent the last three books in a series imagining the main character as Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome and then the author includes in the fourth book that Mr Tall isn’t actually so tall at all — in fact, he’s half the size of his girlfriend — what do I do? Do I throw out the idea I have had for three whole novels just because the author tells me to? Or do I say ‘fuck you’ to canon and imagine him as a towering figure anyway? For me, this dilemma often ends with me conveniently forgetting the detail given by the author after deciding that I would stick with the canonical representation, but it does bother me, especially when that detail becomes important to the plot-line.
  2. If the novelist explained in a previous novel that the sky was yellow, but now says it is blue, what do I do? This is one of the reasons that I’m writing this post today and the very reason for this post’s title. Today (a few days ago for you), it was revealed that this is Steven Moffat’s explanation for how the Doctor and Clara got away from the happenings of NOTD. For those of you who aren’t Whovians or are just too lazy to check the link, what Moffat basically says is that time can be rewritten as long as you don’t know that it can’t be rewritten. Complicated and confusing as always, thank you sir. But more than that, more than the fact that it’s terribly flimsy and a totally rubbish move after their escape from destiny was made the main plot of the series, it goes against things Moffat has said before. In TOTD, Ten and Eleven both manage to change the mind of the War Doctor, even though he’s in their past and they know what happens. They change time — they rewrite it when they are fully aware that they can’t — and all that happens is that Ten and WD have their minds wiped of the whole affair. And so what do we, the fans, believe? What do we take as canon — the flimsy and stupid new theory or the equally flimsy and stupid old theory? Are we expected to hold both theories in our mind and practice our cognitive dissonance? Or are we expected to reconcile them together and say that the Doctor only thinks that time can’t be rewritten when you know it can’t be because he’s got a bit confused by all the timey-wimey stuff too?
  3. If the novelist only implies that the sky is blue, is it still canonically blue? This particular question comes from my time in the depths of the Sherlock fandom. While scrolling on Tumblr, I realised that, in fact, there is no way whatsoever that John and Sherlock don’t have feelings for each other. Not just platonic feelings, but romantic feelings. The ‘Sherlock is a girl’s name’ line, which completely murdered all the Johnlock shippers in he fandom, made me realise that Sherlock was definitely going to say ‘I love you’; he even used the same lines used by the Tenth Doctor before he got the chance to tell Rose he loved her — ‘if this is my last chance to say it…’. If you believe that Ten was going to tell Rose he loved her — and it’s pretty well accepted that that’s what he would have said — then you have to at least consider the idea that Sherlock was going to admit his fiery passion for his blogger. And if you consider the idea that Sherlock is in love with John, you have to accept that the writers have made it seem so. And therefore, surely it is canon. We’ve been made to think something about the characters by the writers — isn’t that what canon is? And yet, this example also clashes with the other two questions I have about canon. I don’t see Johnlock as a thing, so do I have to change my views because it’s been implied? John has said a thousand times that he isn’t gay, so do I have to make all the pieces fit myself and suggest that the love is one-sided?

Back to my foremost question: What is canon, anyway? Furthermore, does it even matter?

When canon can be anything from what’s implied to what is clearly said, when it can contradict itself massively, can it be called canon? Does it matter what is canon and what is not, when it’s all such a jumble and a mess? Without an audience, these stories and films and shows and books and poems and the creative market itself is simply writers playing make-believe. Without an audience, they don’t even get paid for it.

Personally, I think that the audience makes the tale. When reading poetry, you’re often told that there is no wrong answer, no wrong interpretation, because it is your interpretation, and that’s the important bit. It’s the same for stories — a story is made by the people reading it — as Oscar Wilde did not quite say (I’m paraphrasing), art is a reflection of the artist. But it’s also a reflection of the people enjoying it — for all I know, you’re scoffing at the idea that Johnlock has been implied to be canon, or even the idea that Moffat’s contradicting himself. Maybe you’ve read some of the books I read on a daily basis and believe that they are sophisticated commentaries on teen culture rather than just novels about teenagers kissing each other and worrying about sucking blood accidentally, I don’t know. But it doesn’t mean that one of us is wrong — it doesn’t mean that Johnlock isn’t canon or that Moffat’s explanations aren’t canon. Johnlock is canon to me, and Moffat’s explanations are canon to you.

A story is in the eye of the beholder (who is usually beautiful).

 

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4 thoughts on “Watch Out for the Canons, Moffat!

  1. What is canon, anyone? http://fanlore.org/wiki/Canon

    Lol I think what is canon is everything we see & hear happen within the final aired cut off the show. This can sometimes be contradictary, but usually won’t be if the source is fairly well written.

    Something like one characters feelings for another when it comes to tv are rarely actually canon, because you need a first person narrator or else that won’t really be clear. All you have that is canon is the fact that a was teary eyed here, said these exact words there, etc. The rest is interpretation and not exactly canon.

    I feel sure Sherlock loves John in the BBC series and that he was close to saying as such the series 3 finale or at least something similar… but why this can’t be “just” platonically I’m confused by. What convinces anyone it’s romantic? The difference between romantic and platonic love remains unclear, contested, murky, and with a ton of overlap. To me, I prefer a reading where Sherlock is aro ace and his love for John is platonic.

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    • I don’t know why I knew the term ‘canon’ but not ‘headcanon’ when I wrote this since they seem to go hand-in-hand and might’ve given me a better understanding of what canon actually was but never mind. Thanks for the link — I didn’t know that the the Sherlock Holmes fandom was the first to use canon, that’s really cool!

      For context, I actually wrote this post 2 months before I realised that I’m ace and a good while before I knew about aromanticism, which is why this post is so amatonormative. Nowadays I’d definitely agree that Sherlock’s feelings towards John are platonic (and it would be so great to see them say ‘I love you’ platonically!).

      I totally agree with you that romantic and platonic love have a lot of overlap. I’m quite into the Captain America fandom nowadays, and there was this whole thing with the writers calling it a ‘love story between brothers’ and people kept pointing out different things that Steve and Bucky did for each other (breaking 70 years of conditioning, going into enemy territory for the other, etc) which apparently ‘proved’ that they were boyfriends, not brothers. I found it really irritating because, actually, it’s pretty easy to see why you would do those things for a life-long friend who you went to war with and was the last remaining link to your past, and it’s odd to say that that kind of bond must be too weak for it all just because it’s not romantic — at what point do the things we do for someone become so important/sacrificial/whatever that they must be caused by romantic feelings? It would’ve been much more useful for people to talk about why Steve couldn’t be bi (eg homophobic masculinity, the American Dream, compulsory heterosexuality, bi erasure, and so on), since the writers were quite likely queerbaiting and knew exactly what those scenes could suggest to people. But hey ho.

      The short version of that last paragraph is that I agree that romantic and platonic love aren’t so clearly defined and I find the kind of sentiment that I expressed in the original post to be really irritating now that I know more 😛

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      • Thank you so much for the context that your thoughts and views on this stuff have changed so much!! That you didn’t even know you were ace or know about aromanticism at the time.

        Because to me, I was reading this with the perspective that even an aro-spectrum ace sees BBC Sherlock, a show I only first got into within the past month or so (and with it I got heavily involved in the fandom too haha), as a television series where: “in fact, there is no way whatsoever that John and Sherlock don’t have feelings for each other. Not just platonic feelings, but romantic feelings.” Which… frustrated me. But knowing that… that you didn’t even know the word “headcanon”! Helps me with your “no way whatsoever” comment, also am I doing my math correctly to think that perhaps you were only 17 when you wrote this? Which also I, a 26-year-old in fandom, sometimes have trouble keeping in perspective. The way I personally interacted with fandom when I was 17 is so different than how I do now – I would refuse to accept that “warnings” that say that something contains slash might be a homophobic way of doing things, for instance, back then. I wrote a bit about my experiences as a teenager in fandom here: https://luvtheheaven.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/being-an-asexual-fangirl/ (as much as I remember them, although of course memory is an imperfect thing)

        I’m sorry for the typos in my original comment btw. I was reading a ton of posts here on your blog while on my smart phone at the time, and trying to comment from mobile so autocorrect etc abounds lol. I think I meant to repeat your What is canon “Anyway” question to start off my comment, for example.

        I agree completely with everything you just said about the Captain America fandom!! I really love reading from someone who is frustrated by the same things I am and who feels: “it’s pretty easy to see why you would do those things for a life-long friend who you went to war with and was the last remaining link to your past” – exactly, I really like how you phrased: “at what point do the things we do for someone become so important/sacrificial/whatever that they must be caused by romantic feelings?”. I mean there are people who tend to ship brothers too on TV shows – Supernatural is the first that comes to mind but so many shows’ fandoms really have it, if they have a powerful bond despite them being biological siblings raised together, but I do believe fewer people would be thinking Bucky & Steve’s bond was clearly romantic if their story was almost the same except they were siblings.

        I really enjoyed reading this: http://hth-the-first.livejournal.com/37454.html (again I found it thanks to Fanlore, haha, awesome website) as an explanation that is quite dated but still relevant about how “Weird About Each Other” ships can be interpreted as slash but even if the relationship remains platonic in a fans’ mind, it’s still superbly strong and significant.

        I do think if everything that happened to Steve and Bucky remained the same except one of the characters was established as a straight woman (or a woman with the capacity for feelings for a man, at least), heteronormativity and amatonormativity would definitely take over and it’d be much harder to find the equivalent of the “No Romo” Mulder/Scully (The X-Files) kind of side to the fandom. Which I recently learned did exist. http://fanlore.org/wiki/Noromo

        At least if you can argue they could have incompatible orientations you can argue the strong feelings are “just” platonic more easily. But if their sexual (and romantic) orientations were definitely compatible, then how does a fan justify that the strong feelings AREN’T romantic? The same is true, I believe, if Steve and Bucky were officially, really canonically established early on to be gay or bi. The idea that all their interactions were still “just” platonic would be hard to find in fandom, even though actually it’s much more common among gay men to be friends with many other gay men, not necessarily having “more than friends” feelings for many of them, or at least not ALL!! of them… and friendships among groups of queer people don’t actually tend to work exactly the same way as friendships outside of queer subcultures…

        Sorry, I’m writing too much. I just have a lot of thoughts. 😛 If I could understand what exactly makes feelings “not friendship” anyway then I probably wouldn’t need multiple paragraphs to explain my romantic orientation…

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        • Haha thoughts are always good, and these ones are definitely interesting 😀

          Yeah I was 17 at the time — it’s weird to think that my views have changed so much in the past two years! Your experiences with fandom in that post are really interesting! I didn’t have quite the same thing, because I found out about asexuality quite soon after I found out about fandom, but I really identify with assuming that I’d eventually feel attraction! At one point when I was around fourteen I remember trying to convince my friend that everyone must be bi because how would they know until that ‘special person’ came along that made them realise they liked more than one gender.

          That ‘Weird About Each Other’ thing is really cool. I’ve never really seen anyone look at why people might start to ship things; I’m pretty oblivious to that kind of thing (I think Steve/Bucky might be the only non-canon pairing I’ve shipped without Tumblr telling me it was a thing), so I assumed people just decided they wanted to ship something and then made up reasons retrospectively. I think it’s also a really good explanation of why writers would put certain elements into a story which shippers say is ‘clearly romantic’, because I know sometimes I’ve wondered in the past about if those kinds of things are queerbaiting rather than simply adding significance to a platonic relationship.

          I agree that Steve and Bucky would definitely be much harder to see as friends if one of them was a woman. Actually, I just read an article yesterday about how Bucky is treated very similarly to women in the MCU (http://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2016/06/12/completed-feminization-bucky-barnes/) which makes me wonder how much that feminisation encourages Steve/Bucky over other ships with similar ‘Weird About Each Other’ characteristics (Steve and Peggy or Sam and Bucky/Nat in the comics).

          I’d never heard of Noromo in the X-Files fandom either, that’s pretty cool (I especially like the sassy postcards)!

          ‘If I could understand what exactly makes feelings “not friendship” anyway then I probably wouldn’t need multiple paragraphs to explain my romantic orientation…’ Haha I agree with that! The more I talk to people about friendship and experience different types of relationships, the more confused I get!

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