Folks, today is a day for both sadness and joy. Sadness, for the passing away of The White Hole, Garbage World, Observation Dome, and Fuchal – and joy, because they are back with us, albeit as Ganymede & Titan. And yes, this quote would have worked better if this article had been published on relaunch day as originally planned, but I’m damned if I’m getting rid of it now.
Still, perhaps this is the time to sit back and ask – where are we with online Red Dwarf fandom?
I first came on the internet in 1998. (Quite literally – I sat in the corner of the Physics lab and downloaded dirty stories, and stuck them on floppy disc. It was only when I got the disc home that I realised most of them involved both paedophilia and incest. A quick search and replace on the participants ages gave me something to have an emergency wank to, though.) This was a time of great excitement in the Red Dwarf fan community – details of Red Dwarf VIII were leaking out, and there were plenty of active fansites around. Sites like Red Dwarf World, the Clearing House, and Smegweb, amongst many others. The full story of these sites can wait for another time; at some point, we plan to do a full multi-part history of Dwarf fandom, going right back to Nic Farey. But suffice to say that whilst I don’t want to get into a full exploration of the Red Dwarf online community at that time here, the important thing to note is: it was exciting, it was busy, and it was brilliant. I know now there was politics going on – I was never really party to that at the time, as I didn’t have decent net access. (Which is why I never contributed anything to the community then.) I’ll be spending most of this article talking about things I’ve been involved with, but make no mistake – whilst there was plenty of unpleasantness, those were the glory days, in terms of actual activity, at least.
Early in 2001, Smegweb and RDW merged under the RDW banner; and in in May of that year, Red Dwarf World went offline with a flame. I’ve given my objections to that post many times before; I won’t repeat myself here. The Red Dwarf online community wasn’t entirely dead, however. In 2002, there was still stuff going on. There was still Groovetown, The Red Dwarf Zone was busy reporting news nobody else was doing, and Ian Symes was continuing with a site called Ganymede & Titan, which he’d originally started back in 1999. In 2003 I got involved with the site; with the two of us working together, for the next year and a half we were kicking arse.
It was around this time that another wave of fansites started springing up – sites like The White Hole – which had been around for a while, but the presence of G&T inspired Cappsy to start doing stuff again, and Garbage World – newly started by Austin Ross, who had been hanging around G&T’s comments system and got inspired. The same goes for Seb Patrick’s Fuchal.
We all got on. So, in November 2004, we set up a group Red Dwarf blog together – called Observation Dome. This was brilliant fun, and the highlight of our lives so far was being declared joint winners of the fan film competition, and ending up on the VII DVD.
But, as one by one, the sites died, and our faith died also. You tested us, Grant Naylor, and… we failed you. This happened for a variety of reasons. For my part, I was also going through changes in my life that meant I had less time to spend on G&T than before, and Ian had the same problem. The site also needed a redesign, and I hadn’t got the time or energy to spend on sorting it out. In the end, things came to a crunch – and we all decided that Observation Dome, The White Hole, Garbage World, and Fuchal should all come together under the G&T banner. Which was absolutely the right decision, as you can see by how much we’ve updated this month. I’m newly enthused about Red Dwarf fandom, and it’s a lovely feeling. (It also helps that as from the end of May, I’ve been working from home, in order to start my own web design business – so I’ve been able to justify spending time on the site…)
The merger does mean, however that four Dwarf fansites have disappeared from the online community. And what does that actually leave? Not a huge amount. Groovetown is pretty much dead. The Red Dwarf Zone is most definitely dead. The Clearing House disappeared without warning. (I specifically haven’t mentioned TOS so far, it being an official site not a fan one – even if is actually fan-run…) There’s the odd forum here and there, and there’s obviously some non-English sites – including some intriguing sites based in the Czech Republic. But in terms of general English-speaking Red Dwarf fansites, that actually report news, or publish articles – apart from us, there’s not a lot, is there?
At this point, perhaps it’s worth taking a look at exactly what G&T is actually about. We’ve been criticised many times in the past; and a lot of that is for the fucking cunting swearing. I remember two long discussions about this, on alt.tv.red-dwarf (click “Newer” at the bottom for the rest of the discussion), and the Webboard. My favourite complaint was that “the woman that I work with was disgusted by the language” – the answer being, of course, that the site was clearly not written for the woman you work with!
G&T does not simply reflect Red Dwarf – TOS does this perfectly well (although there’s a big chunk of Andrew Ellard in there too). What G&T also does is reflect a certain part of fandom. We’ve never pretended we speak for everyone, or that the site is for everyone.
Personally I’ve never seen the problem with swearing. I call my girlfriend a cunt. She calls me a cunt. I tend to think it’s the intent of words that matters – and if there’s no unpleasant intent behind the swearing, then it doesn’t matter. And yes, I sometimes swear simply because I think it’s funny. It’s not the shock value – HA HA HE SWORE!!!!!!1111 – it’s more the rhythm of it that I find funny. And sometimes its utter inappropriateness is funny too. But perhaps most of all, I enjoy sapping the power out of swearwords – a power that I just don’t think they should have. Some ideas are offensive to me; a collection of sounds isn’t, even if they do represent a woman’s genitalia, a big poo, or masturbation. We’ve definitely made mistakes in the past – and bad ones, too – but the swearing is not one of them.
But all of that justification is irrelevant really – lots of people don’t agree with us on that stuff. The whole point is, that we don’t claim to be a Red Dwarf site for everyone. If you like us, great – we’re more than happy to have you as visitors. Don’t like the language? Then don’t hang around on here – the site isn’t for you. (Ironically though, the site is actually licenced under a Creative Commons licence – meaning that if anyone wanted to, they could republish our articles without the swearing, as long as they acknowledge where the material came from!) A lot of people seem to think that the only thing we want to do is increase our audience, but that simply isn’t the case. We’re not the BBC ONE of Red Dwarf fandom – we’re like a cross between BBC THREE and FOUR. Being a Red Dwarf fansite for everyone simply isn’t our goal. It is interesting to note, however, that our “style” does tend to bring people in from outside fandom – which can only be healthy for Dwarf fandom as a whole.
Still, I’m concentrating too much on us. And strictly speaking, we’re not the only fansite around of course. There’s loads of others, offering such things as, erm, an episode guide! Or a gallery of images… nicked from TOS! Or the same manky incorrect transcripts that have been doing the rounds for years! Exciting stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. It sometimes makes you wonder what people are acually trying to achieve with their sites. Do they really think that the same boring ripped-off thing is going to interest anyone? It’s beyond pointless.
So then, what’s the actual point of this article? That G&T is great and everything else is shit? No – a thousand times no. There’s some things G&T has done that I’m very proud of – but a lot of what we do could be done by anyone. I’m a reasonable enough writer, I think – but I’m hardly the best in the world. There’s people in the Dwarf fan community who could do a better job than I do at writing news stories.
I wrote an article for NTS that touched on some points I’m trying to raise here:
So, here’s a challenge. If you don’t run a website – pick a topic you like. It could be a TV programme, it could be a band you love, it could be an old computer game from 1982. Hell, it could be Red Dwarf, if you want. Have a look round on the net, and see if the kind of stuff you would have written about the subject has been done. If not: write it. Stick it on the net somewhere. Send it in to us perhaps, but if you want something of your own, it’s not hard to start a website – you could even just get a free blog somewhere, and start posting on it. If you decide later that you want to restructure it into a different kind of website, fine – you can do that. But just get out there and start writing, start researching, start doing something. It doesn’t take long – it’s amazing what you can get done if you just put aside a couple of hours a week.
Start off simple, if you like. Take The Fast Show, for instance – build up an episode guide. Then write some reviews. Look around for interviews in papers. Or, heaven help us, try and get some interviews yourself. (Another thing I’ve learnt from G&T: getting interviews is a lot easier than you’d think.) Before you know it, you could be researching contemporary reactions from the show in a pile of old Radio Times listings, and have a website to be proud of, packed with stuff that’s nowhere else on the web. It’s just so gratifying to have people mail you and say “love what you’re doing”. Before you know it, you’ll end with with a knightmare.com on your hands.
The web is a wonderful place. Go on – help make it even more wonderful, for all of us.
What I said still stands. The web can support another Dwarf fansite. Hell, it can support another ten Red Dwarf fansites. There’s a reason why everyone who works on G&T now got together – it’s because we have similar views and interests. Most of our pieces about VII and VIII are going to be negative about those series – because in general, we don’t like them. (Although I’ll still stick up for some of VIII…) But there’s loads of people who do like them – in fact, downright adore them. I want to read about that. There’s also the fact that a lot of us are very interested in the production aspect of the show – there’s not many articles that actually look at the world of Red Dwarf itself and examine that. This has changed slightly since good old Austin joined the site, but there’s still vast swathes of stuff about the production of the show that a lot of people just aren’t interested in. I want to read about the other stuff – the stuff that I’m terrible at writing about, but love to read.
Everything on G&T goes through a filter – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nearly everything is editorialised, even news – but that’s only dangerous if people’s opinions are used to twist things, or are left unsaid, and instead spread insiduously. We try to be as fair as possible, and report the facts – and then give our opinion on the news. Which is fine – we’re not the BBC reporting on the Middle East, or anything. But the same views can get kinda boring – it’s always nice to read about a different point of view. That’s why the comments system is there, of course – but it’d be great to see other Dwarf sites with entirely different takes on things. Even if I strongly disagree with them, I’d love to read it, and talk about it – because that’s what fandom is all about.
I know the cries that this article will meet – that there’s nothing else to write about Red Dwarf, that it’s all been done. And that the show is dead anyway. The latter point is easily refuted, by Doug Naylor’s own words on the VIII docco The Tank:
“I don’t consider the series done with, no.”
He goes on to explain what’s happening with the Movie, and a possible new series or specials if that doesn’t come off… but that first sentence is the important bit. Dwarf is not dead. And if the Movie funding doesn’t come together (I honestly believe it will, but that’s a separate discussion), then the BBC would bite every single one of its limbs off to have more Red Dwarf on telly. Just look at VIII’s viewing figures. The show is the highest rated sitcom BBC TWO has ever had. Red Dwarf is just not over – there’s absolutely no reason to believe that it is. I can’t quite understand why anyone could think that, if I’m honest.
But even if that wasn’t the case, it wouldn’t matter. Because on the former point, all I can say is this – if you think that, you have very little imagination. I can think of shitloads of articles off the top of my head that haven’t been done. Where’s an in-depth examination of Cliché, giving the links the show has to Red Dwarf – down to individual lines? Where’s the episode reviews? (There’s the odd one, but not loads.) Where’s a decent review of the UMD ‘Smeg Ups’, or the ROK mobile card, or the bobbleheads, or Flibble? Where’s a look at all the mentions of the Movie, right back to the 90s? To say nothing of the fact that, like we’ve done, you can use Red Dwarf as a starting point to cover so many shows. Where’s a decent episode guide for Spitting Image? Where’s an interview with Richard Fegen and Andrew Norriss, creators of Brittas? Where’s any decent articles about Maid Marian, beyond detailing the basic premise of the show? I could go on. And on. And on. And on. There’s bloody loads to write about!
What I’m saying is: if you want to give something back to fandom, and if you have the time to to a Red Dwarf fansite – do it. It doesn’t have to be some vast, tightly-designed site to start with – although if you want to start big, then don’t let me stop you. But there’s plenty of free blogging systems on the net – why not just set one up, and begin posting about Dwarf? The odd news item here, the odd opinion piece or review there, and before you know it – you’ve got pretty damn good site.
And the reward? All I can say is there’s very few things in my life that give me as much joy as contributing to this site – and most of the others involve my cock being sucked in some fashion. It’s truly a wonderful feeling to contribute – and to know that people appreciate what you’re doing. Every single time someone comments on this site, I get a thrill. I love it, and I love fandom. It’s a wonderful thing.
Be part of it.