In a parallel universe, I know nothing about Red Dwarf XII.
Well, maybe not nothing. I probably know it exists. I may even have clocked that it was back on Dave, perhaps even that it was being broadcast in October. But I didn’t pay that much attention.
In that universe, maybe I still got into Red Dwarf when I was 13, and loved it. But I never really got into fandom, perhaps wasn’t as keen on later series… and just drifted off. Maybe I would have ended up watching XII. Maybe I wouldn’t.
* * *
I don’t want to live in that universe. (The universe I want to live in is the one where that girl in the Red Dwarf t-shirt I met on holiday when I was 15 ended up riding me for seventeen hours straight, rather than just smiling at me and walking on, but I digress.) Red Dwarf fandom has given me so much over the years.
Mind you, I used to frame so many more things in my life as part of fandom than I do now. I always talked about starting a Woof! fansite, and I actually did (briefly) start one on The IT Crowd. But these days, I just don’t think of most things in that way. I might write about Woof! or The IT Crowd on Dirty Feed – but my need to identify as a fan of things first and foremost has lessened, at least when it comes to specific people or programmes.
But I’m still a Red Dwarf fan. Because that’s gone way beyond the programme itself by now. My troubled relationship with the show from VII and beyond is well-documented elsewhere on this site, and I certainly don’t need to go into specifics about that again here – they’re entirely irrelevant to this. The point is: if my fandom was just about the show, it would have long died by now. But fandom is never just about a show for long. It always ends up being about real people.
And Dwarf fandom has been responsible for so many of my happy memories. Lying in Ian’s bedroom, watching Remastered and slagging it off. Winning the VII fan film competition, and ending up on the DVD. Wandering about in the ACTUAL PITCH BLACK during a midnight excursion to the middle of nowhere at Dimension Jump. Being part of the live 25th anniversary DwarfCast, for my money one of the best things we’ve ever done on this site.
So many amazing memories, and so many fantastic people I’ve met, all because of Red Dwarf. No, I wouldn’t give that up for the world.
* * *
But something feels weird, now we’re approaching Red Dwarf XII. And I felt the same for XI, and X, and possibly before. The fact remains that I’m not in Dwarf fandom for the sheer love of Red Dwarf – and haven’t been for years. I’m in it because my friends are.
“Stop watching if you don’t like it”, is the common refrain in many fandoms, when the old guard end up bitching about the show. But that assumes that fandom is just about the programme itself. And it isn’t.
To be honest, if you look at the pieces I’ve written for Ganymede & Titan recently, I think you can tell that it’s the fandom keeping me here. Oh, sure, they’re ostensibly about the programme itself. But they’re also about bringing old websites back from the dead, the placing of ad breaks in TV shows, old radio programmes, and pre-watershed edits. All about Red Dwarf… but also, not. A way of contributing to fandom, and writing about the show, but weirdly not writing about the show at the same time.
And that’s perhaps one reason why I struggle with how to engage with new Red Dwarf. Because fandom has given me so many amazing things… but also means that my engagement with the show is now artificial, in a way it never was back when I first got into Dwarf during the ’94 BBC2 repeats. Because I’m not watching it in the way I would if it wasn’t for all the fan stuff surrounding it. It’s now an event, not a TV show.
To put things into perspective: I bloody love Orange is the New Black, but I still haven’t got round to watching Season 5 yet. It was (officially) released back in June; I probably won’t get round to it for another month or so. Maybe more. TV is important to me, but I very rarely feel the need to watch new stuff immediately. There’s so much other shit going on.
But with Dwarf, I’ll be there straight away. Watching and dissecting a show I enjoy far less than many other shows I just haven’t got around to yet. That can be fun… and it can be a little exasperating. Either way: it’s an artificial way of experiencing the programme. And I worry that it can produce artificial opinions. Getting wound up about a show over months and months when you love it is one thing; when you already have problems with it, it is quite another.
I watch Red Dwarf in the way I do now because of Dwarf fandom, not because I love the show. Like I say, I wouldn’t give up my years in Dwarf fandom. But it sure as hell isn’t a normal relationship most viewers have with a TV programme. I can never have that. Most of the time, that’s fine. Sometimes it’s utterly joyous. But just occasionally, it makes me a little sad.
Perhaps the show deserves better than my fandom. Perhaps it just deserves to be watched normally. By people who watch the show because they want to watch the show… and not because of the extracurricular activities.