Fandoms are like cities.
Let me explain.
So when a fandom is young, when the show first premieres or the book first comes out, the group of fans is generally speaking very small, very close knit, and very involved with each other. It’s like a small town, one of those rural communities where everyone knows everyone and is involved with each other’s lives and business. Small fandoms are no less vibrant for their size, and just like a small town they are fiercely proud of themselves and the community they’ve created. Inside jokes abound, trends flourish as they spread through the community like wildfire, and the fandom goes through ups and downs together as one. An example of this sort of community would be Cabin Pressure, which revels in the closeness and intimacy of the fandom and yet at the same time suffers from the issues of little material to work with and (relatively speaking) little fanwork to go with it. Just like small towns, small fandoms have their benefits and drawbacks, but they are generally deeply loved by their inhabitants none the less.
Then, things start to get a little bigger. Just like a small community that has grown into a proper town, a fandom will grow as its show/book/movie/whatever begins to gain more fame. New people are moving in daily, there are new artistic and cultural changes happening, even demographic shifts that move away from the small town roots. Like in a suburb, everyone may not know each other anymore, but even if you don’t know the big name bloggers personally you’ve heard of them by association and feel connected to your community still. This seemed to happen to Teen Wolf for example, which really hit its stride in season 2 and gained a much larger fandom while still feeling closely connected with its roots. In these mid-size towns you may start having the problems that come with a larger population (fights, embarrassments, people you don’t like), but you still feel like you are an integral part of something.
And then, you have the big fandoms. The cities. The huge, sprawling metropolises where you cannot possibly hope to know even a fraction of all the people who live there in their vast diversity and ever-changing variety. For fandoms like Doctor Who, Supernatural, Harry Potter, and Sherlock, the word fandom takes on an entirely new meaning and, I would argue, in some ways ceases to exist. And I would say that the most extreme example of this is in Sherlock, where I personally believe that the term “the Sherlock fandom” is completely irrelevant and has been the cause of more fights and drama than nearly anything else.
Big fandoms, like big cities, are in many ways a mashed together patchwork of the many smaller communities that make it up. They are not a unified whole, nor could they ever be thanks to the multitudes of people living there, the individuality they bring to it, and the fact that new people move in every day with wide eyes and no idea how to function in the big new city they’ve discovered. Think about the way that people from big cities identify themselves. Yes, they say that they’re from New York or London. But really, deep down, they identify with the smaller, more personal community that they live their lives in. The small boroughs, districts, areas, whatever they are that makeup the patchwork quilts of cities are how people truly identify themselves, and the connections they make there are what really matter to them. It’s the same with big fandoms. They break down into smaller sub-communities made of ships and AUs and subfandoms, and those far more than the fandom at large are what matter to people.
With Sherlock, the communities are many, varied, and vibrant. You have Mystrade, the area of town that’s just off of downtown, a little kooky and confusing at first but still a generally accepted part of the main city. You have MorMor, the few blocks that look kind of threatening to passers-by but in reality is a very nice place to stay once you get past that. There’s the neighborhood where the Yarder fans hang out, a little off the beaten track but fiercely dedicated to what they’ve made. There are the crossover communities on the edge of town, like my beloved Molly/Martin niche that is tiny and loving and not quite part of either the Sherlock!city or the Cabin Pressure!town but still very much in love with both. There are tinier niche communities still – Holmescest and Omegaverse and Parentlock and Kidlock and even that one block that comprises Anderlock that no one knows how to treat so they all kind of skirt around it and give it a strong side eye. There are communities that have sprung up around bloggers, the artsy area of town that is made up of the communities for various artists, hell there are even spontaneous circles of friends that create their own jokes and culture over livestreams and chat sessions.
And yes, there are bad parts of town. Areas that are genuinely awful and filled with bad people and that reflect horribly on the city as a whole. But do you judge the entire city of New York or London based on their bad areas? Do you write them off matter of factly as “insane”, “terrible”, or whatever else? No, even if those areas are filled with the kind of idiots who go to city council meetings to scream ignorant bloody murder about the town being built close by because it has some similarities to their own. Just like I don’t associate myself with the people in my city who do bad things, I don’t associate myself with the fans in the fandom at large who bash on others or yell out their ignorance or make the rest of us look bad. Because even though I must suffer the bad areas of town that give me the heebie jeebies even during the day, it’s worth it to come home to my community. To come back to the small group of people I’ve found that share my obsessively specific interests, who have found a little corner of this big fan universe to inhabit and call their own and let me live there with them. The friends I’ve made, the ups and downs we go through together, the space we’ve made there, those things matter to me much more than whatever labels people feel like putting on “the fandom” that I don’t feel connected to.
Don’t judge a fandom as enormous and disparate as Sherlock as a whole. It’s impossible, it’s pointless, and it does nothing but cause anger and bad feeling. Because really, at the end of the day, the mythical “Sherlock fandom” isn’t really what matters. What’s important, what defines us as fans and as people, are the intimate, personal connections that we make with others and the communities that we create as we do so. It doesn’t matter to me that there are bad people in the Sherlock fandom – I found the good ones and I’m going to stick with them no matter what.