One of the most wonderful things about being a Sherlockian is being part of an intelligent, intellectual, perceptive, and very talkative community. You’re never a Sherlockian on your own: ever since I delved into the world of Sherlockiana, I’ve been able to explore the ideas I’ve had about this character and his world with a myriad of other fascinating, interesting people. Consequently, I’ve written quite a bit about Holmes, based on my love for the character and his world, as well as on the wonderful discussions I’ve had. With so many people providing comments and perspectives on my write-up of the BSI weekend, I thought I’d round up all of my writing about Sherlock Holmes in one place so that the discussion can continue:
BSI Weekend 2016: Modernity, Anachronism, and Historical Nostalgia – this blog
“The Abominable Bride” Review – I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
Canonical References in “The Abominable Bride” – this blog
Sherlock Holmes: The Original Fandom – Den of Geek
Book Review: The Thinking Engine – Cinema Sentries
“His Last Vow” Review – Screenspy
Canonical References in “His Last Vow” – this blog
“The Sign of Three” Review – Screenspy
Canonical References in “The Sign of Three” – this blog
Thoughts on “The Sign of Three” – this blog
“The Empty Hearse Review – Screenspy
The “Pulp-ification” of Sherlock Holmes – I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
A Brief Introduction to Sherlockian Societies – I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
Book Review: The Mistakes of Sherlock Holmes – I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
“A Study in Scarlet and the Study of Mankind: Sherlock Holmes and Pope’s Essay on Man” – Baker Street Journal (not accessible for free)
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice Review – Blogcritics
Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles Review – Blogcritics
Sherlock on the BBC – Blogcritics
(Part 1 of my BSI Weekend 2016 write-up)
Last week, I attended, for the third time, what as referred to as the “Baker Street Irregulars Weekend,” though it’s really more like a week, lasting from Wednesday to Sunday. I’ve been meaning to write a post about my experiences attending one of these for several years now, but I think this year is about the right time to do it: my first two years, I was by far too starry-eyed to say anything coherent.
The reason I was so starry-eyed is because the Baker Street Irregulars is the primary Sherlock Holmes society in the world, started in the 1930s by author and publisher Christopher Morley. It has a long and illustrious tradition, and has influenced very much of Sherlockiana and the perception of Sherlock Holmes today. I would use the word “fandom” but it goes beyond that: the Baker Street Irregulars are a way of life, and almost an ideology. As a society, they are dedicated to the study of the Sherlock Holmes stories, referred to as “the Canon,” and membership is by-invitation only. Every year, they hold a dinner (similarly by invitation only) in New York City on January 6th, Sherlock Holmes’ birthday (which is not actually in the stories; in fact, there is nothing in the stories to suggest that it’s on January 6th. The reason we celebrate it on January 6th is because in The Sign of Four, Holmes and Watson are hungover on January 7th). However, though the dinner requires an invite, the rest of the week(end) is a full schedule of events that anyone can attend, and Sherlockians the world over convene in New York to celebrate the great detective – whom we call The Master.
This year has been a landmark BSI year for me, as I was invited to the BSI dinner for the first time (I’m not yet a member of the society itself, but one can hope). In keeping with the tradition of the event, which is meant to be secretive, mysterious, and even esoteric – and cannot be audio or video-taped – I will honor the intentions behind this grand event and won’t dwell too much on describing its details.
I can, however, say that the best description I’ve been able to come up with for the Baker Street Irregulars dinner is that it’s the annual get-together of a by-invitation-only literary society dedicated to the study of a fictional character, whom we pretend is real, and whose life and career was described in a series of texts we refer to as the Sacred Writings. Members are “invested” into the society on a mysterious basis using “investitures” that are phrases from the Canon – essentially, code names.
And when I put it like that, we do sound a bit insane. Which is quite all right, really.
In fact, I want to use this post to reflect on the culture of Sherlockiana – its beauty, and yet its irony. I have written, time and again, about the way that Sherlock Holmes is ultimately a highly modern figure, using the latest forms of technology, and representing secularism, reason, urbanization, industrialization – all those nineteenth century transformations. And yet the popular perception of him is so often nostalgic and anachronistic, of a Victorian figure in a deerstalker, back when there was fog and gas lamps and fireplaces and tea time in good old England. It’s a myth, and a romantic one, however inaccurate it is. However, it is not just the popular imagination that likes to associate Holmes with good old England – it is also Sherlockian culture that does it, however anachronistic it may seem. In fact, I would hazard a guess that much of this myth was constructed and propagated by the Baker Street Irregulars, many of whom were highly influential writers, actors, executives, lawyers, and politicians, among others, and who helped spread this myth.
In the early days of the BSI, Edgar W. Smith, the founder of the Baker Street Journal, referred to Sherlock Holmes as a “Galahad” from a time of Arthurian mythology and, in the first issue of the Journal, celebrated that very fog and gas lamps. G.K. Chesterton spoke of the stories as fairly tales, and Vincent Starrett, a Chicago man of letters, wrote the poem 221B, which is the best, most beautiful, and most poignant rendition of the myth and magic of Sherlock Holmes I’ve read, and these hallowed words are repeated at the end of every Sherlockian society meeting, including the BSI dinner:
Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.
A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.
It’s also, obviously, completely anachronistic- but, as the poem itself says, “only those things the heart believes are true. And there’s a reason that, despite the lack of these historical trappings in the Canon, this is what we cling to. As historian Michael Saler notes in the excellent book As IF, the BSI, as well as much of Sherockian scholarship, came into being around the time of the Great Depression and continued through into WWII and the Cold War. And in those trying times, Sherlock Holmes lived in a nostalgic and idealized version of 1895 to which these people could return.
And yet, though it’s the 21st century, that escapism is alive. The irony of this anachronistic “antiquarianism” had puzzled me for many years, as I was surprised that the careful scholars and devotees of the Canon, who knew how modern a figure Sherlock Holmes was, indulge in this nostalgically inaccurate romanticizing. But this year, attending the BSI dinner, and examining the practices of the BSI (many of which date back to the 1930s and really haven’t changed), I think I’ve come to understand why they have been preserved the way they have.
Every epoch has its escapism, of course – we have our own fair share of modern political events that we want to flee from into the comforting rooms of Baker Street. But I also think it has much to do not only with escapism, but with enchantment. As the aforementioned Michael Saler points out in his book, the late nineteenth century was perceived by many (including the sociologist Weber, who theorized it) to be a period of disenchantment due to the march of technology and progress. But Sherlock Holmes, as Saler points out, re-enchanted modernity, finding the romance in reason, the mystery in the quotidian, the magical in the commonplace. “There is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace,” he told Watson in A Case of Identity (this is, incidentally, probably the line upon which procedurals hinge, but that’s another topic for another day.
And that sense of (dis)enchantment is, I think, exactly what accounts for the practices of the BSI, which haven’t changed for the most part (which the exception of now allowing in women), and why I love them. I do, of course, rely on the conveniences of the twenty-first century, and wouldn’t ever wish to do without any of them – its transportation and communication technologies, its new forms of reference, and I similarly realize that there was nothing particularly magical or enchanting about the Middle Ages (the Plague and death in childbirth really don’t sound like fun). But there’s a certain joy in creating a magical, anachronistic version of a past reality. Just as readers did in the nineteenth century, we today want enchantment and magic in our convenient, technological, modern, positivistic lives. We want a sense of mystery and adventure, and yet reassurance, and the comforts of modernity. We as humans are picky, and difficult to please – for we want the conveniences of our cell phones, our trains and airplanes, or Wikipedia and Google, and yet while keeping these things, we want to preserve a sense of the magical and the mysterious in our modern world.
And that’s both influenced and kept alive the traditions of the BSI, I think. The Sherlock Holmes stories had mystery, intrigue, and enchantment in a modern world, and so does the BSI. A literary society with unwritten rules, with secretive meetings, with members given, essentially, code names (called “investitures,” they’re phrases taken out of the Canon), with a worldwide membership (but membership that must be earned, through a series of unnamed trials, which are not written down and never described) – well, that sounds like something out of a mystery novel. It’s like a combination of the eclectic membership of The Red-Headed League, the puzzles of The Dancing Men, the esoteric rituals of The Musgrave Ritual, the secret code of The Five Orange Pips, the ancient history of the Baskerville legend – all in one. We meet every year for the BSI dinner at the Yale Club, at which membership is exclusive, and you need an invitation to get in, and if you don’t think it looks like the Diogenes Club from the Canon, I don’t know what to tell you:
Its membership is limited to alums of Yale, and this system of university private clubs seems to have been inspired by British gentlemen’s clubs, of the kind to which Mycroft Holmes belonged. And, of course, Sherlock Holmes, being of respectable birth and having attended “college,” probably went to a respectable British university of exactly the kind that would have a club like this. Studying the Canon is called the Game, and it was inspired by Biblical scholarship at Oxford in 1911 – which gives it a long and illustrious history. At every dinner and gathering, poetic toasts are given to characters, places, and events from the Canon – yours truly has had the honor of giving one at a Sherlockian luncheon.
It’s a huge contrast to what one would call the “fandom” surrounding the newer adaptations like Sherlock and Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes –not because it’s somehow “less,” or less scholarly, or more frivolous, but because it’s based on an entirely different set of traditions. In the case of Sherlock, especially, the intriguing thing is that the show brings Sherlock Holmes back into modernity. It makes him, once again, a contemporary figure, as he would’ve been for his original readers, and not a historical one. I’ve always thought that Sherlock is actually the most accurate adaptation of Sherlock Holmes precisely because, instead of historicizing, it modernizes, which makes Sherlock fandom today rather analogous to Sherlock Holmes’ original readers. As Anne Jameson notes in an excellent book about fanfiction, Fic, fandom tends to be the first to pick up new forms of technology, because they are the ones striving to communicate with other fans and produce transformative work about the texts they like. This, of course, parallels the modernity of both Sherlock Holmes, who appeared in the most modern form of communication technology available to him (newspapers) as well as Sherlock fandom – which emulates his use of those contemporary forms of technology just like Victorian readers would have used the postal service (which had seven mail deliveries a day) to communicate with Doyle. In fact, there’s a lot of accuracy to both the modern technologies surrounding Sherlock and the fandom that uses them. At the same time, there’s a lot of history, and therefore cultural weight and significance around the BSI and their traditional way of studying and celebrating Sherlock Holmes.
Speaking to a friend of mine who regularly attends Sherlockian events, she told me that the BSI traditions are “preserved in amber” – left over from a previous time and preserved by devotees. By who knows how long those traditions will last? There’s been an influx of younger Sherlockians into the older traditions thanks to, ironically, the newer adaptations – and yet many of these younger Sherlockians are also part of Internet fandom. So as we get further into the new century, I wonder, will these traditions –which are almost a century old now – remain alive? Or will more modern forms of fandom replace these older traditions? Will they merge into some sort of weird Frankenstein-monster?
These are questions I’ve been left pondering. I have always been very pro-fandom, pro-Internet, pro-slash fiction, but at the same time, this weekend, and this dinner, has made me realize the value of keeping certain traditions alive, of preserving them, even in amber, even with their anachronism. That’s why I don’t mind how bizarre and, frankly, insane, we seem from the outside. There’s not only a method to the madness, there’s a meaning to the madness. As Vincent Starrett so eloquently said about Holmes and Watson, but which could very well be applied to Sherlockians:
“So they still live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart: in a nostalgic country of the mind: where it is always 1895.”
It’s become a popular tradition in Sherlockiana to go on a scavenger hunt for Canonical references every time a new episode of Sherlock airs. Since the series is made by two self-proclaimed Sherlock Holmes fanboys, every episode is consistently jam-packed with allusions and references to the Canon – so called Easter eggs. Yet, as one of the showrunners, Mark Gatiss, once stated in a DVD commentary, in their adaptation, “everything was Canonical…every version, we’re not just drawing on the stories but the Rathbone films, Jeremy Brett.” That is, the Canon, which, in the Sherlockian world, means the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories penned by Conan Doyle, and is sometimes referred to as the “Sacred Writings” is expanded by Moffat and Gatiss to include pastiches, sequels, adaptations, paratexts, and clichés. Simply put, they’re redefining the “source” of their show as not just the writings by Conan Doyle, but as pretty much every version of Sherlock Holmes that has ever appeared, including the arguably inaccurate version of him in the cultural imagination. The latter is something that I have referred to in other writings as the “intertextual” Holmes, and which Mattias Bostrom calls the “parallel” Holmes (as opposed to the original Holmes of the stories).
So when I say that this post is about the “Canonical” references in the Sherlock Christmas special, the “Abominable Bride,” I use “Canonical” in the way that Moffat and Gatiss use the term; that is, this post is about (some, as it would be virtually impossible to list every single one) references to every incarnation of Holmes that has any kind of cultural significance. Sherlock is an incredibly layered series, which rarely adapts a plot directly from the Doyle stories, but rather makes layer upon layer of references to both Watson’s writings and retellings. “The Abominable Bride,” however, is striking to me because it’s in this episode that it really became clear to me, I think, just how seriously Moffat and Gatiss take their “everything is Canonical” mantra. In fact, I’m pretty sure that at this point, they’re counting previous episodes of their own show as Canonical, because there’s plenty of Easter-Egg type allusions to them. Here, then, are the Canonical references that, to me, are either thematically significant, intellectually intriguing, or just plain interesting – with some meditations on how their use fits into the larger project of this episode.
The Five Orange Pips
Okay, so this one is arguably pretty obvious: in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, there’s a story called “The Five Orange Pips,” in which, unsurprisingly, several men receive five orange pips in the mail. It’s a coded warning from the KKK, and they all soon end up dead. The story is rather quaint, since to a British audience with no Internet access, the KKK would have appeared appropriately exotic, mysterious, and terrifying. It’s also why it’s transformed the way it is for the episode: a man does indeed receive five orange pips as a warning, but the hoods and chanting serve as a misdirect for those viewers who expect the KKK to be the culprits. Interestingly enough, Sherlock already referenced the pips in “The Great Game,” where they refer to Greenwich Time Signal, alternatively referred to as “the pips.”
“The Monstrous Regiment”
This is one of the titles suggested by Watson for the version of the story he ends up writing based on the events we just watched. A Monstrous Regiment of Women is also the title of the second installment in Laurie R. King’s famous series of Sherlockian pastiches, centering around the young detective Mary Russell and her relationship with Sherlock Holmes. The series has heavily feminist undertones, with serious explorations upon the limitations placed on women by Victorian and Edwardian society, and aptly forces the reader to confront the fact that if Sherlock Holmes’ brain were in a woman’s body, she’d be far less likely to have his fame and adventures. Given the feminist undertones of “The Abominable Bride,” which focuses on the role of women in the Victorian era and the Holmes stories, I can’t help but think that this is another clever reference.
“No Ghosts Need Apply”
Midway through the episode, we encounter Sherlock and Holmes lurking in the dark, waiting for the next appearance of the Abominable Bride, and discussing the case, and their relationship, at length. Watson keeps referring to the bride as a ghost, and Holmes tells him, frustratedly, “you may, however, rest assured there are no ghosts in this world.” This echoes multiple statements by Holmes in the Canon, who has always been skeptical about the existence of the supernatural. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, he takes the stance that even if “forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature” exist, then “we are bound to exhaust all other hypotheses before falling back upon this one.” However, his statement in the episode even more closely echoes his claim in “The Sussex Vampire” that “the world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”
The Strand Magazine
During the (superb) opening credits of the episode, which are a historicized version of the regular opening credits, end with the image of the cover of the Strand magazine, which then transforms into a scene on Baker Street where Watson runs into a newspaper vendor and asks him how “The Blue Carbuncle” (another Holmes story) is selling. Though details about how or where Watson publishes Holmes’ exploits are vague (he refers once to a “brochure”), the Strand was the magazine that serialized the Sherlock Holmes stories and catapulted both him and Conan Doyle to international fame.
Sidney Paget was the British illustrator of the Holmes stories in the Strand magazine, and it is his illustrations, with the deerstalker cap and pipe, that have codified that image as Holmes in the popular imagination. In fact, the following silhouette of Holmes is universally recognizable precisely because of Paget:
It looks, rather strikingly, like a particular shot from the episode:
Paget’s illustrations, which would have appeared next to the stories in their original print run, are what contemporary media studies would call a “paratext” – something that is not directly part of the text itself, yet influences the way it is received. Paget has had such a significant influence in that respect that he has become part of what is Canonical, and is thus referenced multiple times in the episode. Moriarty, for example, asks “does he follow you around? Do you pose?” The deerstalker appears in an early scene, when Watson makes Holmes put it on in a scene directly taken from “The Reichenbach Fall” (“you’re Sherlock Holmes. Wear the hat”), another allusion to the hat as part of the “definition” of Holmes.
The fact that this episode is set in Victorian times, however, also gives the episode the opportunity to adapt the Paget illustrations in another way: by creating scenes that are direct replicas of certain particularly famous Paget illustrations, such as the following:
Watson’s an Unreliable Narrator
The fact that Watson is an unreliable narrator has been a running gag in the Sherlockian fandom since, well, pretty much forever. In the Canon, Holmes constantly complains that Watson romanticizes the “exact science” of detection, which is akin to working “a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.” Plus, there’s the fact that Sherlockian chronology is notoriously persnickety, since Watson constantly messes up dates and can’t remember if his wife is alive or dead in a particular story – something often explained away by Watson’s terrible memory. This becomes a different kind of running gag in “The Abominable Bride,” where the difference between the real Holmes and Watson’s Holmes is made painstakingly obvious every time someone (usually Sherlock) argues with Watson about the verisimilitude of his stories (Mrs. Hudson complains that she never does anything but show people up the stairs; Sherlock constantly points out that he doesn’t “say that” or “talk like that,” etc…) By the end, however, it becomes clear that this difference is manufactured by Watson in purpose, who follows Holmes around, pretending to be stupider than he actually is to make the detective look smart. Watson might be romanticizing Holmes just as much here as he does in the Canon, might be presenting a certain version of Holmes to the public, but it is an entirely calculated move.
“The Great Falls of the Reichenbach”
No, not the place in Switzerland, the Turner painting. It shows up several times in this episode, including hanging in Mycroft’s room. This painting has previously appeared in Sherlock in “The Reichenbach Fall,” where Sherlock recovers it after it’s stolen. There, of course, it serves as a reference to “The Final Problem,” in which Holmes confronts Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Here, it serves as a reference both to this confrontation (with which the episode ends) and to “The Reichenbach Fall,” since the conceit of the episode is to explore the possibility of Moriarty surviving the end of that episode.
“The Crack in the Lens”
While awaiting the ghost of the “Abominable Bride,” Holmes and Watson get into a rather heated (and suggestive) argument, as Watson insists that Holmes has feelings that he won’t open up about. In response, Holmes claims “all emotion is abhorrent to me. It is the grit in a sensitive instrument. The crack in the lens.” This, of course, is a direct quote from A Scandal in Bohemia, the first Holmes story, which Watson starts off by explaining why Holmes is not in love with Irene Adler:
It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has ever seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer – excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.
That paragraph is perhaps one of the most problematic in the entire Canon, because if one reads the stories closely enough, it becomes clear that Holmes does, actually, have feelings. He cares very deeply about Watson, as he proves in “The Three Garridebs,” and the queer readings of Holmes never tire of pointing out that there’s ample subtext in the Canon (perhaps that’s why this conversation between two men in the dark is so suggestive). Furthermore, these lines were written by Watson, who, as discussed above, is generally accepted to be a pretty unreliable narrator of the Canon, which makes them even more problematic.
That’s probably why, in response to Holmes’ words, Watson snaps “No, I wrote all that. You’re quoting yourself from The Strand Magazine….Those are my words, not yours! That is the version of you that I present to the public. The brain without a heart. The calculating machine. I write all of that, Holmes, and the readers lap it up.”
Just as Watson is, Canonically, an unreliable narrator that makes paragraphs like the above difficult to interpret, “The Abominable Bride” has amply established that Watson is, indeed, a (purposefully) unreliable narrator, which is perhaps why this allusion works so well. It points to one of the most difficult-to-interpret paragraphs of the Canon and practically shouts “it’s not accurate! Watson’s misleading you on purpose! Don’t believe it!”
“I always survive the Fall”
Sherlock Holmes makes this statement right before jumping off the Reichenbach cliff. The jump itself is a re-enactment of “The Reichenbach Fall,” in which he jumped off the roof of St. Bart’s. In fact, the two were so similar they may very well have re-used footage. So, this is a nice little network of references, since Holmes here at the setting of “The Final Problem” is re-enacting his fall from the Sherlock episode that adapts “The Final Problem.” However, his jump is also a refusal to answer Watson, who asks how Holmes could possibly survive that kind of fall. I see two references here. The first is to the 1964 Study in Terror, which was referenced in “The Empty Hearse” in the same context: that of explaining how Sherlock could’ve survived his death. Like in the film, where Holmes refuses to explain how he could’ve escaped from a blazing inferno, Sherlock refuses to tell us explicitly how he survived, leaving us to use his methods to deduce it (“You know my methods. Use them,” he says in the film). At the same time, it’s a reference to the fact that Holmes, as a character, will always survive and live on in the cultural imagination. If Moriarty tried to destroy the myth of Holmes by killing him, then he failed yet again, as Sherlock Holmes survives to live on.
Tonight at midnight is the release of the long-awaited Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The midnight tickets have all sold out already, so I won’t be seeing it for a couple of days. However, I do recognize that this is a bit of a landmark moment in geek history, so I do want to document it.
This is the first time that I’m around for a Star Wars release and actually conscious of the series’ existence. I wasn’t born when the first three movies were released, and was a very precocious child who had no interested in Star Wars when the new trilogy was released. Thus, episode VII will be the first time I’m going to see a new movie in theaters, and the first time I’ll be able to experience the excitement first-hand and actually be able to comprehend it. I’m incredibly excited.
Excitement for the new episode has been building up for quite a while. Mostly, that excitement appeared in the form of merchandise of BB8, the adorable new droid that became plastered on EVERYTHING, kind of how R2D2 has bee plastered on everything for eternity. I can see why: he’s tiny and adorable, and I, too, have my own. Sphero released a small but accurate replica that actually move and can be controlled, which was advertised everywhere:
In fact, when Omaze had their Star Wars premiere attendance campaign, one of the prize badges was, of course, BB8:
In fact, BB8 was so popular that he attended the premiere, producing wonderful pictures of journalists trying to take a photo of him on the red carpet:
Still, though we all love and adore BB8, I think it’s only in the past few weeks leading up to its release that I realized quite how excited everyone was about things besides the adorable little droid. . My first clue was when I walked into my local Barnes and Noble to see it packed with Star Wars stuff. I mean, it usually has a lot of Star Wars stuff, because that space opera thing is popular, but this time it was like walking into a Lucasfilm storehouse. And if, years from now, fandom historians wonder, “what did the excitement around episode VII look like?” I’ll be able to say, like this:
In addition to merchandise, pretty much every magazine out there is publishing some sort of special or collector’s edition relating to the new movie:
(This sampling from Barnes and Noble is actually quite small). Of course, I couldn’t resist, so I went out and bought a bunch of “collector’s” editions of magazines. I don’t know how collectible they actually are, or whether they’ll be worth any kind of money a few decades down the line, but I”m the kind of person who buys anything apparently “collectible,” provided it’s geeky, hoping it’ll be worth something in the future. (Plus, I have a bunch of free subscriptions to magazines via targeted offers, so a bunch of issues came in the mail). Thus, I now have what I hope will one day be a collectible colletion of Star Wars themed magazines:
Still, it wouldn’t be a true geek milestone event without any kind of controversy, and of course it’s there. First, there’s the whole fiasco of John Boyega being cast as one of the protagonists, as white fans rose up against the “oppression” that casting a black character as a hero in the movies represented. Yes, I kid you not.
And then there’s Princess Leia. Luckily, we get to see Princess Leia come back for this movie, this time as General Leia and thankfully not in a bikini- rather significant, given Carrie Fisher’s comments about how hard it is for a woman in Hollywood over the age of 40 to get cast in anything (unless you’re Meryl Streep). Plus, there were JJ Abrams’ recent comments about how “Star Wars used to be something fathers took their sons to,” because apparently girls didn’t watch Star Wars until he came along to make the movies girl-friendly and pat himself in the back for it. (Which, by the way, is exactly what he said about Star Trek, despite the fact that Star Trek pretty much exists in any significant form today because of women, thank you very much).
So, with all of that history, and seeing all that merchandise in stores, I started thinking. A fascinating article was recently published called “Where the Fuck is Princess Leia?” point out the lack of Princess Leia in Star Wars merchandise. This is a trend that isn’t limited to Star Wars – in the Marvel fandom, Black Widow and Gamora figurines are pretty non-existence, they’re not on the posters, and they’re probably never going to get their own movies. It all has to do with gendered marketing: franchises like to market to a particular demographic (a particular gender, a particular age). Hence the lack of, say, Gamora.
But Star Wars has such universal appeal, you say. It’s something everybody watches. Just because girls watch Star Wars doesn’t mean they’ll stop watching “girly” things, I mean, Star Wars is one of those cult movies. It can’t hurt to make a few Princess Leia toys for the girls, right?
…apparently not. Wading through all the Star Wars merchandise pictured above, I found three Princess Leias. Yes, three. There were dozens and dozens of Darth Vaders, R2D2s, wookies, Yodas, Jedi, Han Solos…..but as for the ladies? Here’s what I found:
Yes, that’s it. Leia in a slave bikini (because if we’re going to make Princess Leia figurines, we should make sure to objectify her – though Carrie Fisher’s comments on the subject are a breath of fresh air), a Princess Leia that is part of a figurine pack, and a keychain. Well, I guess you could count the Leia on the clock, though that’s part of a poster.
And, looking through, for example, the standees offered by Barnes and Noble (which had a lot of Star Wars stuff, as pictured above), these were the offers:
I mean, there’s Daisy Ridley’s character, who is in the new Star Wars, but please note that of the above ten characters, one is a woman. the rest are male (or in the case of stormtroopers, we don’t really know their genders, but…)
Needless to say, I am both unsurprised and disappointed. I don’t collect a lot of merchandise or action figures and the like, and as a little girl, I was never really troubled by the lack of a Princess Leia figurine, because I had plenty of other female characters I admired, like Xena and Hermione Granger. Still, I think this says a lot about who we expect to be watching these movies, and who we expect to be fans of these movies – and The Powers That Be clearly still think that the people who are going to be geeky and fannish enough to buy merchandise are goings to be boys…or only care about the male characters.
So, with my expectations tempered by both JJ Abrams’ inane comments and my own exploration into the world of Star Wars merchandise, I can still say that I am incredibly excited for Episode VII, which comes out exactly 17 minutes from now as of this writing.
Each ship chooses a particular day that is in some way special and memorable in the history of that ship, and that fandom – having to do with how it came into being and what it means. In the case of Star Trek, for example, I recently witnessed “Space Husbands” day a couple of days ago, on the anniversary of the airing of “Amok Time” – the Star Trek episode in which Spock essentially has to have sex and die and then rolls around in the sand with Kirk (no, I’m not kidding). With that kind of homoeroticism (thanks, Theodore Sturgeon!), who can avoid shipping the two?
Well, September 18th is considered by the Supernatural fandom – or at least that contingent of it that loves Dean/Cas – to be Destiel day. It was on September 18th, 2008, that Castiel first walked onto the show and told Dean “I’m the one that gripped you tight and raised you from perdition.” Now, this obviously sounds pretty…suggestive, and their relationship didn’t get any less suggestive after that. Instead, it blossomed and flourished. Dean taught Castiel what it meant to be human, what it’s like to have choice and free will, why people and families and life matters more than paradise. And Castiel taught Dean how to change his worldview, how to trust, how to have faith, and how to believe in himself. The two of them went on a journey from being faithless to having faith, thanks to each other – but not faith in God or some other supreme being that washes his hands of the Apocalypse. They learned to have faith in each other, and together they formed what we call a “profound bond.” They changed each other’s worldview in so many ways, and what else could I ask for in a ship?
I could wax poetic about these two for paragraphs, post many a screencap, analyze the romantic tropes in their relationship, talk about the representation of queer characters, explore how the relationship of these two ties into the themes of the show. Unfortunately, that would take way too long, so my small paragraph of waxing poetic will just have to do as a celebration of the profound bond between an angel and a human. So instead, I’ll leave you with a quote from the first page that comes up when you good “The greatest love story ever told”:
The story of a man afraid of flying, and an angel afraid of falling, who somehow met in the middle. The man who denied the existence of angels came to love one. The angel who never felt began to feel. The man who was saved from an eternity in Hell by an angel. The angel who fell in every way imaginable for a man. The man, with a clear path to escape, decided instead to stay in Purgatory for a year, searching for his angel, praying to him every night. Begging. When he found him, he held him; he told him that he needed him, that he’d get him out, even if it killed them both. The angel rejected his faith, his family, his home, and everything he knew, so he could keep the man safe. They stay together despite fate, despite what they are, because they refuse to be pulled apart.
Yes, that’s the top definition of Greatest Love Story Ever Told on Urban Dictionary. It’s the first thing that comes up when you Google it. I rest my case.
A little belatedly (and by a little I mean a lot), here’s a write-up of the last day of the con (in two parts).
Sunday started off with a panel with Rachel Luttrell and Paul McGillion, which Rainbow Sun Francks promptly joined (and refused to leave, not that anyone minded). This is the first time I’ve seen Rachel at a Stargate con in four years of going – she’s always had other commitments; I must admit, on my first watchthrough, I wasn’t a big fan of Teyla, though that’s changing slightly as I rewatch Atlantis. Still, I feel that with Teyla, there was a gap between what the writers intended intended (a strong woman and leader) and what actually happened (a character who consistently made badly thought-out decisions without foresight because the writers didn’t know what to do with a strong woman….which is a problem they strangely didn’t have with Weir). Partly due to this motivation, I asked Rachel, Paul, and Rainbow whether there was anything they’d chance about how their character had been written (besides dying, I added jokingly, as that’s something that happened to Ford and Beckett). Rainbow nonetheless said dying, but Rachel gave a more interesting answer: she talked about how interesting it was that Teyla came from what seemed like a matriarchal society, in which she was unquestionably a leader, and that there was a lot to explore about that kind of society and her role into it that the writers didn’t delve into as much as they could’ve. It’s an answer I agreed with – I’d have liked to see more of Teyla’s society, and more of her being a competent leader. In addition to this interesting answer, Rachel also graced us with some of her beautiful singing:
After that, I devoted much of the day to getting autographs with various celebrities who were offering them (and pointedly avoiding the Stargate novels panel) – quite a number of the celebrity guests were offering their autographs directly, which meant that I got to chat with them quite a bit, and in fact, have some mini-sagas to tell via autographs.
The first autograph I got was from Andee Frizzell – the Wraith Queen. Andee had been hanging around the hotel the entire weekend, interacting with guests, and we shared a fun moment when I walked out of the elevator to discover her and a bunch of people pointing confusedly at a thong lying on the floor. It was just there – no explanation, but a leopard-printed thong. I quickly snapped a picture of Andee making the most hilarious confused face as she pointed at it, though it’s a photo Andee would rather I not share (she gave me a lengthy talk about enjoying the con “in the moment” rather than spending it all snapping photos. I might disagree, but it’s a picture of her, so I’ll respect her wishes in the matter). In any case, the “thong saga” continued as I asked Andee to autograph my Stargate: Atlantis DVD set, on which I’m collecting the entire cast’s autographs. She wrote me a little message:
Later, I went to get Rainbow Sun Francks’ autograph (which required standing in line behind a gentleman who had made the most amazing Stargate replica). I asked him to sign the same DVD set, since he’s an Atlantis cast member, and the only season DVD in that set that had Rainbow on it was the same one Andee had signed – conveniently. So, of course, I recounted the whole saga to Rainbow so that he would understand why Andee was asking about her undies. Rainbow, of course, was amused, and totally went with it, penning this as his autograph (fun fact: he has the most neat, careful handwriting I’ve ever seen, but which also takes forever to write because it’s so neat and careful, so I swear, I stood there for five minutes waiting to get that autograph!):
I later stopped by Andee’s table again to show her the results of what she’d started and Rainbow’s contribution, which she found utterly hilarious. And who knows? Perhaps next year they’ll have another Atlantis celebrity guest who will sign that same DVD and wonder what’s going on with those undies.
But for the moment….I guess the secret is out. I left my undies in Rainbow’s room. And a few other things, too….
I also stopped by to get autographs from Suanne Braun (as I mentioned in a previous post) and Peter Williams. The two of them were doing their own “impromptu” photo op – you and your Goul’d overlords, because Creation isn’t very good at thinking of clever photo op combos – and of course I jumped on the opportunity to take a photo with two stunning, sexy deities (even though I had made one of them kneel the day before). We snapped a few photos, though I unphotogenically turned out terrible in all of them (although Suanne and Peter were pretty picky about how they turned out, which is why we snapped three – until Suanne and Peter were satisfied with how they looked, them photogenic people. I let it go. Me looking good in a photo isn’t going to happen).
I also had time over the three days of the con to stop by the vendors’ room extensively, spending more money than I probably should’ve. In my defense, I bought certain items that were of academic interest to me, which I can therefore justify as ‘research materials’ (to myself, at least) – for example, I bought a lot of concept art for Atlantis, as I’m working on some research on cities and spaceships in science-fiction, and thus studying the thought process behind the creation of Atlantis could be a useful resource.
But I also bought some more fun things, like some science-fiction prints for my collection of sci-fi art (of which I try to buy a piece at every convention I attend):
I also snagged a couple control crystals that were used on the set of Stargate as props, purchased from Stitch’s Loft- the same awesome people who had uniform replicas and concept art. Unfortunately David Hewlett wasn’t at the convention to sign one of them for me, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll be at next year’s con so that Dr. Rodney McKay can sign one of my control crystals:
Then, it was time for the last couple panels of the day: Corin Nemec (with Cliff Simon, another con regular) and then Michael Shanks. I remember little from Corin’s panel, unfortunately, except that he was sweet and adorable. Michael’s panel was, of course, hilarious as always.
Michael Shanks is one of those actors that can evade questions like a politician while making you feel like he answered them, and simultaneously making everyone laugh so hard they’re crying (yes, it happened to me). Since Daniel Jackson is a really popular character who was around from the very beginning of SG-1, he’s obviously been doing cons and getting questions for a very long time – which means that he gets questions about miniscule details like “what was Daniel doing for the year he was ascended?” This led him to jokingly say “see, this is what happens when you have conventions for a show that’s been off the air for ten years!” Nonetheless, he answered the questions goodheartedly – even while fake-angrily asking “what am I, an expert on ascension?” when people wouldn’t stop asking him questions about ascension. And, of course, he used William Shatner’s trademark line of “you people need to get a life!” when it turned out that a good portion of the audience had seen Mega Snake, a TV movie that apparently was embarrassing enough that he doesn’t want to talk about it very much. (Of course, he meant it all goodheartedly, but his fake exasperation at some of the questions fans ask is just so much fun).
And that was the panels for the day! In my next, wrap-up, post I’ll talk about the photo ops I took that day, as well as some thoughts about actor-fan relationships in general.
A couple of days ago, I attended a panel at the Free Library of Philadelphia sponsored by Geekadelphia – Philadelphia’s geek blog. Gathering together local sci-fi authors, historians, and fans, the subject of the panel was the past, present, and future of science-fiction in Philadelphia, though the panel quickly evolved into a more broad discussion about the past, present, and future of the genre. Here’s a number of the interesting points raised at the panel, many of which bear further thinking about – and many of which, I think, have bearing on the various topics discussed on this blog.
You can read more about the various people on the panel at the event page here. Before I begin, I must also note that the panel took place at one of my favorite places in Philadelphia – and one of the most science fiction-y: the central branch of the Free Library. Located on the Parkway, this beautiful building has rows upon rows of science fiction books, often boasts guests like Kate Mulgrew (Katherine Janeway) and Chris Hadfield (an astronaut), and has an amazing roof deck with a gorgeous view of the city and its skyscrapers (and for me, the twinkling lights of a large city always evoke a sense of possibility that science fiction also gives me). Here’s a photo, taken on my phone:
On that note, the panel fittingly began with a question about the way that Philadelphia’s past is linked to science fiction. The first, and most intriguing answer, came from historian Siobhan Carroll, who suggested that we’re living in the decayed version of William Penn’s utopia. He designed Philadelphia to be this perfect city, laid out on a grid, and of course we’re living in the dystopian version of it:
We talked about dystopias quite a bit, with someone bringing up an interesting point: if someone is writing about their real, contemporary experiences and they’re dystopian, does that count as science fiction, or does that fit somewhere else on the spectrum of genres? If the experience is “real,” can it still be sci-fi – or do we put it in the biography and memoir section? (a question that is increasingly relevant given the state of affairs in the U.S. today- a question I will return to in another post). This led to a joke about a new (and utterly terrifying) genre: dystopian non-fiction (a genre that likely already exists, in the satires of Stephen Colbert and the like, but which really could bear more academic exploration).
This, naturally, brought up the topic of the relationship between the present and the future in science fiction, since most dystopias are set in the future (despite the dystopian potential of contemporary life). A question and concern that the panelists especially tackled was how far in the future an author must go to write science fiction. Especially with the pace with which technology is advancing today, where yesterday’s sci-fi rapidly becomes today’s technology, how far ahead should you think when you write sci-fi and how far in the future should you set your story? If you set it in the near future, do you run the risk of reality outpacing you?
This led to a comment made by one of the panelists that technology is advancing so fast today that it’s hard to keep up with it as a sci-fi author- things are becoming reality faster. This, though it wasn’t explicitly mentioned, is in line with a lot of thinking about technological advances: Ray Kurzweil and a number of transhumanist thinkers point out that technology advances at an exponential rate. That’s why they think we might eventually reach the Singularity – because of this exponential rise in technology, we’ll use technology to create better technology until we reach the Singularity. That, of course, places the sci fi author in a bit of a conundrum, because now there’s a shorter ‘timeline’ on the sci-fi things they write about and invent before they become “real.” Of course, as Michael Swanwick pointed out, even if you do thinking about inventions that then come to pass, your thinking wasn’t wasted, because science fiction is always about the implications and meaning of technology as much as the actual technology – and even if Google invents something before you write about it, those considerations will be valuable to your formation as a thinker and writer of science fiction.
This led to a funny story about William Gibson (of Neuromancer fame, of course), who attended a Worldcon sometime in the 70s or 80s and was given a card as the key to his room instead of an actual key. That was the moment, he insisted, at which he realized the stuff he was writing about was real.
Another thing we talked about is diversity – and, naturally, the ‘fiasco’ involving the Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies, and this year’s Hugo awards. (For a quick summary, go here). The consensus seemed to be that what’s changing is not who writes sci-fi and fantasy (people of color and women and queer people have always written in the genre), but who gets noticed – and what kinds of stories they write. People who aren’t white men are increasingly getting noticed as writers in the genre and getting recognition and awards (like the Hugos). That’s what the Puppies are fighting against: that recognition, but the very fact that it’s noticeable and something for them to fight against means that change is happening, and progress has been made already. A very important aspect of this is the fact that diversity is not a “trend,” as many like to call it today – it’s more the realization of the importance of that diversity and its recognition when it does exist.
And to finish up, here’s some more fun tidbits about other connections to Philadelphia:
- Philcon was apparently the first sci-fi convention and, naturally, took place in Philadelphia
- Asimov and Heinlein and Delaney all lived in Philadelphia
- They were all also part of sci-fi-esque government-related think tanks.
Saturday got off to an earlier start than I usually prefer (which is about noon), but if it’s Stargate, it’s worth getting up at the ungodly, coffee-less hour of, like, 10am. Thus, my second day of the convention started off with two back-to-back panels by two wonderful ladies: Andee Frizzell and Suanne Braun, both of whom were part of the cabaret last night, but who also took to the stage this morning to regale us with fun tales.
Andee usually makes a tradition of having each person who comes up to ask her a question tell her a fun story about a convention experience before they ask the question (or just tell her a story about a con experience). Unfortunately, most of my con stories that are memorable enough to tell are not PG (it’s not my fault Jason Momoa got very drunk last year and did unmentionable things!) so instead I sat back and enjoyed listening to other people’s con stories. I don’t remember many of them now, though a few were quite hilarious; all I remember is the “tutu for charity” – a tutu that a couple of fans brought to cons and asked celebrities to don. For every celebrity that put it on, they donated money to charity, and, of course, Andee heartily agreed (there’s few things she won’t do while at a Stargate con). The next day, Peter (Apophis) heartily donned the same tutu at the same moment I was walking by with my camera actually charged and on, so I snapped this serendipitous photo:
Next, Suanne Braun utterly charmed as all once again. She regaled us, in particular, of a story about how she was mistaken for Gillian Anderson, of X-Files fame. To be fair, Gillian was a redhead at the time, and the X-Files was filming in the same hotel she was staying in….and to make matters worse, she’d just gotten back from filming the “bath scene” in the Hathor episode, in which all the little plastic snakes they put in the tub with her melted from the hot water, making her reek. Meaning that there’s now a couple of very avid X-Files fans who think that Gillian Anderson smells very, very bad.
That’s, unfortunately, all I remember from these two ladies’ panels, but afterwards came the photo ops, and I got one with both of them. Andee and I faced off as Wraith queens – a pose inspired by the last time Andee had attended this convention, when she’d autographed a photo for me. I had told her my name is Anastasia, and she immediately made the connection with the Russian princess/grand duchess, addressing the photo to “the little princess” and signing it as “your queen salutes you!” In keeping with this idea of Andee as wraith queen and me as a rival ruler, Andee and I did a stare-down (she was unsure of quite the pose I wanted at first, but quickly caught on, and the result turned out quite well):
The absolute best photo op, though, was the one I took with Suanne. I thought it was rather short-sighted that in the episode, Hathor only seduced men, so I asked her if she would do me the honor of seducing me. (Clearly, I have a thing for the sexy ladies of SG-1, because a couple of years ago I asked Amanda Tapping to seduce me and “make my boyfriend jealous.” You can see the spectacular result below.) The result turned out pretty fantastically, with me looking really happy to be seduced by a gorgeous woman. When I got an autograph from Suanne the next day, I showed her how the photo turned out and we fell into discussing the gender dynamics of the episode a bit; essentially, she agreed with me that the fact that Hathor seduced only men was shortsighted, but was an inescapable product of the fact that the episode was filmed in 1997. Maybe if the same episode were done today, things would be different (with the right showrunners and network, of course).
I also got another photo op with Peter Williams, because I couldn’t resist; he, and everyone else, kept making jokes about how he really is a god and how you should bow and kneel before him (my friend Allison mentioned in her write-up of the con that she’d totally be his consort), so naturally I went “hmmm, a guy who acts like he’s a deity. Why don’t I make him kneel?” Which is a)typical Ana b)exactly what I did. Granted, he didn’t quite kneel – his knees didn’t actually touch the floor (I can see all through your antics, Apophis!) but with the angle of the photo, you almost can’t tell. So, behold, Apophis kneeling before the true deity:
After a break, during which I ran back and forth between the vendors’ room, my room, and autograph tables, as well as hunting for cash (because some people, lovely actors that they are, still haven’t figured out that in the 21st century no one carries cash), came Rainbow Sun Francks’ panel. This is the first con I’ve been to that he’s been at, so I was really excited to see his panel. Plus, I’d seen Rainbow hanging around the hotel for the past couple of days, chatting with other con-goers; he seemed really friendly, open, and down-to-earth (fun fact: he asked me what was going on during the karaoke and I explained that it was the karaoke without recognizing him, because, yes, I have a terrible memory for faces and it’s actually really embarrassing. I’ve probably walked past dozens of famous people I didn’t recognize. Think of all the autographs I probably could’ve gotten!)
His panel didn’t disappoint either, although at this point, I don’t remember much about it except that it was both fun and funny. I can also add, however, that Rainbow crashed pretty much everybody else’s panel at the entire convention, which absolutely nobody minded, The one thing I do remember from his panel is that he showed us a lot of exclusive pictures: he’d gone through his hard drive a few days previous and found a lot of photos from the shooting of Atlantis that he’d never shared with anybody, so we got to be the exclusive audience. He asked us not to take pictures of the pictures, and I respected his wishes, so although some of the photos were outright hilarious (mostly of David Hewlett and Paul McGillion looking as unattractive as these two beautiful people could manage). I later joked at Paul’s autograph that Rainbow should’ve printed out his utterly unflattering photos of Paul for him to sign. Rainbow, who turned out to be right there, (which it took me a while to notice, because I’m oblivious), asked me when he could’ve possibly had time to go to Kinko’s. I kindly offered to go to Kinko’s for him (“if you’re so busy, I’ll do it!”), but to which he pointed out that although I’m a lovely person, he doesn’t know me and isn’t about to hand me his entire hard drive. I suppose he had a point, but damn him, I wanted to be trusted by a guy named Rainbow!
Right after Rainbow’s panel was that of David Blue. He plays the title character of Stargate: Universe, and at that point I’d seen exactly one episode of Stargate: Universe, but I decided to stay for the panel anyway, and I’m glad I did, because David also turned out to be really fun. It turns out that he’s a geek like us, and he talked happily about games and TV shows he liked and pretty much outright admitted that he’s a geek. He even brought up slash fiction (yes, he went there!). Rainbow, who was in the room at the time (crashing everyone’s panels, as always) had no idea what that meant…I think David declined to explain, but the ensuing situation was hilarious! David also said that he was told by one of the SGU producers exactly where season three would have gone…but refused to tell us the slightest detail about it, in case there was still that 1% chance that a third season would get made in some way, somehow, somewhere. Seduction didn’t work in coaxing this secret out of him, unfortunately, so I had to leave it be. Granted, I haven’t gotten to the season two cliffhanger yet, so he could’ve told me absolutely anything and I wouldn’t have been able to argue with him, but still….
Next came the highlight of Saturday: Joe Flanigan’s panel. Joe’s pretty much a staple at Stargate conventions – I have yet to attend one that he hasn’t been at, which also pretty much means that I’m rolling in Joe Flanigan autographs at this point (perhaps I’ll do a sweepstakes one of these days). Joe’s always a joy to have onstage, because he’s really well-spoken and educated and says really interesting things about television and the media. He’s also a bit shy (as far as I can tell), so this is the first time he’s actually done a solo panel. It didn’t disappoint: he said a lot of really interesting things, many of which I livetweeted so I wouldn’t forget. For me, the most intriguing tidbit he mentioned was about television today: he said that we’re in the “Golden Era” of television for viewers – something that David Hewlett and Torri Higginson also mentioned to me at their meet and greet a couple of years ago. It seems to be the consensus that when it comes to storytelling and quality, television is slowly replacing movies. Joe did add that that doesn’t mean it’s a golden era for actors – he mentioned in particular that there’s a huge disparity in how actors get paid, in that some make millions while others probably make what’s barely above a graduate student salary (for me, this was a really intriguing insight into how the media I consume is made). Which, I guess, puts us viewers on the glamorous side of the screen (for a change!) I mentioned to Joe at autographs that I thought what he said about TV today was really interesting; I only had a few seconds to say it, because as usual, autographs were very rushed, so he didn’t have much of a chance to respond – but I’m still glad I got to thank him for the wonderful insights that he, as usual, provided behind the scenes. Joe also talked about how TV characters have changed: traditionally, he said, TV show characters would be “people you’d want in your living room,” whatever that means, while these days that may not necessarily be the case. (As someone tweeted, I’ll take Joe in my living room any day).
Another interesting insight Joe gave is into his character. Someone asked him if he could change anything about the way Sheppard was written, and the only answer Joe came up with (as far as I recall, anyway), is that he didn’t like it that they wrote Sheppard to be a genius and a MENSA candidate – he didn’t think that was the right way for the character to go. I personally loved that Sheppard’s a genius who took a completely different life path from McKay (or, rather, I love it on most days), but I didn’t always. An ensuing question was why Sheppard refused to be in MENSA after he tested into it, and Joe suggested it’s because MENSA has too many rules, and Sheppard doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who likes rules. (No, really?)
Other than that, a large part of Joe’s panel entailed him waxing poetic about Iceland, where he recently vacationed (and tweeted about) and where he apparently ate whale…thus making eating whale a recurring joke throughout the panel. Not quite sure what’s so funny about that myself, but then again, I’m a Trekkie. Save the whales! And that, alas, is all I remember from Joe’s panel. Which is really just a clue that I should write up these con write-ups right after the con, and not two weeks afterwards (being a procrastinating perfectionist is the worst, and not just because of the tacky alliteration).
The evening ended with a couple of events: a costume competition, where there were some fantastic costumes on display, and autographs with Joe and Paul, and the gold dessert party – which wasn’t particularly exciting (it never is). I enjoyed walking around and taking photos of all the centerpieces, some of which were utterly gorgeous, and a couple of the celebrities (Andee and Suanne) did come by our table, but for the most part the celebrity presence was rather lacking at our table. We did have a lot of fun dancing to silly pop music with Andee and Sharon, however, so there’s that.
And after that, shenanigans probably ensued, but I, like a responsible adult who wanted to be awake for the next morning’s panels, actually headed up to bed at a reasonable time. Because I’m a killjoy like that.
A few days ago, I received some heartbreaking news:
All good things must come to an end unfortunately, so no more polls and such, this is the absolute last time we’re presenting The Official STARGATE SG-1/Atlantis/Universe Convention.
Okay, so no one died, there was no plane crash or nuclear disaster, but if you’re a Stargate fan, it’s pretty much the geek equivalent of such a disaster. Stargate is one of those shows that had a long and successful run (the entire franchise adds up to 17 seasons of content) before every single show in said franchise was unfortunately cancelled by SyFy – thus going the way of other landmark shows, like Star Trek, which were excellent but were axed by the network for a variety of financial reasons. Like Star Trek, Stargate was thought-provoking and funny, profound and lighthearted, entertaining and touching at the same time. It was the best of both worlds when it comes to sci-fi: it gave you hope and made you think. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for SyFy, and these days, there’s almost no new Stargate content out there. A few tie-in novels (which, as I hear, are terrible) and a game here or there is all that gets released. But for all intents and purposes, the franchise is more or less dead.
Except for when it’s not. It still remains alive in the hearts of its fans, who love it even years after cancellation and rewatch it, and it stays alive in new fans who discover the franchise every day. But most importantly, to me, it also stays alive at the Chicago Stargate convention – the only remaining convention dedicated to Stargate in the world. It is a convention I attend every year, and it is a truly magical experience each time. In the four years I’ve been going, this convention, and the people who attend it, have done some amazing things:
- forging friendships: I can’t count the number of amazing friends I’ve made from all over the world in years of going.
- creating life-long connections: it was at this convention that I befriended someone who is now one of my very close friends, James – at whose wedding I will be a bridesmaid next year!
- marriage: two people who met at this convention and started a relationship are now engaged to be married (at the convention itself) after a proposal that happened at the convention itself (I wrote about it in my last post).
- saving lives: once again, I can’t count the number of Stargate fans I’ve been who struggle with depression, anxiety, and all sorts of other mental issues, for whom this show and this convention has literally been a lifeline. The show and its characters keep them going, while the convention itself is the highlight of their year, a time they spend with friends and like-minded fans, celebrating the show they love. For many, it is this one weekend a year that keeps them going the other 51 weeks of the year.
- raising money for charity: every Thursday night, before the con, a wonderful fan named Kimberly organizes a charity auction. Everyone donates Stargate-y and geeky items that get bid on, and we always raise thousands of dollars for medical research.
- shenanigans: need I say more? Often, the celebrities at the convention join the fans to hang out, and lifelong memories are created. Ah, the stories I could tell!
And this is just a handful of things that this particular con accomplishes. I’ve been posting all about the convention this week, with more posts to come, and if you want a small glimpse into just how fun and amazing this convention is, give them a read! Stargate may have been off the air for years, but it continues to truly make an impact in people’s lives. I can’t overstate the significance of a show, and its convention, that literally saves lives and creates families. In addition, the Stargate fandom is one of the most welcoming and uplifting fandoms I’ve been in – just like the show itself. It’s difficult to find a group of fans that are that open and open-minded, no matter how far and wide you look, and we can’t let that die out.
And yet, Creation Entertainment insists that next year’s Stargate convention will be the last one. Despite all the life-changing things this convention is responsible for, Creation doesn’t want it to keep going. I’m not sure why – perhaps their profit margin isn’t high enough compared to something as lucrative as Supernatural. But Stargate is about more than just the money: it’s about meaningful relationships, life-long memories, and life-changing actions. This convention is one of the few remaining places where fans of this amazing show can come together, celebrate their show, and accomplish these wonderful things.
We can’t let that end. To that end, I’m beginning a campaign to beg Creation to continue these conventions. 2017 will be the 20th anniversary of the television franchise, and it would be a shame to pass up having a convention that year – or the years following. I know many are heartbroken that next year is the last. I know many fans who have been saving up to go to a con and would like to have more than a year to do so. I know fans who are saddened that they won’t have this touchstone in their lives anymore. So, please join me in keeping this convention going.
There’s several things you can do at the moment: LIKE the Facebook page, share it, invite your friends, and post your stories, memories, and photos on the page so that others can see how meaningful this con has been. Publicize this post and the Facebook page as much as you can. Tweet, instagram, and use whatever other social media platform you’re on. Once we get enough traction, and enough likes, we’ll start taking more actions, such as contacting Creation directly. But for now, the most significant thing you can do for this convention, and for the people who love it, is to spread the word.
This post is more lighthearted and less academic than my usual fare; rather than picking apart the workings of science fiction, I’ll instead be blogging about my fantastic time at the 2015 Stargate convention in Chicago – though, rest assured, there’ll be a few academic-y bits here and there as I talk about the significance of Stargate as a science fiction show.
This particular convention has been a tradition for me for years now: I attended my first one in 2012, back when I still lived in Chicago and a couple of months after I’d discovered Stargate (literally. I hadn’t even watched all of it). My fellow Gaters, however, took one look at my passion for Stargate: Atlantis (and Rodney McKay) and welcomed me with open arms, and my life hasn’t been the same since. In keeping with that tradition, I arrived in my beloved city of Chicago on Thursday, after spending my time on the train reading Felicia Day’s geeky new book (in case I needed to get into more of a geeky mindset for the con), to attend the annual pre-con party, organized by a number of fellow con-goers and Gater friends. The pre-party included food, hanging out, and a charity auction, where we raised more than $5000 for research on dysautonomia. It was a wonderful start to the con, showcasing the good-heartedness and generosity of this fandom and putting us all in a good mood for the con to come.
Everything really got started on Friday, though. I spent the morning enjoying my beloved city of Chicago, going down to my favorite neighborhood (Damen) to visit The Wormhole (the geeky café with a Delorean that is totally fitting for a Stargate convention weekend) and Myopic Books, where I bought a pile of sci-fi books. I took my favorite line of the Elevated Train, or El as the natives call it (The Blue Line, and yes, I have a favorite public transportation line) to get there and back; it’s the line I used to take to attend the convention back when I still lived in Chicago and lived on the South Side, so it’s full of memories. I got back to the con hotel just in time for the first panel of the day: Sharon Taylor.
Sharon had a number of minor roles in Stargate: Atlantis, and was also on Supernatural and Smallville, both shows I love, and she talked about her participation in all of these. On Supernatural, she had the good (bad?) fortune to not be pranked by Jared and Jensen, as she spent most of her time filming with Jim Beaver. She also talked at length about her black belt in karate, which she’s had a chance to use in her television career, where the creators took advantage of her skills and wrote them into the script. She even demonstrated some self-defense moves for us. Later, at autographs, I told her that at the next con she should totally lead a self-defense workshop – I’d sign up! She seemed pretty excited by the idea.
The next panel was that of Gary Jones, who is pretty much a Stargate con regular – this is the third time I’ve seen him, and he was, as always, entertaining. He likes to reminisce about Don S. Davis, a fantastic actor (and man) who played Hammond and passed too soon. A favorite thing of Gary’s to do is to make fun (in a friendly way) of Don’s Texas accent, which turns “Open the iris!” into “Open the arse!” and “Airman” into “Harruman” (which is how Jones’ character got his name). He joked about the one time he forgot to memorize an entire paragraph of lines, so he started just making up planet names (all of which run something along the lines of P3X-790 – lots of letters and numbers). At around the fifth take, the script supervisor noticed that he was making up these planet names and told him, angrily, “We go there! You can’t just make him up!” Because of course a paid actor can’t just show up and say “I forgot to learn my lines,” so clearly making them up is the best approach. Basically, as usual, Gary was a riot – there’s a reason he’s part of the cabaret show every Friday night!
The last panel of the day was Peter Williams, who plays Apophis. Apophis has never been one of my favorite characters (or villains) – he seemed pretty one dimensional to me – but as happens so often at these conventions, the actor won me over by being a thousand times more interesting than his character! Aside from being adorable, Peter has an incredibly sexy accent and a very fantastic Apophis persona – he’s very good at pretending to be a god, and during the panel that’s a riot! He made a joke that I don’t recall too well about how he rather enjoyed the human form that Apophis choice to take (it was basically an “I have a sexy body” joke), and talked a little bit about acting the role of the poor guy whose body Apophis had taken. This led to, in my photo op with Peter Williams, me asking whether we could do a pose in which I’m “admiring” the human form he took. Peter seemed a bit confused, but went with it, and put on an “I’m so awesome” face while I touched his pecs with a supremely satisfied look on my face. (They were nice pecs, but nothing like Jason Momoa’s, which I touched last year while my boyfriend looked on with sad puppy eyes).
Friday was also the day that the convention had a very important event: a proposal! A year ago, at this very same convention, two amazing fans, Danny and Brianne, met over a costuming question. They soon entered a relationship, and today, before all our eyes, at that very same convention, with the aid of Peter Williams and Gary Jones, the wonderful young man asked his girlfriend to the stage. He told all of us the story of how they’d met at this very convention and been brought together by their love of Stargate – and then proposed! The answer, of course, was a resounding yes, and everyone snapped a ridiculous amount of photos as the two, wearing matching SG-1 jackets, held hands. It was a truly heartening event at a convention that already regularly brings tears to my eyes (even if some are of laughter): it’s a testament to the way that Stargate has been, and continues to be, so important in our lives.Even a decade after being off the air, it still brings people together, possibly for life. Forging relationships, friendships – and families. It’s something that I never want to lose (which is why I’m working a campaign to stop the 2016 convention from being the last one).
Following that touching event was the “Celebrity Cabaret,” which is a Friday-night tradition of this convention; each year, Creation gathers a number of the celebrity guests from the convention that weekend to perform for a cabaret in various ways: they sing, tell stories, jokes, and anecdotes, or perform in other ways. A few years ago, Robert Picardo sang some fantastic opera as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, and Tony Amendola told some very not child-appropriate jokes and stories. This year, the cabaret performers included Gary Jones, Andee Frizzell, and Suanne Braun. I don’t recall much of Gary’s performance – though a few years ago he told a hilarious story about having a heart attack (yes, the story was funny; yes, it was about a heart attack). The general trend of this celebrity cabaret is that it’s at least PG-13 rated, and Andee Frizzell followed in that vein, telling a story about the time she asked her friend Steve to help her change the wiring in her house and attach a new lighting fixture. She gave him rubber footies, rubber gloves….and yet he still thought he was being electrocuted when his phone went off (on vibrate). “My dick’s being fried!!” he shouted, to which Andee cleverly responded – “I should’ve given him a condom!” (Get it? Get it? I thought it was hilarious). Last on stage was Suanne Braun, who played Hathor in the first season of SG-1. Now, while the first season of SG-1 isn’t particularly memorable (except for how cheesy it was), this is another of those cases where the star brings so many layers to the character (and is so fun) that it makes you love those cheesy episodes anyway.
Besides, when a beautiful woman who plays the goddess of sex and beauty gets up onstage, how do you not pay attention? And Suanne is indeed quite the goddess- she has this aura of femininity and power that really gets to you. At the cabaret, she told a fantastic story about her honeymoon to Egypt. She and her husband visited lots of ancient sites in which Hathor was depicted in various ways, and every time Suanne would point and tell her husband “look! It’s me!” When she had to explain this to the tour guide, however, the guide was unimpressed (she’d never heard of Stargate). When Suanne explained that she played Hathor, the tour guide went “in her human form or her goddess form?” Upon admitting that she plays Hathor in her human form, Suanne was informed that Hathor’s human form was….a cow. “You play a cow, yes?” That night, though, that particular episode of SG-1 was on TV, which changed things for the rest of the trip….
Of course, my summaries don’t do the cabaret justice; part of humor and anecdotes is the delivery, and these stars are actors –meaning they can do humor, voices, accents (oh, don’t get me started on Suanne’s accents! They are fantastic) – and they really bring to life these stories in a way that a blog post can’t. Nevertheless, I write them down for the fantastic memories they elicit.
Finally, the evening ended, as does every Friday evening at every Stargate convention, with karaoke. Suanne led into this by singing fantastic renditions of a couple of songs, including “Mamma Mia!” – to which yours truly unashamedly danced. (The videos of a couple of these are on my YouTube channel) Afterwards, it was the fans that started singing, which is the when the craziness started as I gathered with my fantastic group of friends for late night shenanigans. And I’m afraid that this is where the story must end with a …., because I really don’t remember much of the rest of that evening.😉