Shipping and the Johnlock files

From the NYT Magazine on Sunday (the 22nd), “My Dear, Dear, Dear Watson” by Jenna Wortham, beginning:

Part of the Internet’s beauty is the space it affords people to take an idea and run with it . . . and run with it and run with it, until they end up miles away from where they started. Among a subset of online superfans of the BBC show “Sherlock,” solving mysteries is mere window dressing for the real story: one about unrequited love between Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman).


(Sherlock (Cumberbatch) and John (Freeman) in situ in Sherlock.)

On the actors, in brief:

Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch (born 19 July 1976) is an English actor and film producer who has performed in film, television, theatre and radio. (Wikipedia link)

Most recently, Cumberbatch was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.

Martin John Christopher Freeman (born 8 September 1971) is an English actor, best known for portraying Tim Canterbury in the UK version of the sitcom mockumentary The Office, Dr. John Watson in the British crime drama Sherlock, Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit film trilogy, and Lester Nygaard in the dark comedy-crime drama TV series Fargo. (Wikipedia link)

More from the NYT:

This sort of wholesale invention, by viewers, of a romance between fictional characters who are not romantically linked on-screen is a form of something known as “shipping” (short for “relationship-ing,” the term can also refer to rooting for actual fictional couples). It is by no means limited to “Sherlock” — any form of pop culture, from “Scandal” to One Direction, is fair game — but that show has inspired vast and vivid fictional worlds, completely imagined by shippers who share screenshots, drawings and even entire books speculating about what a dalliance between Sherlock and Watson (or Johnlock, as it’s known) might look like. These fans wring meaning out of every lingering glance and anguished expression that crosses Cumberbatch’s impressively dimensioned face and superimpose their own dialogue atop these moments, amassing a trove of erotic imaginings that is in some respects more compelling than the canon, at least in the unpredictability of the plot twists. For example, one offshoot of Johnlock, known as Fawnlock, imagines Cumberbatch as an ethereal deer, complete with graceful antlers and a speckled coat — and of course his lover, Watson, cradled in his forelimbs.

The corpus of Johnlocks is enormous, and ranges from the crude and amateurish to the very polished. Kissing and cuddling are the principal themes, as in the slide show on the NYT site, but some are more explicit, as in these two examples (by Loes van Herk on Pinterest and diabloqueen on DeviantArt):



Sherlock (taller, dark-haired, and in charge of their joint ventures, vs. his shorter, blond, follower John) is usually portrayed as the dominant partner (the t to John’s b, in the terms I’ve used for talking about roles in gay porn), but occasionally the roles are reversed, as in #3.

The NYT piece provides a “Shipping glossary”:

One true pairing (OTP): A shipper’s single favorite couple. • BrOTP: A platonic OTP between two male characters. • Slash: A gay pairing, often with characters who are not gay in their original iteration (e.g., Kirk and Spock; Buffy and Willow). • Crack pairings: A coupling that is considered bizarre by the standards of shipping, often for mixing universes (e.g., Shrek and Sonic the Hedgehog).

This connects us to earlier postings on slash. From my 10/11/14 posting “Strunk & White and Strunk/White”, about an xkcd cartoon in which Strunk/White fan fiction (or fanfic) plays a role:

When the cartoon first came out, it was immediately snapped up by Mark Liberman on Language Log, in the posting “Important editorial advice” — with discussion of fan fiction, including the classic slash fiction, like Kirk/Spock. Strunk/White would be an instance of what has come to be known as RPF (real person fiction), in which the erotic fiction involves real people, for instance baseball players.

On this blog: “Baseball days” of 7/21/13, on RPF and shirtless baseball players; and “slashclip” of 8/23/13 on, inter alia, the clipped term slashfic.

And this year (1/11/15), in a posting on Chinese slash (dan mei), Johnlock again:

In recent years, with the influx of Western TV and film into China, Benedict Cumberbatch, in his role as the title character in Sherlock, the popular BBC TV series, has gained cult status in dan mei circles, spawning countless depictions of gay romance between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, including explicit sexual content.

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