Lifecycle of a Fandom: Part Three – Hiatus

Our ongoing series, Lifecycle of a Fandom, looks at the way fandom evolves and changes throughout the lifecycle of the media it loves. This issue, it’s the turn of the Hiatus.

So, that thing you’re a fan of has been in the transmission stage for several episodes now. But suddenly, disaster strikes. Maybe it’s the end of the season, but you’ve been recommissioned. Maybe you’re a fan of an American show, and it’s inexplicably stopped for the Superbowl or something. Your favourite author is working on a new story, but it’s going to take at least a few months before it even gets to the publisher. I’m sorry, guys, you’ve hit the hiatus.

Sherlockians, look away now. I don’t want to further your pain.

Are you gone? Right, everyone else, take a look at the Sherlock fandom. They are in the unfortunate – and somewhat unusual – position of having substantially more hiatus time than actual transmission time. As such, they’re pretty familiar with all the things that go on during this difficult phase of fandom.

Of course, a lot of the time, a hiatus begins with a question. Whether it’s ‘How are they going to get out of this one?’ or ‘If this character’s dead, what does that mean for the other characters?’ there’s always something to puzzle over. So a lot of speculation is generated. There’s also a lot of meta discussion, trying to figure out what can be learnt about our own world from what’s happened in the fictional one. A hiatus is a great time to think back over what’s gone before, make connections you might not have made, and come up with theories so crazy they might just be brilliant.

And then theories so crazy they’re definitely not brilliant, except that the photomanips you’ve made to explain them really are so you just have to share.

Depending on how long a hiatus drags on, it might stop at that. A TV hiatus a few weeks long may just generate a slight lull in new screencaps, a slightly more intense focus on whatever filming might still be in progress, and a less hurried outburst of meta. A hiatus a few months long – between seasons, for example – or a book or film series hiatus, which could last years, can quickly spiral out of control, though, as fans come up with more and more bizarre ways to feed their obsession.

Re-subtitling old screencaps in order to create entire new storylines is often one of the first things to take off (it happens during transmission as well, after all, to a lesser extent). Entire AUs are created, from the serious to the silly. One-liners that were mildly amusing during transmission suddenly become the roots of entire backstories and spawn fanfiction of their own. ‘Before Martin wanted to be a pilot, he wanted to be an aeroplane’, for example, somehow has way more fanart potential during a Cabin Pressure hiatus than while the show’s on air.

A series on hiatus whose actors are in other things – new or old – can expect to find itself crossed with any of those other things, however strange or unlikely it may seem. ‘Before Maleficent was a dragon, she was definitely a vampire’ and ‘Supernatural‘s on hiatus? Hey, wasn’t that guy from Glee in that once? Let’s mix those up…’ are both equally likely scenarios when a show’s off-air.

Additionally, little jokes? Just little things, like a character going out to buy milk in an episode, or a family’s love of decorating with fish? They may seem insignificant and trifling while something’s on air, but after there’s been no new material for a few weeks, or a few months… Suddenly the character has an obsession with milk. Milk is his only love. The most romantic thing you could do for that character, to make his heart melt, is present him with a pint of sweet, unassuming semi-skimmed. That family’s wallpaper is fish. Their house is made out of fish. They are fish. You get the idea.

A fandom in hiatus is extremely focused on little details they might have overlooked in the broad sweep of transmission, and eventually, left to their own devices for long enough, they may even become fixated on tiny fragments of fanon with no basis in their favourite obsession whatsoever. This leads, usually, to chaos, and occasional confusion when, for example, the meanest character’s teddy bear is nowhere to be seen when the series returns.

Ah, yes – when it returns. That’s the most important thing about a hiatus – the series will go on afterwards, returning to the ‘transmission’ phase. There will be another book or film, or the next season will air, or the same one will finally continue. Everything will settle down until the next break. The hiatus is only temporary, thank goodness… unlike our subject next week.

Next week, we’re going to look at The End. Bring tissues.

Eleanor Musgrove

Next issue will conclude with a look at what happens in a fandom when a series has run its course.

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