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The Great Superwholock Vanishing Act

Superwholock. Four syllables, three fandoms, two dominating ships, and one all-around toxic community. A word that, to this day, can strike terror into any avid Internet-user’s heart.

Superwholock, for the innocent, unknowing readers that have stumbled across this page, is a fan-proposed, three-way crossover between the CW’s Supernatural and the BBC’s reboots of Doctor Who and Sherlock. Supernatural tells the tale of two monster-hunting brothers; Doctor Who, a time-traveling alien; and Sherlock, a contemporary retelling of classic Sherlock Holmes stories.

Looking at these three shows, it’s pretty easy to see where the plots have potential to overlap.  They are all based in fantasy/science-fiction in some regard, and all entail an air of mystery. Steven Moffat has written for both Doctor Who and Sherlock, and all three shows have circulated a few supporting actors (Mark Sheppard, for example). The premise for all these shows are interesting, I’ll admit. In fact, I’ll even admit that the shows on their own are very entertaining and worthy of their mass following (excluding the cast’s problematic behavior; we’ll get to that in a second).

Superwholock started gaining traction in 2010, and officially exploded in 2011 with the regeneration of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith).  Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with crossovers. The CW did one in 2016 with The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl. But Superwholock was no casual fan theory. In 2012, Superwholock was Tumblr’s lifeblood, its fetid royal palace. Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary was looming and Sherlock had just returned from hiatus. Those of us around for this hellish period may have flashbacks similar in intensity to war criminals: it was Destiel this and Johnlock that. Urls like johnlock-in-the-tardis-221b and winchesters-save-the-tardis littered everywhere like used cigarettes. The point is, things were worse than ever.

But suddenly, it all vanished.

Reflecting on my experience on the Internet following 2014 or so, I have seen neither hide nor hair of Superwholock. No more crazy-long hyphen urls. No more posts with so many Supernatural gifs that the post ran off the page. It’s as though Tumblr, as a community, had collectively agreed to repress this phenomenon, in the same way that America somehow managed to ctrl-alt-delete our brutal treatment of minorities. Where did it go? What could have possibly destroyed such a huge cult following, so large even the showrunners of all three series were debriefed on it, going so far as to claim that a canon crossover episode was happening (on April Fool’s, no less) ?

I’m so, so curious.

After a Red Bull-induced researching marathon, my personal theory is that there were several factors leading to Superwholock’s tragic demise:

  • General annoying presence online. Superwholocks were famous for hijacking posts that had nothing to do with the fandom, adding gifs even though the original poster would ask them to stop. I also remember the fandom writing posts that were along the lines of, “we belong in an insane asylum hahahah!!!” which, although appearing innocent, is completely ignorant of those actually suffering from mental illness and are receiving help for it. Homosexuality was also extremely fetishized with the ships Destiel and Johnlock (ignoring the fact that Sherlock is canonically asexual/aromantic — oh look, ace erasure!), with many fans only supporting gay marriage so “my ship can get married!” More innocently, after events like the Mishapocalypse and that annoying “fandoms grab your weapons” post, Superwholock became synonymous with obnoxious teenagers pounding away at a keyboard, and people really started distancing themselves away from it because of it. Tell me the last person who readily admitted to you that they were involved with Superwholock — and proud of it!! I’ll wait.
  • More critical fans. Outside of the fandom culture, the shows themselves were inherently problematic, particularly in representation and treatment of LGBTQ+ and POC characters. Supernatural has a history of killing off its POC characters, as well as queerbaiting.  As the years went by, the cry for more representation became louder, and every show’s flaws became more obvious with repeat viewings during hiatus. Additionally, the premieres of newer, more diverse shows such as Orange Is The New Black and Steven Universe also made Superwholock look embarrassingly bland by comparison. Elementary, another contemporary retelling of Sherlock Holmes, featured a female, Asian Watson played by Lucy Liu, and was a serious rival to the BBC’s Sherlock.
  • Problematic cast & crew.  2013 gave the rise to your-fave-is-problematic posts, grocery lists of offensive and/or ignorant acts celebrities have done. The cast and crew of Superwholock has had plenty of this, notably Jensen Ackles’ biphobia rumors and writer Steven Moffat’s blatant misogyny.

However, these observations alone were not enough to vanquish Superwholock, who made excuses for each and every one of these bullet points. “They’ve got a black character, they’re diverse!”, “[insert celebrity here] was just joking, don’t be so sensitive!” No, the fandom allowed everything to build and build until it all came to a head in the summer of 2014. And, oh, what a summer it was.

For summer 2014 was the era of Dashcon.

I could write an entire dissertation dissecting Dashcon, but essentially, it was a convention marketed as a meetup “by Tumblr users, for Tumblr users.” Inspired by a myriad of posts floating around for “Tumblr University” or “Tumblr prom,” Dashcon was meant to serve, like many other better-organized, better-funded conventions, as a place for fandoms to meet and cosplay. A great idea in theory, but unfortunately, fate had other fish to fry.

Dashcon (originally called Tumbl-Con until Tumblr forced a name change to avoid the premise of affiliation) was crowdsourced on IndieGoGo,  meaning that this convention was quite literally funded by the people who went to it, a majority of them … you guessed it … young, immature, naive, Superwholocks. Despite supposedly having enough money, the first night of the con the organizers claimed they needed $17,000 raised by attendees, or the event would be cancelled by the hosting hotel. The $17,000 was allegedly raised through Paypal and cash donations; however, the hotel claims that no such fee was imposed on the convention staff, leading many to believe it was simply a scam.

The other thing Dashcon is famous for is the ball pit. After the cancellation of panel from popular podcast Welcome To Night Vale, convention staff apologized and told attendees who had paid for seating at the panel that they could have “an extra hour in the ball pit.” No, this isn’t a joke. Yes, this was an actual response given to disappointed fans after a cancelled event.

The infamous ball pit, considered by many to be the first modern meme. Image credit.

So — Dashcon happens, embarrasses the hell out of Superwholocks and fandom culture in general. We all get a good laugh, and we all move on.

But what does Dashcon have to do with the disappearance of Superwholock?

Things quieted down after Dashcon. A new season of Supernatural premiered that fall, but honestly, I can’t tell you what happened because I saw nothing about it online. No GIFs. No fan manips of Destiel. Nothing.

Come spring, same thing: Doctor Who returns. New Doctor, new companion. Not so much as a whisper of Johnlock online that year.

Dashcon, I feel, truly exposed Superwholock (and fandom culture in general) about how ignorant and toxic these communities can be. Combined with all the other pre-existing problems stated above, people really started realizing how foolish and obnoxious a majority of the fandom was behaving. I’m not saying it’s bad to like a show or film, and to be apart of that online community. It’s okay to like something, even if it is problematic — as long as you acknowledge it. Superwholock (and the internet in general in 2012) tended to overlook all the things I pointed out above, and repeatedly excused the actions of their idols.

And honestly? I don’t miss Superwholock. I know they’re still out there, lurking in their corners of the Internet, but their numbers have certainly dwindled. After 2014, Tumblr as I had known it was gone, extinguished, extinct, replaced by aesthetic posts and frog memes. And in my opinion, it’s better that way.

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