… to anniversaries and the nature of fandom

Both the theme and the title of this website, and indeed the podcast that started it, is intended as a blatant theft homage to a short-lived, much lamented fanzine that started in Aberdeen in the 1990s.

Fanzines come and fanzines go, but there was something about From The Sublime… that always stuck with me. 

Perhaps it was the high quality of contributors, including acclaimed crime author Stuart McBride.  Perhaps it was the anarchic features — including an inspired one that saw the writers hitting a branch of Blockbusters just before closing time on a Saturday night and renting whatever dross was left on the shelves.

Another member of the Scottish crime writing/fanzine axis exposed…

From The Sublime… had been launched by Mike McLean — who now runs Asylum, one of Aberdeen’s two great comic book shops (and if I’d known that during my year back in Aberdeen I’d have gone in just to shake him by the hand and thank him) — and covered a broad sweep, from anime to sci-fi, schlock reviews to serious discussions. 

It had a wit hewn from the granite of Aberdeen and despite lasting just more than a year (four issues, plus a half-issue snuck out to fill a gap) still generates fond memories from everyone who encountered it.

I came to it by accident.  A friend had picked up a copy of the first while up there, and brought it to a games night we were all at.  Even by fanzine standards it looked rough and ready — black and white, photocopied, folded A3.  But it was raucous and wry and charming.  It was like a nerdy version of the legendary The Absolute Game, a fanzine that birthed an entire generation of Scottish football writers and spoke with a voice that wasn’t exclusively from the central belt.

Indeed, it perhaps speaks to the quality of From The Sublime… that it has been archived by Liverpool University as part of its science fiction catalogue. It was a reflection of a fandom from what almost feels like a bygone day, a pre-internet existence when everything wasn’t a click away and actually being a fan of something involved a personal investment.

Perhaps it’s an age thing.

The bold John Hoare wrote brilliantly on Ganymede and Titan recently how his Red Dwarf fandom had changed with the return of the show on Dave to become more artificial, and his involvement these days is as much — if not more — about the periphery and extracurricular activities as the current version of the show, which sparked more than a few pangs of recognition in me.

Classic fanzines. Killed by Tumblr. Maybe.

It fascinates me seeing how fandoms have evolved in the social media age.  The way subcultures form, but also the way the process of viewing the subjects of fandom change, especially within the broad church of popular culture, where things feel simultaneously more fractured and more inclusive than ever before.

Being an old man and a fan of popular children’s TV show Dr Who, for example, it’s marvellous to see this generation of fans who’ve grown up with the new series, who celebrate their fandom on Tumblr and Youtube and making cosplay a fun thing rather than something jaded old fuckers sneer at from the Panopticon bar.

But I do also wonder where from that generation the Pixleys and Hintons and Howes, the critics and historians, are going to come, purely because they consume the media in an entirely different way to those of us who bought Skaro and The Frame at Forbidden Planet, back when it wasn’t all Funkos as far as the eye could see.

Anyway, all this is just a long-winded way of saying that TV Cream turns 20 this year.

The TV Cream staff have a production meeting ahead of their new video release

TV Cream was one of those websites that I always admired from afar during my nascent days on the internet. Unlike the American-led sites — the likes of TVWOP or the AV Club – TV Cream had a sense of silliness and whimsy alongside its occasional snark.  It wasn’t afraid to tease those who deserved it, but equally it could appreciate the absurdity of TV as a genre in itself, as well as the various sub-genres, mostly of a nerdish bent, it celebrated.

It was a place where the likes of Russell Harty could rub shoulders with Roger Ramjet, where you could find Threads and AND T-Bag held with equal regard.

At the risk of going all us vs them, or in this case U.S. vs Them, it felt — and to be honest, still feels —  like British sites were just better at this whole. American-led sites tended to be either vitriolic or hyperbolic, with little middle ground. Things were either great or awful, and there was no acknowledgment or even appreciation of mediocrity.

On this side of the pond, though, it felt like the fin de siècle pop culture internet embraced the whole spectrum, in all it’s living colour. The likes of TV Cream, of Off The Telly, of the Corpses, of Brooker’s barely fictionalised TV Go Home

They weren’t afraid to lambast the great and celebrate the guff, to poke fun at sacred cows and to be engagingly, charmingly amused by sacrificial lambs – not out of any contrarian desire, but purely because they could find something in there worthy of the effort.

And in terms of longevity, TV Cream’s hung in there. Pop culture may wax and wane, but the crew behind TVC have showed remarkable staying power, adapting to the changing nature of the internet — especially with the production of their podcasts, from the informative and likeable Election archives to the semi-regular bodying of just about everyone on the Creamguide Commentaries (but especially Jack.  Poor Jack).

20 years of anything feels a remarkable achievement in the modern era but two decades of writing, commentating, critiquing and celebrating pop culture, during a time when the very nature of what that means, is an an achievement to be saluted.

The changing face of Doctor Who

To mark their anniversary they’ve a new video out next week. I’ve had a sneak peak — and its safe to say fans of TV Cream’s audio adventures won’t be disappointed. It’s lovely. Witty, knowing, insanely well made and striking the right balance between snark and whimsy. No spoilers, other than you’ll never see a certain TV clip show pundit the same way again…

So, a chapeau tip to TV Cream. Not just for hitting your 20th anniversary, but for being a distillation of what makes pop culture great. TV Cream’s “Anniversary Cassette” will be available here from August 31st and I’m happy to commend it to you. It is an infintely better use of your time on Thursday than the deadline day histrionics of Jim White, anyway.

Apparently, depending on who you ask, the anniversary gift for 20 years is either china or platinum. So to split the difference, here’s quadruple platinum artists T’Pau with China In Your Hand.

Happy birthday TV Cream.

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