Polyphony on Tumblr: Reading the hateblog as pastiche

Judith May Fathallah

[0.1] AbstractTumblr accounts dedicated to criticizing or mocking a text and fandom pose an interpretive challenge. Far from a straightforward display of antifandom, what we find here is a comic pastiche of fragments enabled by the postmodern flatness of the medium. With reference to a group of blogs positioned as antithetical to BBC's Sherlock (2010–), I suggest we can read these pastiches as critique without authority—as a polyphonic surface that undermines both claims to discursive dominance and the dominance of mass media cultural icons.

[0.2] KeywordsAntifandom; Fandom; Humor; Sherlock; Tumblr

Fathallah, Judith May. 2018. "Polyphony on Tumblr: Reading the Hateblog as Pastiche." In "Tumblr and Fandom," edited by Lori Morimoto and Louisa Ellen Stein, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 27.

[1] Despite the popularity of BBC's Sherlock (2010–) among fans, searching "Sherlock hate" on Tumblr in 2017 turned up, a blog ostensibly devoted to proving its title. This blog led by links to, whose tagline read "A blog for those who dislike BBC Sherlock." It self-described:

[2] This is not a hate blog. It's an archive for people who don't like BBC Sherlock for various reasons. Due to the popularity of the show it's hard for people who dislike any aspect of it to be heard or supported. (

[3] So far, these statements appear to belong to a traditional discourse of antifandom Gray established (2003), demonstrating measured dislike and critical judgement of a fandom and its source text. Antifandom is a term initially used to describe performative and/or creative dislike of a particular text and/or its fandom, through activities like blogging, gossip, and creative work that parallel and intersect with the practices of fandom itself (Grey 2003). Yet through the affordances of reblogging, these blogs' displays intersect with blogs titled "why-helo-is-i-stvenen-mofatt" and "sherlocksucks." These latter blogs' utilization of obscenity and crude humor immediately juxtapose and undercut the reasoned stance of the former. Their very titles deny their own claims to authoritative voice, via the obvious misspelling and grammatical inversion of "is-i-stvenen-mofatt." "Is-I" is a grammatical question: each reader must judge the authority of the claim for themselves. Via citation and incorporation into each other's textual format, all the anti-Sherlock blogs become part of each other, in addition to their constant citation of and interaction with Sherlock fandom and the show itself. The customizable Tumblr formats, all of which utilize Sherlock-related media, strengthen their connections to form an impression similar to a webring. Through analysis focused on a portion of the Tumblr-surface taken up by these blogs, I demonstrate that the affordances of Tumblr produce a distinct mode of critique, one which rebuffs depth hermeneutics in a comic display of postmodern pastiche that both invokes and satires fandom discourses across its depthless surface.

[4] First, I will establish the points these blogs have in common with prior articulations of what scholars following Grey (2003) call antifandom; notably, criticism of the quality of the show, its fandom, and the politics of its messages. Then I will demonstrate how these points are undercut with self-contradiction, self-parody, parody of other forms of antifandom, and utilization of the broader tropes of fandom.

[5] Prior to the rise of Tumblr, most intra-fandom criticism took place on the varied incarnations of fandom_wank journals. These community journals devoted themselves explicitly to mocking and laughing at instances of fandom deemed risible, which primarily comprised taking fandom or one's contributions to fandom too seriously. By contrast, there is a tendency in Tumblr fandom to construct "good" fandoms and fannish objections in a moral sense, opposing them to "bad" ones judged to be problematic politically and socially (e.g., However, via Tumblr's style and technical affordances, the blogs also undercut their own claims and position of authority and judgement.

[6] At first glance, the Tumblr blog titled "antibbcsherlock" looks more or less like traditional antifandom. Its background is white, suggesting seriousness and clarity of intent, and its icon a screen cap of the Sherlock opening sequence with a red "X" imposed on it. The X semiotically connotes both wrongness, as the opposite of a check mark, and a desire that the show be banned or cease existing. Many of the posts are submissions and reblogs from other users. A common category of posts is statements or reblogs criticizing the show as superficial and poorly written:

[7] Remember when Sherlock was literally getting tortured and his brother was treating it all like a joke and then Sherlock was magically fine and it was never mentioned again…

Because Moffat's characters do not have emotions, and PTSD just means you're bored. (post at, reblogged from rjalker, 2015)

[8] Relatedly, criticism of the show and its fandom's politics are also a prominent category:

[9] Sherlock fans are racist garbage… My friend found a Facebook/Tumblr post that said "on this day wear the ancient Chinese symbol '三' as a reference to that episode with Chinese people in it, it means three because we want a third season LOLOLOLOL!!!1!" they can't even do research "ancient Chinese symbol"…this is literally just the modern character for "3" ughh. (post at, anonymous, 2014)

[10] These types of posts fit reasonably well with understandings of antifandom developed from Gray and others. Irrational, unthinking praise is attributed to Sherlock fandom, while the antifan critiques it from a better-informed position, adapted to the new discourse of morally good/bad fan objects and practices indicated above. There is no distinction or separation between criticism of fandoms and criticisms of fan-objects. Integrated in the same font, size, and color, we have this reblog:


y is irene not lesbian after seeing shrerlckock


HOW BOUT FLUID SXEUALTIY? Um r u hmomphobia? All women fall for Shreklok he MYSTERYIOUS and SXYE. They want DESFROTS GLCACIER and make him HUBSAND. IRENE is STRONG WOMEN with GUN AND SASS and U R BULLY BYE. (post at, reblogged from why-helo-is-i-stvenen-mofatt, 2014)

[12] At first, this seems a rebuff of interpretation, marked by intentional misspellings, the nonsensical question in response to an unmarked question, the conjunction of an abbreviated modal verb ("r") with what we presume is a noun masquerading as an adjective. It imitates and intersects with the deliberately nongrammatical style of memes in broader online culture, especially from humor sites like I Can Haz Cheezburger? But some paratextual knowledge—the kind associated with affirmational fannish capital—will illuminate what these statements are doing. "Irene" refers to Irene Adler, a lesbian character whose crush on Sherlock proved to be her undoing in the series. "Stvenen Mofatt" is a mis-citation of Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat. Moffat's relationship with fandom is notoriously turbulent. He is consistently positioned as a bad/immoral object, criticized for, among other things, producing stereotypical female characters and having an inability to take criticism. The statements parody both of these tendencies to an excess: "STRONG WOMEN with GUN AND SASS" is an exaggerated synecdoche for the female characters Moffat produces. Moffat has famously attributed desire for Sherlock to his female fan base, suggesting each woman believes she is the one who will "melt that glacier," but says they are all wrong: "nothing will melt that glacier" (quoted in Ng 2014). The confused juxtaposition of "Um r u hmomphobia" with "They want DESFROTS GLCACIER and make him HUBSAND" both undermines Moffat's authorial posture through absurdity and compromises the reserved-critic posture of "anti-bbcsherlock" via its incorporation into the background, format and font. This sort of self-consciousness is evident across the Tumblr surface, as there is no border between these sorts of reblogs and the poses of authoritative criticism. Nor is reblogging necessary to this self-consciousness. User carinaroundvevo posts "i used to like sherlock and now i have repented from those bad days thanks to this blog, god bless you" and receives the response "God bless YOU, carinaroundvevo. Welcome to the light" (2014). The hyperbolic construction of critical awareness as religious salvation parodies its own stance.

[13] Posts sometimes slide from a distant/critical voice directly into an emotive, humorous, and playful one. Consider this submission:

[14] If u take away the racism, sexism, queerbaiting and every other piece of shit aspect in bbc sherlock, all u get is lizard lord benadrizzle cumbersnatch and his hobbit hole sidekick martin freeman. i rate it 2/10 heterosexist paperclips. (antibbcsherlock 2014, anonymous)

[15] The tripling effect of "racism, sexism, queerbaiting" catalogues serious social ills, before descending into mockery via namecalling and incoherence ("heterosexist paperclips"). Moreover, embedding of reblogged posts means that as easily as the reader clicks next or back, she can click "why-helo-is-i-stvenen-mofatt," skimming the flattened surface of Tumblr across its porous borders. Thus she arrives at the blog headed "the DCOTOR LEIS" and the following blurb:

[16] Why HELLO Is I STVENEN MOFATT Shworuneurn of the DR WHO SHOW


[17] This title is a mis-citation of Moffat's fan-famous dictum that "the Doctor lies," a supposed principle of interpretation for his former show, Doctor Who (2005–). This principle is an authorial gesture: if the character of the Doctor lies, only Moffat, the showrunner, can have a final say over the meaning and coherence of the text. He is the one who can state when the Doctor is telling the truth and when he is lying. The statement undercuts Moffat's assertion of meaning without providing its own. As noted, the deliberate placement of 'Is' before 'I,' means that identity is always an unmarked question rather than a statement. A large part of the blog's humor relies on incoherence. Anonymous readers submit questions, insults, and praise, and receive replies, which are apt to be cut off mid-sentence against a white background, or refuse resolution with an over-marked like question "UMMM?????" The voice attributed to Moffat responds to criticism with the demands that fans stop "bulying" him, or chiding them with "u r a rude." In reaction to a follower's taunts regarding leaked scripts, a post responds:


[19] Thus Moffat's authority as author and his practical powerlessness over fandom are ridiculed via absurdity—not least by the impossible request that fans wait until the "223rd" of the month. When these posts are reblogged into Tumblrs like antibbcsherlock, they further undercut the platform from which political and value judgments are made. This creation of meaning through juxtaposition depends both on the affordances of Tumblr and the conventions of fandom.

[20] A similar pattern is visible at sherlocksucks, which again incorporates some of the same posts as the other blogs. Here, the background is a tile effect: photographs of a hedgehog and otter superimposed with speech scrawled in white using MS Paint: "Is that a new case?" and "Shut up John," respectively. The tile effect and comparison of Freeman and Cumberbatch to a hedgehog and otter are popular fandom tropes: indeed, to judge by the background alone, this could be a humorous, informal fan blog. But the criticism of Orientalism in Sherlock fandom is also posted here, as are criticisms of the show as pretentious, poorly written, and poorly acted. Yet the blog simultaneously disavows its own critical stance, especially with response to its submissions. A submitter compliments:

[21] I like Sherlock, I like Doctor who, but this is some funny shit. My favorite part is saying "Don't share hate." I guess they also agree that people calling the Holocaust a lie is fine. The Nazi Party was Hitler's fandom. You can hate him all you want but don't express it. (happypess at, 2014)

[22] The response is "i have no idea what ur trying to say but it sounds nice so thank u." Sherlocksucks disavows interpretation, and the presumed analogy between protesting the bad politics of a television show and protesting bad politics in action, professing to let the compliment stand at the surface level of "sound[ing] nice." Moreover, sherlocksucks appears to mock the kind of moral judgments associated with antifandom. A long text post reads:

[23] I'm sure that if you're part of the Sherlock fandom, there's a good chance that you've been following [fan] Reapersex. And if you're following reapersex, I'm sure that you are well aware about the rape controversy that has been going on…

[24] This has gotten way out of control. But please understand that it has not gotten out of control because people were offended by it. It is out of control because so many people are pretty much making posts that say "stfu rape victims lol calm down." … Now here is the important point: YOU DON'T GET TO DECIDE HOW OTHER PEOPLE FEEL… Don't go attacking rape victims for being uncomfortable with a comic which reminded them of rape. Don't tell them to calm down. If they want a TW [trigger warning], let them put one and then leave the subject alone. (2013)

[25] At this point, the post appears as a sincere appeal to fandom to police its own boundaries and ethics by attaching warnings to content that could be traumatic for some readers. Such appeals are a common statement across fandoms. But the series of posts tagged "reapersex" continues into a hyperbolic parody that turns the direction of criticism back upon fandom's own tendency to moralize and self-police:

[26] can we call for a ban of reapersex?

[27] after the latest panel with the nose assault, i think it's about time that someone puts a stop to reapersex. it was about enough when they didn't put a tigger [sic] on the rape scene, and you would have thought that they would learned by then. but as you may have noticed in the latest update, john bites sherlock's nose, and there is ONCE AGAIN no trigger warning provided.

[28] aside from the clear anti-semitism of this gesture, it is completely inconsiderate to those who have experienced nose trauma in their life. if reapsersex will continue to create such offensive art without any warning, i say that we all call for a boycott and mass-unfollow, and maybe even write to the tumblr staff.

[29] who else is with me?


[31] While calling for protection of rape victims taps the established discourse of morality, claiming a comic is "inconsiderate to those who have experienced nose trauma in their life" in the same font, format, and posting style levels that discourse into a parodic one. When fans start to protest the proposed ban on the blog reapersex, sherlocksucks goes on to defend in moralistic terms its earnest "desire to stop anti-semitism and victims of nose trauma," once again collapsing the distinction between a form of intolerance considered worthy of policing and an absurdist imagined one via the simple conjunction "and." As objections mount, sherlocksucks defends that "it's all about spreading awareness, and it's relevant, duh" and "people are so fucking rude oh my god I AM TRYING TO HELP VICTIMS HERE jesus crist!" This reads as a parody of the "social justice warrior," a figure of mockery associated with Tumblr and characterized by a shallow, self-servingly engagement with social problems, combined with excessively pedantic political correctness. Yet in the same place, sherlocksucks reblogs a long criticism of classism and ableism in the show, in addition to a deconstruction of Cumberbatch's problematic commentary on the autistic young people he studied for his role as Frankenstein. Moreover, when a commenter asks, "hey, would you mind providing a transcript next time you're posting big blocks of text in image form? It's kind of an accessibility issue. Thanks," the blog administrator replies "yes, of course. mea culpa. i went back and added a transcript."

[32] By now, it should be obvious that criticism of the show and criticism of the fandom are inextricable on Tumblr. "Sherlock" has coalesced into a term that includes both canon and fandom, and the quality and politics of the show are criticized in the same voice of sarcastic appreciation. "I didn't know you could win an Emmy award for writing a script with no plot or continuity or coherence," reads an anonymous submission to antibbcsherlock, then continues, "If only I had a dick I could be next year's winner." Sherlocksucks reblogs excerpts of fan fiction communally judged poor by virtue of its violation of the rules of Standard English, poor use of metaphor or imagery, or lack of continuity, and tags them with ironic notes like, "i'm glad that this show inspires such fine literature." An anonymous submitter admits that they are "a big fan" of Sherlock "but honestly can find humor in your posts, and some of them have valid points. I don't see why people get butthurt over shows. Television shows. TV. Shows." Sherlocksucks replies:

[33] This is the internet. In the way there are fandoms, there are also…butthurtdoms. Everyone has something to be angry about.

It's kinda part of the tumblr thing.

[34] In the tradition of fandom_wank, the post judges fannish investment and "the tumblr thing" as excessive and rather absurd, even though it is speaking from inside that very discourse. Indeed, at one point it points up its own entanglement in it, reblogging an article concerning Cumberbatch's fear over his more obsessive fans. Notes appended to the article read:

[35] so I found this

and i was like

"yeah, i'd worry about those obsessive fans too, i mean—"

and then i stopped

and i thought about my blog

and my life

and i cried. (reblogged on sherlocksucks)

[36] Though this was posted by another user, its reappearance on sherlocksucks, in the font and format of that blog, is a perfect illustration of how Tumblr affordances level meaning across its surface. In this format, the referent is sherlocksucks, a blog undeniably invested in and in dialogue with Sherlock, as much as it is the blog sherlocksucks reblogged it from.

[37] Sherlocksucks also bestows the hashtag #GOOD upon fans who complain about their own fandom, as a teacher might in perfunctory grading. At one point, it reblogs a piece of deductive work regarding the meaning of clues in the show with the note "taking a break from insulting the fandom to compliment the really impress parts of the fandom. Just don't expect this to happen again." From this, it might be expected that this expression of antifandom operates along the rational-good emotional-bad axis; yet, in rebuffing criticism, the voice of schoolyard mockery appears on this polyphonic surface. "You're an idiot who obviously doesn't appreciate real television," complains an anonymous submitter. "I'm surprised if you have any friends because you obviously spend all your time writing a hate blog." "We don't spend all our time writing for this blog," Sherlocksucks replies. "Sometimes we write hate for other things, like your mom"—and adds a GIF of teenagers engaged in some performative form of group mockery. The invocation of "your mom" jokes as a counterargument in the same place, font, color, size, and format as judgments on continuity and coherence cuts away the authoritative grounding the latter appropriates.

[38] The technological affordances of Tumblr, then, combine with these self-conscious, self-reflexive codes of fannish discourse to produce this particular postmodern form of critique, less amenable to interpretation than traceable across its surface. In addressing these explicitly fragmented texts dependent on pastiche and the destabilization of identity, we can see how the disjunctions and polyphony of the postmodern surface undermine value judgments about fandoms, texts, and taste hierarchies, which distinctions become increasingly difficult to establish in the changing new media environment.


Gray, Jonathan. 2003. "New Audiences, New Textualities: Anti-fans and Non-fans." International Journal of Cultural Studies 6 (1): 64–81.

Ng, Philiana. 2014. "Sherlock Boss on 'Moving' Holmes/Watson Reunion and 'Funnier' Season 3 (Q&A)." Hollywood Reporter, January 1, 2014.