Image Credit: Georgia Harper/BBC/Facebook (Fair Use)
Image Description: A meme reading Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor and the world is a wonderful place
By William Shaw
The 3rd August 2016, like most of that year, was a very stressful time for me. I was two years into my university experience, three days into a very crappy internship, and contemplating the onrushing postgraduate void as my career options seemed to collapse one by one around me. Besides which, western liberal democracy was merrily imploding at home and abroad, with a monstrous demagogue ascending to the highest office in the United States, and the slow-motion catastrophe of Brexit having begun in earnest.
Even worse, there wasn’t even any Doctor Who that year.
And so I sat alone on the sofa of my grandparents’ living room while they enjoyed themselves on the holiday I had abandoned (in favour of a tech startup in Walthamstow), as the perverse unreality of the situation finally poured forth. My laptop already beginning to overheat, I leaned forward into the heady, blue-tinged pages of Facebook, and clicked ‘Create Group.’
A few months previously, I had written a profile of the Oxford Doctor Who Society for that bastion of quality independent journalism, The Oxford Student. While promoting the article on Facebook, I had gotten into a comment thread with good friend and then-WhoSoc treasurer Beth Graham, in which we shared images from Doctor Who with humourous captions. (My favourite was Beth’s picture of a group of Vervoids captioned #squadgoals). I had said on the thread that this would make suitable material for an entire Facebook group, suggested the name ‘Time And Relative Dimensions In Shitposting,’ and promised to create such a group in my next fit of procrastination.
Well, at this moment my entire life felt like a fit of procrastination, and cometh the hour, cometh the man who would go on to receive a disproportionate amount of credit for something he co-developed with an important female collaborator.
My first post was a picture of the villain from 1985’s Timelash, which, in honour of a meme already several months old, I captioned “HERE COME DAT BORAD/ O SHIT WADDUP!”. I proceeded to create a handful of extra posts based on Revenge of the Cybermen (of all things), before adding as many of my friends as I thought I could get away with and going to bed. I spent the rest of the week creating similar content and adding more friends, which made a rather more edifying pastime than constantly rewriting the same four Google Slides, which was about all the aforementioned internship had to offer in comparison.
My memories of what came immediately after this are hazy, so I will take this opportunity for a brief digression on the nature of shitposting.
Urban Dictionary’s Top Definition of ‘Shit Posting’ defines it as the “constant posting of mildly amusing but usually unfunny memes, videos or other pictures that are completely random or unrelated to any discussions.” A fine enough definition, but lacking in some key respects. While it adequately covers the ‘posting’ part of the term, the ‘shit’ is rather more ambiguous; if the quality of the memes is sufficiently covered by their being ‘unfunny,’ then why is it called ‘shitposting’ as opposed to ‘unfunnyposting,’ or simply ‘badposting’?
The answer, I believe, lies in shitposting’s inherent relation to the act of consumption. In the wider world of Facebook groups, the extent to which shitposting overlaps with established fandom is remarkable. Star Wars Sithposting, David Bowie Starposting, Twin Peaks Logposting, Oasis Sheeiiineposting; all of them explicitly market themselves as places of both established media appreciation and anarchic cultural détournement (even if many of them euphemistically obscure the act of excrescence). You see where I’m going with this: shitposting groups are places for people who have consumed a lot of something, where they can share the fragmented, de-contextualised results of that consumption, a constant churn of partially-digested matter once part of a corporate whole, now rendered unrecognisable, made uniquely, disturbingly, gloriously, ours.
As a fandom space, the nascent Time and Relative Dimensions In Shitposting (TARDIS for short) drew primarily from people I knew in fandom, most pertinently through Oxford WhoSoc. Early recruits included several names familiar to long-term readers of this fanzine; Beth Graham, Hannah Taylor, Sam Sheppard, Ryan Bradley, Matthew Kilburn, and Ian Bayley, among others, with more joining as the group began to build momentum.
That first term back in Oxford following the group’s creation saw the first indications that this idea had legs; more people started posting, and interacting with each other’s posts. Over time a community of shitposters would establish itself, fuelled by an endless stream of in-jokes, which, by their very nature, would probably not make much sense were I to attempt an explanation. But trust me, they were hilarious!
As well as raw memes, the group also proved a fertile breeding ground for fresh takes on the source material. Idiosyncratic opinions abounded; not for us the suffocating weight of Fan Orthodoxy. We found joy in The Horns of Nimon, The Happiness Patrol, The Lie of the Land. Ryan Bradley introduced us all to the majesty that is The Keys of Marinus, with its iconic wetsuit-clad villain Yartek, Leader of the Alien Voord. We re-evaluated the legendarily marmite, finding new and strange pleasures in Hell Bent, Love & Monsters, and Destiny of the Doctors. For my part, I continued to evangelise for The Rings of Akhaten, Kill the Moon, and In The Forest of the Night, sometimes even successfully. A whole new taxonomy emerged of Top Episodes and Flop Episodes, with no-one able to decide which episodes were which, caught in an endless stream of bizarre and arresting imagery (a state of affairs capturing, I believe, the pleasures of Doctor Who in cameo). TARDIS is a collective project, in which we constantly find new ways to experience Doctor Who, whether through liveblogging, poetry, open polls or Thomas the Tank Engine spin-off groups, our methods of engagement as expansive and mercurial as the Doctor herself.
However, as anyone who’s seen Love & Monsters will tell you, the real fandom is in the friends we make along the way. TARDIS is a social space, as much as (indeed probably more than) it is a fandom space. That sense of community is what keeps me coming back, and has helped many members of the group through some tough times since the 3rd August 2016. Whether through the famous ‘Autobiographical Shitposting’ of the group’s early days, the lengthy Dissertationposting sequences several members created towards the end of their degrees, or simply the fact that one can post a picture of Rory Williams being sad and receive a sympathetic reaction, TARDIS has become a reliable source of friendship, camaraderie, wholesome content, and an all-round generosity of spirit.
And that, more than the close-ups of Doctor Who comic panels, more than the unstoppable Cybermemes, more than the images of David Tennant saying ‘I’ve gone too far’ recontextualised to the point of hypermeaning, is what I am most proud to have been a part of. As we enter the group’s third year, I hope we can keep providing a place for Doctor Who fans to hang out, meet new friends, and grow in each other’s company. Time And Relative Dimensions In Shitposting. It means life. And you are more than welcome to join us. Time And Relative Dimensions In Shitposting can be found here
Tides 42 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link