Peaky Blinders Fandom, Social Media, & Some Suggestions

Steven Knight and Cillian Murphy (Source: Robert Viglasky)
Steven Knight and Cillian Murphy (Source: Robert Viglasky)

But the thing I am most proud of about that show is that it started off as this very small little thing and it’s grown in the right way, just by word of mouth, not by huge billboards or anyone forcing you to watch it.  Our advertising was just:  people liked it.  It’s grown very gradually and sort of — I hate using the word — organically.

— Cillian Murphy in Harper’s Bazaar

In an earlier post, I raised questions about fandom and the responsibilities of a creator to the audience.  Since then, I’ve been doing some research and thinking about this topic, and I’d like to make some suggestions.

Fandom and the Double Standard

<I>Fangasm</I>
Fangasm

My thinking here has been influenced by Katherine Larsen and Lynn S. Zubernis’s Fangasm:  Supernatural Fangirls.  Larsen and Zubernis are academics, middle-aged women with families, who fell madly in love with Supernatural and did the things fans do:  attended conventions, wrote fanfic, obsessed over actors, did close analysis — and worried they were acting in ways deemed socially inappropriate for women of a certain age.

Their book explores what fandom is and why fandom is so marginalized while academic study is applauded — even though academic study is, really, just socially acceptable fandom.  The graduate student writing her dissertation on the theory of relativity is every bit as obsessed with Einstein as the fan who does Game of Thrones cosplay and speculates about  Westerosi geography.  One is considered acceptable, even desirable; the other is seen as odd.

Consider this from Larsen and Zubernis:

While the vast majority of fans remain sane in the midst of passion, the tendency to characterize fans — especially female fans — as “rabid,” “demented,” “obsessed” stalkers or just plain “batshit crazy” persists.  Even the fans themselves can’t quite decide whether to scream their glee about fandom from the rooftops, apologize for it, or just pretend they’re not fans at all.

Given those disparaging descriptions, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would choose to be a fan.  The thing is, it’s never a conscious decision: we don’t choose a fandom.  It chooses us.

Here’s what I’m getting at:  Some fandoms are “acceptable” (the graduate student) and some fandoms aren’t (The Game of Thrones fan), but the standard is hazy.  (Larsen and Zubernis argue that gender is a central issue.)  I say that as an academic who has found herself utterly immersed in fandom.

I’ve wondered if I pulled out my academic credentials, used my official email, and wrote a letter to Milk Publicity if I could get answers that I can’t get as a fan blogging about Peaky Blinders.   That double standard troubles me.  Why privilege one kind of fandom?  I’m still bothered that Evenstar297 had to attend a Writers Guild Foundation lecture — an academic forum — to get her fan questions answered because her questions are every bit as legitimate as those asked by screenwriters.

Fandom and Social Media

The history of fandom is long, but what matters are the ways in which social media accelerated fandom.  Suddenly, we could communicate with each other, defying geography and time zones.  And when that happened, the balance of power shifted.  Before social media, communication had a mediator, and that mediator controlled the content.  But with social media, that filter has been punctured as fans communicate with each other outside established (controlled) forums.

Some artists have embraced this and cultivated their relationship with  fans.  Here’s an example.  The musician Jason Isbell is one of the most talented singer/songwriters/musicians playing today.  He also has a vital social media presence:  He’s a Twitter and Instagram master.  Part of this is promotion — he tells you where he’s playing and thanks you for attending; part of what he writes is just funny.  Making things more interesting is that his wife, Amanda Shires, an amazing musician in her own right, is also on Twitter and Instagram.  Their use of social media gives fans an insight into their lives.  There’s nothing Kardashianesque about it — they are making careful decisions about what they share — but it makes the art they produce richer for fans because they feel like they have a better sense of the people making it.

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Jason and Amanda are unapologetic fans themselves of musicians, films, and writers.  Sometimes, they ask fans for reading recommendations.  (When Jason requested names of poets, I was ecstatic that he favorited my suggestion of David Baker.)  He’s open in discussing his history of substance abuse, and they have shared with us pictures of their daughter, now almost a toddler.  No one thinks we’re buddies, but there’s an unfiltered channel of communication.  Fans have access and respect.

Peaky Blinders, Fandom, and Social Media

Peaky Blinders has tended to rely on a traditional mediated approach to fans.  In other words, there are lots of magazine interviews — and I’m grateful for that, as the archive sections of this blog show.  But like any fan, I’d like to have an opportunity to get my questions answered, and that’s largely missing because of the attitude Peaky Blinders takes toward social media.

<I>Peaky Blinders</I> Facebook Page
Peaky Blinders Facebook Page

Yes, they have official social media feeds — there’s @ThePeakyBlinder (where they mostly retweet folks who’ve just found the show); there’s the Facebook page; there’s Instagram.  But these accounts are as curated and filtered as any magazine interview.  Colm McCarthy and Annabelle Wallis were two of the smartest social media users, but neither is currently associated with Peaky Blinders.

And here’s what I don’t get:  Both Cillian Murphy and Steven Knight understand that fandom has driven the growth of Peaky Blinders.

According to an interview in Rolling Stone, “Murphy has a theory about how the show eventually became a hit. ‘It didn’t happen because of a mass marketing campaign,’ he says. ‘It just happened because people liked the show and told their friends about it.  That word “organic” is overused, but in this case it’s appropriate.’  Look, that’s fandom.  Period.  You can call it “organic,” but it has to do with fans being invested and taking to social media to communicate with each other.  They use a wide range of media:  GIFs, vids, meta, blogs, art, cosplay — the list is long.  Discussions are detailed and insightful. Go to Reddit, and read some of the threads, or check out NomDeGuerreBlog‘s take on the art at Arrow House.  This is smart commentary (dare I say “academic?”).

But there’s a reticence on the part of Peaky Blinders to participate in this “organic” growth, which involves unmediated interaction between the show and its fans, which baffles me.  Fans are enthusiastic supporters, but they are also careful critics because no one has watched the series as closely as the fans.  Why not engage that?

Consider these Steven Knight comments about social media to Neil Landau in TV Outside the Box:

The interesting thing for me about television is the level of loyalty that comes with it.  So, people watch a film and they love it.  But they won’t have that evangelical loyalty that they have with television.  I still don’t know why it is, but people will watch a particular TV series, and they will become like proselytizers:  “You’ve got to watch this!  It’s brilliant.” . . . And I don’t quite know why that is yet.

Later in the interview, he says,

With television, people have the time to form a community of likeminded people.  It’s like joining a club around a particular show.  If you look at social media, my god, it goes mad!  I mean, the loyalty given to a television show is because certain people who are watching it think, “There’s me, and in the whole globe, there are other people like me who like this, and we’re all friends.”  That’s a unique and very different phenomenon than film.

Steven Knight and Cillian Murphy
Steven Knight and Cillian Murphy

Steven Knight is describing fandom perfectly.  Clearly, he’s thought about this.  He understands that film fandom is different than television fandom — though he never uses the term “fandom” — but he finds the whole thing puzzling.

Knight appreciates the benefits of fandom because it means that people get what he’s doing, and tell others.  But he’s not getting that next step.  And that next step involves interacting with fans and answering questions.  Like it or not, he’s a member of this fandom:  He fathered it.

Steven Knight has said repeatedly that he uses contemporary music in Peaky Blinders to remove barriers that stand between the audience and the story.  He wants to show that even though these are historical characters, their emotions are timeless.  He’s done this brilliantly.  It’s one of the reasons I’m immersed in  Peaky Blinders fandom.

But if you’re about eliminating barriers to your art, then perhaps consider breaking down barriers between yourself and fans.  Stop relying so much on traditional (academic) media.  It’s time for Peaky Blinders to embrace its fandom — and it is a rich fandom — so that we can all help this show reach the audience it deserves.

Return to A Peaky Blinders FanGirl Blog

Related Blog Posts

•Peaky Blinders, Fanfic, & A Question I’d Like to Ask Steven Knight (It’s Not What You Think)

Peaky Blinders:  Some Thoughts on Steven Knight’s Remarks at the Writers Guild Foundation

Peaky Blinders, Breaking Bad & The Problem of Grace Burgess

Peaky Blinders Review:  Tommy, Grace, and the Symbolism of Framing

Peaky Blinders Review:  The Show Gets Meta (Or, How Did I Miss This?)

Peaky Blinders 3.2 — Fear, Part II

Peaky Blinders 3.1 — Fear, Part I


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5 thoughts on “Peaky Blinders Fandom, Social Media, & Some Suggestions

  1. I see no real suggestions here. All I see is complaints about how what Peaky Blinders currently does is inadequate. What have they done that’s so lacking in your opinion? Why are twitter q&a’s with the cast, behind the scenes photos and videos from the set, sharing of fanart and tweets by fans, live tweeting from Peaky Blinders premieres and events, and sharing interview links not sufficient? They’re not on social media to have 1 on 1 relationships with fans or to promote fan fiction or theories that go way beyond the realm of general fan interest. Those things are best left in the hands of the actual fans who promote them on their own platforms to narrower audiences.

    You were one of those that prescribed to the “Grace is not dead” theory because you followed social media and leaks and Annabelle’s interviews and were hoping for something more beyond episode 2. Steven Knight killing her off doesn’t require the show to have a different relationship with fans or mean that Steven Knight owes anyone explanations for why he chose to develop the show in the way he did.

    You show your true colors (disappointment with the show because Grace is dead) when you state that Annabelle Wallis is a social media master. What does she do on her twitter and instagram that’s any different from what Peaky Blinders has been doing? What has Peaky Blinders done that’s any different from what other shows like House of Cards, Mr Robot and Game of Thrones do? All shows with much larger budgets and viewership. I for one would prefer that Peaky Blinders devote its energy and budget to crafting the show rather than worrying about a very small subset of fans who feel neglected.

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    1. Maisie —

      Thanks for your comments. You’re right: I didn’t make any concrete suggestions, and if I’m going to criticize, then I need to provide some alternatives. I’ll do that in another post and let you know when it goes up.

      Thanks for reading!
      APBFG

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    2. Yesterday, I posted a question to Twitter and Tumblr. Other social media accounts were good enough to repost my question. Here are some responses.

      This is from Tumblr:

      From fuckyeahpeakyblinders —

      They definitely stepped up their game for S3 with a new social media company that launched an instagram and shared some fantastic behind the scenes photos and videos and cast interviews. BBCTwo, stills photographer Robert Viglasky and several cast members contributed too and participated in twitter QA’s. All good stuff. Keep on keep on.

      A couple of suggestions for S4

      1. Weekly podcasts with the cast/crew where they do a post-mortem of each episode; Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul did a great job with those.

      2. Cast member takeovers of the official instagram every once in awhile, posting in character. What would Tommy Shelby’s IG feed look like? Arthur’s? Aunt Polly’s?

      Yes? No? Other ideas?

      From theperpetualnight —

      Love the second idea!!! Brilliant would love to see that!

      From megushie

      OH MY GOSH a cast take over of Instagram would be amazing.

      From im-the-colourless-sunshine

      I like number 2! That would be funny to see 😄 imagine Arthur’s Instagram posts. You definitely need to pitch that to PB 😂😂

      So those are a few additional suggestions.

      APBFG

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    3. Maisie —

      The level of detail you’ve used in describing Peaky Blinders social media strategy has led me (and others) to assume you are in some way affiliated with the show. My response is premised on that assumption.

      You asked for concrete strategies, and we’ve provided them. Peaky Blinders has an engaged, smart fandom. I see this daily, but your reply suggests that perhaps you’ve missed that.

      But I do want to respectfully disagree with your characterization of fandom because it badly misreads me and other fans — and if you’re in the business of putting your product out to the world, suggesting that someone in your fandom represents “a very small subset of fans who feel neglected” (translation: whiners) probably isn’t the best way to characterize them.

      One Peaky Blinders fan on Tumblr said something pretty insightful: “Maisie seems to confuse engagement with the promotion of fan content.” That’s an essential distinction. I was calling for the former; you’ve assumed the latter. I apologize if I was unclear about that.

      You’ve also created a (deadly) distinction between Peaky Blinders social media and fandom. You see them as two very different worlds, with fandom given a second-class “other” status. In other words, what you’ve said here suggests that I and other fans are really a bunch of losers living in our parents’ basements without lives who are whining because a character we’ve invested in was killed. Trust me on this: That’s a poor assumption. And it makes some gender assumptions that are especially troubling. If you’re a middle-aged man living in Wisconsin, and on Sundays you like to paint your body green and stand shirtless in sub-zero temperatures to cheer for the Packers (I live in the US), that’s an acceptable form of fandom; if you’re a woman who’s been engaged by a television program (like, say, Peaky Blinders) and participates in fandom, well, don’t you have a family you should be taking care of? Assumptions like that infuriate me — and it’s the subtext of what you’ve written here.

      My suggestion is that you take a look at the research on fandom, which is substantial. My reading has been on the academic side (the political, creative, and gender-socio-economic characteristics/impact of fandom), but I don’t doubt that the body of literature on fandom and marketing is equally robust. And I suspect that they would urge you not to make the kinds of assumptions you have here. I especially recommend that you read Fangasm — and read all of it because the stuff that most affects you is in the final two chapters. That’s where the authors (brokenheartedly) discovered that TPTB really didn’t get fandom or its potential.

      You’ve asked what Peaky Blinders does that’s any different from House of Cards, or Mr. Robot, or Game of Thrones. I can’t speak to HOC, but I can to the other two, and the answer is that they are quite different — and it isn’t about money; it’s about engagement.

      Last week, there was a twist on Mr. Robot. (Don’t tell me because I haven’t watched yet.) So Sam Esmail sat down with Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall) and did an interview about it. He did this because he knows that Sepinwall takes engagement seriously and because he understood that he needed to explain his decisions to fans. And if there’s a show that’s built on engaging fans, it’s that one. Go to the USA Network site, and there’s a page devoted to Easter Eggs — that’s engagement written into the show itself. When it comes to engaging fans, Mr. Robot has it down. And the budget? Not much. It also got Emmy nominations.

      Game of Thrones provides a different but equally interesting example. It’s different because it came with a build-in fandom of book readers. So if there’s a show that has to be aware of fandom and engagement, it’s that one. Plus, George R. R. Martin has a long history of engaging fans through attending cons and his blog. I suspect that Benioff and Weiss understand this now much better than they did when they started, and GOT fans have been outspoken, both because of deviations from the novels and because of the show’s treatment of women. (“Sexposition” entered the lexicon for a reason.) Now there’s After the Thrones. Andy Greenwald (@andygreenwald), like Alan Sepinwall, has a vibrant social media presence, co-hosts the show, which is about engaging fans and exploring nerdom in the best possible way. (Granted, the budget for this one is higher.) The Atlantic‘s post-GOT roundtable is a post I wait for. Yes, these are journalists, but in this context, they’re fans (often critical ones), and I suspect GOT is glad to have them. GOT is set to make Emmy history this year.

      One more example, and then I’ll stop — though I could give more. Ron Moore (@rondmoore), who knows something about fandom given his experience with Battlestar Galactica, is a model, I think. He does does a weekly podcast, and he conducts random Twitter chats where he takes questions — often while waiting for a Giants game to start. The budget for this is his podcasting equipment and a Twitter feed. In addition he attends cons as do the show’s stars and production staff, and all are avid social media users.

      Tell me: Does this seem comparable to the Peaky Blinders approach to fandom? And does it seem like they would place fandom in the box of “a very small subset of fans who feel neglected?” These shows have a standard media presence (website, Instagram and Twitter feeds, etc.), but they go beyond those traditional strategies.

      I appreciate your comments because they’ve forced me to work through some issues that I hadn’t figured out. Yes, I am a disappointed #TeamGrace member, but I have also accepted (and have blogged repeatedly) that Steven Knight as the writer is free to do with his characters what he wishes. For me, the authority of a text stands. But I see now that I confused a writing problem with a social media problem. In other words, Grace’s death wasn’t handled clearly in the script, and given the history of the show (Danny Whizz-bang) and the lack of conclusive evidence of her death, it wasn’t unreasonable for fans to create other interpretations. The lack of clarity in the show isn’t the fault of social media — and I apologize for making that mistake.

      But I’ve come to expect that when a series finishes a season, the writer/showrunner will take questions — and given that the biggest fan questions were about the ambiguity of Grace’s death and the confusing storyline, Steven Knight’s taking questions seems to me a reasonable (and inexpensive) expectation. Instead, two fans had to attend a Writers Guild Foundation talk to ask this question and then give their account to the world via Reddit. For me, that is a failure of social media and publicity.

      I hope that you’ve found this exchange as enlightening as I have — and I say that with complete sincerity. I’ve been thinking about the issues you’ve raised and interacting with other fans. I always learn so much. I’m very grateful for Peaky Blinders and the hard work everyone associated with the show does. In starting this blog, I’ve ended up in places I hadn’t expected — and that’s not a complaint.

      Thanks again —

      APBFG

      (I have a version of this that provides links to various pages. The WordPress comments editor is much less powerful than the pages and posts editor. Should you want the linked version, I’ll be happy to email it to you.)

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  2. First off, I want to say in comparison to the previous Peaky Blinder social media handlers, MILK has definitely improved Peaky Blinders’ social media but there is always room for new opportunities. Here are a few friendly suggestions (won’t be insulted if they aren’t used but just putting it out there):

    Twitter Q&A’s w/the cast are great when they are utilized judiciously. The one with Paddy Considine this past series was perfect as was the one with Packy Lee.A Q&A works best when the actor played a pivotal part in an episode. If they didn’t, though nice, its quite obviously filler (what is there to really ask them otherwise?). For instance, why wasn’t Sam Neil ever part of Peaky Q&A given he is a prolific twitter user who engages with his fans? Why not have him do a peaky q&a for ep 6 of s2? If there was a scheduling conflict, it could have been done after or even in lead up to series 3 (a great way to build momentum). After ep 3 or 5, why not have a post twitter q&a or reddit chat with Annabelle Wallis who was posting heavily on social media in concert with the show’s airing? A great way to increase traffic to PB social media and give fans an opportunity to express what was occurring on PB in real time. One of the top google searches with Peaky Blinders is “series/season 3 confusing” or “plot”. If you look at the twitter/reddit reaction afterward, there were questions not associated with cliffhangers and spoilers but that the season was confusing. A suggestion would after the final episode airs, see which 3 questions are asked most frequently, ask SK if he can answer these questions via email and then use this as bait during the downtime before s4 shoot on twitter.

    Sharing fan art and tweets by fans is a nice nod to individual fans but why is it that events such as the Radio Times Peaky Blinders event (which was only promoted by PB social media when pressed by another twitter user) or the WGF event with Steven Knight or the Gold Derby YouTube talk with Cillian Murphy about PB, not promoted on Peaky Blinders channels? Those are big missed opportunities to continue promoting the show before and after its aired while allowing fans to be aware of possible avenues where they can ask questions about a show they’re passionate about. Doing this does not require much budget (if at all) as other fan accounts are doing this without their livelihoods depending on it (For them this is a passion hobby and an apt use of google alerts). PB social media shouldn’t be compared to GoT but perhaps Breaking Bad as their budget was on par with PB in the first 3 seasons and were more of an underdog than PB in that there was no famous actor/writer/director associated with the show. Like PB, thanks to Netflix, Breaking Bad’s popularity grew via word of mouth. However what really helped it grow was the fact that the actors, writers, and the show engaged their fans on social media and online. Doesn’t mean SK or CM’s should be on social media directly but they should be made aware what their fans are saying (even if they don’t respond).

    Given that PB is on a similar trajectory as BB and many fans had questions about a character’s fate, why not use that momentum on social media to further engage their fans and increase fan engagement which boosts the show’s profile? If you look at the PB twitter and Instagram posts, the one with the most feedback and comments tend to center around Grace yet it goes unacknowledged by PB social media handlers. PB fans aren’t looking for a happy ending, what they want is context for that character’s demise so quickly given the ep 2 cliffhanger. TV watchers nowadays are trained to now look for clues. Given that this is one of the major characters to die on the show its natural that people will react and given the nebulous context in which it occurred, its natural that fans would be curious as to the thought process that led to that decision. For instance, in BB, Jane’s death in s3 was something VG addressed afterward b/c there were questions on social media as to what led to that decision (also the lack of development of Skyler White’s character as the word “misogyny” kept being associated w/the show). To assume that female fans are upset about Grace’s demise is due to some romantic/fanfiction fantasy is incredibly disrespectful and an insult to female fans of the show.

    Social media moves quickly which is why collaboration is helpful. For instance, the show Gilmore Girls (which was brought back by the demand of the fans) social media channel is collaborating with one of the shows twitter fan sites (not affiliated w/the show whatsoever) to promote the return of the show. They are not paying this fan site but the fact that they are engaging with them on posts, themes and/or gamifications (takes a bit of strategy but if fan sites take the lead, really not as much work as it doesn’t solely rely on one person) not only makes the fan sites promote the show more but acknowledges the fans who do so much to promote the show and provides another avenue where fans can connect, again increasing the profile of the overall show (win win).

    SK, PB, et al doesn’t owe the fans anything aside from putting on a great tv show. Since SK is creating a clothing line centered around it and there are many businesses springing up b/c of the show (Peaky Tours, Arley House, Black Country Museum, etc) it seems like there are big missed opportunities to engage fans on social media and boost the overall profile of the show and business associated with it (something he should be made aware of ). MILK publicity has definitely improved PB social media overall. These are just friendly suggestions and just putting them out there as to ways to increase followers and the show’s popularity.

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