Gladstone over at Cracked posted an article today called "How Doctor Who Became My Religion," which, I feel, hit on a lot of very important points. In my labels box, one of the self-affected titles I've put down is "Whovian." If you're not familiar with the term, it's an arguably-insulting term for fans of Doctor Who. (Like Trekkie.) For all the weirdly religious vibe of Gladstone's article, he's right. Doctor Who, as a story, has all the necessary equipment to be the spine of a religious faith.
The religion/fandom comparison is far from a new thing. CollegeHumor recently did a video on it:
and Greta Christina wrote an article for Alternet about it, a while ago: "What if People Actually Treated Religion as Just a Metaphor (Like Trekkies and Secular Jews)?".
Both the video and the article make the point that there are real differences between religion and fandom -- but they have a hell of a lot in common, too.
[It's important to me to point out, right now, without any ambiguity: I think there are important differences between fandom and religious faith, and I think that fandom, even when it reaches religion-like fervor, is safe, sane and legitimate in ways that religion is not. Just so we're absolutely, unambiguously clear.]
The thing is, there are a few different kinds of stories. There are stories like the ones Stephen King writes, or Hemmingway, the sorts of stories that are just about a group of people. The kinds of stories that don't really spark much fanfic. Then, there are myths. These kinds of stories -- Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Firefly, Twilight, the Bible, have a sort of universal quality. The characters are just slightly so distant from real humanity that they become symbols. There's something aspirational about them. I don't think the true-to-life, Stephen King/Hemmingway style stories are inherently less valid than the fanfic-inspiring types. It think they're both valuable artforms.
Bringing it back to Doctor Who, though, there are good reasons for the Whovian fandom to be as religiously devoted as they are. And, as a sort of religion, I think there's a lot to be said for Doctor Who. Because the Doctor is one of the very few heroic, even deific, figures in fiction who champion humanism.
If you find yourself thinking "What would the Doctor do?" when faced with a moral difficulty, you're the sort of person I want in my life. Because if you're being honest, you know that what the Doctor would do is work as hard as he possibly can, at the cost of his own safety and wellbeing, to find a solution that makes as many people happy as possible. You know that the Doctor will abandon blame as soon as he sees an opportunity to get everyone somewhere peaceful and safe. You know the Doctor would only ever harm another living being if there's no choice between that and saving innocents. You know that the Doctor would say the two most beautiful words in any language are "Everybody lives."
Add to that a love of adventure, a healthy disrespect for authority, and a sincere and passionate dedication to living this life like it's the only one you're going to get, and it amounts to a pretty good life compass. It doesn't hurt, either, that they're up-front about it not being true, in the strictest sense. Gotta respect the absence of unjustified metaphysical claims in any quasireligion.
And, yeah, Doctor Who usually makes me cry, too.
Just wait until I start writing about existentialism and Firefly.