Outlander and Why the Internet Means There's No Such Thing as a Guilty Pleasure Anymore

By Kate Longman on at

I was recently told by my partner, in a roundabout way, that I watch an inordinate amount of rubbish, nay embarrassing, television. I felt naturally affronted, but in all fairness I knew exactly what he meant. I fall into every cliché going when it comes to what’s on the box: I’m a sucker for period dramas, female-centred comedies, romance, and the dorkiest of dorky fantasy. I am that person whose Netfilx recommended list features categories like ‘Period Dramas with a Strong Female Lead’, ‘Romantic Comedies Featuring a Strong Female Lead’, and ‘Cult Classics with a Strong Female Lead’.

I like to think of the positive messages I get from this: I obviously identify with strong women, and I’m clearly quite forgiving of mediocre writing and low-budget productions. My partner on the other hand prefers to keep his distance while I’m exploring my sensitive side in this way, most likely hoping that I’m doing something much cooler than hunkering down to watch Ross Poldark romance his kitchen wench again.

But I need not feel ashamed. Thanks to the good graces of the internet this is a time for everyone to nourish the things they love no matter how tragic they seem, not only without being shamed for it, but positively embraced with warm smiles and open arms. Your friends may laugh at you, but venture online and you’ll find your people. They’ll be waiting for you in forums on fan sites, Tumbl pages, Facebook groups, and they’ll indulge all of your creepy little obsessions, no questions asked.

Above: A taste from Outlander fansite feministjamiefraser.tumblr.com.

Take Outlander, the latest exclusive offering from Amazon Instant Video: you know that scene in the first episode where Jamie Fraser, our handsome lead, jumped off his horse with his face bloodied and his kilt sweeping about with a balletic flair? They do, and they’ve initiated a discussion board about it, and then made a collection of gifs and memes to accompany that three second flash so that you can all remind yourselves of it, on repeat, forever.

You can’t get any more niche than Outlander, and given my viewing history I have of course embraced the madness. In terms of period pieces it’s far from your brooding Cornish mine-owner, or your dusty drama set in a Australian penal colony. It involves a nurse fresh out of the Second World War being transported through magical stones in the Highlands to sunny 18th Century Scotland, where she is forced to stand toe-to-toe with beardy kilted clansmen during the brutal Jacobite rebellion, desperately trying to make her way back to her own time which always looks curiously grey. It’s a truly farcical fantasy, with innumerable plot holes that are cheerily skipped over and a romantic story arc that just won’t quit. But the following is huge. People love it, and they love it hard. With last year’s viewing figures in the US being estimated at 5 million per episode in the first half of season 1, and the Outlander Twitter page currently at 128,000 followers midway through the first season, there’s no denying that this show has struck a chord.

I don’t believe there is any one reason for this, and I could go into a whole lamenting social commentary about how we possibly see ourselves reflected in Claire Beecham, the aforementioned time-travelling nurse: a woman who escapes the apathy of a life tainted by post-war austerity. It might be the fact that it’s being touted as the feminist answer to Game of Thrones – an angle I’m frankly still on the fence about, though I do seriously love the blog site: feministjamiefraser.tumblr.com. Or maybe we are all just easy targets for the romantic charm of the rugged outline of a pre-urbanised Scotland, a formidable battle for justice, a sexy beau and a glass of premium whiskey.

Despite these exciting bodice-ripping antics that seem to have such an inexplicable allure, your more highbrow pals might judge you, forcing you into describing your love for a bracing Highlands drama as a guilty pleasure. Never stand for it. For deep within the friend who tells you they spent their Saturday watching Wild Strawberries or reading Crime and Punishment while you were pouring over Jamie and Claire, lies a nerdy Stargate fan. Or maybe it’s Merlin. Or Revenge. Or maybe their weakness is Buffy spin-off, Angel. They just can’t get enough of David Boreanaz’s breeze-block head and collection of billowing black overcoats. And every show comes with a legion of dedicated devotees - sure, they may seem a little nutty, a little too keen, but these groups of keen, nutty people quite easily become firm friends - real-world friends. It never really matters where your friends come from, or what show takes your fancy, be it trash or quality, or quality trash.

For all the reports of the seedy, dark side of internet content that regularly do the rounds, this platform has given people opportunities to find friends they wouldn’t otherwise meet, or at the very least an incentive to stop giving a damn what other people think. So fetch me a dram and call me Sassenach, for I am an Outlander fan.

Kate Longman is a long-term lover of books, food, theatre, Star Wars, and TV shows set before the invention of electricity. She currently spends a great deal of time thinking about boats and space while working as the Book Buyer for the Royal Museums Greenwich.

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