Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Bernie

There was a weird little sense of deja vu this week, when the latest little social media controversy erupted over a Sesame Street writer suggesting that muppets Bert and Ernie had always been gay.

Hmm, where have we seen this scenario before, and, question number two, why don't we just get everyone on board with the term "headcanon" and leave it at that?

But what these debates always bring out isn't anything about the characters in question, but the characters of those in the debate itself. The histrionic claim of "My childhood is ruined!" The personal views of a given word's definition. ("Puppets can't be gay, because they can't have sex.") And the jokes. The cavalcade of jokes, some of which are usually pretty good.

But while the jokes can amuse, there are those who actually go to war over these ethereal concepts. While this silly little puppet sexuality debate flared, elsewhere on the internet, folks were brining up the damage done by the Johnlock Conspiracy. (Should I say "allegedly," since it hasn't been put to trial yet? No, I suspect any disagreement is probably on level of damage, but, really, what do I know?)

CBS's Elementary ended its year with its two main characters each having conceded that they "are two people who love each other." Romantic love? Familial love? Platonic love? They don't really say, and, if that had been the show's end, we were all left to decide for ourselves what the love between them actually was. (Me, I was going romantic, because I'm an old romantic at heart.)

Love is love.

Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are much like Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson . . . I think we can all agree that they love each other. I would worry about anyone who saw absolutely no love in that relationship, and be a little sad for them. (Or frightened. They could be a literal machine in human form.) Bert and Ernie are the same. They plainly love each other at this point.

Romantic love? Familial love? Platonic love? You choose. Unless you're making up their legal papers, planning for their offspring's future, or any of those other things that fictional characters can only do fictionally, but somehow doing them for real . . . well, it doesn't really matter.

And, as with Holmes and Watson, if you're somewhere and you see them start kissing or something, just cover your eyes if you don't want to look. (I was covering my eyes a lot when Joan Watson and Mycroft Holmes were doing icky love stuff on Elementary.) Keep your own headcanon your own, just don't do it in a crazy, kidnapping sort of way like Herbert Blount in the movie Director's Cut. (Currently on Amazon Prime. Worth a look if you like wacky R-rated experiments in film.)

Puppets and other fictional characters are just shells we bring to life with our own experiences, emotions, and reactions, even if other people create those shells to begin with. Sometimes it's easy to forget that someone else's Sherlock, John, Bert, or Ernie is filled with someone else's inner life . . . the same sort of essence you filled your version with, just not exactly the same, and not negating yours either. All headcanon people are created equal, really. Maybe more equal than real folk, and yet we try to believe, at least in American lore, that all folk are created equal.

I doubt I have the arguments available to persuade anyone who believes otherwise, but laying it out in a blogspace for the rest of you lovelies is a pleasant hour spent. May all your folks love each other in the best way possible. Your call.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The other writers of the Canon

When we talk about the other people who wrote the sixty-case Canon of Sherlock Holmes besides Dr. Watson, we normally bring up the usual suspects: Sherlock Holmes himself, who wrote "Blanched Soldier" and "Lion's Mane," and Conan Doyle, who most likely takes the blame for all of the third person narratives added in along the way.

But what of the other people who wrote part of that Canon? The people we actually know the names of, at that!

I realized this fact during a re-read of "A Scandal in Bohemia," where we come to the end of the tale and get to read a full letter written by Irene Adler. Ah, what a great Sherlockian collectable that would be -- the original letter possessed by Sherlock Holmes, written in Irene's own hand!

"My dear Mr. Sherlock Holmes," followed by three paragraphs of Irene Adler Norton's very own words. She writes well, with perhaps a wry humor in spots, as when she tells that "it was hard to think evil of such a dear, kind old clergyman." And her respect and admiration for Sherlock Holmes is well-documented in her words as well.

Paging through a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, one finds a lot of words that were not written by Watson.

The words on a sign by John Clay. The words in the diary of Elias Openshaw. The words in a letter from Tobias Gregson. And all of those letters from clients explaining things, like the lord who just signed himself "St. Simon" or the lawyers who ganged up with the signature "Morrison, Morrison, and Dodd, per E.J.C."

Even villains have written their bits of the Canon: "Will call at 6:30 -- C.A.M."  "AM HERE ABE SLANEY." "Stuff awaits you when goods delivered. Pierrot."

The turncoat Fred Porlock sneaking out tips. Local officer White Mason, writing to Scotland Yard's MacDonald. The note from Grace Dunbar that seemed to be evidence that she was a murderer. All sorts of details written by all sorts of writers.

Robert Ferguson wrote what might be the longest letter in the Canon, explaining the vampire business, but I have not been too thorough in my research as yet. The length of his note makes one want to take the matter a step further, do word counts, and create a mammoth pie chart breaking down the Canon by individual writer's percentage of the complete hundred.

There is something I heard, however, a small psychological fact that surely guarantees that I'll never be the one to do the work on that. Apparently saying you'll do something, or just explaining how it could be done, can potentially give your brain much the same pleasurable chemicals as actually doing the thing. So anyone wanting to follow up on this line with the full research feel free. A craftsman with pen and paper recreating every letter, note, sign, and other handwritten bit in the Canon might be another excellent way to spend one's days. But bloggers blog, and tomorrow I'll be on to something else.

Still, this thought of the other writers whose words fill the Canon, just intrigues me.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A happy ending for Elementary, if it could really end here.

At the beginning of this past weekend, I saw Searching in my favorite local theater, a great mystery starring John Cho. Some twists, some turns, and a solid story told in a unique format that worked. And tonight, I watched the last episode of season six of CBS's Elementary. (Yes,there will be spoilers! HUGE SPOILERS!!! FLEE OR BE SPOILED!)

Entitled "Whatever Remains, However Improbable," it starts with the ham-handed accusal of Joan Watson by an FBI special agent who is a little too determined to take Joan to jail for the murder of a serial killer by beating him to death -- the very episode after we saw him nearly beat her to death.

Her partner, whom I like to call "Mr. Elementary," decides to work outside the rules to solve the case, and spends a lot of this episode making an ugly face that seems to indicate determination at his friends at NYPD. Our first suspect in the case is the very FBI agent who is accusing Joan, as no other characters have really shown up yet. And I was starting to suspect Elementary of losing its touch of adding random tittilations for seasoning when a man who is aroused by bees is referenced.

Jonny Lee Miller can't seem to give up scowlilng like he's doing a bad Popeye impression, making that ugly-face as he questions folks along the way, and at the halfway point through the episode we get the big shocker . . . could Captain Gregson be a part of whatever's going on?

So, Mr. Elementary makes a mess in Gregson's house, sits and waits for him in the dark . . . probably not a good move with a cop who carries a gun. "How much do you know?" Gregson asks grimly and the two sit down at the dining room table.

Between the two men, they talk out who actually killed the serial killer, walk through how she did it, and basically give us a solution that was not set up for, not led up to, and was just inserted to provide a reason for maximum drama between Captain Gregson and Mr. Elementary.

"She's my daughter . . . and my best friend."

Hannah Gregson is the killer. Mr. Elementary yells at Gregson with all the same points the FBI agent yelled at Joan Watson earlier in the episode. Then Mr. Elementary yells at Joan Watson as they debate letting Hannah Gregson's going away. He brings up the fact Joan wants to adopt a child.

"WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE PARTNERS!" he yells.

"We are . . . so be one," Joan calmly states back.

This show is all about the relationships between its characters, but who are those characters? Whatever they need to be in a given scene. Twists don't come organically, they come with all the sudden pop-up of a deus ex machina, one after another. A fan of this show might be watching this episode thinking that it's showing how much the characters care about each other that they'll try to save each other (or their loved ones) from taking the fall for a crime by dramatic self-sacrifice, but for the viewer coming in cold late in the season, there is no one in this wild caper of  . . .

Excuse me, but in the last commercial break, the face of the man the good Carter and I bought our house from appears on the screen. He defends criminals for a living, I wonder what he would make of the mess the Elementary crew has gotten themselves into.

The part past the commercial break is the big scene this episode has been leading up to: Mr. Elementary and Joan Watson saying good-bye as he returns to England, taking the blame for the crime in question and escaping the law to be protected by MI-6 for some reason. It's a very emotional good-by, full of gratitude and admissions of love . . . what? They can't mean "in love," as that was the one thing the show runners swore they never did.

So Mr. Elementary winds up with an office and Lord St. Simon coming to his office with the classic "Noble Bachelor"  case . . . and he's back in London at 221B Baker Street, next door to 221A Baker Street, and who lives at 221A Baker Street?

Joan Watson. And they're "two people who love each other" solving crimes in London. A wonderful happy ending for the series. Man, I hated this whole episode, but the last five minutes was a happy, ridiculous bit of fun, as much of a tribute to the actual Sherlock Holmes as this series has ever done, and . . . wait, there's going to be a season seven. Could it possibly take place in London?

After all the grim New York garbage trucks and precinct houses and park benches, a shot at Elementary in relatively exotic London? I don't believe it. They just let a murderer walk free without giving us any real justification other than that she killed a bad man and her father loves her.

This show!  Very curious how they top this ending when they actually end the series after season seven . . . unless there now isn't going to be a season seven.

Onward.

Checking in with near-the-end of season six Elementary.

On the topic of Sherlockian subjects some people just don't get -- in preparation for the season finale, I watched the penultimate episode of CBS's Elementary for season six today.

In under two weeks we come to the sixth anniversary of that show's first appearance. In under two days, it's much-delayed sixth season winds up. It seems to wind down about a million in viewership each year, but CBS has seen enough syndication value in Elementary to give it a full seven season run. It gets the nod of a panel or three at 221B Con, hundreds of works of fanfic, and the occasional talk-up on one of the usual Sherlockian news feeds like the Norwegian Explorers Facebook, so it definitely has its fans.

But, man, I still don't get it.

Watching "Fit to Be Tied," which brought back the serial strangler who posed as an addiction-group friend to Elementary's Sherlock, who had brain damage at that point, early in the season when last I watched . . . well, it might as well have been a random show in another language. I just didn't see the Sherlock Holmes in it. Police procedural, yes. Those New York precinct rooms are unmistakeable. But Sherlock Holmes?

And when the episode got done with all its quietly talky parts, there was this whole Jason Voorhees/Michael Myers part where the serial strangler attacks Joan Watson and slowly stalks her through her house, vanishing the minute she connects with a desperate stab at him with a broken airplane propeller (?), that had I not known the character, would have mistaken for some standard TV movie damsel in distress.

So I went in search of what people enjoyed about this episode. First stop, IMDB, where no user comments had been posted yet. The second, at TellTaleTV.com, written by someone who is plainly on the side of the show, expresses frustrations at the primary mystery, a necessary suspension of disbelief required by the plot, and holds out hope for next week's episode improving upon what happened in this one. TV Fanatic's review gets into all of the character soap opera details from the season that's winding down, makes a few observations on the main mystery as well, and then gets into the same unlikely-seeming cliffhanger the episode left us with. Rotten Tomatoes had nothing on the episode, but did have five critics willing to give it a "Fresh" rating, three after the first episode of season six, one a few more in, and one in August.

The thread one can see running through all of this is that the characters of Lucy Liu's Joan Watson and Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock have their fans. The mysteries may be better or worse from episode to episode, but it seems like it's the characters that people enjoy about this show. And the season finale is definitely about those characters, as they try to prove Joan's innocence from a charge that makes no sense to viewers of this week's episode, mainly through quietly talking about things, if the promo scene with Joan's lawyer is any indication.

But again, I just don't get this show, nor its relation to Sherlock Holmes as we have known him. How did that "Fresh" critic on Rotten Tomatoes from the Hindustan Times put it?  "Will this show ever stand up and be counted among the best Sherlock productions ever? Probably not. But it sure is going where other Sherlocks are afraid to step."

Yes. Yes, it is. On to the finale.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The last great unbranded hero.

Staring in the mirror at my Marvel Studios t-shirt after five minutes of Pokemon Go mixed with a YouTube video from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, I realized what an amazing creature Sherlock Holmes has become at this point: The last great unbranded hero.

No corporate entity owns him. Creators of all sorts can develop their vision of him. No stans can rebel against any new tale of him, because the original Canon was cemented in place nearly a century ago and all new Sherlocks are created equal.

Once the concept of intellectual property came our way, entertainment companies started rounding characters up like cattle and branding them with copyrights and trademarks instead of the classic hot iron poker with a symbol on the end. Sherlock Holmes and his herd had some corporate cowpokes try to round them up, but a couple fans of free range Holmes came riding in and thwarted that effort. Sherlock Holmes escaped by the tweed of his deerstalker.

Other old heroes still roam free. Robin Hood. King Arthur. Beowulf. But the thing that makes Sherlock Holmes different was the way, just as the branding world came after him, he leaped into the modern day and demonstrated the ability to exist in any place or period. He was not only free of corporate control, he was free to find new adventures outside of the Victorian era. A particular new story with specific new actors can lock down their view of him in a particular place and time, but both history and the future are open-ended. Holmes can roam.

Laws can still be changed. Tyrants of industry can still make moves to corral our free-running literary mustang. And Sherlockians, as a very minor minority, might not be able to stop that if and when it does happen. But for now, we really have to appreciate just what a wonder Sherlock Holmes is and the special place he's found in 2018.

Even a corporately-held character like Winnie the Pooh can get shackled and hidden away by an authoritarian regime after being used as a symbol by rebellious folk, as we've seen recently, and maybe Sherlock Holmes's freedom might someday put him in a similar place, joining a movement against a dictator or other power-mad authoritarian. One could easily understand why you might want Sherlock Holmes on your side, whatever the cause. (Conversely, then, an authoritarian regime might also take Sherlock as their team mascot. He's versatile.)

Who knows what could come tomorrow? But for today, we have Sherlock Holmes with us, with all of us.

Let's make the most of it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Angry days in the old happy hobby

Thursday I got a pretty blistering e-mail rebuke for a blog post I had put out that morning. Much of the heat I took was based on a tweet I quoted, and then proceeded to admit that I could in some degree sympathize with where that person was coming from. The friend . . . and I do want to emphasize that this angry response did come from a much-loved friend . . . felt personally attacked by the whole thing, and responded hard, with all the skills of a talented writer. It was probably the best-written angry letter I have ever gotten, and I've gotten quite a few.

Sherlockiana, being a place of our joys and fun, leaves us all even more vulnerable when the knives do come out . . . and, as much as we'd like to think otherwise, they occasionally do. Passionate folk being passionate about something will have that now and then. Even when you're expecting something from somewhere, it's easy to get blindsided, and that sudden surprise punch in the gut always hurts. If Sherlockiana has never brought you pain, well, keep up whatever you're doing. I'd like to be you, but we choose our own paths for our own reasons.

So, after taking a step back, I'm going to try to write something in follow-up. It's not going to be fun, but I can't just quietly go on writing about the Elementary season finale or whatever like nothing happened.

I don't name names in my blogging. Sherlockiana is not that big a community, and I like letting people make their own judgment calls about our fellow citizens. So in my writings, I sometimes do what we all do now and again: make the blanket statement. Like "old white guys."

It's kind of ironic that when I was growing up there was a common descriptive phrase that went "He called him everything but a white man." These days, while all the other racist, sexist, and other group-slagging verbal options still exist, one group who didn't know what it felt like to be on the receiving end any more is now painfully aware of what it feels like. We didn't grow up feeling people had it out for their kind, like brown folk or non-conforming other sorts. So having that sudden "oh, this is what it feels like to be unfairly lumped in with a group-assigned trait" is a new pain.

Now, I've probably made somebody angry with those generalities, too, because I wasn't talking about one specific person, even though I was. I was talking about Brad Keefauver. There, I named a name, so if you were worried I was talking about you, you're okay. I am afraid to say things that might offend someone these days. I remember the things I got away with saying in my twenties in the workplace that you just don't even consider saying today. But everybody was smoking at work back then, too. We all need to watch what we say these days, because it's not 1967, and complain of "political correctness" all you want, it's just fucking good manners.

Oops. I shouldn't really tell anyone to mind their "p"s and "q"s with that mouth! We are curiously all over the map these days when it comes to our "do"s and "don't"s.

We don't name names often enough, and that could be one part of the problem. "Those old fart gate-keepers." "Those  privileged jerks who don't even see their own privilege." "Those entitled young snots who think the world should be handed to them on a platter." It's like the old joke from a comedian we don't mention any more whose father said "Eat your vegetables, there are starving children in China," to which the comic claimed to reply, "Name one!"

If I specifically called out a gate-keeper, someone blind to their own privilege, or an entitled young punk, everyone except that person and their friends might just go, "Yeah, that person is a complete [insert epithet here]!" and not feel like you were attacking them and their entire club. Maybe I should use specific names when I want to talk about a gate-keeper or someone who makes a specific statement, even if it feels like a trend. It might keep folk like my angry correspondent from calling my every example in that previous blog "a straw man." Because they weren't. I just don't like naming names.

But it was certainly not "fake news." (Lord, don't we wish that phrase would go away.) The idea that there could be one actual Sherlockian as aggrieved as the one I quoted did not fit my friend's view of the world, which in examples given, was pretty much based on the New York weekend and mainstream "old school" Sherlockiana. But my experience says differently. Even the Twitter debates that followed my blog post said differently.

We all have a path and a story, and while we do have some spectacular liars in the public eye of late, most people have a story of their own that's true, even if we don't get it. On every spectrum, be it age, race, gender, orientation, mental style, body type . . . you name it. And I can't hope to fully understand what a gay black woman is going through in America right now, in 1960, or ever, because I'm not one. But if a specific gay black woman says to me, "Those old white penis-havers are going to kill me!" I might want to try really hard to see what's making her feel that threat before immediately shouting "NOT ME!" at the top of my lungs. Because maybe it was me. We shouldn't be afraid to say things, but we should think about them a little bit first.

I'm kind of an idiot that way. That's not self-hate, that's just experience. I blurt, I step on toes, both figuratively and literally, I forget that my brain works a little differently than most sometimes, because, like most humans, I do make mistakes. And I never stop trying to figure out how not to. Though I've been using this quote a bit lately, Sherlock Holmes definitely said, "Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for last." But I try to write what I'm currently seeing as the truth, even if I'm going to get called on the carpet for it later. We have to do that. And admit when we're wrong. As well as hold fast when we're right.

Sherlockiana may not be in for a Civil War, but it definitely could split off into denominations one of these days, if it hasn't already. There is the biggest generational gap in Sherlock Holmes enjoyment that has possibly ever existed, a product of both age and gender factors. A whole lot of Sherlockians can't see why certain other Sherlockians do what they do or don't do . . . or even figure out where they're doing it. But once you encounter them, you can't deny that those other Sherlockians exist for some reason that must make sense to them, and maybe they want to do what they want to do and not what you want to do.

 And if they're aggrieved about a particularly thing, it might be good to wonder why for a bit. There might be a good reason. You'll catch me making statements about old, white guys on occasion, not because I hate the now-old white guys I came up with, but because when I was a young Sherlockian, old white guys gave me fits. And I've personally watched a beloved middle-aged white guy turn into a real pain-in-the-butt old white guy . . . kind of like I might be doing any second here, if it's not too late already. The emotions can start flowing more freely as the body starts to wear out, and life becomes like one of those Star Trek episodes where Kirk suddenly realizes he's got the malady that's been taking out the rest of his crew.

So, in conclusion, what am I saying here? Like I told my angry correspondent, I'm just trying to process. Trying to process a lot these days, a lot more than ever before. And if you want to vent at me about whatever, feel free. It's a part of the dues one pays for opening one's mouth in public. I may be sorry, I may apologize, or I might just ramble on and on until I wear myself out, fall asleep, and wake up to a fresh new day.

And on we go.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Emotions Sherlock didn't show.

We all know the popular myth that Sherlock Holmes showed no emotions. But his smiles, his laughs, his concern for Watson's well-being, all of those present easily accessible to the contrary without going into deeper analyses of his pride, compassion, guilt, and all else. Yet there are emotions we see others indulge in as Watson's relates his cases, emotions that Holmes never gets to.

Fury, for example. Fury is a criminal's emotion in the lives of Holmes and Watson, an emotional onslaught so great it often results in damage, and mortal damage at that. Sherlock Holmes never shows us fury in the Canon. Had Killer Evans shot Watson to death in "Three Garridebs," one has to think it might have happened, but Watson wouldn't have been there to write it, would he?

Lust is another we don't see Holmes indulge in, or do we? "Lust of the chase" comes up in "Red-Headed League," and then gets taken a step further in "Boscombe Valley Mystery" with "His nostrils seemed to dilate with a purely animal lust for the chase." And as sexy as that nostril-flaring could sound, sexual lust isn't really something that appears in the Canon at all, unless we're talking about Baron Adelbert Gruner and his famed "lust diary" or the pig-like Ronder who made a bride of a poor circus girl seemingly the minute she hit puberty. Again, an emotion that mainly is in the realm of the villains.

Sorrow, on the other hand . . . while Holmes doesn't indulge, he speaks of it in the way of a man who has known sorrow. He speaks of "that schoolroom of sorrow where our earthly lessons are taught" in "Thor Bridge" and when you combine that with his advice to Watson in "Empty House" that goes, "Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson," well, ponder that for a moment. Sherlock Holmes was a man who threw everything he had into his work from a young adult age. Was he so intent on his work as a constant relief for an enormous sorrow that dogged his steps from before his career? We never see Sherlock Holmes in sorrow, but that evidence . . . .

These are emotional days, with more fury and sorrow in them than lust for most of us, I'd wager. (But if I'm wrong about you, well you'd better be a good-lusting soul and not a Gruner or Ronder, who just used it to create more fury and sorrow.) Is it the fact that Sherlock Holmes held back on the worst of them that makes his tales such a good palate cleanser after a hard, emotional day of our own?

After a few strong reactions to yesterday's blog, as well as a few kindly ones, it's good to step back to 221B for a moment and catch a breath. Because so many more investigations await!