Sunday, February 17, 2013

Upon belonging to exclusive clubs.

My friend Don Hobbs and I had many an interesting chat during our road trip to Chicago this weekend, one of the more notable being our complete disagreement upon membership system of the Baker Street Irregulars. This was not completely unexpected, as I've been disagreeing with conservative Irregulars on that subject for decades, and Don, having been a member of the B.S.I. for a full year now, has . . . to put it less than objectively . . . drank the Kool-aid.

And for those of you new to the blog who think I've got a grudge on for Elementary, well, let's say it pales in comparison to my feelings on the exclusive membership style of the B.S.I., a group I've been a member of for going on twenty-five years now.

The way the Baker Street Irregulars works is this: You don't get to come to their annual dinner without an invitation, and you don't get to be a member unless the head guy picks you, for whatever reason he considers valid, to be in the small group inducted every January. It's been called "a benevolent dictatorship," which has stuck more than any other description. Said dictator does a whole lot of work to run the organization, his only pay being the perks of the job, including getting to pick the members.

Since getting the B.S.I. shilling of membership is seen as an honor like a knighthood as much as anything, we use words like "invest" and "award" instead of "picking" when it comes to the process. And one of the arguments that frequently comes up against a more democratic process has always been "It's Michael/Tom/Julian's club, he can do what he wants," which isn't really an argument at all, just a concession that things are how they are. And one never knows if that comes from a "I got mine, you figure out how to get yours" apathy or a fear that the illusion of B.S.I. honors might fade if we looked at it closely enough to improve the system.

And the system needs improvement. Accidentally fart in the elevator with the club's benevolent dictator at the wrong moment and you might just never get the much-desired shilling of membership. I'm not saying that's how choices are currently made, but with the one-guy system, you do run such a risk. Anybody can make a bad impression with one person, and unless that one person is a true saint on Earth, silly little biases can get in the way. And have. Even if the current guy is the best chap in the world, in his declining years he could appoint a real bastard as his successor and suddenly America's premiere Sherlock Holmes society is only for white men with incomes in the 1%.

As a whole, Sherlockians are an inclusive, welcoming, generous breed, and I've never felt we were well represented by that exclusive dinner for the hand-picked few. Already in 2013 we've seen an uprising against "the elite devotee" and a lawsuit against the Doyle estate to free Sherlock from intellectual property shackles. Might this also be the year we see an upgrade in the outdated membership traditions of the B.S.I.?

I'm certainly not getting my hopes up, but these are amazing times, and Santa Sherlock has been very good to me so far.

14 comments:

  1. Let's think about how Holmes picked his BSI... Hmmmm... It seems that any kid off the street who loved adventure and was willing to work for a shilling was in. How ironic that the lengendary BSI was populated only by adventurous street kids whom no one wanted, while the current facsimile is populated largely by people of status with an attitude of exclusivity.

    When one considers how Holmes treated the King of Bohemia (SCAN) or Neil Gibson, the Gold King (THOR), I wonder how he would respond to the current system of membership in a club that is supposed to be comprised of fans who claim to love his character and his methods... I see a contemptuous snort quickly followed by a sardonic smile and a raised eyebrow.

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  2. Karen Anderson (Emilia Lucca, 2000)February 17, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    As a woman, I know very well that being awarded the Shilling is a matter of chance, depending on the feelings of whoever is running things. I'd very likely have received mine shortly after my husband was awarded his, but Edgar Smith died and Julian Wolff wouldn't have women members. It was fifty years after I founded the Red Circle of Washington D. C., and with Poul (who was invested in 1960) helped Anthony Boucher re-start the Scowrers & Molly Maguires of San Francisco, that I received my shilling.
    By the way, I was invited to attend the dinner for the five years before I did receive it; and having received the shilling, I expect I'll continue to be invited every year.
    Do you want the shilling to be given to more people each year? New members are invested faster than old members die. Do you want the dining room to become ever more crowded? I have increasing trouble, on the occasions I get across the continent, finding the people I've met before and would like to see again.
    Why not start additional parallel organizations like the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, to meet during the same period? Half a dozen dinners could be arranged, for half a dozen separate interests within the Sherlockian canon. Not to mention luncheons, like the William Gillette Luncheon.
    Or, when you walk into the dining-room for a wide-open Great Annual Dinner, do you want to see a vast hall with table upon table, and have to find two or three people you recognize to capture a handful of chairs together? Believe me, I've had it that way in science-fiction fandom, along with the assigned seats of the present BSI Dinner, and neither is as good as the old SF banquets where we actually knew the people who joined us at a table. Poul and I stopped going to North American Worldcons because we couldn't find our friends among the crowds.

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    1. No change comes without some adjustments. Having been to Sherlock Holmes conferences across the country for many, many years, I can safely say we don't have the size problems of SF conventions, and probably never will. The other events during the BSI weekend don't seem to have issues of growing too large, despite their open invitations. And as the weekend has always had an overflow dinner anyway, where the faces are just as familiar at the BSI dinner, making the main event first-come, first-serve would simply shuffle the venue seats a bit. I've done both the BSI and the non-BSI dinner since my investiture, and can't say I felt like I missed anything when I was at the other dinner.

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    2. Keefauver, why do you continue to belong to the BSI?

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    3. a.) It's free.
      b.) So there is at least one member with my particular point of view.
      c.) I haven't been kicked out yet.
      d.) I like to vex people who call me "Keefauver."

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  3. I can only offer an outsider's view, but I for one have never had any problems with the existence of exclusive clubs that wouldn't consider me for a member. In fact I like the thought that there are such groups and events, that not everything is democratic and open for all. I think the shilling would definitely lose its worth and its meaning if everyone could just take one out of their purse and walk right in.

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    1. Ah, but what is the worth and meaning of that shilling? Wouldn't it mean more if it came from three hundred of your peers rather than just the one?

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  4. Well, yes, if all the members could suggest a certain number of new people each year and the whole group could vote on them that would certainly be an alternative. But otoh you could say as well that perhaps one shouldn't join a club with whose membership policy one doesn't agree?

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    1. True, if one joined the BSI. Since one is awarded membership . . . such as my neighbor, who was sitting in Peoria the night it came his way . . . it's a bit like posthumous Mormon baptism. You tend to get it through no input of your own.

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  5. I have mixed feelings about the BSI. On the one hand, social clubs do have the right to determine the qualifications for membership, provided they aren't breaking any laws. But I've been in the SH fandom (and yes, I use that word) for several years and I have to wonder if BSI membership is handed out on an arbitrary basis in order to determine who the "cool kids" are, rather than by some contribution made to Sherlockian scholarship, for instance. The lack of membership does imply that one is an outsider no matter what they do. That person's contributions are likely to be perceived as less valuable because of the lack of those initials after their name.

    Having said that, I have to admit I'd be pretty thrilled if I were asked to join. I suppose that comes from feeling like an outsider all my life. Do we ever get over Jr high? Lol

    Has anyone ever refused?

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  6. I look on BSI admittance as similar to a knighthood. There's no rhyme or reason; it just is. No problem with that, even if it's all rather silly. Hell, life is silly. Sherlock is silly. I'm silly.

    On the other hand, those who think they should be admitted simply because they Jones for some Sherlockian thesp probably also think they should be admitted into the American Bar Association because they once got pulled over for speeding...

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    1. Okay, David, I'll call you on that last one -- are those real people you know of, or straw man Cumberbunnies? I was writing about people in the old world traditional Sherlockian community. There's a lot of bitterness out there that we like to pretend doesn't exist.

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  7. Well, as I've always sometimes said, life's too short to be bitter about a fictional character. We could all learn from the late Lascar's approach and take things and ourselves less seriously. Which is why, for some Januaries now, I've stayed the hell home and hung out with people who have virtually no interest in Sherlock Holmes.

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  8. I find it hard to believe Don Hobbs, as you put it, 'has drank the Kool-aid'. It would be pretty hypocritical of someone who wanted it so bad,and was denied membership for so long, to turn on others of the same plight. I would never say a bad word about Don Hobbs, he has been for me a reincarnation of the late great John Bennett Shaw.

    Dems 'fight-in' words in Texas KEEFAUVER!

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