This week's podcast listening revealed an unexpected treat. Penn's Sunday School, once you got past a lot of talk about bacon, doughnuts, nakedness, and atheism, featured Penn Gillette talking about a recent visit to David Copperfield's private magic museum. (It's at about the sixty minute mark, if you want to take a listen.) The Sherlock Holmes related part is early on, as Penn tells of how David Copperfield's collection contains both sides of the correspondence Conan Doyle had with Houdini. But if you listen further, you can hear an appreciation of one of those super-collections that a devoted collector of means can put together -- the sort of thing that one can relate to after spending much time in any great hobby.
When the discussion came around to the question of private collections versus public ones, Gillette came down on the side of private, citing the concept called "the tragedy of the commons," wherein the needs of the individual, en masse, can act counter to the good of the whole regarding a given resource.
Remember a little thing called "New Coke?" After decades of success with a specific recipe, Coca-cola decided to follow the method of its prime competitor and alter its formula to that taste that seemed agreeable to the largest share of the populace. Kind of a "lowest common denominator" of flavor. Was it an improvement? Well, as tested, probably so, if you counted all of society. But if you counted the people who really liked old Coke? No way. Eventually the cola version of pablum fell from favor and the old Coke returned.
The tragedy of the commons, at its simplest level, is that we just all can't enjoy the same resource without over-exploiting it. We have different needs and different interactions, and those can spoil a something like the taste of Coca-cola if we expect it to be enjoyed by every single person on Earth.
Which brings me back, once again, to a certain CBS television show whose ratings show it appeals to a certain mass taste. Sherlock Holmes is a resource, like any other, and like Coca-cola and many other resources, he wasn't necessarily designed to appeal to everyone. Taking his distinctive detective flavor and altering it to fit the popular network procedural pattern, is a lot like coming out with that New Coke of earlier times. Something gets lost in trying to make Holmes palatable to the larger audience.
Of course, BBC's Sherlock maintained at least enough of the true Sherlock taste to keep this fan, and a whole lot of others satisfied, so maybe it isn't inevitable that Sherlock Holmes has to be less distinctive to be popular. And is Sherlock Holmes a limited resource, or can he be stretched into as many weird and varied incarnations as necessary to satisfy different demographics and still remain Sherlock Holmes?
That's the true question, as we debate "all Sherlock Holmes is good Sherlock Holmes" versus "no it's not" in this modern heyday of Holmes. We shall see.