I was listening to a Baker Street Babes podcast of a panel from this spring's 221B Con today, called "Watsons Thru Time." It's a good podcast for anyone to listen to, but I'd especially recommend it to those who think the new Sherlockians are all airheaded Cumberbatch swooners. A lot of good thoughts can be heard there from the panelists and the audience, as well as the recognizable voice of Howard Ostrom, Sherlockian film expert extraordinaire.
Good thoughts, like I said, but despite the fact that Howard is there and there is a gentleman on the panel, I found myself noticing that the discussion was skewing hard in a traditionally feminine direction. Watson was being defined by his relationship with Holmes as much as any other characteristic, and I couldn't help but wonder if the charm of a given Watson didn't prejudice the view of that relationship just a tad.
Nobody seemed to care if Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were in a bromance. Consider that for a moment. While I'd argue the affection shown between them on screen was just as strong as any other, when the topic of Bruce comes up, the reactions to a Holmes/Watson intellect disparity overshadow any bonds the actors created on-screen between their characters. Honestly, would that reaction be entirely the same if Nigel Bruce were a just-as-stupid hunka hunka burning Jude Law? Or would the word "bromance" suddenly be back in play?
Somehow when there was more male energy in the Sherlockian room than female, I don't think we minded stupid Watson quite so much. Guys have all had stupid guy friends, and if they're good-hearted souls, you don't love them any less. And sometimes we have really smart guy friends, and we get our hand stuck trying to pull a really big cookie from a cookie jar . . . no big deal.
But if one of the members of the Holmes-Watson relationship is a stand-in for the female half of a male-female pairing . . . and sorry, Watson, you seem to always wind up the wife in that 221B prison relationship . . . it becomes less and less acceptable for Watson to be lesser than Holmes.
The alchemy of gender bias in our views of Holmes and Watson is a very complex thing, not always something we're conscious of, full of shadings and facets of all sorts. Comparing what came out of the fans of the forties, fifties, and sixties to what is in focus today would make a fascinating study, especially matching trends with changes in demographics of said fans.
Because what we're seeing these days sure isn't your grandfather's Sherlockiana, that's for sure. He had his own prejudices . . . why focus on the relationship between Holmes and Watson when Mrs. Neville St. Clair was answering the door in a nightie? But hey, listen to the Babes podcast and come to your own conclusions. My sleepily babbling self needs to go to bed . . . .