Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Who's afraid of the big bad fans? La la la . . . .

Fandoms, as a whole, have become a force of nature.

Take a look at the Comic Cons, those conventions that once were a comic-geeks-only thing unheard of in mainstream media and the change in the world is obvious: what once drew 13,000 people in 1990 now sells out its limit of 130,000 tickets in less than an hour and fifteen minutes. In the Sherlockian world, 221B Con pulled in an impressive (for Sherlockiana) seven hundred folks last year and then followed up with more than a thousand this year.

With the connectivity of the web and commonplace air travel, the old statement that Sherlock Holmes made about his original Baker Street irregulars has become true of the great masses of fans out there: "They can go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone." Except, ironically, in the case of the carefully guarded exclusive function that is the annual dinner of the capital "i" Baker Street Irregulars.

And one can see some reasoning behind keeping the wagons in a circle against the whoopin' and hollerin' hordes of newly minted Sherlock Holmes fans, to use an old folks metaphor. But it wasn't always so. In 1950, for example, the number of Sherlock Holmes fans gathering for dinner in January in New York City was a grand total of fifty, thirty members and twenty representatives of the scion societies. And at that time, one can easily imagine that they weren't turning too many people away. If you known to someone in the group who could vouch for you and a way to get there and pay your check, you could likely got a pretty decent welcome from Edgar Smith.

I say this, not because I was alive back then, but because it didn't seem all that different when I first got into Sherlockiana. A solid Sherlock Holmes fan who got around a little seemed to be able to make their way into the Irregulars without too much of an issue. At one point, there was a bit of a ruckus from people bringing along non-Sherlockian friends who ignored the program -- it was that easy to get and invitation with a B.S.I. friend. And getting to be a member? John Bennett Shaw used to speak often of only vetoing the potential membership of two people, an asshole and a Nazi, so it seemed like if you weren't one of those (or could pass as otherwise), you'd probably be welcome.

Did that change as the years passed? It seemed so. Was it the growth in our Sherlockian communities fostered by Nicholas Meyer and later Jeremy Brett? Was it air travel becoming much easier? Or was it the admittance of women to the ranks, effectively doubling the potential attendees? All of the above? At some point, it just seemed a whole lot harder to get in the door. Especially if the one guy in charge didn't think you had the right stuff, despite the fact that the previous one guy in charge seemed to think you did for numerous years before.

And then came our current wave. Circle those wagons, Gracie, we don't want a thousand 221B Conners knocking down Vincent Starrett on their way to the bar! (Yes, he still attends at 127 years of age. He's very brittle. Okay, so don't believe me . . .)

We live in a world Edgar Smith could never have imagined, and he had a pretty good imagination. His Baker Street Irregulars no longer exist, an honest observer must admit. It is a different day. Smith still makes good reading on the subject, as it's surprising how many things come 'round again. But the internet has us changing as a society, and how can any society within that society remain untouched?

Sometimes the barriers around the exclusive B.S.I. dinner seem like building up the levees around New Orleans as the sea level rises. Some folks leave the city to set up shop elsewhere and try to preserve a lifestyle. Some crazy guy is just going to say, "Let the water in, make it a floating city." Change is going to come, one way or the other. And it already has.

But who knows, maybe the tide will still turn . . . . the force of nature that fandom has become is still a mostly uncharted thing.

1 comment:

  1. "So-called 'seasoned theatregoers' have complained about the audience clapping during Martin Freeman’s West End appearance as Richard III, in what is nothing more than a display of blatant snobbery." Why do I equate the B.S.I. upper echelon with the seasoned theater goers and fandom with the rest of the audience from this article?