"Where on Baker Street was 221B located?"
"How do you put the sixty cases in correct chronological order?"
"What part of the body Watson got penetrated by an Afghan bullet?"
Once upon a time, those were the big Sherlockian questions. But that was in a different age, and now in 2016, our biggest question to puzzle out is this:
"How do we relate to each other as Sherlockians?"
It used to be a no-brainer. You like those sixty stories. I like those sixty stories. We talk about those sixty stories. No conflict there. Times have changed.
Sherlockiana isn't a magical island, isolated from the rest of humanity. With the rise of mindset factions supported by their network of choice (Fox News, Comedy Central, etc.), political groups to whom the word "compromise" doesn't exist, and our newfound ability to screen our social networks to only those people we find agreeable to our own opinions . . , well, we're changing as people, Sherlockians or not. As open-minded and accepting as one might like to consider one's self, these days there are definitely some Sherlockians out there whose point of view one doesn't completely understand. And whose point of view it actually takes effort to understand.
Having said all of that, I found myself especially intrigued with an essay by Leah Guinn called "On Friendship and Possibilities" posted on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. I've read it several times already, and it's both brave and thoughtful. There are a few lines in it that, while surely inspired by one aspect of Sherlockiana, have surely applied to other aspect of Sherlockiana in my life.
Leah was listing to a podcast about the time twenty-five years back when the Baker Street Irregulars of New York finally let women come to their dinner as full members, and she puts her reaction very well: "It struck me that, any time we dismiss others for not being quite what we think they should be, we not only deny them a chance to become far more, we miss out on all the good they have to offer."
Her statement touched me very directly, because just as the B.S.I. leadership was dismissive of the opposite sex when I first encountered the group, I was also dismissive of them . . . for not being what I expected them to be. At my first B.S.I. dinner, I encountered a raging alcoholic, a petty thief, an entitled old grump, a guest who had no interest in Holmes whatsoever, and some fellows overly proud of being able to invade a ladies room when the time came to relieve themselves. Dismissiveness flows all directions. And we're so much better at it these days than we were back then.
One of the great challenges of our time, that you see in Sherlockiana and elsewhere, is that as we move toward true equality for all genders, cultures, and any other way you want to categorize people, it isn't just that we're allowing them equality in the culture of yesteryear created by European males. We're allowing all of those folks equal shares in creating the culture itself. What's popular isn't determined entirely by that same-old, same-old demographic, and with so many gatekeepers gone, we're seeing points of view we never knew existed coming out of their various closets. And many times, the first reaction you see to those new points of view are attempts to dismiss them. To say they don't matter. To say they don't belong in the club, even now.
And, oh, those haters. Not trolls. Haters. Those people we dismiss under that name because they have a negative reaction to our work or something we like. Slap a "hater" tag on them and we don't have to think about them any more. Dis-missed. Even "haters" have a personal journey that led them to that point different from you own. Maybe their sciatica was acting up when they first saw Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Maybe their head was plugged up from a bad flight to that grand Sherlockian event. Maybe . . . well, maybe a lot of things. People have lives.
Were they in our local club, where we'd see them each month and become familiar with their quirks and good points, the same Sherlockian we'd tag as a hater on the internet would just be the local color. One of those people we come to appreciate despite a certain cat-box odor clinging to their suit or some weird uses of a dinner fork. Things you would dismiss somebody for if you weren't forced to deal with them on a regular basis.
But don't just let me keep rambling on, go to I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere and read Leah Guinn's essay if you haven't already. She makes her points much better than I, and we need such thoughts now and then as we move Sherlockiana forward into a future none of us can foresee.
Such possibilities . . . .