Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ah, Sherlock Holmes and the news . . .

With things getting super-weird in the Oval Office, where the latest temporary resident is a bit of a mystery, it's always a comfort to look to that other room -- the sitting room at 221B Baker Street -- where a much more permanent resident solved mysteries. Where one is a painful example of disfunction, the other . . . happily . . . has served as a reminder of just how functional even a whimsical artistic type who occasionally indulges in pharmaceuticals can be.

So let's talk about Sherlock Holmes's relationship with the news, as he definitely had one. He even had a pretty well-known quote about it:  "The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution if you only know how to use it."

And Sherlock Holmes did know how to use it. As opposed to . . . well, happily, this is a Sherlock Holmes blog. So let's talk about the smart guy.

Sherlock Holmes loved the news. The main medium of his time, newspapers, were an ongoing part of his routine. He cut them up for his commonplace book, stored them in his lumber-room, advertised in them. About two dozen individual newspapers are mentioned by name in his adventures, some Conservative leaning, some Liberal. Sherlock Holmes absorbed them all.

Because Sherlock Holmes wasn't reading the news to buffer his personal opinions. He was culling all the data provided for facts. Actual verifiable facts. Details of real crime and real mysteries that he could use in his work. And of all people, Sherlock Holmes most certainly knew how flawed newspaper reporting could be . . . the credit for so many mysteries he solved going to Scotland Yard in those public prints . . . but he still turned to those sources again and again.

When headed to some distant community to investigate a crime, Sherlock Holmes turned to the papers as he first look at what to see when he got there. When he wanted to find some hidden communication that was not what it seemed on the surface, he picked through the personal ads or "the agony column." Even those bits from random sources in the ads that were flat-out false gave him bits of info to draw from.

Sherlock Holmes had a goal in his absorption of newspaper content: to gather everything he could about crime, potential crime, or the human interactions that led to such mysteries as he encountered. It helped him follow the threads that ran through London life, whether leading to a particular incident or a spider-like webmaster like a Moriarty. And with that focus, the Press was a valuable institution, even if he didn't necessarily want its publicity about himself. He knew how to use it.

Not run from it. Not work to manipulate it. Just take it for what it was and use it appropriately, not to feed his ego, but to gain the knowledge he needed from every source he could.

Sherlock Holmes was a very wise man. And that's one of those things that makes him such a joy to look back on, no matter what the current situation in our world is, even now.

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