The fall 2017 letter to the membership of the Baker Street Irregulars came out this morning, which is always some interesting reading. The struggles of maintaining the status quo while attempting some often-ambitious goals in an 87-year-old organization come out in a detail you don't see in The Baker Street Journal, the club's public face. The topic that always fascinates me is the annual call for suggestions of names for invitations to the BSI's annual dinner and membership in the club.
"Fascinates me," because if you're at all familiar with this blog, you know I've disagreed with the club's membership rules since my run-in with their male-only policy of the 1980s. That part was fixed soon after, but the hazy gate-keeping that held it in place for so long remains to this day.
As is explained in depth in the current BSI letter, not everyone gets to be a member of the Irregulars, as much as it has been a "bucket list" item for many a Sherlockian since Baring-Gould wrote the club up in the first Annotated, if not before. The current pace for BSI membership is limited to under ten people per year, world-wide. We have more copies of Beeton's Christmas Annual in the world than that, making a newly-minted BSI the rarest of the rare.
This brings up a real quandry for the group: Membership has long been seen as an honor for Sherlockian service, which meant a bottleneck as the baby boom generation piled up the accomplishments. Membership, however, also has to bring in Irregulars who can keep the club going, as is brought out in this year's call for "doers who will make a difference in the BSI from the minute they receive their shilling." Dealing with both of those aspects at a rate of 6-10 humans per year makes for some hard casting choices, I'm sure.
Trying to predict who can play a part, who is a growing talent, who is a worthwhile established choice with some mileage left in them, who might flame out after their initial burst of Sherlockian energy . . . hard casting indeed. The "loose membership cap of three hundred," deemed necessary to hold the status quo, makes it all the harder in an increasingly global Sherlockian world. But it's a self-imposed hardship.
The idea of a "status quo" that must be maintained has created something of a Sherlockian eugenics program out of the Baker Street Irregular membership. Instead of adapting, expanding, and embracing the world as it is, policies like banning all electronic devices (which I suppose must include cameras, since it's hard to find a film one these days), come into place.
What's funny is that it's just a social gathering at the center of a weekend of social gatherings that is going to work out in any case. Sherlockians have less-restrictive events across the world all the time and have just as much fun, if not more, than at the banquet tables of the tuxedoed and ball-gowned on that one night of the year. Hardly worth a comment, right?
Yeah. But they keep sending me the letter and I've got blog-space to fill, so comment, I will, even if New York never makes my list of travel goals these days.