Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and idiots.

In a moment of outrage yesterday, ye olde deliverer of links to this blog's comment section, Silke Ketelsen was driven to cry out, "Surrounded by idiots everywhere." Now, for a moment in the comment moderation booth, Sherlock Peoria's moderation staff was taken aback by such language. Was she indeed insulting a city, a nation, the whole of planet Earth itself? (Well, I pretty much knew who she was insulting, but it set the Sherlockian ponder-machine in motion.)

I was reminded of many a time that I have had a similar moment, and my go-to line of movie dialogue from that classic film, Plan 9 from Outer Space: "Because all you of Earth are idiots!" The same character, Eros the alien, really ticks off an Earthman by carrying on that line of thought with, "You see? Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!"

Eros, otherworldly intelligence though he may be, is laughable in his frustrated insults, delivering just more bad dialogue in a movie full of bad dialogue.

But contrast Eros with a more down-to-Earth higher intelligence, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Holmes, of course, spends his days surrounded by lesser minds and a good part of his career is based around stepping in when Scotland Yard is feeling foolish and not up to a task. But when does Sherlock Holmes use the "i" word?

Well, two out of three times, he's using it about himself.

"I say, Watson," he whispers in The Valley of Fear, "would you be afraid to sleep in the same room as a lunatic, a man with softening of the brain, an idiot whose mind has lost its grip?"

And then in "Stockbroker's Clerk," we find: "Idiot that I was! I thought so much of our visit that the paper never entered my head for an instant."

Nothing is more frustrating to the man of skill than his own mistakes. The one time Sherlock Holmes does use it to describe another, it's in a field he would naturally find less than reasonable: "what does the idiot do but get into the clutches of a barmaid in Bristol, and marry her at a register office!" (Describing young James McCarthy's romantic past in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery.")

As with most occasions when we use the word "idiot," Holmes is talking about someone whose mental state he cannot even comprehend: a young man, silly with love.

On none of these occasions is Holmes really trying to insult someone, as Eros the pompous alien is in Plan 9, and his use of the word isn't nearly as comical as a result. Which is why I like to turn to Plan 9 when I'm using the term out of frustration with others, as Silke did, just to give me a laugh. But when I'm talking about myself, of course, I'll take the more Holmesian route.

Because, hey, if we're going to be idiots, at least we can be idiots like Sherlock Holmes. All us of Earth tend to be that way.