Sunday, June 23, 2013

The rise of eye candy Sherlock.

I recently saw some criticism of BBC's Sherlock as being all about Benedict Cumberbatch.

Nothing new there, of course. And that's a load that will fertilize a garden, to be sure, as the writing and direction target Sherlock Holmes in a way that even a Holmes connoisseur can appreciate. But I do see where it comes from. The ladies can make a fuss about the Cumberbunny, which has given lazy male critics a stick to beat it with from the start. After getting to fawn over Irene Adler for a century, it's a bit disconcerting to some men to see a man getting that sort of attention.

Sherlockiana, being one of the most ancient fandoms (especially since we don't count religions as  fandoms -- though sometimes I think we should), reflects social change as well as any other mirror on society.

If you go all the way back to the early 1900s, the only fan voices you see captured in print are those who had the time or money to be writers. The average person is nowhere to be seen in early Sherlockiana.

As the century rolls on, we see the rich and celebrated joining the writer-classes in producing Sherlockiana. The Baker Street Irregulars of New York start up, and of course, it's male-based, as such was the culture of the time. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are seen as peers of a sort to the Sherlockian, fellow guys doing guy stuff.

A few women start to enter the picture from the writerly class, Dorothy Sayers being most notable. But seeing more than one woman in a Sherlockian venue is rare. The aforementioned B.S.I. even institutionalize that with their annual toast to "the" woman. One woman allowed in their company for a time as a weird tribute to Sherlock's attention paid to Irene . . . even though he himself wrote how much he liked Maud Bellamy and events like his mission teamed with Kitty Winter demonstrate that there was more than one woman in Holmes's life. (And we can't ignore the clients -- some of his best clients were women.)

By the 1960s, you can see the rise of the all-woman Sherlock Holmes club, mostly where there's an all-man club that isn't letting women in. The 1960s saw social progress in the gender arena across the board, and actually having women pipe up and say, "Hey, let us into your damn club!" was a big moment in the hobby, even if they didn't get into the damn club for a few decades.

With those kinds of issues to deal with, one could understand why women weren't going, "Hubba hubba, that Basil Rathbone can light my pipe any time!" in Sherlockian media of the day. It wasn't until Jeremy Brett took the stage that we actually see Sherlockians of the opposite sex showing appreciation for his looks in any great numbers. But it was there, and hard to miss.

So now we find ourselves in a new millenium with Sherlocks that women are happily gazing at with much appreciation, just like men have done with Irene Adler for all this time. They get to be a little more vocal about it, just to make up for lost time.

Because it isn't all just about Benedict Cumberbatch. It's about doubling our numbers by letting both sexes be who they are in our fandom, not just limiting ourselves to the one that doesn't like to look at cute boys, like it was in the past. It's about social change for the better. And most of all . . .

It's about Sherlock Holmes. And hooray for that.


  1. Oh, I doubt very much that male viewers have been hankering for Irene Adler all these years considering she's only been portrayed a handful of times, once by Joan Beverley in 1921, Olga Edwardes in 1951, Charlotte Rampling in 1976, and Anne Baxter and Gayle Hunnicutt in 1984. If anything, Adler's (over)use since the dawn of the new millennium is designed to bring a sense of romance to the stories, which most guys couldn't care less about.