Monday, November 4, 2013

Zismanian scholarship?

One of those things that attracted me to Sherlock Holmes fandom when I first encountered it in the 1970s was a little thing we like to call "the Game." Call it grand or great or whatever you like, the Game was a unique little thing Sherlockians did that caught my imagination: They researched Sherlock Holmes historically, approaching their work with the basic tenet that Sherlock Holmes existed just as much as Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, or any of those other folk mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

It made Holmes fans unique among the Trekkies, the lovers of Gone With The Wind, and all the other fandoms that existed at that time.

At that time. It's a different world now.

Blending fiction and reality has gone far, far beyond our little Sherlockian writings these days, as evidenced by a little film I saw tonight called Bad Grandpa. The basic premise of Bad Grandpa is that of a reprobate grandfather who transports his unwanted grandson across the country, having a lot of misadventures along the way. The grandfather, Irving Zisman, is an actor in make-up. The grandson, Billy, is a child actor. But the people they interact with along the way are all real people, living their everyday lives. Basically, it's the old Candid Camera show with a plot. (Though MUCH more offensive than the old Allen Funt half hour TV show.)

The premise isn't that new. Sacha Baron Cohen has done it with a couple of films. Johnny Knoxville's take in Bad Grandpa is much less flamboyeant, making Irving Zisman's fictional nature seem a little more like one more real person interacting with the real world a lot more often than Cohen's versions. In the end credits, Knoxville gives the game away, unlike Cohen, showing his practical joke victims getting let in on the joke, and making his tricks seem a little less predatory. The best Sherlockian scholarship never let the trick slip, and it didn't need to, as it never intruded into the lives of anyone who didn't invite it in.

And if somebody did think Sherlock Holmes was a real historical person, just like millions have even without our help? Well, what harm was in that? How could the existence of Sherlock Holmes be a bad thing, as his inspiring influence on forensic science and many great men and women over the years has shown?

Comparing the work of Father Ronald Knox with Johnny Knoxville may seem a little sacrilegious to the devout Sherlockian, but both men mixed fact and fantasy for laughs. The mediums and the level of brazenness may have changed with the times, but the similarities between the borderline realities of Sherlock Holmes and Irving Zisman do lend credence to one old adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or, if you want to go with Sherlock-wisdom: "The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up. It's all been done before and will be again." And sometimes, that's okay.

1 comment:

  1. There was once a man, Don Novello, who used the pseudonym Lazlo Toth. He would write letters to the editors of newspapers, make complaints to corporations, gripe to politicians, etc. but Toth was completely made up.. It was a joke...or was it? His targets would often write back - so they considered the man, or at least his grievances, to be real enough.