Monday, January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King and the Baker Street Irregulars.

Today is the day we celebrate the life and works of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  This very American holiday has nothing to do with the world of Sherlock Holmes, our bookish little fandom really not having had too much to do with the struggles for racial equality. And yet . . .

Dr. King's struggles for justice and equality can be viewed as being about getting those things for one race and one people, or, as with all those words our country's founders put our original paperwork, about some ideals we should look toward for all people. Ideals one can apply to many a situation, in many a backyard.

In recent years, whenever I grumble about the arcane and outdated methods for getting an invitation or a membership in the Baker Street Irregulars of New York, I will get comments like "You should come to the annual dinner again this year and see how great it is now! You might change your mind!"  The implication is that the whole Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend is just such a good time these days that whatever is going on in the course of making it happen, it must be just fine.

And I'm sure it's all a very good time. It was a very good time last year. It was a very good time the year before. And the year before . . . and, etc., etc. etc.

When I first attended the B.S.I. dinner in 1987, women were both prohibited from attending or being members, and guess what? I had a very good time. I was troubled by the no-women policy before attending, and after attending, but hey, room full of Sherlockians . . . very good time, then as now. Having no women in the room didn't help make that good time, and when they were finally let in, it didn't destroy that good time, either.

Discriminating against people of a certain race, a certain gender, or a certain je ne sais quoi in the mind of whoever the current leader of the group is doesn't take away the taste of the food, the quality of the speakers, or the joy of speaking of things Sherlockian with the people at your table. It also doesn't add to it. Unless you truly believe that there are a few hundred superior Sherlock Holmes fans out there who need to be cloistered away at one dinner a year fot the good of . . . something.

This is the thing about the exclusive, "country club" nature of the invitation-only dinner for nearly two hundred souls. At that head count, you aren't really being that picky, and yet you're cutting somebody out for some very trivial reason. The word "discrimination" is still applicable, even if you aren't cutting out a whole race or a whole gender.

We hear all the time what great people Sherlock Holmes fans are, and if you've traveled around to even a few events, you know it to be true. We have our eccentrics, our socially awkward exuberants, and yet we still make that statement, time and again. And yet the walls put up by the B.S.I. management betray a certain fear of "the bad Sherlockian," some creature that can ruin an entire gathering just by finding his way inside. And let's not even get to the recent attempts to specify the exact qualities one should look for in an exemplary Sherlockian. Oh, was that an exemplary Baker Street Irregular, and not a Sherlockian? When did there get to be a difference?

We always hear from the people who get to go to the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars, what a great time, etc., and we also don't hear much public complaint about folks not getting to go, so there must be none, right? We're all happy little Sherlockians, right? Except the way the current system is set up, anyone who does want to go, can't, and complains is assured of never getting to go as long as the powers that be associate them with said complaint. And lord help them if they "campaign" to get to go, or make any other attempt besides docile waiting for the call . . . any act that might detract from the absolute power of the invitation system is a big no-no.

The current system not only enables bias and prejudice, it also stifles open discussion. Once that discussion that wasn't being had affected an entire gender of Sherlock Holmes fans. These days it just affects individuals on a case-by-case basis. Entirely different, right? To some.

To some, it may seem a little silly and over-reaching to invoke the name of Martin Luther King over something as small as one dinner in January. But he said a few things that I always enjoy hearing, like, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," which sounds like it could have come from the mouth of Sherlock Holmes himself.

So happy Martin Luther King Day, Sherlockians of America, especially if you're one of those lucky souls who gets it off work.


  1. "Oh, was that an exemplary Baker Street Irregular, and not a Sherlockian? When did there get to be a difference?"

    If you believe Christopher Morley, it was 1934, when "The little group that first met back in 1934 had no intention of starting a mass movement." Or possibly in the 1940s, when Edgar Smith divided Sherlockians into Solid Core, Scionists, Apocryphals, Riff-Raff, and Impossibles as a way of deciding who would get an invitation to the BSI dinner.

    Many people appear to hold on to the original idea that the BSI is a group of friends and acquaintances of the organizer, who has no obligation to include anyone else, so a more interesting question might be how the notion emerged that the BSI could/should/would be for all Sherlockians?

    1. A better question would be why those who feel the BSI should be exclusive feel that Morley would have invited them into his little club to begin with. There's an arrogance there, a presumption that they would have been included with the celebrities of yore. Times change, as Morley was quick to admit. Holding on to that one "exclusive" concept while all others fall away is as ridiculous as saying all communication by Irregulars should be by USPS.

  2. I suspect that most of the investitures granted by heads of the BSI over the past 25 years have many people wondering whether Morley would have invited them, and I think the answer is no. I am not a member of the BSI, have no qualifications to be a member, and don't worry about going or not going to the BSI dinner, but as you suggest, there is no longer any notion of "exclusivity" in selecting members or guests, so maybe there is a possibility for us Riff Raff.