Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The cultural timestamp called TJLC.

Catching up on podcasts in preparation for 221B Con, I came upon Three Patch Podcast's very in-depth discussion of that passionately discussed topic called "TJLC." I had heard of "The Johnlock Conspiracy" before, but not being a hardcore Sherlock fan, even though I had felt rumblings in the Force when that topic came up, I hadn't really understood how deep that fandom rabbit hole went.

Yes, over-50 white heterosexual male here. There's a lot I don't see until I look hard. (Have to go back to Holmes's Hound quote from this week's Grimm: "The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.") I can be horribly stupid in a lot of areas, so proceed with care. (In other words, don't hurt me. I'm a nice person. Really.)

From the moment the Three Patch discussion started out with the words, "TJLC can be a sensitive subject," my Sherlock-senses soon started tingling out their warning that this was not a topic to be approached lightly by anyone . . . I even had a memory of it being a hot button at the last 221B Con wrap-up session, even though I had no idea what it was. But here's the thing: the reason it's a hot button is because it's actually a very important cultural marker, both within Sherlockiana and without.

Ten years ago it wasn't a thing. Ten years from now it might not be a thing. But right now? It is most definitely a thing. Why?

Because Sherlock Holmes isn't always about Sherlock Holmes. Most times, he's about us.

"My Sherlock Holmes is . . . " Fill in your own blank here. He's your Sherlock Holmes. He touches something deep inside you and has been mentally customized to fit the inside of your head. You may think he's Basil Rathbone or Benedict Cumberbatch or a Sidney Paget drawing or Jonny Lee Miller, but that's just the coat of paint that covers the mix of personality traits that makes Sherlock Holmes meaningful to you. It could be the cool logic. It could be the bonds of friendship. It could be a tendency for addiction. Sliding scales of each of those and more can vary widely between what's behind your Cumberbatch coating and my Cumberbatch coating. But the key part of all that is this: Sherlock Holmes (or John H. Watson, if that's your key, and it is to some) is us.

And that's what one has to consider when observing the debates behind the Johnlock Conspiracy.

The Johnlock Conspiracy, as I understand it, is the deeply held and backed-up-by-all-sorts-of-evidence belief that BBC Sherlock's overarching tale is one of two same-sex lovers who will eventually find that in each other. And that the producers are secretly (or maybe not so secretly) writing it that way. It's more than just a theory to those who hold it most dear, it's a believed truth.

And one can see why they want it to be so. Gay couples in modern television are very hard to find. Lately a lot of them who come together on shows like CW's The 100 immediately have one of the pair get killed the minute they acknowledge their same-sex relationship. Just as society is struggling to accept that things aren't the same-old, same-old, our media story-telling is, too. And here come Sherlock and John, with such a chemistry between them, and such an obvious love as well.

Now, they could be like Xena, Warrior Princess and toy with the thought of a gay relationship for the entire show, never quite seem to get there, and come back in a rebooted version (as Xena seems to be doing) with it fully realized. Xena is a twenty-year-old show . . . for Sherlock and John to follow the same path seems a bit . . . old fashioned? And yet, if that was never truly the intent of the showrunners, one couldn't blame them for keeping Sherlock asexual and John hetero . . . unless you were blaming them for teasing something they never intended to do.

Very complex and murky waters indeed, when you bring intent of the writers and what meaning viewers pull out of a story up for comparision. My old high school English teacher used to go on about Hemingway's "theme of blood," and I always wondered if that was Hemingway's intent or just what my teacher and her academic class of folk wanted to see there. But those on the side of the Johnlock Conspiracy don't seem to just be pontificating English teachers. It sounds like they've done some pretty intense research to back up their theories . . . research on the BBC Sherlock Canon that hits a level of detail that the old school hits with the original Doyle Canon. And they hit the original Canon in their search as well. (The Criterion was a gay bar? To the Victorian Snopes site!)

At the core of The Johnlock Conspiracy, no matter how you slice it, is how our culture, our media, and our stories are dealing with non-traditional relationships. Right here. Right now. We've come a goodly way to even be able to have this discussion at this point, and we have a ways to go before it becomes something that doesn't need to be discussed. Like I said, Sherlock Holmes is about us.

You get to have your Holmes. I get to have mine. As individuals, these things may be just our personal opinions, as a culture, however, they show us what's happening in the world around us, even if we only want to talk about that guy named Sherlock Holmes.

Looking forward to 221B Con all the more after listening to Three Patch's latest. (I don't count, or listen to Spoilercasts, for the obvious reason. Hmm, why does the word "Spoilers!" always ring out in my head in Alex Kingston's voice?) I never come away from that weekend without learning quite at bit about Sherlock Holmes I never knew going in.


  1. I thought it was interesting that the 3PP hosts were very careful to set the parameters of the debate. That is, that it not be a debate.

    It also sounded like they carefully edited the chat so that it wasn't an actual discussion, but a series of voices discussing their view of the JLC (which, like you, I had never heard of until that moment).

    Of course, by stifling debate or discussion -- I never did learn how John's marriage fit into the conspiracy; was he bi- or using a beard? And if a beard, why now? -- the show took on that same kind of vibe you get from listening to tin-foil conspiracy thinkers.

    Still, it made for compelling listening, and they're welcome to their opinions (is there any way I can say that that doesn't sound condescending? Ah, language and its limitations.)

    1. Well this was eye opening for me. I listened to the 3PP podcast and read their link to the conspiracy. I know that I'm another old white cis-gender Sherlock Holmes fan but clearly ACD did not intend this end. As for BBC Sherlock, who knows? I fear that many fans are going to be disappointed.
      Brad, please send updates from 221B Con.

    2. I'll be an updating fool at 221B Con, Dick, unless my fingers drop off or something equally devastating. Then I will be a regular fool. Watch this space to see which occurs!