Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sherlockian privilege

By now, most of you know that I am pretty much the stereotype of Ye Old Tyme Sherlockian: Straight, white, and male. Toward the end of the Boomer generation. Full of ideas and cultural references that are slightly out-dated but hard to shake. And privileged as f#&*.''

See, I can't even freely write without a little censorship, having done do much of my writing in a time when "You can't write 'frigging' because people know what that means!' was an actual editorial quote.

Anyway: One of those subjects that tends to divide us these days is "privilege," the concept that while many of us were created equal in body and mind, we definitely weren't created equal in opportunity or treatment by society. Privilege is a tough topic, because those who have it the most have to have enough humility to recognize the gifts that were handed to them by social station even while their accomplishments moved them forward. Me, I don't know if I'm that humble or just aware of my own laziness enough to see a few of the spots where my white maleness gave me a boost up.

Privilege in the Sherlockian world comes in a lot of flavors, and not all from where you would think. Besides the cultural ones that affect all people, there are a few stand-outs. There's a geographic privilege -- the ease of connection for Sherlockians in larger cities is pretty plain. Even just the ability to drive to a regular hang-out like Dayton is something. The silent undercurrent of family funding behind some active Sherlockian eccentrics becomes visible if you get around enough. And then there's that new brand of privilege we've seen in recent years: The thought that creators must work for what their loudest fans want.

Now, don't for a minute paint all fans of a certain Sherlock with this brush: I've seen enough privileged pretty young white girls trying to imposed their will on better new-school fans of their same gender to know that this isn't the case at all. Privilege is a sneaky bastard that creeps into all aspects of our lives, but is seen most in the most narcissistic. Find a class of humans that is typically all up into themselves, and there you will also find some of the worst of arrogant Sherlockians. But not all. Never all. Sherlockians in the main do tend to be decent folk, using our shared passions to connect, not dominate. But, oh, those few who want to dominate and herd fandom into the shape they think it should take -- soooo much privilege there.

But, at our core, we're fans of an upper middle class white male from a country that dominated the globe at the time he was created. Sherlock Holmes did not bootstrap his way up from the slums of London overcoming race or gender barriers. Nor did John H. Watson, who without his M.D. and ability to get a wound pension, could have been a street beggar making much less than Hugh Boone. We love what they did in their adventurous lives, but rarely consider what social circumstances allowed them those lives of taking risks beyond the challenges of just holding a life together.

So what do we do?

Listen. Watch. Be as aware as we can, without judgement. Or, to put it as a certain friend of ours would, "Observe without theorizing in advance of the facts." And then, do as that same friend of our did, be helpful, be understanding, and be kind. None of us has a time machine to re-write the injustices that got us all to this point, but we do have futures that will affect the lives of other Sherlockians. Futures that we can refuse to take past mistakes into, just because it was always done a certain way, or that we're still feeling the pain of old wounds.

Because in the end, all Sherlockians have that same privilege that John Watson so gratefully expressed on multiple occasions. Listen to how he put it:

"I consider it the greatest privilege to have been permitted to study your methods of working."

"My participation in some of his adventures was always a privilege which entailed discretion and reticence upon me."

And that favorite one, answered with "some emotion."

"You know that is is my greatest joy and privilege to help you."

You really have to love that man. And how he inspires Sherlockians as much as the guy whose first name is a part of what we call ourselves. He understood not only what his privilege was, but also the best thing to do with it: Use discretion where necessary, reticence where necessary, and to help.

There's a reason we call this thing our "Canon."

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