Monday, September 3, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and the Controlled Reaction

At this point, seeing a headline like "People React to Xxxxxx!" is just laughable clickbait, and possibly worse, some supposed news professional trying to pass scrolling through Twitter as actual journalism. Because people react to things, always have, and there's somebody out there who is going to react strongly to any damn thing. (Like my reaction to that headline, for example.)

How does this connect to Sherlock Holmes? Well, remember first how Watson liked to right about Holmes, those statements like "You really are an automaton, -- a calculating machine!" or "All emotions . . . were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind." Then recall all the times we actually saw Watson describe Holmes displaying emotion. Why the disparity?

It is all, I believe, about the reaction. Consider it in internet headlines.

"Watson Reacts to Beautiful Woman!"  Okay, fairly mundane. But look at what Watson is going for.

"You Won't Believe What Sherlock Holmes Did NOT React To!"

It's kind of like Holmes himself once said, "Crime is common. Logic is rare."

Reactions to certain stimuli are common. Refusing to react is rare.

And Watson plainly wanted something out of Holmes that he wasn't always getting: Reactions.

Sherlock Holmes, of course, had what might be considered valid excuses for not putting on a reaction show. His professionalism, his ability to reserve judgement until all the facts were in, his damned Vulcan logic . . . well, scrap that last one, as "logic" in the "ranting Dr. McCoy" sense is just another way of saying someone has some understanding of a situation or thing that the person expecting a reaction does not . . . an understanding that means they don't have only the superficial view to react to. But did Holmes need an excuse?

No, because we all get to react based on our own lights, not to the expectations of others.

Watson's reaction that Holmes was "an automaton -- a calculating machine!" didn't do anyone any good, and might have even harmed the relationship, if Holmes took it too hard. One might even consider Watson to have been trying to be a little manipulative with his outburst, if one tends toward Team Holmes.

To react or not to react, that is the question. And with Sherlock Holmes, that question gives us a . little more to think about than a clickbait headline.

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