Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Sherlock Holmes part of your identity

There's a viral sort of ailment that has reached epidemic proportions of late, and interestingly, one that Sherlockians have carried longer than almost anyone. It's there in the word "Sherlockian," so we can't even come close to denying it. The ailment? Attaching one's self to a product or other commercial entity so closely that it becomes a part of one's identity.

Okay, okay, one immediate argument against that statement would be "but Sherlock Holmes is not a commercial entity, he's a literary one." If one happened to save the receipts on all the money one spent based on one's love of Holmes last year, that defense goes right out the window. And Conan Doyle got paid, The Strand Magazine got paid, even Columbia Pictures and the other producers of that beloved film Holmes and Watson got paid . . . something.

But what's the harm in letting such things become a part of one's identity? Hobbies bring us pleasure, right? And fandoms bring us community, right? Good things!

The danger comes when one cedes any part of one's identity to an entity completely outside one's control. Take the fanboy attacks on any major film franchise that goes a direction said fanboy doesn't like. It isn't just that our example fanboy didn't like the turn a new movie in his fave franchise took. It's that the turn involved felt like an attack on his identity, that part of him built around the tropes and original elements of an earlier part of that work. And out comes that crazy-looking rage and ridiculous statements like "They ruined my childhood!" or "Anyone who likes this isn't a valid human being!"

When the battle over character rights started freeing up Sherlock Holmes, many a Sherlockian felt a sense of relief for just this reason. No corporate entity would have the potential to command Sherlock's story to their choosing. Yet even at that point, Sherlockians had developed a certain immunity toward the pains that come when one makes an external creation a part of one's identity. So many Sherlocks have come and gone over the last century or so that no single Sherlock Holmes, not even the one in Doyle's sixty stories, commands complete control over what any of us feels Sherlock Holmes is. Ideally, we can headcanon Sherlock all day long and not feel too threatened by any other variation, because we should have been inoculated by a thousand other Sherlocks over time.

But that's not always the case.

Newer Sherlockians may not immediately have this immunity. Season four of BBC Sherlock hit hard because, despite all of fanfic's beautiful variety, it was a painful hit to versions of Sherlock internalized from previous seasons. Older Sherlockians aren't automatically immune either -- and often the worst ragers of all when a new Holmes dents the view of Sherlock Holmes they've made a part of their identity. (Have I lost my anti-Elementary reputation yet? Surely not, because I still could go off at any minute, even though the therapy seems to be working.) Any time a person confines themselves to a strict diet of one kind of Sherlock over the years, or even just a personal views that they've built up over time, they are also going to feel very vulnerable when Sherlock Holmes starts doing something he never did in their identity-221B.

The slogan "All Sherlock is good Sherlock" might seem a little naive at first, but at least attempting it as a credo is like getting an annual flu shot so your body can adjust itself to viruses it might encounter down the line, so you don't spike a fever of outrage when an unexpected and unwanted Sherlock comes along. You can go into a little quarantine group of folks who adhere to exactly your identity's Sherlock Holmes and try to hold out as long as you can, tucked away from the world, but that just does not seem like a healthy strategy. Eventually, we all have to leave the house.

Because there are some really good Sherlock Holmes bits out there. Really good. Good enough that we can't help making them a part of our inner and outer lives. We just have to be prepared for the inevitable infection of those other Sherlocks, Sherlocks we might be allergic to, and the carriers of those Sherlocks, who could be pretty nice people.


  1. I would amend the slogan to "All Sherlock is good Sherlock - to Somebody"

  2. I suppose this is why I stare uncomprehendingly at the "wait, the Expanded Universe of all the Star Wars books and ephemera aren't the same canon as the movies???" kerfuffle. I hadn't realized anyone thought the new films WOULD adhere to every nugget, or any nugget, an author decided upon when they were hired twenty years ago to write a tie-in. ANYWAY. I see a big difference in modern fandom vs. when I first got in, not just with Sherlock but many properties, and it's a fascinating thing.

    One thing I'm trying to make very plain in my film course is that it's all *good*, in the sense that no Sherlock erases that which came before, and there's always *more*.

    That said, I get really grumbly about Elementary and Nicol Williamson, so...