Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Keeping the poles propped up in the big tent

"We're getting so separate, in every single category."

Heard that quote today, from someone whose name I will not say, as it would be impossible not to put them through your mental sorting hat and filter those words. We all do that now, as much as we try not to. It's a part of the way humans are built. We see something that looks like a dog, we filter the animal through our categorical "dog filters" and don't worry about it doing anything un-doglike. It works well with dogs and frogs and cogs, but not so much with other humans.

Still, we seem almost drawn to doing it. Lately I've been pushing the "Watsonian" banner, having fallen into podcasting for the John H. Watson Society, even though I don't believe Watsonians are anything but regular Sherlockians. Period. We haven't reached a point where anyone has been either interested or concerned with what "the Watsonians" are doing as a tribe. I don't even know that we have a tribe yet, but thirty, forty years from now? Who knows?

Yet when a Watsonian starts to be seen as something separate from the Sherlockian whole, then the trouble starts. Another set of people gets seen as "the Other."

Tim Johnson expressed his concerns about this sort of trend very well back in October, and it's a good listen, if you haven't found it yet. Our big friendly tent of Sherlockiana is starting to show the effects of a harder world outside, and we are going to have to make a conscious effort to be better than that world.

BBC Sherlock gave this hobby a real adrenalin shot back in 2010, but with that shot came some unexpected side effects. Holmes and Watson were young enough to be sexy. (Yes, yes, there are those who argue that Brett and Hardwicke were sexy, but let's be honest -- were they more sexy than any elder Sherlock and Watson before them?) With all that had been written about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson before 2010, the deluge of sexy-time words that was about to flood the fandom multiplied previous word counts by a factor of . . . who knows? A lot.

The world outside had been divided into reds and blues based on some whim of an election broadcast years ago, and, suddenly we had our own "red and blue" situation coming in. No one has said, "Okay, B.S.I." with the tone of "Okay, Boomer" yet that I know of, but you know it's out there. Sherlockiana is still managing to be the great tent we can gather under and make new friends under our common love of Canon, but the cracks are definitely showing. The leadership of the B.S.I. tried to define who their preferred Sherlockian would be not all that long ago. A Sherlockian got "cancelled" in social media this year. Everyone has their reasons, but these things do not come without collateral damage that we all need to be aware of. It's too easy just to "party on" as the now-ancient SNL characters used to say, as Sherlockiana is the drug we use to escape our everyday pains already.

I hope I'm not seeming too preachy here, because I'm really preaching to myself.

Lately I've been finding myself fighting the battle against unhelpful categorical thinking, which we call "prejudice" when it comes to race or religion, but forget it can cover so much else. I mean, my own personal prejudices include one that involves three little letters: "B," "S," and "I." I have my reasons, and those reasons usual come down to three or four members of that group and some bad interactions I've had over the years, coupled with what I felt was an unhelpful direction or two that the group was being led in. But are all the folks who gather in New York every year just to be with other Sherlockians needing to be painted with that same brush for standing under that three-letter banner? Nope. Most of them are kind-hearted, good people who are in no way responsible for any prejudices I might have developed from a handful of assholes. (Worried that you're one of those assholes? You probably aren't. True assholes aren't all that self-aware.)

I see a lot of folks trying to rise above the tide of yuck that has come our way. "Focus on what you love instead of dwelling on what you hate" is a key thought in that effort. But even when you take that philosophy, you can't simply ignore those things you hate as they have a way of creeping back into your life when you least expect it. "Focus on what you love and learn to deal fairly with the things you hate" might be a more necessary strategy. Emotions are good motivators, but they aren't always our better angels to base judgments on.

And while I don't always agree with another fandom's beloved quote "Trust your feelings," I do stand firmly behind one of our own: "We can but try."

And we have to try. Even in the happy place we call "Sherlockiana." Especially in that happy place.

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