Monday, December 23, 2019

The painful price of popularity in the present

Okay, we've had a new Star Wars movie for all of four days now and the amount of armchair re-writes gushing out of the internet are astounding. It seems to be the way fan engagement works at this point, bonding with earlier chapters of a thing, getting a sense of ownership via the love of that thing, and then having very definite ideas of how things should have gone.

It really makes me look at those key Sherlock Holmes stories like "The Final Problem," "The Empty House," and "His Last Bow," and wondering how the internet would have burned and recreated those tales the first week after they came out, were Conan Doyle subject to the same million-eyed-monster that goes after popular culture icons of today.

"Final Problem," of course, has the fact that Moriarty shows up out of nowhere, Dr. Watson getting dragged along until just before the climactic moment, and then left with no resolution nor satisfying relationship moments. And how is Moriarty's criminal empire ignoring all of the socio-economic factors behind crime and just saying it's this one dude? Never mind "Speckled Band" and "Red-Headed League" being totally superior stories, are still at the top of pundit rankings and this "Final Problem" has to fall down into the teens at the very least.

It's actually very hard to look at those original serialized entertainments from The Strand Magazine and see them in the context of the harsh scrutinies modern media endure. And they're in a written medium besides -- books rarely take the "everybody's a critic" pounding that TV shows or movies do because reading an entire book actually takes commitment. You can't just go "I'm going to kill two hours and watch the popular thing."

It's a bit of a stretch to try to imagine internet reaction to a Doyle short story, but it's a good mental exercise. Would "His Last Bow, with its completely different structure have totally thrown the internet for a loop? Would clickbait headlines try to suggest it was the start of a new series, with Sherlock Holmes as a spy? And how would the varied political factions dig in on Sherlock Holmes getting involved in pre-war international affairs?

It's kind of nice that the dust settled on the original Sherlock Holmes Canon long ago. We saw the nasty turn things took during that last season of Sherlock, whether it was what the creators did or how some fans reacted. Those sorts of things are so far behind us on Doyle Holmes that no one who was a part of them is either not alive or too old to hold a grudge.

It would be kind of nice is there was some sort of two-week moratorium where the internet would just let us enjoy things, or not enjoy them, and form our own opinions before forming the sort of lynch mob we saw coming for Holmes and Watson last Christmas, and CATS this Christmas. (Though I will honestly admit I did pick up a torch and a pitchfork and joined the villagers over that second one. Oh, lordy.) But such is the world we must adapt to these days, as it won't be changing anytime soon, I'm sure.

It almost makes one hope that Sherlock Holmes doesn't get another wave of popularity for a decade or two. Almost!

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