Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The mechanism of the BSI

 As a rule, I don't congratulate those who are awarded membership in the Baker Street Irregulars each year. And there's a reason for it, beyond my personal history with that particular practice and managing to get myself un-congratulated within two months my own induction. It's because if we should congratulate anyone each January, it's the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Baker Street Irregulars began as a party by a celebrity inviting his celebrity friends to dinner. It's a great way to start any organization, because everyone who looks up to those celebrities is going to want to join the club. And even after those celebrities fall from the public eye, people can explain to their friends how and why those folks were celebrities and re-celebrate them. 

Would the Baker Street Irregulars be what it is today without the Morleys, the Queens, the Asimovs? As a Sherlock Holmes fan group of no-name fans, just happy for each other's company? A truly objective observer would have to say "no," I think, and the club might actually have been the better for it.

In earlier times, when travel to New York City was not so easily done and half the population was barred from attending in any case, the ratio of great Sherlockians in America to BSI members was pretty easy to keep balanced. You had to have a certain level of investiture in the hobby itself to want to make the trip, and it was a lot easier to get an invitation. You could practically get one BSI from every local scion society make it a bit of an unofficial congress. But with the rise of mass media, the word got out to Sherlock Holmes fans that might have never connected with the BSI before, and demand outgrew supply for membership in the club beyond all possibility of keeping up.

And the Baker Street Irregulars dinner became an awards dinner.

Without the awarding of the shillings, the BSI dinner can be a dry and lackluster event, with rituals like the "Buy-laws" and the Musgrave Ritual that have been repeated to the point of meaninglessness. One of them was even written as a joke, and suffers the flaw of any joke told annually for eighty or so years. Every year, it seems, the head of the group mentions how the awarding of new memberships is is favorite part of the evening, and he's right. It's the one part of the evening that Sherlockians always talk about the next day, without fail, often to the exclusion of anything else that happened that evening.

And at this point, with such a limited supply of memberships being doled out, those awarded are usually people that the average Sherlockian thinks already were Baker Street Irregulars. Their place in our hobby has already been so established that by bringing people like Ashley Polasek or Steve Mason into the club, the BSI is actually validating itself, not them. While maybe not celebrities to the general public, such folk are celebrities to their fellow Sherlockians, and thus the original celebrity-boosted aura of the Baker Street Irregulars still gets perpetuated.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, if it is done honestly and without pretense. Converting the BSI dinner into an annual Sherlockian awards dinner might be a refreshingly self-reflective bit of honesty. This year, there was so much pushing of BSI publications at the event that it seemed a bit like a publishing company's corporate affair, and that's not going to make anyone's night. Just going full-on awards show might raise the entertainment bar a bit, the topper of which this at year's event was that very strange appearance by Mrs. Hudson.

Separating the awards shillings from the membership would also give them a path to opening the club up a little bit. Not every member of the Academy has to attend the Academy Awards. Getting members into the group earlier in their Sherlockian careers rather than later might not be a bad thing. But I digress. And I am aware that there is a certain devoted-to-ritual element within the group that looks at any new idea as anathema, especially from the outskirts of the cult where we get a little too bored with the same-old, same-old a little too easily. But, hey, trying to be optimistic and positive here!

So let me close with this offer of congratulations, in the appropriate direction:

Congratulations to the Baker Street Irregulars for adding some new, and very nice, feathers to their cap this year. And good luck with next year, to them and to us all.

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