Sunday, February 28, 2021

Fans versus diversity

There's a thing about the follows I've chosen on Twitter and the way the site's algorithm feeds me tweets: Time after time I see a huge social media backlash to something I don't ever see, or can even identify the source of. This week, it all swirled around something someone somewhere wrote about the casting of Royce Pierreson in the new Netflix show The Irregulars, coming this month, as well as the Baker Street Irregulars themselves.

Apparently that someone somewhere prefers their Watsons, their Irregulars, and probably all of Victorian Britain as white and predominantly male. And they defend that stance with "it's historical," not factoring in that the history books were written for the most part, by white guys, and we live in an age where a lot of folks are just figuring that out. It to HBO's The Watchmen for a large share of America to learn of the horrific Tulsa race massacre, an event that should have been in every history book, so it's not surprising that folks of varying non-white skin tones are starting to slip into our Sherlockian fictions as well.

We've got a lot of catching up to do.

And in Sherlockiana, what might be the oldest fandom outside of those that became religions, we've definitely got catching up to do. Because fandoms might be the worst at accepting change, simply because of the basic premise of fandom itself.

I enjoyed this thing. I enjoyed it so much I want to repeat the experience. And I want to enjoy it as much as I did that first time. And for many fans, fandom becomes ritual: In order to enjoy that thing as much as I did then, it must be exactly as it was then. It's a very primitive, superstitious instinct that we apply to a lot of things: Pizza. Sports. Coffee. You name it, there's someone out there that it insists the only way to do it is the way they enjoyed it most. My old friend Bob had that mindset about eating chili, of all things.

Fans can be the biggest picky eaters in the world, metaphorically wanting chicken strips and french fries at every restaurant they go to. Ironically, fans can also be inspired by that thing they love to be the chef in the kitchen and try to mix new flavors and create new recipes for cooking their chicken and potatoes, discovering ways to eat them that they end up loving better than breaded chicken white meat and deep-fried bars of potato.

But nobody can dig their heels in deeper than a fan, fighting for something they love specifically the way they love it. Sherlockiana has had those issues since its early days, when the Baker Street Irregulars supposedly threw Rex Stout into the snow outside for merely suggesting that John Watson was female. And that act being played as the grandest jest for decades to come -- and said club wouldn't allow female fans to attend their meetings until the 1990s, so the misogyny pretty much fit their rituals of the Game.

But the bigger trend we've always seen in Sherlockiana has also always been "Sherlock Holmes is like me." Golfers wrote essays about Sherlock as a golfer. Members of any given religion would try to show that he was of a similar mindset. And those takes were accepted. So why can't we just open it up and let Sherlock Holmes be like everyone? Sherlock Holmes can be the black detective hero for a black Sherlockian. Sherlock Holmes can be a trans detective hero for a trans Sherlockian. Sherlock Holmes can be a fashionista detective hero to a fashionista Sherlockian. And none of those things hurt anyone's love of Jeremy Brett in Jeremy Brett's TV show.

Sherlock Holmes is . . . and I hate to say this, due to my own Sherlockian leanings . . . a fictional character. Holmes was many things, even in Conan Doyle's original writings, and Sherlock will be many, many more by the time the rest of the writers in the world are done with the character. Every new incarnation not only gives us a new way to look at Holmes, but also the chance to bring others in and see something of what we love in this special human.

I really love the fact that I've seen more reposts and agreement with @_TheAntiChris 's original post on the topic than I've seen anyone disagreeing with it. Sherlockiana is moving in the right direction. Some of us have just got to get over a few of the classic foibles of fandom first.

We'll always have chicken strips. Let people have coq au vin.


  1. Wonderful essay, Brad. If I were ambitious, I would ask to franchise it and change the references, so I could send it to the fandoms of Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, practically every comic book character ever, etc.

  2. Sherlock is fictional. I’ll agree to that. We can also all agree that Watson was real.

  3. Yes. Sherlock is fictional. We can all agree that Watson was real.