Monday, January 24, 2022

What are the Baker Street Irregulars?

With another January weekend come and gone, the hootin' and a 'hollerin' over with for another year, I always stop and think about what just happened on a certain night. Was it the Sherlockian equivalent of an annual awards show? Was it a private social event with a sort of fandom glamour cast on it? Was it an incorporated entity's annual retreat?

One might say, "It is what it is, leave it alone lest you kill the magic by staring at it too hard!" And one especially doesn't want to ruin the buzz of the newly awarded Baker Street Irregulars. Or the folks that cherish that moment where they got awarded their Baker Street shilling. But when we let fears stop our ability to improve upon what might be a flawed system, it's . . . well, it's what we humans do.

A long time ago, Christopher Morley invited some friends to a private party. Cool. We all do that.

And then that party grew, got out of Morley's control, and morphed into something else. It became the center of Sherlock Holmes fandom in America. Sherlockians were a rare breed, and travel to New York City wasn't something everyone could do,  A Sherlockian could go, "Hey, can I bring a friend?" The Baker Street Journal served as a central news source for anything coming out in the hobby, and folks seemed to be having fun with it.

Not saying they aren't now, of course. Sherlockians have fun. It's what we do.

Except when people get a little too serious about things. And Sherlockiana got a little wave of seriousness at some point. Maybe it was when The Baker Street Journal started getting published by a college press, and a few folks started seeing it as something like a medical journal or an academic journal. And around the same time, it started getting a lot harder to get invited to the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars. Of course, that culture of scarcity might even go back to when Baring-Gould's Annotated outed the Baker Street Irregulars as the Sherlockian group, the Irene Adler of Sherlockian societies.

Hard to say. But the party stayed invitation-only, with a host who makes the ultimate decision of who gets invited and who gets awarded, and that's the one flaw in this system that can start to annoy, if one sees certain folks passed over time and again due to an individual's bias, or hears too much of the backchat that we try not to think about when it's celebration time. Nobody wants to ruin the party.

Would a little more transparency, a little more equitability, a little less dictatorship in the process make it less easy to upset people whenever someone whispers "I think the emperor isn't wearing clothes?" I mean, democracy might be a little much to hope for, but if we think enough of people to make them Baker Street Irregulars, wouldn't we think enough of them to let them vote on it? Yes, yes, nominations and balloting would give away the complete shocking surprise, but since lately the folks had to be invited to the dinner and attend to get the prize, some surprise was lost anyway. There are still losers at the ceremony, the multiply-invited who never get called up. (Yes, yes, it's an honor just to be nominated/invited.) And what is it with going to the dinner anyway?

It may surprise a younger Sherlockian to learn that some Sherlockians have been inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars without ever having attended a dinner, in recognition of what they have done for the hobby. That hasn't happened for a while, as the BSI can seem a little high on itself sometimes, instead of Sherlock Holmes. Looking back at the Baker Street Irregulars that has gone before instead of looking ahead at the Baker Street Irregulars that could be.

We always know what the Baker Street Irregulars were, and the group has been a lot of different things. What they are changes from year to year. And what they will be? That is always something we wait to see, just as some of us wait to see who the newest members are every year. 

I really hope I haven't offended anyone with this little blog post, though I always seem to. Like I said, there seems to be a little fear that it's possible to kill the magic by looking too closely at the man behind the curtain or suggesting that maybe we could do better. But this isn't Oz. This is a wonderful hobby with some amazing people in it, and there's always some Sherlockian out there doing something better than what was done before, if your eyes are open to see it.

1 comment:

  1. I don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member. 'Groucho Marx' (and me)