Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Sherlock Holmes versus the Peacemaker

 Fans gonna fan. Most of us with a passion for Sherlock Holmes direct that passion elsewhere at times when something else catches our fancy. We've had Sherlock Holmes crossovers with Jack the Ripper, Dracula, Star Trek . . . anything else that attracts fans . . . for a very, very long time. Sometimes the attraction makes sense, like Spock and Sherlock who have certain similarities. And sometimes you just have to dig deeper. For example . . .

I have gone mad over HBO Max's Peacemaker series. 

On the surface, we're looking at a character who seems the opposite of Sherlock Holmes -- a musclebound idiot who thinks he's a hero, even though we first met him in his prison cell in the movie The Suicide Squad for murdering folk. If you didn't think Jack Reacher compared well to Sherlock Holmes, you're definitely not going for this guy. And maybe he is the opposite of Sherlock Holmes.

But there's a cultural angle to discussing Sherlock Holmes and the Peacemaker that I find very fascinating -- the way they show where we were versus where we are today.

Sherlock Holmes is the pinnacle of white male colonial dominance. (If you found any of that sentence offensive, you might want to leave now. It ain't getting better from here on in.) England ruled the world, science was on the rise, and one good, educated man could walk into any situation and mansplain your problems away. That was Sherlock Holmes. It's why a lot of us latched on to him before Benedict and Martin were so cute together, despite Morley's "Textbook of Friendship" angle. The relationship part was nice, but Sherlock Holmes was the star, and he was rarely allowed to be anything close to "young," much less American, female,  or any minority you'd care to name.

Now, let's take a minute to look at why I love the movie "Holmes and Watson." I became a Sherlock Holmes fan as an adolescent. Here was a role model to look up to, the genius crime nerd who could handle anything. He was everything I thought a man should be, and, hey, also a white male like me, but with that British accent that just shows he's cool like James Bond. (Boy, did England ever quietly maintain sovereignty over our American brains!) After forty years, though, I realized that teenage Brad might have been coming at that thought from a lack of life experience. And, forty years later, a movie that takes apart Sherlock Holmes's flaws as deftly as "Holmes and Watson" really hit me perfectly, as I am both still very fond of the man and yet see his flaws for what they are.

Which brings us to Peacemaker and where we are now.

Sherlock Holmes was a creation of Victorian times where, as I said, the aged white male was cultural king, even if the queen was a woman. These days, we're in a more transitional state, a cultural shoving match between that old paternalistic paradigm and a more open, equal society (even though money and power are still gonna be money and power). Folks have a few issues with that smarty-pants know-it-all strutting in the door to tell everybody how the world really is and mansplain the problems away, especially if he is of the old model. 

Christopher Smith, the Peacemaker, is a freaking mess of a man, trying to come back from a past full of paternalism, racism, misogyny that made him who he is, and trying to still be a better man despite moments of knee-jerk defending his messed-up worldview. And, boy, does he make mistakes. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, the Peacemaker's stories are full of attempts at heroism that fail miserably yet somehow stumble toward the right outcome. He is truly the anti-Sherlock-Holmes in so many ways.

But maybe that's who we need to be right now, maybe more than that old Victorian ideal that we still love. We need to recognize that our past has a few issues and that our basic make-up will cause us to make some pretty bad mistakes, but we have to own those mistakes and think of the people around us in trying to do better. Sherlock Holmes started as the rising star of detection, but eventually had to start doing those very things as well. Wait a minute . . . misogynist, racist, a product of a paternalistic culture . . . hmmm. Things are laid out just a little more plainly and purposefully in Peacemaker.

"Education never ends," as the old role model used to say.

But we can't have a "Sherlock Holmes and Popular Second Character" essay without talking about how the two are alike, can we? So here's that: A key part of both who Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Smith are is their love of music. They both play an instrument in their meditative downtime as well as appreciate the great artists of their time, taking full advantage of music's power to inspire, relax, and bring us joy, even when still working on a case.

And, boy, I could do a whole second essay about Peacemaker's Watson, the Vigilante. But that's for another day. If you aren't easily offended by anything, don't have children anywhere near the TV, and have HBO Max streaming, you might want to give that show a try. It's not Sherlock Holmes, but is anything, really?

No comments:

Post a Comment