Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Shilling Week Thoughts

 This is always a weird week for some of us.

For a whole lot of our little fandom, it means travel, socializing, a sort of Sherlockian family reunion based on the love of Holmes that courses through our veins. If you go to other destination gatherings of Sherlockians throughout the year, eventually you will start hearing the question "Are you going to New York?" bandied about. The Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend has grown into almost a full week of socializing for the hard core or New York based Sherlockian. It's quite a thing.

And at its core, the reason for that city and that weekend, is the annual invitation-only dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars -- the tradition. And at the core of that dinner, the fuel rod that powers its place in the fandom, is the awarding of the BSI shilling, a simple Victorian coin affixed to a certificate, that serves as the most highly regarded recognition in Sherlock Holmes fandom.

It's not an Oscar or an Emmy, awarded for skill at a specific aspect of a creative art. It's not a diploma for accomplishing a level of education. What it comes closest to is a knighthood awarded by the reigning sovereign of Great Britain, that country Sherlock Holmes hails from, and a land that American fans of Holmes prize, often enough to add a "u" to the word honors when describing the BSI shilling. In a land supposedly free of an aristocracy or caste system, we still like to create our own versions of such things.

The annual awarding of that BSI shilling will give you two things: One is a lifelong (with some notable exceptions) invitation to the annual dinner where the shillings are awarded. The second is the ability for yourself and others to tag the three letters "BSI" at the end of your name. Editors or event coordinators can use those three letters appended to your name to give you a certain status to readers or attendees if they aren't familiar with your work, like a certification of a certain level of Sherlockian ability.

Yet the Sherlockian level of ability that it mainly certifies, at this point, is your ability to go to New York and attend the annual awards dinner whilst staying interesting enough to those who put it on to keep inviting you long enough to award you. How do you stay interesting enough?

Well, that's the question. Before he left his post as head of the organization, previous chair of the Irregulars, Mike Whelan tried to lay out some guidelines for those who would follow him. They weren't codified, and the final choice, after suggestions are made by the membership, is always in the hands of the current host of the annual dinner. I don't know if Dracula fans have an annual dinner where their master vampire makes new vampires, but that would be kind of cool, wouldn't it? Sigh. We can't just help but try to create hierarchies. It's in our DNA.

Having come up in a time when women weren't allowed to be invited or awarded the BSI shilling, I will always have burning questions in my head about the whole process of "You are BSI material!" versus "You are not BSI material." Just because we took away one plainly ridiculous barrier to the process doesn't mean others still don't exist. Economic factors enter in. "Can the person you want us to invite afford and make time to come to New York?" As we watch the economic shift that has been creeping up between how the "baby boom" generation had it and how their grandkids have it, the country club aspect of the fancy dinner becomes more apparent. "A true fan will make it work," becomes the unspoken guideline.

But the Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend in New York is a great big party and a good time. Those thoughts are for the rest of the year for those busily enjoying this week. For those of us sitting the trip out, however, we wind up having to do something with our time, wondering if we will go next year, what would that take, and if it's worth the cost -- a question which will get a resounding "YES!" from so many quarters it doesn't bear asking.

Still, sometimes you have to wonder about some aspects of it, especially this week, as we celebrate Sherlock Holmes, a man who would definitely put up with none of it. [Mentally insert a GIF of Sherlock Holmes blowing a party blower with that weird litttle horn noise.] Watson might enjoy it, though.

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