As anyone who cares to have a conversation with me for longer than about 15 minutes knows, I am a tumblr person. Which means that when it comes to things I like, namely films, television and books, I get chatter and news very quickly. It also means that comprehensibly distilled versions of critiques and reviews of said television, films and books find me sooner or later. Recently, I read a few posts on tumblr that has brought this on, other than raging fandom feelings.
One was about how the constant fear about someone who cares about something, anything at all, is that they will start becoming a looped record about it. Every time you talk about it, you are aware of a certain section of people internally groaning – “We KNOW. You’ve talked about this before. In a different context perhaps, and with different conclusions, but why does every discussion have to be about this?”
And speaking as someone who has thought these very things on multiple occasions, and lately been subject to these very thoughts, I have to pint out it’s between a hard place and another phallic, sexual hard thing. Nobody wants people to tire of the things they talk about and consider important. However, perhaps more so with some subjects than another, you can’t rest till you talk about it because the only way to embed a manner of reasoning or thinking into the world around you is if you bring it up as much as you can. And so goes feminism and anything feminism related to film and television.
The problem with talking about feminism is how ingrained the opposite is. Because nobody has ever really ignored the presence of women in human society. In history and sociology and the rest of the liberal arts, perhaps only recently has the contribution and importance of women been studied, but in everyday life, women are always around. They are not ignored in the culture of any society, largely because is “culture” is mostly made by a phallus shaped society interested in where the penis shaped compass of their penis-minds are pointed. Which means that as soon as someone says “but the women…” the immediate response from most people is, “Yes, the women are here. We see them.” The question of how you internalize the personhood of women is often ignored because as soon as you acknowledge their presence, mostly at a phallic level, you stop wondering what other contribution they can have to your life or to your story.
Which brings me, quite fortuitously (not really. I planned this) to the subject of Sherlock. Season three has come and gone, and the results are in – “Amazing as usual, but it is not Sherlock anymore. Sherlock isn’t about how pretty Benedict Cumberbatch’s eyes are, or how much Watson loves his wife. It should be about Sherlock solving crime.” (Apologies to the person to whom this quote can be directly ascribed to. This is not a tirade against you. I have heard too many arguments of the same nature and you were the most articulate)
There is no doubt that this season has been subtly or not so subtly… enhanced for the womenfolk. The opening sequence itself, where all of our vaginas trembled with the knowledge that here, here was the perfect kiss with just the right hand placement and just the right kind of adrenaline rush and the right kind of background lighting, is proof of this. However my question is, is the value of the series itself diminished somehow because it also caters to the red blooded female? I have rarely heard of the value of something like Game of Thrones or Rome or even Spartacus being diminished because it caters to the visual fantasies and priorities of its male viewers. If I have, it comes from a largely female source where the argument is not against such catering, but in its blatant disregard for the female viewer. Take this hilariously significant plea to HBO for instance.
In comedy this is an often talked about issue – is women’s comedy different from men’s comedy? This is especially something that is chanted by male comedians for whom a large part of their routine consists of “Men are like…. But women are like….” But for people like Louis C.K. or Patton Oswalt, two older male comedians who have actually engaged with feminist (or rather, just anti-obscene-justifying-rape-joke-ist) critique, there is no such thing as “funny for men” and “funny for women”. Funny is funny. And for Oswalt and Louis, funny is funny because it is not coming at the expense of trivializing actual, real, and horrendous problems, but engages with them in order to cull out hypocrisy and irony and outlandishness of thought that allows for such problems.
This engagement at a less than visceral level is what has always made Sherlock as a show important. A direct adaptation, even one based in the 21st century, of what I remember of the original material would not result in the show as it exists. And it’s a good thing they didn’t go about making that direct adaptation, largely because the world has seen enough interpretations of the “genius solves crime by using his genius and then follows killer into dark alley where they fight and then genius emerges victorious” trope. Any show that wants to break ground while having Sherlock Holmes as its protagonist needs more. You need more than chase sequences and smug omniscience. You need human connection, and very importantly in the digital age, a connection with the consumers.
I don’t know about anyone else, but to me and a lot of people around me, the pivotal point of any Sherlock episode has not been the chase, or the catching of the criminal. It has been about how Sherlock uses his mind to arrive at the solution, to escape, to catch. And more than that, it is about the examination we do of Sherlock’s mind to understand where he stands, and where we stand by comparison. Even Moriarty, who by the way did not have as much a presence in the original works as does the Andrew Scott Moriarty in Sherlock, as much as he is the epitome of the “consigliore of crime” presents such a palpably delicious threat because of how much he wants to sparr with Sherlock. Sherlock the show has always been more interesting because we get to see the socially dysfunctional Sherlock manipulate and work with the real world and with real people and all their “tedious” fights, emotions and conventions.
With Doctor Who, especially in its 10th Doctor heyday, the most adventurous part of the show is never special effects, explosions and chasing aliens, but the manner in which the Doctor with all his resources and intelligence facilitates compromise and diplomacy, more often than not, by creating a team and working positively with other people.
Sherlock, Doctor Who and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer of yore are few of the shows that escape from sticking to the previously adhered to, rather male centric trope of “single savior saves the world” even while there is a titular character. All of them survive because of the team they form around each other, and the team they form around the people who watch the show itself.
This is where fandom has become an unprecedentedly important factor. Sherlock is made by fandom. Even Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are fans of the original work, and are technically writing modern AU fanfiction to use the parlance of the fanfic universe. My question is, does the fact that so many female viewers are enamored by Sherlock’s physicality negate their equally strong enthusiasm for his process? Does the fact that the writers are keeping this female viewership in mind mean that there is nothing for everyone else to enjoy? In fact, isn’t it a good thing that the perspective and imaginations of female viewers are now part of the canon of a show rather than something left to be filled up by female viewers in fanfiction sites?
More importantly one has to consider why female viewers love Sherlock. Despite what a large number of men, including Steven Moffat at times, think it is has as much to do with his personality as his looks, and it is not at a purely romantic level. For many women, Sherlock is not a challenge – someone who appears asexual but who we hope we would be able to change. He is asexual, and for a lot of people including women there is comfort in his asexuality. Sherlock being asexual and as logical as he is means that his lack of manners and general rudeness have nothing to do with the way he thinks about you because you’re a woman. He treats women abhorrently, but he treats men equally abhorrently. He is the man who will not try to leap ahead of you to open the door for you. He will probably let the door smack you on your face. There is safety in him – the guarantee of being treated rottenly on the basis of something that has nothing to do with where he believes your place in life is simply because you are a woman. God knows he seems to have met enough world class criminal women to have no stereotypical understanding of women. In the stand up comedy delivered by Sherlock, if there is any mention at all of the separation of genders or relationships, it will probably go something like “Can you believe you tiny brains have no idea that your significant other is using drugs by the fact that he or she has started polishing their boots?! What a bunch of fucking idiots.”
It may not be the crime procedural that we have been made used to by the rather male dominated western entertainment industry, with the importance it gives to weddings, relationships and so on, but it would be rather punishing to claim that such things should not be part of a show like Sherlock. Further, saying that would imply that men and viewers at large are not interested in such things as marriage or kissing or emotional and psychological basis for human behavior and personalities. You only need to look at who writers of happy fairy tales and romantic comedies have largely been – men.
This is not to say that Steven Moffat couldn’t do with a world of improvement in his portrayals of women – which is more often than not one-dimensional or otherwise problematic, or even of portrayals of relationships. However, Mary Morstan is certainly a step up, not just in the depth of her character and history, but in the relationships she sustains with people – from using them for her own ends (Geniene?) to loving fiercely to inspiring respect and love not just for her ability to love fiercely, but for being a clever and ruthless assassin. In fact, I believe for those interested in such things, it would be thrilling – comparing Sherlock and Mary Morstan; two sociopaths with the ability to love fiercely and unequivocally when it comes to the people they care about.
To imply that Sherlock has always been about solving crimes would be very blind – it has always been about people, especially about Sherlock himself. We are all at some level masturbating intellectually to the thought of this one man’s unprecedented personality and how it interacts with other personalities. And to behave as though the manner in which he and Watson form relationships and friendships is not interesting to you would mean you’re just not interested in stories. The kind of male centered action based television where entertainment is based on one liners and very flimsy grasp of personalities, especially women’s personalities should be on its way out, even if it isn’t actually.
This is not to say that women don’t like action movies with bombs and guns. They would be more interesting if they centered around people more – people being more than just those with dangling genitals. This is of course a problem with Sherlock, and the female viewers deal with it through the mode available to it – fan-fiction and fan art. The amount of material you see on the female characters in Sherlock interacting, their origin stories, their interactions, their survival, their dreams, the realizations or shattering of their hopes, is exponential. Is it really a bad thing if Moffat and Gatiss start paying attention to the many types of viewers who are consuming their show, and allowing for merit in their interests.
This season for instance, we see Molly Hooper having a more assertive personality and overall more presence in the show itself. The fact that this has been inspired by the kind of interest she has generated, even from the corner she was relegated to in the previous seasons is an improvement for more representational and demographically and psychologically realistic television. So is a multi dimensional approach to character.
In conclusion, Benedict Cumberbatch is undeniably a very new and utterly fabulous type of hot, and yes, the show has started banking on that a little more than when it initially came out. It is also a fact that the show has started looking more at other characters as well as the emotional bonds that Sherlock is made of. We can all certainly argue about what kind of Sherlock Holmes we are used to and what we would prefer his personality to be. But assuming that the kind of personality he does have in the show and what dimensions of said personality the show chooses to display somehow makes the show less than its previous seasons is an entirely subjective argument. Even if the intention is to give a certain section of viewers what they want (namely, more Benedict Cumberbatch), that alone should ideally not be the basis of saying that the show has become something else, and certainly not something less than what it was before.
P.S. – I was going to write more, but something’s gotta give. It is first week back in college and I’m already more busy than I have ever been. So screw writing about fandom and India and all that shit. I’ll do that some other time.
Also, I believe I’m supposed to reveal an embarrassing secret – I once masturbated while there was another person present in the room. That person was not aware of my activities for a number of reasons which I will not be divulging. Ok. Bye.