Character Study and Identity Porn

This paper has been floating around in my mind since the beginning of the semester. I read an absolutely ridiculous amount of fanfiction on any given day- it’s not uncommon on bad health days for me to spend 10+ hours reading. That said, the majority of the fanfiction I read isn’t in the Sherlock fandom, but I’ve found that many of my preferences hold true despite fandom. First and foremost I love a character study, or as it’s often tagged on AO3 “Identity Porn”. Now, delving into character study brings up the subject of OOC characterization or Out Of Character. Much of Sherlock fanfic on AO3 bases its characters off of the BBC Sherlock show, so in comparison to canon Sherlock Holmes, it tends to be wildly out of character. Particularly, I should say, Sherlock is wildly out of character. There are points of easy comparison in the relationship between Holmes and Watson- the power dynamic between them is often the common thread.

So I got distracted thinking about character study and just reread five different fics. I guess what I find so compelling about character study is how real and intimate they can feel. With Sherlock canon we get glimpses of Sherlock’s character through the eyes of Watson. We find out about Sherlock’s interests, morals, what he’s willing to do to close a case, how he treats his friends. But there’s a lot left unknown, and not much in the way of exploration of why he is this way. Because of this, really every character study I’ve read feels OOC. Most are fanfiction of BBC Sherlock and feel more true to the show’s characterization, but even still there’s so much room left for exploration.

All of this is to say that I’m still not set on which fic I want to write about, though I’ve read so so many. As far as Sherlock adaptations I’ll likely choose either Elementary, Sherlock (BBC), or The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. I’d actually rather not do BBC Sherlock, just because most of the fanfic is based on it and I think it would be less fun to write because of that.

 

Edit: now I’m thinking again and was like oh but comparing AU’s would be fun. OR comparing the comic of A Study in Emerald to another comic version would be fun…. The problem really is I like all of it too much. There are too many options I’m excited about.

Elementary

So I ended up rewatching many episodes of Elementary while quite loopy on painkillers which made for a much more amusing viewing than any previous. The first time I watched the show I didn’t really like it. It was so divergent from canon and part of what I enjoy about watching Sherlock adaptations is the familiarity of them, the same reason I enjoy rereading things over and over and over. But Elementary really did win me over. There are a number of things I think they handle really well, but one in particular that I want to touch on. At some point in the show, Sherlock dates a person who is neurodivergent. She says outright that she prefers the term neurodivergent and she is unapologetic about who she is. At one point she confronts Sherlock and says she thinks they need to break up because he’s so careful with her and she’s worried that it’s because of her neurodivergence. But!! Sherlock tells her that it isn’t that- but that he’s bad at relationships or something similar to this sentiment and that he just truly cares for her so much. Anyway, I just thought that was so rad and wonderful. I myself am neurodivergent and often in media neurodivergent characters are infantilized and just written terribly and this whole thing brought me so much joy.

The Whiteboard Story

Gatekeeping as it pertains to fan culture is something I’ve thought about a great deal, and have often discussed with my friend Ben. Ben is a teacher and has a story that sums up my thoughts on gatekeeping so perfectly that it is better to just give you the story straight from him.

“Story is as follows: the children are accustomed to only having their names written on the whiteboard if it’s under a role they have for the day, like a specific kind of helper, in which case there’s a title their name is next to. Otherwise, it’s if they’re in trouble. We have a pair of kindergarteners, one of whom very much needs to practice his letters. He has a habit of reversing his letters, so he practices them in pairs, so he can at least be sure they’re facing the same way.

Previously, this child had been practicing writing by writing everyone’s names on the board, but that freaked people out when they saw it without context. Am I in trouble? A fair question! Needless anxiety!

So we settled on the double letters as a solution, as this was fair to everyone and still helpful to the child practicing.

Because it’s pretty obvious the other kid’s name is Aaron when I tell this story, the other child’s name is Aaron, and when he sees the AA written on the board, he freaks the fuck out.

“THAT’S HOW MY NAME STARTS”

But it’s not your name.

“BUT THAT’S HOW MY NAME STARTS”

But your name isn’t spelled AABBCCDD. It’s clearly not your name.

“I don’t like it and those are MY letters!”

It’s okay not to like it, but having letters in your name doesn’t mean you own those letters and no one else can use them. That would literally destroy all writing. It wouldn’t work.

Child continues to protest along the previous lines. I instruct the child to move elsewhere along the very large whiteboard.

“But I”ll KNOW it’s there!”

That isn’t your problem.

More to the point, that isn’t his problem, and this is an actual NEED this developing child has.

You are going to have to learn to exist alongside many things you don’t like in life, because a lot of those things don’t actually have anything to do with you. It might feel like they do sometimes, but that’s why we stop and breathe and think.

And then why we tell your parents.

And that is the story”

So whether it’s Shreffler or “anti-shippers” or whoever- the idea that one person can have ownership of a piece of media and that anyone who appreciates/understands it differently is doing it wrong is absolutely absurd. Each time I encounter this sort of attitude I am reminded of Ben’s whiteboard story.

Race in Cannon and Fannon

As I’ve said previously(and I think this will be a recurring theme), the idea of reclamation through fanfiction is inspiring and fascinating to me. I love when people see a text/show/media that fails a community in some way and decide to remake it. Most recently I read a fic called “Among the Gumtrees” which discusses the treatment of race and sexuality, amongst other things, in Australia. It’s also a Harry Potter(marauders) fanfiction. I just love it! The fic is genuinely a masterpiece- I was completely blown away by it. The writer says directly in the notes, “It’s a response to a book a dear friend gifted me, which was aggressively closed-cultured. I decided to strike back by doing the exact same thing. This is Australia exactly as I know it, from speech to street names to sucky homophobic attitudes.” Plenty of literature/media tried to present a sort of “woke” or enlightened narrative, and often it comes across as untrue, cringy, or offensive.

Actually, just last semester I wrote a paper on how dehumanizing these narratives can often be. A group called Femrite released a book of stories from women living with HIV. The story I wrote about was called “The Second Twin” and because Nakato wasn’t literate, they sent a writer to interview her. The writer consistently uses patronizing and honestly humiliating language when telling Nakato’s story. At one point Namukasa writes, “She doesn’t mind the fact that we are standing beside stinking drains. This is the air she breathes everyday, and this is her children’s playground, but the stench is threatening to burst my nostrils.” It is clear that the audience is not Nakato. This story is not for the people that they write about. I feel the same about the Sherlock stories, for the most part. Doyle wrote these stories not for people of color, but for white people. Again, I understand that it was progressive for its time, but it feels a bit like a consolation prize.

Authorial Intent

While reading Studies In The Literature of Sherlock Holmes, I began thinking once again about authorial intent. The text talks about paying special attention to details that aren’t meant to be paid attention to, which is something I find myself doing often. Though, then I begin to question if we actually weren’t supposed to pay special attention or if it’s subtext… and I spiral from there. Ultimately, I end up in the same place again and again- It doesn’t actually matter. I’ve certainly been influenced by watching copious amounts of John Green content growing up. He’s a vocal supporter of stories belonging to their readers. As I said in class, I think fanfiction can be a powerful tool for reclaiming a text, particularly in the case of something like Harry Potter.
One example of truly and entirely missing the point of a book is Cold Crash Pictures’s initial take on The Fountain Head. He has a whole video about how when he first read it he genuinely thought it was a book about the creative process- it’s a fascinating take. The video is also well worth watching because he completely trashed Ayn Rand for an hour, which is always a joy to behold. Cold Crash Pictures is also relevant in that he has a wonderful series that uses dinosaur movies to explain sociological concepts. For example, he uses Jurassic Park to talk about gender and trans identity! Though I believe the exploration of gender in Jurassic park was entirely intentional- I’m not sure if asking whether the dinosaurs were trans was. This is one of those really wonderful scenarios I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t much matter what the authorial intent was to me because Trans dinosaurs!!!!

Sir Henry or Mr. Bingley

As I watched the Granada TV Hound of the Baskervilles what struck me most was how different the Sir Henry’s were. In 20th-century fox’s version, Sir Henry has this sort of hapless, hopeless energy about him, which reminded me strongly of Mr. Bingley- perhaps because I’ve only just rewatched it. I will watch absolutely anything with Kiera Knightley, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I do think that Mr. Bingley is more loveable and less entitled than Sir Henry, though. Anyway, The Granada TV’s Sir Henry was far less likable in my opinion. I think that the less likable version is probably better and more accurate, but I the 20th-Century Fox’s Sir Henry did endear me to him a bit.

Crime and Punishment? Justice?

Like many people this past year or two, I’ve been thinking a lot about policing and supposed justice. I have struggled to reconcile my firm belief that rehabilitation is the way to go- that punishment isn’t the answer and doesn’t work, with my equally strong desire to see people who have committed heinous acts pay retribution. These opposite things exist in my mind and are both true and frankly, I am grateful not to be in charge of making these decisions, even if I think the people who are in charge do a horrible horrible job. All this being said, I’ve always loved tricky sort of crime. Pulling the wool over rich people’s eyes- a good swindle. I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. Anna Devley, who pretended she was a German Heiress, scammed over 200k from various banks and hotels. Now, my mom is against stealing outright, in pretty much all cases, but to be honest I don’t think it’ll shock anyone who knows me to learn that I don’t much care if some big corporations suffer some losses. That being said, I can’t help but think of all the hotel staff or other workers low in the hierarchy that were used as scapegoats and it makes it much more difficult to just have a laugh over it all.

Post #3: Crossovers

In my attempts to plan and begin writing my pastiche, I found myself waffling between a few different characters for my Watson replacement. Bruce Wayne was the first character that came to mind. I read a wonderful fanfic in which Bruce Wayne interns at X-Files early on in his training for Batman. As the Sherlock Adventures are reported by Watson, I thought it may be an interesting narration- Bruce acting ditzy as per his usual, but in his report relaying clues that stuck out to him, but could not be voiced to Holmes. Ultimately, I moved on to picking one of the Robins instead and eventually decided on Tim Drake, the third Robin. Tim is used to playing sidekick and is a detective in his own right. He would certainly be able to keep up with Holmes without stealing the show. Time Travel Shenanigans easily can be explained away by the general insanity that is DC. Finally, I think picking a Gotham-based character makes sense especially in the context of “The Adventure of The Devil’s Foot” as the idea of a combustible substance that causes insanity/horror plays directly into the same vein as Scarecrow’s fear toxin. Creative writing is truly not my strong suit, but I’m still excited about how well I think this crossover will go.

Post #2: On Intended Audience

After our class discussion on A Study in Scarlet, I began to think more about the intended audience for Sherlock Holmes. Firstly, about the illustrations that accompanied the text. Comics and illustrations have long been a useful tactic in engaging and aiding new readers. What often comes to mind are children’s books, which were mentioned in class, but what I am reminded of are the military comics. Here’s one called How To Strip Your Baby. And while I read Sherlock as a child, I don’t believe children were the target demographic of these stories. As you said, there is the newly literate populace to consider. I think the illustrations are a wonderful way to help the new readers without being patronizing or demeaning. To be honest, I think more literature should have pictures. Anyway, it is because of this, and because of how Sherlock was included in a magazine as entertainment, I very much doubt that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works were considered to be high literature of any sort. Perhaps, as Watson called it in A Study in Scarlet, “sensational literature”.

Post #1: Introduction

Growing up, I read quite a lot of the Sherlock Adventures. I dropped out of school at 14 due to health reasons and spent much of the time I was bedridden reading. My favorites were “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist” and “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”. It was during those years as well that I became interested in fanfiction. As a young queer person, I was frustrated by not only the lack of representation in mainstream media but the blatant queerbaiting by shows like the BBC’s Sherlock. As I grew increasingly frustrated with various shows and comics’ canon, I spent more and more time reading fanfiction. I’m not much of a Harry Potter fan, but seeing artists like Maia Kobabe using fan creations to reclaim and critique texts only cemented my love. Lately, we’ve seen more queer representation in media- Supernatural and DC have both made attempts recently, and to be frank, they sucked. I have read literally thousands of fanfics that have done better jobs. All of this is to say, I have a great appreciation for both Sherlock canon and the metric ton of fan work that has followed in its wake.