The View from Sherlock Peoria
In the last month, I made two Sherlockian investments in the area of forty dollars. They are an odd pair, one thoroughly modern and one a bit aged. The former, as anyone who has been paying attention in Sherlockian circles might guess, was a Kickstarter donation to "Steampunk Sherlock." It was my first foray into Kickstarter, and while gambling on a pastiche, even a technologically evolved pastiche, seemed like a somewhat foolish thing to throw money at, "Steampunk Sherlock" was not the investment that will inevitably worry me the most.
My other investment was in a year's subscription to The Baker Street Journal. To some, that might be the standard fare for being a Sherlockian. To me, it's an act of faith, after dropping my subscription for all of 2011 out of sheer boredom and impatience at its resistance to change.
The first issue of The Baker Street Journal for 2012 arrived today, and my little act of faith proved . . . well, an investment whose full value has yet to be reached. There are signs of hope for its future. The full color squarebound cover is a lovely start, but the guts still start with the same first five pages it has had for decades. Must the first page be a second cover page? Seems like a waste. One hates to pay for that same damnable page every three months.
But let's not be trivial. It's the contents that matter, right? (Of course, that page is part of the contents, but I am dallying . . .)
One has to start, of course, with the editor's opening editorial, our literal welcome to the issue. The editor (Steven Rothman, whose name appears on the cover, but not under his editorial.) writes to an audience that is apparently all old school Sherlockians who need an explanation of what's going on with these kids today. They're the "new neighbors," a bothersome phrase, as it feels like it's keeping those young hooligans out on the lawn, ready to be chased off if they prove unpleasant. There seems also to be some difference between merely "remaining fans" and "becoming Sherlockians," as that old thought that Sherlockiana is somehow above other fandoms rears its literary-proud head. By the time the opening editorial gets to welcoming the kids in off the lawn, I was wondering if they had already headed down the street.
But don't pick on another single page, Keefauver, get to the contents!
Oh, Sonia Fetherstone kicks it off with a very well done historical report of a man called "Sherlock Holmes" traveling America in 1914-1916. One can see why she's an award-winning Sherlockian writer. (The BSJ gives out a yearly award for its best article of the past year, so maybe she'll repeat.)
Get past a couple ads and you come to an interview with the Sherlockian sensation of the past year, Kristina Manente by Christopher Redmond. Sherlockiana has always loved its redheads, and Kristina reminds us why. (Does she have a fan club yet? Sign me up!) Following the opening editorial's eyeballing of the kids on the lawn, Chris Redmond gives "Curly" of the Baker Street Babes the no-mercy grilling of a wary old uncle sounding out his niece's career choice:
"You're in your twenties, right? Isn't that unusually young for a serious Sherlockian?" (You know Chris is playing devil's advocate, as he himself was a very serious Sherlockian much earlier than twenty, and has many a friend who reached that status in their twenties.)
"Are we essentially talking about a Benedict Cumberbatch fan club?" (Oh, he's not pulling any punches here. Kristina dodges and counters like a champ!)
Chris throws the Jeremy Brett generation at her, a whole question about that pesky word "fans," if the Babes are BSJ material, and more. Kristina handles it all with her usual style and grace. (Well, she can't giggle here like she does on the podcasts.), She gives a good summation of the state of modern Sherlock Holmes fandom, even for those who may still think the internet is a series of tubes. The "Chris/Kris Bang-Bang" interview (Sorry! Had to!) was a very nice choice by the editor.
That interview is followed by another, no-so-exciting Q & A -- this one of pastiche author Anthony Horowitz. It's almost timely, but given the ironic fact that the Baker Street Babes beat them to it by five months, and I grew sick of the fellow during that exchange, I don't really even want to read it. Dealing with current events in a quarterly journal when electronic media is offering such a quick-turnaround alternative is definitely going to be one of The Baker Street Journal's biggest challenges in coming years, and this piece is a quick reminder. Horowitz is now old news.
As I read on, through the epigram study, the classic scholarship, the literary consideration, the Conan Doyle article, and the Irregulars weekend report (with that dreaded annual poem) tucked in at the end, it suddenly occurs to me what my problem has been with The Baker Street Journal, and what another of its true challenges is going to be in those years ahead.
Sherlockians of sixty years ago seemed a more unified crowd. Their data streams were more limited, and there was more in common between them. When a new pastiche saw print, a larger share of active Sherlockians tended to read it, as such a thing was a special occasion. Even in the 1980s, there was a feeling we were all pretty much on the same page. I don't think that's the case any more.
While there are pockets of commonality, I think Sherlockiana, like technology, is having a growth spurt that's hard to get a handle on. Sure, we've got popular new Sherlocks, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but we've also got greater connections to information we didn't have before, new media that our older membership -- those who would have been the sages of earlier Sherlockian times -- can barely conceive of, much less exploit. We've got Undershaws to save and Steampunk Holmes to invest in, podcasts to create, and YouTube channels to organize. Do we wear Invernesse capes or that cool coat of modern Sherlock's that looks like it belongs to an anime character? And sooooooooooooo many pastiches!
Can The Baker Street Journal be all things to all Sherlockians? Should it even try? Or should it develop its own persona, an attitude, a sort of stylized personality to set it above just being a random gathering of data? Can it be a central point for all the tribes of Sherlock to come together? Or is an ink-on-paper quarterly already a dinosaurish museum piece, just waiting to be knocked off by the right combination of web-savvy leadership and organization of something more modern?
By now, any commercial publication would have undergone a complete redesign. But in the world of the Irregulars, where respecting our elders means being careful in not upsetting some very old elders, where even letting women come to the party takes a good decade or two longer than it might elsewhere, change comes very, very slowly . . . in a world that is moving faster than it ever has. And I'm as impatient as I've ever been. Should one think I'm being overly tough on the BSJ -- trust me, this site takes worse. Hence our ten year expiration date for this version of the site.
Investing similar dollar amounts in The Baker Street Journal and Steampunk Holmes over a short period of time makes for a balance, I suppose. Ten years from now, I may smile and shake my head at having tossed that money toward one or the other of them. That's the nature of investments.
But investments are also an offering up of hope. So despite all my bitching, I must have some positive feelings about the future of both ventures. But there are enough genial "attaboys" in the Sherlockian general population, so, for now, I bitch. And hope that the future will give me reason not to . . .
Your humble correspondent,
Past 2012 Columns