Last night saw the debut airing of Sherlock, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s “bold updating” of the eponymous sleuth to contemporary London. Although it’s already getting a fair amount of praise, and could well prove very popular, I’m afraid I had to switch it off about an hour in, for the same reason I had to stop reading Gatiss’s second Lucifer Box novel (The Devil in Amber) about three chapters in. As I mentioned in a previous entry about an episode of Poirot (also written by Gatiss), I don’t have any love for these arrogant, aspy “gentleman detective” types. They just wind me up for some reason. I recently started reading a book about Carl Jung (Happy B-Day, Mr J!) and his work with “the psyche”, and it’s pretty obvious to me that my issues with this archetype are most likely related to my own feelings of intellectual inadequacy, and so forth. I’m not saying they are “bad” stories or characters… I’m saying I have an allergy to them. Still, I think it’s a shame that while they’ve put a great deal of effort into updating the setting in which the stories occur, they haven’t bothered to update the gender politics at the core of them. I had the same problem with the movie Brick, which is essentially a misogynistic throwback noir in “modern high school” dressing. In both examples, the female characters exist simply to die, or distract, or seduce, or serve beverages. Holmes and Watson are the sort of self-involved dicks who’ll ask any woman they meet to bring them a cup of coffee, regardless of the woman’s apparent station or vocation. Gah!
Now, I know, if I were to suggest that the Watson character be rewritten as a woman, there would be cries of “Sacrilege!” from the purists, and “Political Correctness gone mad!” from many others. But, as I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of the film They Might Be Giants (1971), in which a rich eccentric, becomes convinced that he is Holmes, reincarnate, and drags his poor lady psychiatrist along for the ride, as he suffers an existential crisis, and investigates an entirely imaginary trail of clues. Granted, it isn’t a straight Holmes story, but I rather like the way that the brusque detective becomes more compassionate as he finds himself developing a fondness for his suffering sidekick. And it didn’t do the early seasons of The X-Files any harm, did it? True, that isn’t what Holmes is about, but surely our myths have to evolve with us, as part of our spiritual and intellectual growth as a species? No…?
Meanwhile, I find myself looking at my own writing, and wondering why I have so many female protagonists. Well, no, the answer’s pretty obvious, if you look at my family… a strong, resourceful practical mother, and intelligent, ambitious older sisters, combined with a weak, withdrawn, depressive father, and no grandfathers/uncles around. I understand that it’s unhelpful to project my own personal experience onto the world in general… but, aside from my own issues, there’s the simple fact that actresses are workers, and that they deserve to have rewarding roles to play. I didn’t invent Feminism or Equality, which were kicking around long before I was born… I just latched on to them, because they dovetailed with my own understanding of the world. What good does it do me to make all of my protagonists female? What good does it do anyone else? Am I simply erring on the side of misandry? It’s a statistical fact that in the average week, as far as domestic violence goes, more men will kill women, than vice versa… so it’s not entirely indefensible, to cast them as villains in detective fiction. But would I be better served trying to create a sympathetic male protagonist I can actually relate to, and respect, rather than to truck in false female idols? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
Oh, fun fact about Jung… despite decades of self-analysis, he was still kind of a dick to people. So what hope is there for the rest of us?