I admit, the above is possibly the most clickbait-y title I’ve ever used, and it’s a lead-in to some shameless self promotion.
I recently had the opportunity to contribute, alongside a number of other wonderful and erudite Sherlockians, to an anthology called About Sixty: Why Every Sherlock Holmes Story is the Best. I argued for my favorite story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Here’s a sneak peak at why this story is not only the “best” (a slippery term), but also, in my view, the most culturally significant:
The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the most famous of Sherlock Holmes stories; it is certainly the most famous novel, and with good reason: if one were to choose a single story that perfectly embodies the cultural significance of Sherlock Holmes, then as well as now, this would be it.
The novel recounts how Watson and Holmes travel to Dartmoor to investigate the mystery of the “Hound of the Baskervilles,” a legend of a fantastic hound that has been reportedly killing members of the Baskerville family, and unearth a murder motivated by the desire for an inheritance. In short, it is a story in which the rational Sherlock Holmes is pitted against the supernatural, in the form of an ancient legend and a familial curse. This trope, or theme, of the ultra-rational Sherlock Holmes confronting the unexplainable supernatural, is one of the most popular in Sherlockian adaptations, pastiches, and retellings, returning again and again in every form and genre conceivable. And unsurprisingly: it gets at the heart of what Sherlock Holmes means, what he stands for.
For the answer as to how and why, though, you’ll have to check out the book. It’s released tomorrow, October 11th, and is available for purchase from Wildside Press. All proceeds go to the Beacon Society, which promotes the teaching of Sherlock Holmes in school, so that we can indoctrinate youths into the lifestyle that is Sherlockiana from an early age.
This is also the first time I’ve been published in a book, rather than a magazine or journal, and it’s also an exciting time for me! I look forward to sharing my thoughts with the world, though I admit, having something go out into the world in print and remain there forever does not come without a bit of trepidation!
Last weekend, the final Stargate convention took place at its home at the Westin O’Hare in Chicago. It was a bittersweet occasion: we were all there to celebrate Stargate, and as usual, there was fun, friends, and memories, but this is also the last official Stargate convention for the foreseeable future. This is the last time, it seems, that we’ll have a chance to gather in Chicago to make memories. But memories we did make. Here are some highlights from the convention – some funny, some insightful, and some outright bizarre.
- Paul McGillion was going to be Scotty the Engineer
The 200th episode of SG-1 included a Star Trek sequence with an engineer who sounded a hell of a lot like Scotty. They were originally going to have Paul McGillion do it, saying something like similar to “I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain!” During his panel, Paul auctioned off this version of the script, reading his lines allowed in a comic Scotty accent. I asked Paul to write the quote he read from the script when I was getting his autograph, but he couldn’t remember it, so he tried writing Scotty’s quote instead and got that wrong, so what I ended up with is the rather dirty “For Chrissakes, I’m giving her all I’ve got!”:
- Beckett, like Scotty, drinks Scotch
(despite the fact that it was invented by a little old lady in Leningrad). In fact, in a twist so ironic only reality could produce it, I was able to witness the Scottish Paul McGillion autograph my photo with a Scotty quote while drinking Scotch. (the Scotch may also have been responsible for him getting it wrong and turning it dirty)
- Someone tried to buy Joe Flanigan his favorite whiskey
During his panel, Joe mentioned that his favorite drink is Lagavulin Whiskey (but it has to
be sixteen years old!), going on to say that when he lived with Jason Momoa during the filming of Stargate, they went through bottles of it at the pace of frat boys and piled up the bottles against the wall as “decoration.” Consequently, as I was enjoying a “Kawoosh” at the hotel bar, a breathless fan ran up, asking if the bar had a bottle. I suggested she try the liquor store next door, which is the source of much of our felicity at Stargate cons, but they didn’t have it. The hotel bar did, but refused to sell her an entire bottle. I don’t know whether Joe did eventually get his whiskey, but I was touched (and entertained) by the gesture.
- The special drink menu
Speaking of alcohol….the Westin O’Hare, which is like a home away from home for me, put together a special drink menu for the convention. As overpriced as the drinks were, I must admit the “Kawoosh” was delicious, though the bright-green Teal’c’s Margarita did leave something to be desired.
- Chris Judge likes big boobs and he cannot lie
I’m not sure I know where to even begin explaining this one (or if, as an aspiring academic, I should be putting it on the internet) It all started when Chris Judge (whose biceps are, like Jason Momoa’s, the size of my face) was asked about his workout routine. He mentioned that he has to lose some weight for an upcoming role, in which he plays a trans superhero, and then segued into talking about his costume for the role. He’s had costume fittings, and was asked things like “what size boobs would you like?” As far as I recall, he jokingly said that he wants big boobs, and it all went from there. To compound this hilarity, there was a wedding at this Stargate con, with a bachelorette party the previous night, which of course meant that there were lots of NC-17 items floating around, like a headband with boobs on it, which Chris Judge was wearing while signing autographs (though with my lack of observation skills, I didn’t notice them during my autographs).
But that, my friends, is not the end of the story. After the hilarity of his panel, I asked Chris Judge to write something about boobs when I was getting his autograph. He looked at me and went, “you want me to sign your boobs?” and to this day, I don’t know whether he’s joking or not. I mentioned that while I’d be happy to allow him to, I don’t think Creation Entertainment would take a similar view, which is how I ended up with the following autographed photo (in which Teal’c enigmatic smile perfectly matches the words, methinks):
- He also likes ridiculously snazzy pants:
I just don’t have words. Only Chris Judge could pull off those pants and still be able to look slightly terrifying.
- I got my Atlantis control crystal signed
It forms a nice collection with the isolinear chip that LeVar Burton signed. Now I just need Colm Meaney to complete the collection…
- Someone “borrowed” my David Hewlett photo op idea from a couple years ago
A couple years ago, I did a photo op with David Hewlett in which I brought a lemon (which, when I was purchasing it at 7-11, is the reason I was recognized by a bunch of other Stargaters from the con) and had him react to it. A couple new friends did something similar this year, involving a lemon and an epi pen:
- Everybody crashed everyone’s panels
This is a pretty common occurrence at Stargate cons; the atmosphere is extremely laid back, and there’s always a lot of stars autographing in the vendors’ room, which is right next to the theatre. This means that, from time to time, one of them will come in to randomly join a panel that’s happening and then just not leave. In particular, David Nykl crashed David Hewlett’s panel, and we got some Rodney and Zelenka banter onstage and firsthand:
David DeLuise also crashed Chris Judge’s panel to admire his biceps:
- “Can You imagine Putin as a Klingon?”
A literal quote said by Joe Flanigan. The context was talking about villain characters that the heroes are forced to work with, like the Klingons, who were the Russians on Star Trek during the Cold War. Yes, Joe, I can indeed imagine Putin as a Klingon.
- A Stargate wedding!
Last year at the Stargate convention, Danni proposed to Bri; they’re both Stargate fans, and met at the Stargate con, so it seemed like the perfect place to propose. This year, they had their wedding at the con, complete in costumes and with a little bit of roleplay.
Daniel dressed as Daniel Jackson, while Brianne dressed as her fan-fiction character, Dr. Adrienne Rowan, and everyone else wore thematic outfits as well. The wedding was also a skit re-enacting those characters’ wedding in her stories, and made to look like a traditional Jaffa wedding. What made it even more realistic was Eric Avari (who played Sha’are’s father, Kasuf) giving an impromptu blessing in Egyptian that he had learned for the show. All in all, it was ridiculously beautiful – especially the vows. They also managed to mount a pretty life-sized Stargate on the stage, which formed an excellent backdrop for the rest of the convention, though I heard that lots of duct tape was involved in making it actually stand up. I suggested they ask David Hewlett for help, who reputedly is basically a geek of Rodney McKay proportions.
12. Michael Shanks can make about 20 bazillion facial expressions in one minute
I could upload them all to this blog, but then I’d crash WordPress. I have about 300 photos of Michael Shanks, and I swear, every single one of them has a different facial expression. I don’t know how he does it. Here’s a taste….
13. David Nykl and Joe Flanigan talked about the nature of television.
One of the great pleasures of conventions for me as an academic is when industry insiders talk about television, media, and fandom, because they always provide a unique insider’s perspective. This con did not disappoint in this department. David Nykl talked about how movies today are a dime a dozen, and usually full of explosions. Television, on the other hand, is special, he said: it has a fanbase, and is in people’s living rooms and kitchens every week, building rapport. In fact, today TV might even be better and more important than movies. Joe Flanigan pointed out that sci-fi has a loyal fanbase that not even regular popular shows have. It’s a fanbase that Hollywood is out of touch with: they produce lots of sci-fi, but don’t understand the fandom. This is something that’s impressed me at every Stargate con I’ve attended: the actors really seem to understand, appreciate, and approve of fandom and all its creativity (fan fiction included). They get fandom and sci-fi, and many of them (like David Hewlett) are also huge nerds.
This was the phrase with which David Hewlett began his panel and a running gag throughout it. He also mentioned that the hotel the con was in was hosting a leadership conference that he considered crashing just for the hell of it
- “What Would McKay Do?”
When asked what advice Rodney McKay would give if he ever did have a chance, David Hewlett thought about it for a while, then said, “whenever you find yourself at a juncture and don’t know what to do, ask yourself, What Would McKay Do?” Of course, he followed it up with “run away and hide, probably.”
- I gave Joe Flanigan a hard time about his character “Kirking around.”
Joe was asked about whether a Weir and Shepard romance was intended and whether there was any sexual tension there. After confirming that this was indeed the case, Joe complained that his character didn’t get nearly enough romance, and (unless I’m recalling this incorrectly) made mention of Captain Kirk’s romancing of the women of the galaxy. After which I pointed out to him when I was getting his autograph that Kirk didn’t actually Kirk around. Then again, Joe confessed that he never really got into or watched the original Star Trek, but it’s okay, I forgive him.
- David Hewlett and David Nykl discovered official, authorized Stargate fanfic
At one point during his panel, David Hewlett was asked what he thinks of fan fiction (which he approves of, by the way, but more on that later). He mentioned something about how Stargate should get some fans to write authorized fanfic, only to be told that, hey, it exists, and the authors who write it are just outside. One of them got to come up onstage, and David was presented with a set of Stargate books. Naturally, he and the other David opened them to look for their characters. Zelenka was easily found on the first page David Nykl flipped to, but poor David Hewlett couldn’t find any mentions of Rodney.
…And seventeen seems like a good number to end on, as that’s the number of seasons the Stargate franchise had. I’ll be writing a bit more about this convention (and in particular, on the actors’ thoughts on fan fiction), but for now, I just wanted to celebrate this last hurrah of Stargate in Chicago by preserving some of the best memories.
(All photos by me)
Fifty years ago today, Star Trek came into the world, airing its first episode, “The Man Trap.” In the half-century since, it has had an almost unprecedented effect on every aspect of human existence. There are, perhaps, not even words enough to express the power of this little space Western from back when color televisions were a rarity.
On this momentous day, I thought it might be appropriate to look back at the effect Star Trek‘s creators and fans thought it could have – and how it compares to the effect it has had. In 1975, three fans – Joan Winston, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, and Sondra Marshak – published Star Trek Lives!, a momentous piece of fandom history, which gives a fascinating glimpse into the attitudes towards science fiction, Star Trek, and its influence almost fifty years ago.
In particular, long before the 50th anniversary, Leonard Nimoy suggested the very way in which Star Trek might impact human society: (the following is quoted in Star Trek Lives!)
I think that science fiction has always been not only a bridge between the present and the future, but a scientific-motivator for the future. I think that much of major scientific movement started with science dreamers – somebody who’s dreaming science fiction, what he dreams is s-f. Now he may or may not be a science fiction writer, a dramatist; or he may read science fiction by a science fiction writer that causes him to think about the possibility of accomplishing physically the things the science fiction writer has dreamed about. So obviously a bridge in that sense.
Nimoy mentions something that scientists, science fiction fans, and scholars have long pointed out: that science fiction often not only becomes, but also influences and shapes, science fact, and it would be difficult to find a work of science fiction of which this is more true than Star Trek. It would be impossible to name all of the technologies, all the discoveries and inventions that are due to a fan of Star Trek watching the show and being inspired to try to create its technology or go into the sciences.
This was something that fans of the show recognized less than a decade after it aired. Following Nimoy’s quote, the three fans write:
Since we spoke with Mr. Nimoy, The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has begun to collect Star Trek fan-produced material to check out this theory. How many young fans of today will be historically significant scientists of tomorrow? Fifty or a hundred years from now, the Smithsonian may be able to evaluate Star Trek’s impact on modern science.
This quote is serendipitously a-propos: it’s been fifty years, and there are concrete examples and literal answers to the question posed above. In fact, at the recent Star Trek: Mission New York convention that celebrated Star Trek‘s 50th anniversary, one of the absolute best, most inspiring, and most breathtaking events was a panel of four NASA astronauts, engineers, and scientists:
Kjell Lindgren, NASA Astronaut
Michelle Taller, Deputy Director of Science Communications
Dave Lavery, Program Executive for Solar System Exploration
Jeffrey Sheehy, Senior Technical Officer
When asked, each of the above admitted that science fiction directly influenced their choice to pursue a career in the STEM fields and explore space. That choice, in turn, helped transform science fiction into science fact, creating the bridge to the future that Leonard Nimoy spoke of. These are people who have been to space, who have worked on the Mars rovers, who have helped us understand the solar system. And they are Trekkies; in fact, while speaking, one of them mentioned James Kirk’s birth date without missing a beat. Their innovations are not, as far as I know, in the Smithsonian (which does, however, currently house the model of the original Enterprise used for filming the show); instead, these innovations – inspired by Star Trek – are literally exploring Mars and discovering the universe beyond our little planet.
Roddenberry jokes in the preface to Star Trek Lives that “we suspected there was an intelligent life form out there, and we aimed to use our show to signal some of our thoughts to them.” Perhaps, in a Galaxy Quest-esque way (and the endless number of parodies and adaptations is yet another of Star Trek‘s myriad influences), the waves of Star Trek have indeed reached distant planets with intelligent life. But even if they haven’t, Star Trek‘s impact goes quite literally beyond our planet, perhaps beyond our solar system, and definitely beyond anything anyone could have imagined. So, on a day when we celebrate such a momentous show, I want to end with the words of Gene Roddenberry himself, who recognized the immense power that a story and a set of ideas could have:
That ugly little advertising box we presently call television has an awesome potential for moving the hearts and minds of people. Whatever the reasons for the Star Trek fan phenomenon, its very existence is evidence that television is too powerful a thing to remain much longer the almost exclusive property of purveyors of ales, cakes and ointments.
If television can bend minds and capture imaginations while in its present rather primitive stage of development, what of tomorrow? It seems to me necessary that we begin to use today’s telecommunications marvels to draw all of humanity together in a free exchange of ideas, art and knowledge…or its great mind-bending potential will be used by a powerful few to own and manipulate the rest of us.
With the exact date of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary coming up shortly on September 8th, celebrations of what started as a strange little show with low ratings are in full swing. Star Trek: Mission New York promises to take over Labor Day weekend with a slew of panels, screenings, autographs, and other festivities, and this past weekend, Cherry Hill hosted a Star Trek 50 year mission tour convention.
Though much of the aforementioned convention was based around entertainment (with celebrity Q and A’s, a Rat Pack performance on Friday night, and karaoke), there was also intellectual stimulation to be had for the sci-fi nerd, including panels on Women in Star Trek, Star Trek and Shakespeare, and a discussion of the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery. Two actor appearances – William Shatner and LeVar Burton – also stood out; both spoke passionately about science fiction and science, speaking of its potential and of its influence.
William Shatner began his panel by talking about what projects he’s been working on lately, but this quickly segued into a short talk about the nature of science itself. His most recent project – titled The Truth is in Our Stars, and slated for release in December – is a series of interviews with scientists influenced by Star Trek, including Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking (whom he interviewed just last week). Shatner spoke with great passion about the questions science asks – what are we all doing here? What are we? What the hell does it all mean? These are the same questions that mythology attempts to answer: why are we here? What is the meaning of life? And science fiction, as he has so often previously stated, is deeply mythological, in taking these metaphysical questions and giving them realistic answers. He made some short quips about the answers to all these questions – “we’re all vibrating!” he summarized, after snarkily suggesting that scientists talk for fifteen minutes but have no better answer to the above questions than anyone else.
But this snark was quickly replaced by deep seriousness. He looked almost enraptured as he spoke about his experience with Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku, telling the story of how, once, when he was speaking about the mathematical beauty of music with Michio, he asked him, “Kaku, what instrument do you play?” Michio pointed to his head, his brain – which, almost ecstatically, Shatner suggested was an instrument like any other, capable of touching the beauty of the universe in some way. He spoke also of Stephen Hawking, who lives in a body that doesn’t work – but his mind does. He had similarly asked Hawking once, “what instrument do you use?” to receive a similar answer – his mind.
Shatner also spoke about the very real impact of – and crosspollination between – Star Trek and real science, and, in particular, space exploration. He went back to the late 60s, when, he claimed, the achievements of the space program brought in ratings to Star Trek. These ratings, in turn, inspired scientists and the continuation of the space program. He even suggested (citing an unmentioned source) that it was the influence of Star Trek that caused Congress to vote for funding for the space program, calling Star Trek “instrumental” in getting money allocated for the space program. (as a side note, William Shatner is what one might consider a primary source on the topic, given that he was at the center of things during the Space Age of the 1960s; at the same time, I have no written sources at this time to back up his claims).
In short, my admiration of William Shatner (which was already great) has grown even more with this conversation. He seems to have a deep respect for both Star Trek (whose ideas and philosophy he said he admired, even producing a moral/political reading of Star Trek’s funniest episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles”) and science (whose potential he spoke about with visible admiration, ending his appearance with words of admiration for the brilliant young scientists currently working at NASA that he’s interviewing for his project).
In short, when he claimed “I’m Captain Kirk!” halfway through the panel, he wasn’t joking – he seems to have James T. Kirk’s openmindedness and sense of wonder about both the world around us and the fiction that describes it.
This influence, which Star Trek had on so many lives, also touched LeVar Burton, who played Geordi in Star Trek: The Next Generation. While Shatner had mentioned more abstractly the various influences Trek had had on scientists, inspiring them to pursue science, LeVar spoke of the way that the Original Series (of which he was a huge fan) showed him that he had opportunities as a young black kid- something he loved incarnating in Geordi, a character with a disability who is still able to pursue his passion.
He also wholeheartedly admitted that he’s a science fiction nerd, because science fiction invites us to contemplate “what if” – which, he said, are two of the most powerful words in language. He also called imagination a superpower- a thought process that essentially enables us to travel through time and space in a way that no other species can. And storytelling is what connects us to the imagination, that brings it to life. In short, though he didn’t say it in those words exactly, he spoke of science fiction as similarly mythological: just like Shatner suggested that sci-fi lets us answer the question of “what’s out there?”, LeVar suggested that it lets us ask “What if?” (LeVar also mentioned as I was getting his autograph, on the very same isolinear chip that he refused to fix for me, that his favorite science fiction author is Octavia Butler).
They both spoke about a topic that’s been of deep interest to me in my research: the relationship between storytelling and science, as well as the way that our penchant for narrative extends beyond the obvious – literature. Over the summer, I had the chance to read The Storytelling Animal, which suggests that storytelling – that is, the ability to ask “what if” and work out the consequences of potential scenarios – is not only programmed into our brains, it’s how we have survived as a species. That is, not only is the imagination a superpower, it is a fundamental survival skill of our species. And science fiction, in its incorporation of science, is particularly apt at working out those consequences and projecting hypothetical scenarios, giving it the power to answer not only “what if?” but also the more mythological question of “What for?”
In short, LeVar and Shatner both spoke with amazing understanding about a topic that I’ve been focusing on as an academic for some time now; at the same time, they gave these talks at a venue that more than proved them right: a 50th anniversary celebration of Star Trek. Star Trek really does showcase the mythological, magical power of storytelling in general and science fiction in particular.
It’s a little bizarre to return from a convention that’s less than 15 miles away from me and call it a trip, but that’s what it was- I chose to stay at the con hotel to spend as much time as I could and take in everything! As a preview of the con reports and write-ups to come, here are some highlights, funny moments, and interesting tidbits from the con.
Overheard at the convention: “my husband’s downstairs partying with the Klingons.”
I was told this by a fellow Trekkie who was taking an elevator up with me while enjoying a Stun Punch, one of the specialty cocktails the hotel created for the event. It’s a step below the Vulcan Death Grip in terms of knock-out power. Speaking of Klingons, I’m guessing these were the ones the aforementioned husband was partying with:
Fuzzy Tribbles invaded the convention
The Fuzzy Tribble (which is not alcoholic enough to make everything fuzzy unless you’ve had, well, as many of them as were on that space station) was another popular drink; yours truly consumed several in the company of William Shatner while preparing for my panel on the Impact of Star Trek at next week’s convention, Star Trek Mission NYC:
The Omnipotent, Omniscient Q Continuum Assures us there’s nothing to see in Hillary’s e-mails.
One of the first questions John deLancie was asked was whether, as Q, he would bring back all of Hillary Clinton’s deleted e-mails. Without a beat, he answered “I’ve read them all. There’s nothing there.” Speaking of politics, deLancie prefaced his panel by saying we’re welcome to ask him questions, but he is not constrained by truth. “I should run for high office,” he suggested.
The Song “Red Rain” was dedicated to all the redshirts
Every Creation Entertainment convention includes a karaoke party, and this con was no exception. Karaoke was hosted by Connor Trinneer and Dominic Keating, who joined fans onstage to sing along. One fan dedicated the song “Red Rain” to all the redshirts in the audience.
If you can’t find the Garden of Eden outside Moscow, you should probably see an optometrist
This was possibly one of my favorite moments of the convention. One of my favorite lines in the original series is “The Garden of Eden was just outside of Moscow. It must have made Adam and Eve very sad to leave” (said in a thick Russian accent). Seeing that I was actually in Moscow this summer, I came up to the microphone during the Q and A to say “I have a bone to pick with you. I was in Moscow this summer, and I couldn’t find the Garden of Eden.” “Where did you look?” he asked me. “Everywhere,” I insisted. (I visited three Moscow airports this summer, which I think pretty much covers the entire periphery of Moscow). “Then I suggest you see an optometrist,” Mr. Koenig said flippantly.
Michael Dorn is most certainly not a merry man
He hated that line.
LeVar hated wearing Geordi’s visor but loved the line “COOLANT LEAK!”
That’s the line he wants to be remembered by. He also refused to fix my isolinear chips and asked for a hug instead:
At least he signed the isolinear chips, which should totally make them function better:
LeVar Burton is a huge sci-fi nerd
His favorite author is Octavia Butler, and he thinks imagination and storytelling is what sets us apart from all other beings.
Gates McFadden has done some naughty things with Brent Spiner
I have no idea what this was actually about. No context was given.
Chekov eventually found the nuclear wessels.
They’re in Alameda.
Sybok attacked Captain Kirk
But the ever-unflappable Starfleet Captain was more than ready to defend himself:
NOMAD invaded the convention, and needed to be out-logic-ed by yours truly:
Kira Nerys has the most feminist agency of all the Trek women.
The first day of the con included a wonderful panel on women in Trek by Amy Imhoff, Tanya Lemani, Nana Visitor, and Sue of Women at Warp. They discussed feminist issues in Star Trek, and as it turns out, Kira Nerys has even more feminist agency than Captain Janeway! You can read more about these thoughts at an interview Amy did with Nana at Star Trek: Las Vegas.
Rom knows how to rap
As evidenced here:
Captain Kirk is a Womanizer
Disclaimer: he really isn’t. I’ve literally written essays on this topic. But for whatever reason (probably having to do with the fact that the very handsome William Shatner was cast as Kirk in the role of a leading man, and was asked by other actors to teach them how to play the role of a leading man), it’s stuck. From the fans to the Rat Pack performance on Friday night, everyone kept complaining that Kirk took all the ladies.
Kirk and Spock are just friends
I collect sci-fi art, and acquired some beautiful pieces in the vendors’ room at this convention. One of them, available from Lightspeed Fine Art, is a gorgeous piece commemorating Kirk and Spock:
It’s entitled “Always Friends.” They seem to have omitted the “brother” and “lover” part. Personally, I would go for a title such as “Always T’hy’la” for a work in such beautiful tones of purple.
The astronauts at NASA once complained about the difficulty of putting together a spaceship model.
“It’s not rocket science!” William Shatner told them. They didn’t like that.
Geordi would prefer paper books rather than ebooks
LeVar insisted that Geordi’s visor would make him see through Kindles to the electronics inside. He and Kirk would agree on the value of paper books:
Bashir was the hottie of DS9
According to Max Grodenchik, they have Rom the storyline with Leeta because they wanted Bashir unattached, since him having a girlfriend made the female fans upset. I guess Dr. Bashir inherited the womanizing mantle from Captain Kirk….
Thanks to MAC Cosmetics, you, too, can now wear Spock’s eyeshadow!
Of course, there’s no guide for how to apply it, but at least now there’s a line of Star Trek products for the ladies and the Vulcans:
Gates McFadden wants you to vote
She wasn’t the only guest at the convention to provide political commentary (William Shatner even suggested a political reading of “Trouble with Tribbles,” and John deLancie made a Q-esque quip about current politics), and she also wasn’t the only one to provide a call to action. Gates told us that no matter what, we have to go out and vote this November, while John urged us to remember that Roddenberry’s future was one of tolerance and bright light – and urged us to embrace that and move forward with hope and expectation.
As has often been the case, it’s been a while since my most recent update. With the obvious apologies offered, I have a few blog-related announcements.
The first of these is that I’m slightly expanding the focus of this blog. You may have noticed the changed “mission statement” over on the right. While this blog has primarily focused on TV shows and the ideas behind them, I hope to expand it to explorations of science fiction and geekiness in every form. There will be more convention reports, write-ups of interesting panels with thoughts relating to sci-fi, science and technology, and geek culture, and posts about geeky travel. I’ll be focusing more on the way that media and sci-fi not only reflect our world, but predict and shape it. In short, I’ll be looking far beyond the TV screen. Science fiction, media, and fandom (or geekdom) – and their intersections, in all of their possible incarnations – will be the focus.
With that said, I have a few exciting announcements about some real-world projects I’ll be engaging in – and of course, reporting on here.
is that I’ll be a panelist at the upcoming Star Trek: Mission NYC Convention from September 2-4. I’ll be on two panels: Literature and Star Trek with the lovely Amy Imerhoff on Friday at 3pm, and a panel on the Impact of Star Trek on Sunday at 4pm with Devra Langsam and Stuart Hellinger (Organizers of the first-ever Star Trek convention), Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Robert Kaul. The convention is also packed with other panels, guest appearances, set replicas, and many other fun opportunities, so of course I’ll be writing a convention report (or several), touching in particular on the interesting and intellectually stimulating ideas I come in contact with.
And, since it’s Star Trek’s 50th anniversary, one convention is obviously not enough, so I’ll also be attending Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek convention in Cherry Hill this weekend. This one promises to be less “intellectual,” with fewer panels and more guest Q&A’s, but I still plan to faithfully report on the happenings.
And, of course, as always, there’s a number of other conventions and Sherlockian events on my plate – how could there not be?
I’ve also been given the amazing opportunity to be the head of Media Programming at Philcon – the Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference, at which I’ve been a panelist for the past two years. This is the oldest literary sci-fi conference in the U.S., and it’s an honor to be part of putting it together. I’ll be writing more in the coming months about the process of making a convention happens, as well as reporting on the panels post-conference.
In the meantime, I hope to keep updating with lots of convention reports, TV show commentary, geekdom issues, and thoughts on science fiction and science fact. Stay tuned!
One of the most wonderful things about being a Sherlockian is being part of an intelligent, intellectual, perceptive, and very talkative community. You’re never a Sherlockian on your own: ever since I delved into the world of Sherlockiana, I’ve been able to explore the ideas I’ve had about this character and his world with a myriad of other fascinating, interesting people. Consequently, I’ve written quite a bit about Holmes, based on my love for the character and his world, as well as on the wonderful discussions I’ve had. With so many people providing comments and perspectives on my write-up of the BSI weekend, I thought I’d round up all of my writing about Sherlock Holmes in one place so that the discussion can continue:
BSI Weekend 2016: Modernity, Anachronism, and Historical Nostalgia – this blog
“The Abominable Bride” Review – I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
Canonical References in “The Abominable Bride” – this blog
Sherlock Holmes: The Original Fandom – Den of Geek
Book Review: The Thinking Engine – Cinema Sentries
“His Last Vow” Review – Screenspy
Canonical References in “His Last Vow” – this blog
“The Sign of Three” Review – Screenspy
Canonical References in “The Sign of Three” – this blog
Thoughts on “The Sign of Three” – this blog
“The Empty Hearse Review – Screenspy
The “Pulp-ification” of Sherlock Holmes – I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
A Brief Introduction to Sherlockian Societies – I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
Book Review: The Mistakes of Sherlock Holmes – I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere
“A Study in Scarlet and the Study of Mankind: Sherlock Holmes and Pope’s Essay on Man” – Baker Street Journal (not accessible for free)
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice Review – Blogcritics
Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the d’Urbervilles Review – Blogcritics
Sherlock on the BBC – Blogcritics
(Part 1 of my BSI Weekend 2016 write-up)
Last week, I attended, for the third time, what as referred to as the “Baker Street Irregulars Weekend,” though it’s really more like a week, lasting from Wednesday to Sunday. I’ve been meaning to write a post about my experiences attending one of these for several years now, but I think this year is about the right time to do it: my first two years, I was by far too starry-eyed to say anything coherent.
The reason I was so starry-eyed is because the Baker Street Irregulars is the primary Sherlock Holmes society in the world, started in the 1930s by author and publisher Christopher Morley. It has a long and illustrious tradition, and has influenced very much of Sherlockiana and the perception of Sherlock Holmes today. I would use the word “fandom” but it goes beyond that: the Baker Street Irregulars are a way of life, and almost an ideology. As a society, they are dedicated to the study of the Sherlock Holmes stories, referred to as “the Canon,” and membership is by-invitation only. Every year, they hold a dinner (similarly by invitation only) in New York City on January 6th, Sherlock Holmes’ birthday (which is not actually in the stories; in fact, there is nothing in the stories to suggest that it’s on January 6th. The reason we celebrate it on January 6th is because in The Sign of Four, Holmes and Watson are hungover on January 7th). However, though the dinner requires an invite, the rest of the week(end) is a full schedule of events that anyone can attend, and Sherlockians the world over convene in New York to celebrate the great detective – whom we call The Master.
This year has been a landmark BSI year for me, as I was invited to the BSI dinner for the first time (I’m not yet a member of the society itself, but one can hope). In keeping with the tradition of the event, which is meant to be secretive, mysterious, and even esoteric – and cannot be audio or video-taped – I will honor the intentions behind this grand event and won’t dwell too much on describing its details.
I can, however, say that the best description I’ve been able to come up with for the Baker Street Irregulars dinner is that it’s the annual get-together of a by-invitation-only literary society dedicated to the study of a fictional character, whom we pretend is real, and whose life and career was described in a series of texts we refer to as the Sacred Writings. Members are “invested” into the society on a mysterious basis using “investitures” that are phrases from the Canon – essentially, code names.
And when I put it like that, we do sound a bit insane. Which is quite all right, really.
In fact, I want to use this post to reflect on the culture of Sherlockiana – its beauty, and yet its irony. I have written, time and again, about the way that Sherlock Holmes is ultimately a highly modern figure, using the latest forms of technology, and representing secularism, reason, urbanization, industrialization – all those nineteenth century transformations. And yet the popular perception of him is so often nostalgic and anachronistic, of a Victorian figure in a deerstalker, back when there was fog and gas lamps and fireplaces and tea time in good old England. It’s a myth, and a romantic one, however inaccurate it is. However, it is not just the popular imagination that likes to associate Holmes with good old England – it is also Sherlockian culture that does it, however anachronistic it may seem. In fact, I would hazard a guess that much of this myth was constructed and propagated by the Baker Street Irregulars, many of whom were highly influential writers, actors, executives, lawyers, and politicians, among others, and who helped spread this myth.
In the early days of the BSI, Edgar W. Smith, the founder of the Baker Street Journal, referred to Sherlock Holmes as a “Galahad” from a time of Arthurian mythology and, in the first issue of the Journal, celebrated that very fog and gas lamps. G.K. Chesterton spoke of the stories as fairly tales, and Vincent Starrett, a Chicago man of letters, wrote the poem 221B, which is the best, most beautiful, and most poignant rendition of the myth and magic of Sherlock Holmes I’ve read, and these hallowed words are repeated at the end of every Sherlockian society meeting, including the BSI dinner:
Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.
A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.
It’s also, obviously, completely anachronistic- but, as the poem itself says, “only those things the heart believes are true. And there’s a reason that, despite the lack of these historical trappings in the Canon, this is what we cling to. As historian Michael Saler notes in the excellent book As IF, the BSI, as well as much of Sherockian scholarship, came into being around the time of the Great Depression and continued through into WWII and the Cold War. And in those trying times, Sherlock Holmes lived in a nostalgic and idealized version of 1895 to which these people could return.
And yet, though it’s the 21st century, that escapism is alive. The irony of this anachronistic “antiquarianism” had puzzled me for many years, as I was surprised that the careful scholars and devotees of the Canon, who knew how modern a figure Sherlock Holmes was, indulge in this nostalgically inaccurate romanticizing. But this year, attending the BSI dinner, and examining the practices of the BSI (many of which date back to the 1930s and really haven’t changed), I think I’ve come to understand why they have been preserved the way they have.
Every epoch has its escapism, of course – we have our own fair share of modern political events that we want to flee from into the comforting rooms of Baker Street. But I also think it has much to do not only with escapism, but with enchantment. As the aforementioned Michael Saler points out in his book, the late nineteenth century was perceived by many (including the sociologist Weber, who theorized it) to be a period of disenchantment due to the march of technology and progress. But Sherlock Holmes, as Saler points out, re-enchanted modernity, finding the romance in reason, the mystery in the quotidian, the magical in the commonplace. “There is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace,” he told Watson in A Case of Identity (this is, incidentally, probably the line upon which procedurals hinge, but that’s another topic for another day.
And that sense of (dis)enchantment is, I think, exactly what accounts for the practices of the BSI, which haven’t changed for the most part (which the exception of now allowing in women), and why I love them. I do, of course, rely on the conveniences of the twenty-first century, and wouldn’t ever wish to do without any of them – its transportation and communication technologies, its new forms of reference, and I similarly realize that there was nothing particularly magical or enchanting about the Middle Ages (the Plague and death in childbirth really don’t sound like fun). But there’s a certain joy in creating a magical, anachronistic version of a past reality. Just as readers did in the nineteenth century, we today want enchantment and magic in our convenient, technological, modern, positivistic lives. We want a sense of mystery and adventure, and yet reassurance, and the comforts of modernity. We as humans are picky, and difficult to please – for we want the conveniences of our cell phones, our trains and airplanes, or Wikipedia and Google, and yet while keeping these things, we want to preserve a sense of the magical and the mysterious in our modern world.
And that’s both influenced and kept alive the traditions of the BSI, I think. The Sherlock Holmes stories had mystery, intrigue, and enchantment in a modern world, and so does the BSI. A literary society with unwritten rules, with secretive meetings, with members given, essentially, code names (called “investitures,” they’re phrases taken out of the Canon), with a worldwide membership (but membership that must be earned, through a series of unnamed trials, which are not written down and never described) – well, that sounds like something out of a mystery novel. It’s like a combination of the eclectic membership of The Red-Headed League, the puzzles of The Dancing Men, the esoteric rituals of The Musgrave Ritual, the secret code of The Five Orange Pips, the ancient history of the Baskerville legend – all in one. We meet every year for the BSI dinner at the Yale Club, at which membership is exclusive, and you need an invitation to get in, and if you don’t think it looks like the Diogenes Club from the Canon, I don’t know what to tell you:
Its membership is limited to alums of Yale, and this system of university private clubs seems to have been inspired by British gentlemen’s clubs, of the kind to which Mycroft Holmes belonged. And, of course, Sherlock Holmes, being of respectable birth and having attended “college,” probably went to a respectable British university of exactly the kind that would have a club like this. Studying the Canon is called the Game, and it was inspired by Biblical scholarship at Oxford in 1911 – which gives it a long and illustrious history. At every dinner and gathering, poetic toasts are given to characters, places, and events from the Canon – yours truly has had the honor of giving one at a Sherlockian luncheon.
It’s a huge contrast to what one would call the “fandom” surrounding the newer adaptations like Sherlock and Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes –not because it’s somehow “less,” or less scholarly, or more frivolous, but because it’s based on an entirely different set of traditions. In the case of Sherlock, especially, the intriguing thing is that the show brings Sherlock Holmes back into modernity. It makes him, once again, a contemporary figure, as he would’ve been for his original readers, and not a historical one. I’ve always thought that Sherlock is actually the most accurate adaptation of Sherlock Holmes precisely because, instead of historicizing, it modernizes, which makes Sherlock fandom today rather analogous to Sherlock Holmes’ original readers. As Anne Jameson notes in an excellent book about fanfiction, Fic, fandom tends to be the first to pick up new forms of technology, because they are the ones striving to communicate with other fans and produce transformative work about the texts they like. This, of course, parallels the modernity of both Sherlock Holmes, who appeared in the most modern form of communication technology available to him (newspapers) as well as Sherlock fandom – which emulates his use of those contemporary forms of technology just like Victorian readers would have used the postal service (which had seven mail deliveries a day) to communicate with Doyle. In fact, there’s a lot of accuracy to both the modern technologies surrounding Sherlock and the fandom that uses them. At the same time, there’s a lot of history, and therefore cultural weight and significance around the BSI and their traditional way of studying and celebrating Sherlock Holmes.
Speaking to a friend of mine who regularly attends Sherlockian events, she told me that the BSI traditions are “preserved in amber” – left over from a previous time and preserved by devotees. By who knows how long those traditions will last? There’s been an influx of younger Sherlockians into the older traditions thanks to, ironically, the newer adaptations – and yet many of these younger Sherlockians are also part of Internet fandom. So as we get further into the new century, I wonder, will these traditions –which are almost a century old now – remain alive? Or will more modern forms of fandom replace these older traditions? Will they merge into some sort of weird Frankenstein-monster?
These are questions I’ve been left pondering. I have always been very pro-fandom, pro-Internet, pro-slash fiction, but at the same time, this weekend, and this dinner, has made me realize the value of keeping certain traditions alive, of preserving them, even in amber, even with their anachronism. That’s why I don’t mind how bizarre and, frankly, insane, we seem from the outside. There’s not only a method to the madness, there’s a meaning to the madness. As Vincent Starrett so eloquently said about Holmes and Watson, but which could very well be applied to Sherlockians:
“So they still live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart: in a nostalgic country of the mind: where it is always 1895.”
It’s become a popular tradition in Sherlockiana to go on a scavenger hunt for Canonical references every time a new episode of Sherlock airs. Since the series is made by two self-proclaimed Sherlock Holmes fanboys, every episode is consistently jam-packed with allusions and references to the Canon – so called Easter eggs. Yet, as one of the showrunners, Mark Gatiss, once stated in a DVD commentary, in their adaptation, “everything was Canonical…every version, we’re not just drawing on the stories but the Rathbone films, Jeremy Brett.” That is, the Canon, which, in the Sherlockian world, means the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories penned by Conan Doyle, and is sometimes referred to as the “Sacred Writings” is expanded by Moffat and Gatiss to include pastiches, sequels, adaptations, paratexts, and clichés. Simply put, they’re redefining the “source” of their show as not just the writings by Conan Doyle, but as pretty much every version of Sherlock Holmes that has ever appeared, including the arguably inaccurate version of him in the cultural imagination. The latter is something that I have referred to in other writings as the “intertextual” Holmes, and which Mattias Bostrom calls the “parallel” Holmes (as opposed to the original Holmes of the stories).
So when I say that this post is about the “Canonical” references in the Sherlock Christmas special, the “Abominable Bride,” I use “Canonical” in the way that Moffat and Gatiss use the term; that is, this post is about (some, as it would be virtually impossible to list every single one) references to every incarnation of Holmes that has any kind of cultural significance. Sherlock is an incredibly layered series, which rarely adapts a plot directly from the Doyle stories, but rather makes layer upon layer of references to both Watson’s writings and retellings. “The Abominable Bride,” however, is striking to me because it’s in this episode that it really became clear to me, I think, just how seriously Moffat and Gatiss take their “everything is Canonical” mantra. In fact, I’m pretty sure that at this point, they’re counting previous episodes of their own show as Canonical, because there’s plenty of Easter-Egg type allusions to them. Here, then, are the Canonical references that, to me, are either thematically significant, intellectually intriguing, or just plain interesting – with some meditations on how their use fits into the larger project of this episode.
The Five Orange Pips
Okay, so this one is arguably pretty obvious: in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, there’s a story called “The Five Orange Pips,” in which, unsurprisingly, several men receive five orange pips in the mail. It’s a coded warning from the KKK, and they all soon end up dead. The story is rather quaint, since to a British audience with no Internet access, the KKK would have appeared appropriately exotic, mysterious, and terrifying. It’s also why it’s transformed the way it is for the episode: a man does indeed receive five orange pips as a warning, but the hoods and chanting serve as a misdirect for those viewers who expect the KKK to be the culprits. Interestingly enough, Sherlock already referenced the pips in “The Great Game,” where they refer to Greenwich Time Signal, alternatively referred to as “the pips.”
“The Monstrous Regiment”
This is one of the titles suggested by Watson for the version of the story he ends up writing based on the events we just watched. A Monstrous Regiment of Women is also the title of the second installment in Laurie R. King’s famous series of Sherlockian pastiches, centering around the young detective Mary Russell and her relationship with Sherlock Holmes. The series has heavily feminist undertones, with serious explorations upon the limitations placed on women by Victorian and Edwardian society, and aptly forces the reader to confront the fact that if Sherlock Holmes’ brain were in a woman’s body, she’d be far less likely to have his fame and adventures. Given the feminist undertones of “The Abominable Bride,” which focuses on the role of women in the Victorian era and the Holmes stories, I can’t help but think that this is another clever reference.
“No Ghosts Need Apply”
Midway through the episode, we encounter Sherlock and Holmes lurking in the dark, waiting for the next appearance of the Abominable Bride, and discussing the case, and their relationship, at length. Watson keeps referring to the bride as a ghost, and Holmes tells him, frustratedly, “you may, however, rest assured there are no ghosts in this world.” This echoes multiple statements by Holmes in the Canon, who has always been skeptical about the existence of the supernatural. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, he takes the stance that even if “forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature” exist, then “we are bound to exhaust all other hypotheses before falling back upon this one.” However, his statement in the episode even more closely echoes his claim in “The Sussex Vampire” that “the world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”
The Strand Magazine
During the (superb) opening credits of the episode, which are a historicized version of the regular opening credits, end with the image of the cover of the Strand magazine, which then transforms into a scene on Baker Street where Watson runs into a newspaper vendor and asks him how “The Blue Carbuncle” (another Holmes story) is selling. Though details about how or where Watson publishes Holmes’ exploits are vague (he refers once to a “brochure”), the Strand was the magazine that serialized the Sherlock Holmes stories and catapulted both him and Conan Doyle to international fame.
Sidney Paget was the British illustrator of the Holmes stories in the Strand magazine, and it is his illustrations, with the deerstalker cap and pipe, that have codified that image as Holmes in the popular imagination. In fact, the following silhouette of Holmes is universally recognizable precisely because of Paget:
It looks, rather strikingly, like a particular shot from the episode:
Paget’s illustrations, which would have appeared next to the stories in their original print run, are what contemporary media studies would call a “paratext” – something that is not directly part of the text itself, yet influences the way it is received. Paget has had such a significant influence in that respect that he has become part of what is Canonical, and is thus referenced multiple times in the episode. Moriarty, for example, asks “does he follow you around? Do you pose?” The deerstalker appears in an early scene, when Watson makes Holmes put it on in a scene directly taken from “The Reichenbach Fall” (“you’re Sherlock Holmes. Wear the hat”), another allusion to the hat as part of the “definition” of Holmes.
The fact that this episode is set in Victorian times, however, also gives the episode the opportunity to adapt the Paget illustrations in another way: by creating scenes that are direct replicas of certain particularly famous Paget illustrations, such as the following:
Watson’s an Unreliable Narrator
The fact that Watson is an unreliable narrator has been a running gag in the Sherlockian fandom since, well, pretty much forever. In the Canon, Holmes constantly complains that Watson romanticizes the “exact science” of detection, which is akin to working “a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.” Plus, there’s the fact that Sherlockian chronology is notoriously persnickety, since Watson constantly messes up dates and can’t remember if his wife is alive or dead in a particular story – something often explained away by Watson’s terrible memory. This becomes a different kind of running gag in “The Abominable Bride,” where the difference between the real Holmes and Watson’s Holmes is made painstakingly obvious every time someone (usually Sherlock) argues with Watson about the verisimilitude of his stories (Mrs. Hudson complains that she never does anything but show people up the stairs; Sherlock constantly points out that he doesn’t “say that” or “talk like that,” etc…) By the end, however, it becomes clear that this difference is manufactured by Watson in purpose, who follows Holmes around, pretending to be stupider than he actually is to make the detective look smart. Watson might be romanticizing Holmes just as much here as he does in the Canon, might be presenting a certain version of Holmes to the public, but it is an entirely calculated move.
“The Great Falls of the Reichenbach”
No, not the place in Switzerland, the Turner painting. It shows up several times in this episode, including hanging in Mycroft’s room. This painting has previously appeared in Sherlock in “The Reichenbach Fall,” where Sherlock recovers it after it’s stolen. There, of course, it serves as a reference to “The Final Problem,” in which Holmes confronts Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Here, it serves as a reference both to this confrontation (with which the episode ends) and to “The Reichenbach Fall,” since the conceit of the episode is to explore the possibility of Moriarty surviving the end of that episode.
“The Crack in the Lens”
While awaiting the ghost of the “Abominable Bride,” Holmes and Watson get into a rather heated (and suggestive) argument, as Watson insists that Holmes has feelings that he won’t open up about. In response, Holmes claims “all emotion is abhorrent to me. It is the grit in a sensitive instrument. The crack in the lens.” This, of course, is a direct quote from A Scandal in Bohemia, the first Holmes story, which Watson starts off by explaining why Holmes is not in love with Irene Adler:
It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has ever seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer – excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.
That paragraph is perhaps one of the most problematic in the entire Canon, because if one reads the stories closely enough, it becomes clear that Holmes does, actually, have feelings. He cares very deeply about Watson, as he proves in “The Three Garridebs,” and the queer readings of Holmes never tire of pointing out that there’s ample subtext in the Canon (perhaps that’s why this conversation between two men in the dark is so suggestive). Furthermore, these lines were written by Watson, who, as discussed above, is generally accepted to be a pretty unreliable narrator of the Canon, which makes them even more problematic.
That’s probably why, in response to Holmes’ words, Watson snaps “No, I wrote all that. You’re quoting yourself from The Strand Magazine….Those are my words, not yours! That is the version of you that I present to the public. The brain without a heart. The calculating machine. I write all of that, Holmes, and the readers lap it up.”
Just as Watson is, Canonically, an unreliable narrator that makes paragraphs like the above difficult to interpret, “The Abominable Bride” has amply established that Watson is, indeed, a (purposefully) unreliable narrator, which is perhaps why this allusion works so well. It points to one of the most difficult-to-interpret paragraphs of the Canon and practically shouts “it’s not accurate! Watson’s misleading you on purpose! Don’t believe it!”
“I always survive the Fall”
Sherlock Holmes makes this statement right before jumping off the Reichenbach cliff. The jump itself is a re-enactment of “The Reichenbach Fall,” in which he jumped off the roof of St. Bart’s. In fact, the two were so similar they may very well have re-used footage. So, this is a nice little network of references, since Holmes here at the setting of “The Final Problem” is re-enacting his fall from the Sherlock episode that adapts “The Final Problem.” However, his jump is also a refusal to answer Watson, who asks how Holmes could possibly survive that kind of fall. I see two references here. The first is to the 1964 Study in Terror, which was referenced in “The Empty Hearse” in the same context: that of explaining how Sherlock could’ve survived his death. Like in the film, where Holmes refuses to explain how he could’ve escaped from a blazing inferno, Sherlock refuses to tell us explicitly how he survived, leaving us to use his methods to deduce it (“You know my methods. Use them,” he says in the film). At the same time, it’s a reference to the fact that Holmes, as a character, will always survive and live on in the cultural imagination. If Moriarty tried to destroy the myth of Holmes by killing him, then he failed yet again, as Sherlock Holmes survives to live on.
Tonight at midnight is the release of the long-awaited Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The midnight tickets have all sold out already, so I won’t be seeing it for a couple of days. However, I do recognize that this is a bit of a landmark moment in geek history, so I do want to document it.
This is the first time that I’m around for a Star Wars release and actually conscious of the series’ existence. I wasn’t born when the first three movies were released, and was a very precocious child who had no interested in Star Wars when the new trilogy was released. Thus, episode VII will be the first time I’m going to see a new movie in theaters, and the first time I’ll be able to experience the excitement first-hand and actually be able to comprehend it. I’m incredibly excited.
Excitement for the new episode has been building up for quite a while. Mostly, that excitement appeared in the form of merchandise of BB8, the adorable new droid that became plastered on EVERYTHING, kind of how R2D2 has bee plastered on everything for eternity. I can see why: he’s tiny and adorable, and I, too, have my own. Sphero released a small but accurate replica that actually move and can be controlled, which was advertised everywhere:
In fact, when Omaze had their Star Wars premiere attendance campaign, one of the prize badges was, of course, BB8:
In fact, BB8 was so popular that he attended the premiere, producing wonderful pictures of journalists trying to take a photo of him on the red carpet:
Still, though we all love and adore BB8, I think it’s only in the past few weeks leading up to its release that I realized quite how excited everyone was about things besides the adorable little droid. . My first clue was when I walked into my local Barnes and Noble to see it packed with Star Wars stuff. I mean, it usually has a lot of Star Wars stuff, because that space opera thing is popular, but this time it was like walking into a Lucasfilm storehouse. And if, years from now, fandom historians wonder, “what did the excitement around episode VII look like?” I’ll be able to say, like this:
In addition to merchandise, pretty much every magazine out there is publishing some sort of special or collector’s edition relating to the new movie:
(This sampling from Barnes and Noble is actually quite small). Of course, I couldn’t resist, so I went out and bought a bunch of “collector’s” editions of magazines. I don’t know how collectible they actually are, or whether they’ll be worth any kind of money a few decades down the line, but I”m the kind of person who buys anything apparently “collectible,” provided it’s geeky, hoping it’ll be worth something in the future. (Plus, I have a bunch of free subscriptions to magazines via targeted offers, so a bunch of issues came in the mail). Thus, I now have what I hope will one day be a collectible colletion of Star Wars themed magazines:
Still, it wouldn’t be a true geek milestone event without any kind of controversy, and of course it’s there. First, there’s the whole fiasco of John Boyega being cast as one of the protagonists, as white fans rose up against the “oppression” that casting a black character as a hero in the movies represented. Yes, I kid you not.
And then there’s Princess Leia. Luckily, we get to see Princess Leia come back for this movie, this time as General Leia and thankfully not in a bikini- rather significant, given Carrie Fisher’s comments about how hard it is for a woman in Hollywood over the age of 40 to get cast in anything (unless you’re Meryl Streep). Plus, there were JJ Abrams’ recent comments about how “Star Wars used to be something fathers took their sons to,” because apparently girls didn’t watch Star Wars until he came along to make the movies girl-friendly and pat himself in the back for it. (Which, by the way, is exactly what he said about Star Trek, despite the fact that Star Trek pretty much exists in any significant form today because of women, thank you very much).
So, with all of that history, and seeing all that merchandise in stores, I started thinking. A fascinating article was recently published called “Where the Fuck is Princess Leia?” point out the lack of Princess Leia in Star Wars merchandise. This is a trend that isn’t limited to Star Wars – in the Marvel fandom, Black Widow and Gamora figurines are pretty non-existence, they’re not on the posters, and they’re probably never going to get their own movies. It all has to do with gendered marketing: franchises like to market to a particular demographic (a particular gender, a particular age). Hence the lack of, say, Gamora.
But Star Wars has such universal appeal, you say. It’s something everybody watches. Just because girls watch Star Wars doesn’t mean they’ll stop watching “girly” things, I mean, Star Wars is one of those cult movies. It can’t hurt to make a few Princess Leia toys for the girls, right?
…apparently not. Wading through all the Star Wars merchandise pictured above, I found three Princess Leias. Yes, three. There were dozens and dozens of Darth Vaders, R2D2s, wookies, Yodas, Jedi, Han Solos…..but as for the ladies? Here’s what I found:
Yes, that’s it. Leia in a slave bikini (because if we’re going to make Princess Leia figurines, we should make sure to objectify her – though Carrie Fisher’s comments on the subject are a breath of fresh air), a Princess Leia that is part of a figurine pack, and a keychain. Well, I guess you could count the Leia on the clock, though that’s part of a poster.
And, looking through, for example, the standees offered by Barnes and Noble (which had a lot of Star Wars stuff, as pictured above), these were the offers:
I mean, there’s Daisy Ridley’s character, who is in the new Star Wars, but please note that of the above ten characters, one is a woman. the rest are male (or in the case of stormtroopers, we don’t really know their genders, but…)
Needless to say, I am both unsurprised and disappointed. I don’t collect a lot of merchandise or action figures and the like, and as a little girl, I was never really troubled by the lack of a Princess Leia figurine, because I had plenty of other female characters I admired, like Xena and Hermione Granger. Still, I think this says a lot about who we expect to be watching these movies, and who we expect to be fans of these movies – and The Powers That Be clearly still think that the people who are going to be geeky and fannish enough to buy merchandise are goings to be boys…or only care about the male characters.
So, with my expectations tempered by both JJ Abrams’ inane comments and my own exploration into the world of Star Wars merchandise, I can still say that I am incredibly excited for Episode VII, which comes out exactly 17 minutes from now as of this writing. 🙂