The Elite Devotee or How The Sherlock Fandom Is A Horrible Embarrassment To The Sherlockian World by Phillip Shreffler

This is the article that the rant was written in retaliation to. At the time I hadn’t read it, because it was sent only to a select few Sherlockians, but heard through the grapevine of the contents. I’ve since been sent the article and warned of its actual words. I knew it was aimed at fandom in a very derogatory way, but I had no idea it was a personal attack. My name is mentioned. I’m quoted. I’m apparently a horrible embarrassment and a tragedy.You know what, that doesn’t matter. Were my feelings hurt? Sure. Was I enraged for being called out by a petty cowardly man? A bit. But that doesn’t matter, I’ll take your bitter words Mr. Shreffler and continue to make The Baker Street Babes amazing. Maybe you’ve seen us on your television, as we’ve been on NBC, The Today Show, CBS, and appeared in USA Today and online at FOX. Or maybe you’ll see us in your local bookstore when our essay collection is published. Or maybe you’ll see us at the BSI Dinner which, guess what, we were invited by your BSI boss Michael Whelan, to for our contributions to the Sherlockian world. Hmmm.

As for us just being silly Sherlock fangirls. I hope you know that you contradicted yourself. You said we only drooled over Sherlock and then quoted me saying I wanted to start something for SHERLOCK HOLMES fans. Notice I didn’t actually mention the BBC. Also, if you bother to look at our episode backlog, you’ll notice we only have three out of thirty-six episodes are directly linked to the BBC show. Sure, we mentioned it in others because, guess what, it’s a Sherlock Holmes adaptation. I know. It’s hard to accept. I’m sure you’ll get over it, after you get over yourself.

And so, for those who dare risk the ignorant babble of a man who cannot let go of the past and thinks himself at least ten times above every one of you, you made read below the cut. There are some blanks because the scan we have isn’t the greatest, but it doesn’t impede it much. No more than it impedes itself.

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Sherlockian Rant

I know I’m a little late on the uptake, but I wanted to post my own response to the recent garbage put forward by Phillip Shreffler. Now, I’m not any big name in the Sherlockian fandom in any way(and yes, it is a fandom whether Mr. Shreffler wants to admit it or not), I’ve barely got any followers, but I’m a Sherlockian, damnit, and I’m an offended Sherlockian.  So here is what I have to say.

Yes, I am a woman.  Yes, I am under 25 (barely).  Yes, I use the internet.  And apparently these three simple things mean I can’t enjoy Sherlock Holmes in the correct way.  I considered putting in the fact that I’m fairly well-educated, in the process of earning two master’s degrees in a well-respected American institution , as if this background should somehow help ease the fact that I have a vagina.  But I decided that neither my education, nor anyone else’s, should have an effect on the kind of things one is allowed to enjoy, and, furthermore, if Mr. Shreffler is as old-fashioned as his remarks imply, he’d probably prefer that women stayed out of Academia and went back, quiet and obedient, to  the kitchen.

I grew up on the Sherlock Holmes canon.  When all the other kids went out to recess, I sat in the library and pulled out random books.  It was in third grade, I believe, when I discovered Arthur Conan Doyle’s work and sincerely enjoyed it.  I’ve read through all of the stories several times throughout my life, always finding new things to marvel at and new layers I didn’t see the time before.  When my parents discovered how much I enjoyed the work, they introduced me to the adaptations featuring both Rathborne and Brett, but I was unimpressed.  They were too close to canon, and I, as someone who was perfectly capable of visualizing the stories without the aid of the television, got bored quickly.  I was severely skeptical when I heard of a new, modern adaptation, and put off watching it for quite some time.  However, when I finally did watch it, I was floored.  Not because I think being modern makes it inherently “better” or “easier for my young, simple mind to comprehend” but by the very fact that it isn’t an exact repetition of the canon.  Gatiss and Moffat know the canon inside and out, and they play with it and twist it and when you know the canon beforehand, this gives BBC Sherlock a startling depth.

That being said, I know plenty of people who can (and do) watch and enjoy Sherlock without any prior knowledge of the stories.  And you know what?  That.  Is.  Okay.  Mr. Shreffler can’t pretend for a minute that everyone who watched earlier Holmes adaptations had read the canon stories first.  Do I think knowing the canon adds something to the experience of watching any adaptation of Sherlock Holmes?  Yes.  Do I think that people who haven’t read canon but still enjoy the BBC show are stupid, vapid fangirls?  Absolutely not.   Remove the fact that this is an adaptation of a book and BBC Sherlock still remains a fantastic program.  The acting is brilliant, the writing is fantastic – over a course of only six episodes the audience is completely pulled in and emotionally attached to the characters, which is no easy feat.  And while we’re on the subject, yes, I will admit to being attracted to Benedict Cumberbatch.  But, magically, I find myself able to simultaneously appreciate him for the marvelous actor that he is and his stunning portrayal of Holmes.  Imagine that.

Now, this business of “fandom” vs. “elite of devotees.”  The whole idea is outrageous – that we are somehow better and more intellectual than people who, say, enjoy watching Doctor Who or Downton Abbey or, God forbid, Harry Potter.  Furthermore, the historic evidence doesn’t hold.  By claiming a true Sherlockian as someone not “fanatic” about the subject, Mr. Shreffler must be forgetting the people at the turn of the 20th century naming their children after the characters, or, better yet, those who outright mourned the death of a fictional character and attacked Doyle, forcing him to bring the detective back.

What originally brought me to Sherlock Holmes, as a young child, was the belief that this was a collection of stories that told me it was okay to be different, that two people with such opposite personalities as Holmes and Watson could be friends, and that being looked upon as strange and abnormal was sometimes a good thing.  Apparently, I was wrong.  Clearly what I should have picked up on was the need to be high-brow, arrogant, stifling, and judgmental of people who want to talk with me about our mutual interests.  My mistake.  Thanks for setting me on the right path, Mr. Shreffler.

Shreffler's Essay

So I’m sure most of you have seen the buzz about this rude essay that, as far as I can tell (I haven’t read the actual essay yet, just responses to it) basically slams all BBC Sherlockians for being crazy fan girls that are ruining the fandom and embarrassing themselves because they’re not “real” Sherlockians.

Wait, didn’t we just go through this with women wearing super hero t-shirts at comics conventions…..??

Ahem! At any rate, I find this all rather interesting because I put on a Sherlock convention that was full of crazed BBC Sherlock fangirls. It was important to me to also represent both ACD’s classic Sherlock at the convention along with the various films, television productions, and pastiches made in response to/recreation of ACD’s original vision.

I went to the Sounds of the Baskervilles, the local Seattle scion of the Baker Street Irregulars - a group of people who meet regularly to discuss and honor the works of ACD. As I had expected, most of the people there were in their 50s and up, with only a few younger members. I was a little nervous at first, because I realized that my convention was going to be primarily screaming fangirls who might or might not have any real knowledge of the origin stories but, like I said, I wanted to be inclusive and complete.

I was welcomed with open arms and even after I made the announcement of why I was there, I was treated warmly and with respect. I invited the members to come and speak at the convention or attend and gave them a table there for their group. David, the leader of the group, was up front about the fact that some members were not interested in the convention because of the dominant focus on the new series, but I had expected that. I was more amused when one of the women (she must have been in her late 50s) came up and asked me, “Are you a Cumberbitch? We are!” Hee! ;)

I was still a little worried though that they would be vaguely appalled when they arrived at the convention itself.  But what delighted me was that every single person from the SOBs (they call themselves that! :) who came had a fabulous time! They got more new members from my event than any other they had paid money for, they had huge audiences for their talks, but most of all they were so excited by the fact that so many young people were interested in Sherlock, and they were so excited by the passion and the energy that everyone at the convention exhibited.

I cannot tell you how many times they thanked me and praised me for the convention and how much they enjoyed it. And the fact that the next con is going to have an even broader focus, showing some of the older Sherlock films, has them even more delighted. They’ve already told me that they’re going to give me their full support for the next convention.

So, for what it’s worth, not all old-school Sherlockians see us as “ruining” the fandom. Quite the opposite in fact.

When the Shreff Hits the Fangirl: A Public Apology

The Baker Street Babes would like to issue a public apology to the internet at large.  Upon having been accused of editing the Shreffler article for our own deeply nefarious purposes, we discovered upon due examination of the problem that the scan of the article we were sent was lacking in the final page.  We have rectified the problem.  Let us assure our readers that this page is equally as apt as its predecessors, and that no intent to shorten the article existed.

Oh, there be highlights, people!

—thrill as Mr. Shreffler uses the word “con” as a pejorative!

—gasp and gape as he scornfully refers to established and storied scion societies across the United States as “mini-cons” while exhorting the purity and virtue of his “Special Meetings!”  Which are somehow…a different thing!  Yes, different!

—shriek with morbid delight as he refers to the BBC fandom’s encounters with the traditional BSI as “the Island of Dr. Moreau,” and then ask yourselves whether referring to people as monsters is precisely gentlemanly!

We can assure our public, we will not keep harping upon this literary flea circus, but wanted for posterity to set the record straight.  As someone who has been invited to these “Special Meetings,” and attended them, I can only report that they reflect the exact character makeup of Sherlockiana at large: they are populated by many lovely, intelligent people.  And a few people like this Mr. P. A. Shreffler, whose grasp of history and American pop culture is so narrow and so dim that they imagine ACD descended with the canon writ upon stone tablets and lo, the BSI became the Chosen People, and lo, there was much rejoicing, and lo, they were given by the spirit of Sherlock Holmes himself great gifts of intellect, and lo, they never ever have to light matches before leaving bathrooms.  Ever.

When in fact the BSI has always been a fandom, or a “realm of avid enthusiasts,” as the word is defined.  Somebody quickly, buy these men a dictionary.  If we take up a collection to buy them a dictionary, we could better explain that Sherlock Holmes is a detective, and therefore a genre fiction hero, who was printed in disposable paperback magazines, and as such belongs heart and soul to what Mr. Shreffler mockingly calls the “lightest-weight popular culture.”  You don’t get to have him all to yourselves, you sweet little sugar plums.  He is everyone’s.  He was the great shame of his author’s life, the darling of popular stage plays and popular films, including B-films touting anti-Nazi propaganda in which Rathbone’s hair looked like a cross between A Flock of Seagulls and my cat after she’s destroyed something.  I am sick of this nonsense.

It was also brought to my attention that we are all being rather rude.  Thus, I would like to apologize for going on Facebook and calling Mr. Shreffler an “intellectual lamppost.”  My wording was unfortunate.  I should have recognized that intellectual lamppost need not be a defining term—that he may also be a plumber, or an uncle, or a trainer of circus pigs, and I should not have tried to reduce him as a person.  I should have said instead, “When your article The Elite Devotee claims, and I quote, that the ‘wittily perspicacious examination of Holmes and Watson’s lives’ is the point of the exercise, and then ridicules people who do that very thing constantly, it is writing that reaches no higher a level of intellect than a lamppost; please do better next time than ineffable twaddle and unmitigated bleat.” I am sorry.  It won’t happen again.

I wrote my first Sherlock Holmes fanfiction when I was eleven years old.  Once a silly fangirl, always a silly fangirl, I suppose.  But let us redefine the term for ourselves.  Let us define “silly fangirl” as “individual who takes unstoppable joy in stories, who likewise appreciates the absurd and ridiculous along with the erudite, and who can breathe normally due to the anatomical benefit of having her (or his!) head outside her (or his!) ass.”  Or skip the labels.  Or, you know, call yourself an elite devotee if you want.  Make ELITE DEVOTEE t-shirts for all I care.  Just don’t be rude about it.

As Mr. Shreffler concludes below, “Perhaps it is too late.”  Perhaps so, sir.  Perhaps for some.

Lyndsay Faye: Silly Fangirl, Baker Street Babe, Adventuress of Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street Irregular, Edgar Award-nominated Author, Cat Wrangler, Star Trek Fan, LOTR Geek, & etc. etc…

(find the first portion published here)

THE ELITE DEVOTEE (continued, by request of the publisher)

by Philip A. Shreffler

Organized, Sherlockiana itself seems to be devolving when it should be evolving, growing in size but shrinking in influence. Once, The New York Times covered annual dinners of the Baker Street Irregulars not infrequently. Today this is far less likely to occur, even though—or possibly because of the fact that—the BSI’s former simple and simply-compelling annual dinner has now expanded into a five-day Sherlock Holmes convention—a “com”—and the structure of the organization has become a corporate octopus, in Frank Norris’s sense of the word, with so many grasping arms that the wittily perspicacious examination of Holmes and Watson’s lives and world, the BSI’s presumed raison d’etre, seems secondary to the frenzy of activity occasioned by the organization’s escalating size and physical complexity, and the product lines its members and would-be members are exhorted to buy.

Precisely because of its publishing (of book that are not always necessary or desired or even particularly scholarly in the most rigorous sense of the word), its committees, its Trust, its endeavor to establish an idiosyncratic and uneven “archive” at a prestigious university, its mini-“cons” outside the traditional New York homes, its huge membership and its pursuit of international society status,  the BSI is very far from the intellectual intimacy afforded to those lucky, earlier elite Irregular devotees who could actually share ideas over dinner and engage in disputation over essayed Sherlockian hypotheses.  The organization, which was once dedicated principally to affable celebration, has become too much a leviathan for that.

This is what led a member of the Irregulars to invoke a provision of the society’s Constitution in order to form small Special Meetings as mandated by that puckish document.  For some, attendance at one of the two Special Meetings that now exist comprises the only BSI event they attend during the larger “con” weekend, because they believe it to be Baker Street Irregularity in its truest and most quintessential form.  It is certainly more intimate than hundreds of people crammed into a ballroom at the BSI-Con’s banquet.  So once again, elite devotees possessed of those qualities that I have already enumerated are able to adventure together, purely, into the Victorian and Edwardian byways and countryside in the company of the Master Detective, the canonical Holmes, unencumbered by machinations too vast for human comforts.  That more Special Meetings may arrive is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

It is not, however, only those who may be perceived as dissidents who seem to apprehend deficiencies among the deep ranks of the larger Baker Street Irregulars. Within the past few years, in an effort to shore up the organization’s public image—and maybe get it back in the Times—the BSI’s official position regarding the admission of new members has come to be based less on a candidate’s manifest intelligence and significant contributions to Sherlockian literature and more on his or her “exceptionality.”  Non-Sherlockian exceptionality, evidently, derives from an individual’s accomplishments outside the realm of Sherlockiana.  In other words, is this person noteworthy enough to attract flattery to the BSI?  Possibly, it is only necessary to point out that one’s can’t buy dignity for one’s self, but one certainly can attempt to hire it in the persons of others.

Since I may be liable to the charge of falling into the same trap that I identified earlier, and conflating the BBC Sherlock crowd with the Baker Street Irregulars, I should note that these two are not precisely the same order of beast, though there does seem to be occurring a sort of molecular recombination between the two that wants discouraging.  The Island of Dr. Moreau is not a very pleasant place.

So let me argue then that there exist at least two substantial forces that stand at odds with the settled certainty of the elite devotee.  One, the lightest-weight popular culture, brings far too little to the table to be seriously contemplated or intellectually welcomed.  The other crushes the brightest and best under a tonnage of a rococo complexity from beneath which they cannot shine.

Perhaps it is too late.  But we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our progenitors, we owe it to future generation of genuine kinspirits we hope will follow us, to infuse what we insist is devoted elitism—not the increasingly labyrinthine, complicated and top-heavy corporate structure of the current BSI and very certainly not any species of “fandom”—into our Sherlockian undertakings.