Thursday, December 30, 2010

Married to Work: BBC's Sherlock

And who is more asocial than the man himself, Sherlock Holmes? Yes, I finally stumbled out of my cave and watched the BBC's Sherlock. (Lia wants me to say that I watched it with her, a Sherlock Holmes purist.) I'm still working my way through the three episodes (come on, they're very action-packed), and enjoying them so far, but we came here to talk about asexuality, didn't we?

I know that a lot of aces find Sherlock's asexuality to be personally or culturally relevant. I can understand and respect that, but I don't feel the same way. I've met a lot of asexuals, and we all seem to share some similar concerns about living in a sexual world, concerns that don't seem to cross Sherlock's mind. To me, he's not relatable on an asexual level, and he's not the kind of character I'd want to be friends with. I don't know if many people would want to be Sherlock, but still, he seems to have what everyone wants. And it's not "the girl" (or "the guy"), which might be somewhat unique. It's to be recognized for doing what you love and what you do best (and wearing a snazzy coat). While BBC's Sherlock describes himself as a "high-functioning sociopath", he seems more like an autistic savant to me. (How else could he memorize the traffic pattern of every London street?) Sherlock thrives in his own story, but if he were dropped into the real world, I wouldn't count on his success.

Conan Doyle probably never intended this reading, but it does speak to me as a workaholic with no work. I find watching Sherlock oddly poignant for this reason. My mind turns to the fact that our society doesn't tend to do well at utilizing people's special, perhaps Sherlock-like abilities. I start thinking of this quote I'd read a while ago: "I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops." So when I look at Sherlock, I don't see his asexuality first, but his "marriage to his work". And that's a hard thing to hold onto these days. I can finally admit that I don't want "the guy", at least not in a Hollywood way. But I still want the work, elusive as it may be.

And forgive my towering expectations, but I would like it if actors playing asexuals would make some kind of educational statement about asexuality. Straight actors playing gay characters do it all the time. On the other hand, Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of Sherlock, "suggests that Holmes is asexual, perhaps the result of being burned in the past by women..."and that's it, as far as I can find. I don't expect actors to take up our cause, but just mentioning the "correct" definition of asexuality would be a small thing for him and a big deal to some of us.

(Also, is it terrible that whenever a show has rapid-fire wordplay, I'm always going, "Ugh, why is this so Gilmore Girls?")

11 comments:

Rem Anon said...

As much as I agree with your post, I feel I must also play the devil's advocate and defend Sherlock's actor's statement slightly. Your average person doesn't know what asexuality is - at least as a sexual orientation. I don't know that we'd be reasonable in expecting the actor to know anything about asexuality when it's possible he doesn't even know that there's anything to know. He may have used the term as a synonym to nonsexual (as in not participating in romance/sex/the pursuit of anything sexual). To us, of course, "asexual" has a much larger definition, but he may not be aware that the word he used has any definition beyond nonsexual (as loosely defined above).

Still, as you said... it'd be nice.

And now I want to watch this show. XD

Ily said...

Well yeah, that's probably the case. I know actors usually do research into their roles, although it doesn't seem like Sherlock's sexuality (or lack thereof) is a focus. As someone trained in theater, if I was playing a character that had no interest in sex, I would probably find that significant...but then again, I'm me. Maybe we don't want to be strongly associated with Sherlock Holmes anyway, since he's kind of the stereotypical cold, robotic asexual. (Not to say cold, robotic aces are less asexual, but that's the main representation we tend to get.)

Lia said...

Based on my reading of the Sherlock Holmes stories, I can't agree with Mr. Cumberbatch about the source of Sherlock's asexuality. There's no evidence that he ever had any interest in women and never even seems to notice whether they're attractive. So I'd argue for a lifelong asexual orientation on his part. I didn't find moving the story to modern times that successful for a lot of reasons, but it was amusing how this allowed people to assume that the two men were a gay couple ;-
The issues you raise, Ily, about work, are very serious for people trying to start careers in this economic climate. Sherlock does have some unusual interests and mastery of esoteric facts that could go along with his being an autistic savant. His unusual career makes more sense in the 1800's when the books were actually set. At that time, I don't think there were private detectives around like there are now, so a "consulting detective" would have been a real novelty. So the remarkable thing Holmes did was to create a previously unheard of job that fit perfectly with his interests and unusual store of knowledge. That was a lot easier to do because he is a fictional character. But we're in a time right now when ingenuity is going to matter a lot, if people don't want to spend their whole lives being underemployed or unable to find work that suits their abilities and interests.

Buttercup Delirium said...

I really agree with your analysis of Sherlock (the character, not the series--I haven't seen it). I also picture him less as an ace and more as an unusual man whose only joy is in his work, in making himself useful. In some stories, when he's between jobs he gets very restless and unhappy; people can't make him happy, although they can entertain him for a while. I'm not the same way, but I can easily understand that mindset. I get that it's not a recognition thing, but a satisfaction thing: people say that women don't dress up for men, they dress up for themselves. Likewise, Sherlock doesn't solve crimes for public approval, but for his own. It's really amazing, and it's especially amazing that Arthur Conan Doyle thought up that mindset at that time--although I think the character of Sherlock was based off of his former professor, Joseph Bell, who may have been mildly autistic or bipolar (or both). In any case, if more people with that kind of skill and dedication existed, perhaps the world would have a more hopeful spin to it....

Ily said...

@ Lia and Buttercup-- you know a lot more about Sherlock (the stories) than I do, so thanks for your perspectives!

Noskcaj Llahsram said...

I've always been more of a Mycroft Holmes fan, that his mental 'specialislm is omnipotence'. and to just be able to stretch so far intellectually are appealing

cleuchtturm said...

I literally made an account just to comment this blog. Maybe I'll use it to explain my lameness, but at the time being, I must disagree with your analysis of Mr Holmes. I have read every single work by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and in the stories, he is definately asexual. He actually explains it in the Adventure of the Lion's Mane. Or the Adventure of the Blanched Soldier. Can't remember, but both were narrated by him, so it's gold. But no film adaptation has ever goten the character right, so I must say to not use them as a valid source.

And an unrelated note, apparently, I am a stereotypical asexual. Minus Doctor Who? and Alan Rickman.

Ily said...

cleuchtturm: Oh, I agree that he's asexual, I just can't personally relate to the way in which he experiences his asexuality.

cleuchtturm said...

Ily: Ah. I find myself almost as a female version of him, minus the drugs and tobacco...
But I misunderstood, and apparently, it is past my bedtime. Tis almost 1 am and I can't understand english well, obviously.

Ily said...

@cleuchtturm: No worries! Now I know who to talk to when I need a mystery solved :)

cleuchtturm said...

Ily: Awesome. I can't let a good mystery slip away.