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…
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.