Apparently, there’s a special Downton Abbey surprise coming. According to Facebook:
According to Digital Spy, it could be the long-awaited, long-rumored Downton Abbey movie. Fans of the show, which ended in 2015, will probably thrilled. If you’ve followed me for a long time, then you’ll know that I was once a fan (and eventual hate-watcher) of Downton Abbey, so I’ve got my own two cents on the idea of a movie as well. But since it seems like Downton Abbey is about to come back into our lexicon, I’d like to push the conversation toward one long-forgotten character that didn’t get the time he deserved, nor the representation he needed. No, I’m not talking about Thomas, although he needs some love too. Who I’m talking about right now is Kemal Pamuk, the diplomat from Turkey.
The sad case of Kemal Pamuk
Introducing Pamuk into the first season story of Downton Abbey was, I thought at the time, going to provide some much needed drama to the entire Mary and Matthew dynamic. In fact, I was hoping Mary would have ended up with Pamuk since the alternative, Matthew, was her cousin. (Social mores might have been different back then, but if an episode of Poirot, “After the Funeral,” can discuss how bad it is to have an affair with your cousin, then maybe Downton Abbey shouldn’t have been pushing it so hard.)
However, Pamuk wasn’t meant to be around for long. In fact, he was meant to weirdly coerce Mary into having sex, have a heart attack in Mary’s bed from a “heart condition,” and then get stuffed in a broom closet, never to be seen again (or discovered as a mummy by one of the poor maids).
Supposedly, Julian Fellowes, the man behind Downton Abbey, said Pamuk’s early death was inspired by real life. According to what he told an audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2011, Fellowes told the story of the man used as the inspiration for Pamuk (according to the Telegraph):
“I did enjoy the death of Pamuk because it was true. That story came from a friend of ours. He had a great house and he was looking through a great aunt’s diary in which he found an account of a visiting diplomat who died. In the house there was a passageway only to be used by single women to go to their rooms. One of them had smuggled this diplomat into her room and he died in the middle of doing it!
She was absolutely at her wits’ end–this was about 1890. She knocked on the next door and the blameless matron in there realise[d] at once that if this story came out it would touch them all and there would be a great scandal. To avoid it they woke up all the other single women in the passageway and this group of dowagers and debutantes lifted the corpse and carried it to his own bed.
Our friend looked up the diary of his great grandfather at the same period and in it he found a note simply saying ‘We had a tragedy-nice Mr. so and so was found dead in his bed.’ Those ladies got away with it! When I heard that story I thought, ‘One day this will come in handy…!”
I get that, as a bit of cheeky, macabre fun, the story of the dead diplomat is something that would work great in a show that wants to be a subversive take on the traditional costume drama. (Is Downton Abbey really subversive? You be the judge.) But wasn’t it also a waste of a character? When the episode aired, those of us new to Fellowes (like me) weren’t yet aware of how much Fellowes uses shortcuts disguised as cheek in his storytelling. In the latter seasons, the reliance on quick shock and tidy storytelling bows became an unfortunate part of the norm. Pamuk’s death is the first instance of shortcutting in Downton Abbey.
Pamuk and the “sexual exotic” stereotype
One of the things I’ve realized after the end of Downton Abbey is that Pamuk was basically a “hypersexual ethnic” role. Pamuk is the son of the Turkish sultan, and he does have a big role in the Turkish government. But none of that is focused on; instead, what’s the big focus is how he’s a primal, sexual character. Yes, Theo James is hot. But it’s really annoying that Pamuk’s only defining characteristic is that he’s horny.
According to the “Arabface” page of racist-stereotypes.com, Middle Eastern characters have often been seen as a multitude of negative stereotypes, including the sexually-crazed lech. “For centuries the Arab has played the role of villain, seducer, hustler and thief — the barbarian lurking at the gates of civilization,” states the site.
Arabs trying to abduct, rape, and or kill fair skinned Western maidens has been another very popular theme that dates to the earliest days of filmmaking. In Captured by Bedouins (1912) marauding tribesmen kidnap a Western girl, try to seduce her, and then demand a ransom for her return. Their plans are thwarted when the girl’s British officer fiancée sneaks into their camp and rescues her.
Several films with the same theme were popular in the 1980s; desert sheikhs abducting and threatening to rape Western maidens; Brook Shields in Sahara (1983), Goldie Hawn in Protocol (1984), Bo Derek in Bolero (1984), and Kim Basinger in Never Say Never Again (1986).
The idea of the exotic and sexual Middle Eastern man can also be used as sexual currency, or as Arabstereotypes.com so aptly describes it, as “dangerous romantic heroes.” This is seen in 1921’s The Sheik, in which the title character, played by 1920s heartthrob Valentino, saves the life of a white woman who was about to be raped by another sheik. Just so happens Valentino’s character isn’t actually Middle Eastern, but the rapist sheik actually is.
In the film, Valentino plays an Arab who kidnaps a white woman and holds her captive, waiting for her to fall in love with him. When she escapes and is kidnapped by another Arab sheik who plans to rape her, Valentino’s character becomes the romantic rescuer of women (who the storyline later reveals, is not in fact Arab).
The site also outlines how Harlequin novels also draw from the sheik stereotype to draw readers into the fantasy of a dangerous, exotic ideal.
Harlequin romance novels tend to have a common storyline of white women being abducted by Arab men and falling in love with them in the process. The Sheik, written by E.M. Hull in 1919, is the first known Harlequin novel based on a romance between a white woman and an Arab sheik, which initiated a genre that continues to the present. Many contemporary Harlequin novels revolve around the figure of the sheik as a domineering seducer and abductor of women who are either Arab or European, or Euro-American. In these storylines, Arab men are either threatening, or sites of romantic intrigue, and white men are often needed to rescue the damsel in distress.
Looking back at his death, it’s clear to me that Pamuk probably had a lot more he could have offered as a character instead of getting the short end of the stick with his awful storyline. At best, he could have been a viable threat to Matthew’s eventual love for Mary (because at the time Pamuk comes on the scene, Matthew could care less about Mary). However, he’s portrayed at his absolute worst. That is to say, he’s portrayed simply as a dick, in all senses of the word.
What about actual Turkish actors?
The stereotype Pamuk plays into is one thing. Add on top of that the fact that the character isn’t played by a Middle Eastern actor to begin with.
Theo James is British with Greek ancestry. While he might have more tan skin than the average Anglo-Saxon, a Middle Easterner darker skin doesn’t make.
It seems like his casting was consistent with lazy casting that figures that any person with a tan (natural or otherwise) can play any ethnicity and race. As I called it in my article about Henry Zaga being cast as Afro-Latinx X-Man Sunspot, being “white ethnic” grants you a specific set of privileges. In short, the amount of roles you could play are endless.
“As a white actor, Zaga could audition for–and land– as many leading roles as he wants. As a “white ethnic” actor, he can take not only traditionally white roles, but also those that call for non-white roles as well, such as Sunspot. Another example of this is Zach McGowan, a white actor who, because of his slightly darker “surfer boy” look, has been cast to play native Hawaiian historical figure Ben Kanahele in Ni’ihau.”
Granted, if a Turkish actor did portray Pamuk, the character itself would have to have been rewritten. It’d be useless to have proper representation only for the character to instantly die. But if Pamuk had a real storyline, the character could have been a great moment for Middle Eastern representation.
It’s not like Pamuk is going to come back in the Downton Abbey movie, so I’m not expecting anything great in the way of representation of any type. If Fellowes can’t bear to reprimand Mary for being a butt, then I doubt he’d bring in refreshing racial diversity or treat Thomas with any respect. But there are lessons we can learn from Pamuk and his characterization.
1) Pamuk’s death serves no purpose, therefore his character might not have even been warranted.
2) Pamuk’s characterization as a sly racial stereotype can give writers an instance of what not to do when creating layered Middle Eastern characters, even characters that only show up for one episode.
3) If you have to kill off a character, don’t stuff them in a broom closet.
As I was relaxing this past weekend, I was re-reading one of my favorite Sherlock fanfiction stories, and, since this particular story was written in between Seasons 1 and 2, I was reminded of all the cool stuff that made Sherlock such a great show to begin with. That made me sad.
The Daily Mail review of the last episode of Season 4 (and maybe the last episode period) of Sherlock encapsulated everything I felt about the episode and, frankly, the entirety of Season 3:
“To call the show self-satisfied barely begins to convey how delighted it is with its own puerile posturing, its superficial cleverness, its tedious campery. Never have two writers been more intoxicated on the fumes of their own shallow talent than Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss.
The plot was incompetent. The dialogue was dreadful. The scenes were disjointed, the premise absurd, the ending made me want to reach for a plastic bucket and, most heinous of all, a classic creation was ruined.
Gatiss and Moffat may have just done what Moriarty never could, and finished off the marvellous character of Sherlock Holmes.”
Now, keep in mind that none of my feelings about this actually stem solely from the active and passive queerbaiting that makes up this show. That’s an even bigger issue (I’ve discussed it more in these articles). I’ll also say that unlike The Daily Mail‘s Christopher Stevens, I don’t think Moffatt and Gatiss are shallowly talented. I think their immensely talented when they aren’t, as Stevens said, “intoxicated on the fumes” of said talent. I think the first ever Sherlock episode showed us just how talented they are when they have a concrete direction for the character and the world he lives in.
Again, to quote Stevens, when Sherlock first premiered, it was “furiously watchable.” I can tell you myself that I was obsessed with Sherlock and was the hugest fans of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (not like I hate them now–I’m stI think where things got both lazy and self-indulgent is because they might have stopped seeing Sherlock as a loving homage to an enduring, popular character and more as their own playground to create their own detective show. Sherlock might be a creative spin on a legendary character, but it’s certainly not a show that can take its characters forgetting the core of who they are. Otherwise, why call it Sherlock?
There are five key things that the show forgot as it forged a path from “loving tribute” to “WTF!” and these five things are what defined what made the show great, fun, and new. If only
Sherlock‘s hyperfocus on 21st century technology: I read somewhere on Tumblr that Sherlock‘s claim to fame was its insistence on making technology a character. Indeed, that is what made Sherlock so cool. Sherlock Holmes was no longer a character relegated to the musty tombs of someone’s bookshelf. He was a hip, slinky dude in a cool overcoat with a ton of gigabytes on his cell phone.
Sherlock could solve entire cases, keep track of his homeless network of informants, and fabricate new identities on his phone, and we could see everything he typed on screen. And he wasn’t the only person on his phone; everyone was on their phones. And it was glorious, in a very 2012 “We’re in the future!” kind of way. Speaking of being hooked on technology:
Anthea: I love Anthea! I can’t believe she didn’t make it through to other seasons. I’m sure some might say, “What was the point of her? She was an irrelevant character!” Was she though?
Anthea was like the more relatable side to Mycroft, even though they were both mysterious. Even though you didn’t know what Anthea did outside of being Mycroft’s assistant, she was definitely an enigma you loved seeing on screen. Did it matter that we didn’t know what she did at the end of the day? The fun of the character was piecing together her life from the bits of info we did get and our own fandom imaginations. Anthea could be anything wanted her to be, from a spy (perhaps a more believable one than Mary) to Mycroft’s love interest (???) to just Mycroft’s assistant/secretary Mycroft hired because of his own adherence to the Mad Men days of British Intelligence. Whoever she was and whatever she was, she had a very important role in the show: to give John, as our straightman in this show of wayward characters, someone semi-normal to bounce off of. John’s first girlfriend served that purpose as well, and dare I say, I’d argue she was a more fully realized character than Mary because she wasn’t forced into an “I’m a weird person” archetype. She just was a nurse who lived life like a regular person. I did like her a lot and wished she could find someone who wasn’t tied down to a (wrongly) self-described sociopath.
The trio of Lestrade, Sally Donovan, and Philip Anderson: Lestrade is the only person to like out of this trio, but the trio itself had a purpose. Lestrade was an unwilling disciple of Sherlock’s almost always vouching for his methods and allowing him to do what he needed to do mostly unencumbered. But Donovan and Anderson made up the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the police outfit. They both derided Sherlock and showcased their own ineptitude, making us more on Sherlock’s side when he decided to read them for filth about their infidelity and lack of smarts. In short, if the show wanted to be a dramedy, these two certainly helped the show fill that mold without the show twisting itself into a pretzel to be such. Were Donovan and Anderson characters you hated? Absolutely. But they were also characters you probably loved hating, in spite of yourself. They only made Sherlock seem that much more glorious of a character.
No mind palaces: I think this is pretty self-explanatory. The mind-palaces looked terrible and was the beginning of the self-indulgence.
John and Sherlock are at the center of the show and Sherlock’s uniqueness is celebrated, not erased: I think this is pretty self-explanatory too. Even when John had girlfriends, John and Sherlock stayed at the center of the show. It was all about Sherlock and John solving cases and growing their friendship. But the later season became more about…making Sherlock not who he was in the first season? That’s the best way I can describe it. I think the thing that resonates for me is that it seems like they were trying to make Sherlock into a type of person Sherlock clearly isn’t. Like is he supposed to be a drug addict? I’d say no one’s supposed to be a drug addict. But the question the show never really got into is why is he self-medicating? If the answer is “his brain is running too fast,” then why is his brain running so fast? And, should his fast-running brain be seen as a bad thing?
In other words, if Sherlock is not “neurotypical,” then why is Sherlock being himself a bad thing? Why should his character completely change?
Now, learning about friendship and such is one thing—I’m not saying Sherlock has to remain afraid of getting close to people. But couldn’t he have learned about true friendship without completely turning into Benedict Cumberbatch doing a Sherlock impression in later seasons? Like, just because Sherlock doesn’t like having tons of friends or even likes socializing doesn’t mean he’s a broken thing that needs fixing. John himself didn’t try to fix Sherlock; all he did was befriend him where he was. To Lestrade’s credit, Lestrade also didn’t try fixing Sherlock, even though he knew Sherlock could be an even greater man than he already was with the proper nudging. But in any event, becoming “great” doesn’t mean learning how to act neurotypical, which is what the seasons seemed like they were suggesting.
Instead, what could have been great is if the show explored the beauty John found in Sherlock’s way of thinking, something that was actively explored throughout the first season. If there was anything close to a romantic love, it was John seeing the world through the eyes of Sherlock, and he realized he liked the excitement that Sherlock’s way of doing things presented to him. If all of the seasons had been exclusively about John, a neurotypical person, accepting and reveling in Sherlock’s wonderful mind, then I think this show would be well on its way to a fifth season. Instead, the show got high off its own success instead of sticking to character. And lo, the writers forgot what made Sherlock special; his uniqueness and his special bond with John, whether that’s just deep friendship, romantic, or whatever else.
BONUS— Sherlock’s purple shirt (or as the fandom lovingly described it, “The Purple Shirt of Sex”): Come on, y’all. That purple shirt was THE BUSINESS. Must I remind you:
COME ON! I’m telling you I used to be a Cumberbatch fangirl! The purple shirt deserves its own Twitter account and the stylist for that season should be given an award for their color wheel skills. Purple is definitely a color Cumberbatch should wear more often, but only if he’s dyed his hair brunette/black. Maybe I’m more of a Sherlock fangirl than a Cumberbatch one…I don’t know.
In any case, what do you miss about early Sherlock? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
Sherlock Season/Series 4 is upon us! I’m sure there are a ton of us excited for Sunday’s first episode of the new season on PBS Masterpiece, which I shall be livetweeting via my personal Twitter handle @moniqueblognet. But before we flip out as we watch the first movie-length episode, I need to flip out about some things I’m already annoyed with.
First, let’s watch the two teasers together.
Okay, so what am I flipping out about, you ask? First, Moriarty’s alive? Come on now. Now, I’m a beginner-to-intermediate fan of the Sherlock Holmes literature, but there are other villains aside from Moriarty, right? I know he’s the biggest big bad Sherlock’s ever faced, but since Sherlock diverges from the canon all the time, why not make some other lesser known villain a supreme big bad for the screen? I don’t know, just some thoughts. I just hate seeing story ideas/plot devices get repeated.
Also, isn’t the basic “Moriarty” character now typecasting Andrew Scott in the ultimate way? Almost every time I see or hear him lately, he’s playing a skeevy character. He’s been so typecast, that even when he was in Garrow’s Law as an actual victim, his character was still lying through his teeth. Sure, he was lying to protect his lover at the time, sure, since this show is set in the 1700s when same-sex relationships were outlawed, but still, the character still painted himself as a skeevy villain.
Anyways, this Moriarty thing isn’t even the biggest concern I have. My ultimate pet peeve right now is when shows decide to queerbait vulnerable audience members, and Sherlock is the British king of queerbaiting.
In the second trailer, you see Sherlock telling someone, “I love you.” Previous to that, you have Toby Jones’ Culverton Smith saying that Sherlock will have to reveal his deepest, darkest secret. For big fans of the show, and particularly big fans who are also well aware of Sherlock‘s gay subtext, the trailer wants you think that Sherlock’s biggest, deepest, darkest secret is that he’s in love with someone so meaningful to him, that if he tells this person his truest feelings, it could wreck their entire friendship and, indeed, Sherlock’s entire world. The only person who fits that description is John.
There was a time when I was quite heavy into exploring the subtextual story in both the original Sherlock Holmes literature and Sherlock the show. A lot of that scholarship (if you wish to call it such) is still available via the Wayback Machine. But the jist of it was discussing why the show indulges in queerbaiting when it doesn’t have to. With the UK being in the 21st century and with Mark Gatiss—a gay man who seems to understand the subtext of the subject matter—as 1/2 of the executive producing/writing duo, there’s no reason why Sherlock has to be coy about asserting the queerer aspects of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
The most queerbaitiest of Sherlock episodes ISN’T the first episode ever, in which Sherlock thinks John is asking him out over a candelit Italian dinner, although that’s a popular example. The most queerbaitiest episode is actually the first episode of Season 2, when Irene Adler comes to town.
Irene is used as both a beard for Sherlock (by the writers) and as confirmation for the audience’s belief about/confusion surrounding John’s amorphous feelings over his friend and flatmate. Irene’s purpose as truth-teller to the audience comes when Irene realizes John is obviously jealous over Sherlock’s surprising interest in her.
Thanks to livejournal user bizarremain, we have the transcript of what exactly was said during this scene:
Irene: “You jealous?”
John: “We’re not a couple.”
Irene: “Yes, you are.”
John: “Who the hell knows about Sherlock Holmes? But, for the record, if anyone out there still cares, I’m not actually gay.”
Irene:”Well, I am. Look at the both of us.”
What she’s saying is that she and John are both two people who aren’t attracted to men. Yet, here they are, attracted to one man, not because he’s a man, because he’s this amazing being. What Irene was getting at is that it doesn’t matter what Sherlock is, it’s that he is who he is what’s so attractive and magnetic. It’s not so much that he’s the magical male that can change Irene into a heterosexual–the episode never says she’s changed to a heterosexual woman; it’s that she’s attracted to him, no matter what he is, and that’s what makes the whole thing interesting.
…By alluding to [sexual fluidity], Irene is also saying that John is in the same boat as she is. …Irene is saying to John that he needs to analyze what is going on with him and Sherlock and realize that even though he’s attracted to women (just like she is), he’s just as attracted to Sherlock. In fact, Irene is also intimating that Sherlock might be the one for John. Never once does she say that she’d actually like to have a relationship with Sherlock. She’s mostly just got a mixture of intrigue and lust when it comes to him. To me, Irene summed up John’s relationship with Sherlock in just a few words.
To piggy-back off that, John is getting a lot of hints from the universe that he is meant to be with Sherlock, whether as friends or as more-than-friends. Sherlock is naked in a sheet–John takes a look before even asking Sherlock if he’s naked under it. John’s new girlfriend breaks up with him–the umpteenth girlfriend to do so. She says to his face that he’s a better boyfriend to Sherlock than he is to her. The whole Irene scene I just blabbed on about. And, frankly, I think Irene herself is a big clue to John that there’s more to his relationship with Sherlock than he even realizes yet. By Irene constantly asking him if he’s jealous of her and telling him that he’s in a relationship with Sherlock, coupled with his string of bad relationships due to his dependence on Sherlock, John slowly seems to be mulling over how his relationship with his friend is perceived, which is interesting.
And yet, the season progresses without much mention of this illuminating moment again. After this, probably the most progressive moment in Sherlock, the writing seems to have swung towards a weird place where either the writers, the characters, or both are afraid of admitting that the subtext is more than likely text.
For instance, John’s wife Mary calls John out on treating Sherlock like his boyfriend all the time, such as when she clocks him for getting spruced up more often once Sherlock comes back from the dead. However, Mary is also unnervingly okay with this, which strikes me as a little disingenuous, particularly because her characterization was basically acting as an avatar for the Tumblrites who want to squee over John and Sherlock.
Also, Sherlock acts like he’s completely happy at John’s wedding, but later on, we see that he’s clearly not. That’s keeping with his own dependence on John as his soundboard and wingman-of-sorts, but then we later see him act wildly out of character, even for Sherlock, by “getting a girlfriend,” only to later use said girlfriend’s emotions to crack a case. Even Sherlock of Season 1 would think that was going a little too far. The writing in this season both provides Sherlock and John with beards, as if to say, “SEE, BBC VIEWERS!? THEY’RE TOTALLY NOT GAY!!” But when they are with their respective significant others, nothing about the relationships seem real (and in the case of Sherlock’s, it actually isn’t real).
(If I can go on a tangent—The writing for that season wasn’t particularly strong; it was more about filling out the character beats the Tumblr fans wanted, to me, than it was about properly building character and realistic character moments. Out of that season, the only person who came out looking sane was John, who was rightly frustrated with the fact that everyone around him has lied to him in some way. Talk about gaslighting! The mental abuse John suffered during the third season is another reason why I don’t like it.)
Now here we are with Season 4, with Sherlock telling someone that he loves them. Chances are it’s not John, and that’s not even because John is standing behind him when he says it. For all we know, “I love you” could be another “I am Sherlocked.” (Also: If Irene was worth her salt as a dominatrix hardcore woman, she would never use such teeny-bopper language as “I am Sherlocked” for a cell phone passcode.)
The show loves baiting its audience and has gotten good at raising expectations only to have them tied in knots later on. Gatiss has said that he likes playing with the latent homoeroticism in Sherlock, but there comes a point when playfully exploring a theme becomes hanging a dangling carrot over fans heads, only to yank it away each season. I say either the show decides Sherlock actually loves John, and not in a platonic brother-in-arms kind of way, or it quits using homoeroticism as a crutch to keep people tuned in. At this point in time, the media we ingest, including Sherlock, can no longer have it both ways.
As featured in COLORBLOCK Magazine, February 2016
The patchiness of LGBT representation occurred due to several factors, such as cultural reticence, religious arguments, and entertainment companies worried about their bottom line domestically and internationally. The voids in representation have led to fans coming to their own rescue and creating alternate (and sometimes more accurate) readings of characters and their love lives.
The process of finding alternate interpretations of the characters not only provides fans who feel neglected by the entertainment world–such as LGBT fans and fans who are LGBT allies– the ability to participate in their favorite film or TV fandom, but also eases the anxiety created when an LGBT metatextual reading of a character, especially characters who already have a foothold in discussions surrounding LGBT media, doesn’t get the fair play it should in canonical tellings or retellings of a story. Basically, meta readings, and the subsequent fan creations that result from them, give fans the chance to tell the story from their point of view. They get to create a world that includes them in all of their complexity by allowing the canonical characters to have complexity not originally given to them by their original creators.
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series of mysteries are two great examples of when the canonical and meta worlds collide.
|Want to read more about diverse entertainment? Read the February issue of COLOR BLOCK Magazine!|
Canonically, Sherlock and John are friends, the most classic example of platonic love and partnership. However, the two characters have also been one of the many touchstones of LGBT media theory, especially where it concerns audience interpretation.
“Fans use these parallel worlds to explore what could have been or might be, especially as regards sexualities that have not found mainstream representation,” wrote Ashley O’Mara in her article, “Queering LGBT History: The Case of Sherlock Holmes Fanfic” for the site, Metathesis (metaistheblog.com). “There is no conclusive literary evidence that [Doyle] conceived of his Sherlock and John as ‘homosexual;’ their relationship presents as a romantic friendship although those were going out of fashion when he was writing. Likewise, despite queerbaiting, [BBC’s Sherlock co-writer Steven Moffat] insists that his Sherlock is not gay, let alone [asexual]. In [fanfiction] however, literally any interpretation goes.”
Those interpretations, which explore asexuality, aromanticism, bisexuality, and/or being gay, stem from said queerbaiting, which include suggestive moments in the BBC show, one of the biggest moments being during Irene Adler’s introduction in Series 2, Episode 1, in which Irene basically makes a case as to why John was actually falling in love with Sherlock without realizing it by comparing John to herself. Both John and Irene have considered themselves people who weren’t interested in men, yet, as Irene points out, both of them are very interested in Sherlock. There could also be a level of retroactive queerbating, as it were, happening within the original text itself; as O’Mara noted, Doyle was writing of romantic friendship when it was going out of style, with romantic same-sex friendship being replaced with a higher level of homophobia (at least among men; with women, romantic friendship and full blown same-sex romance was often overlooked by male society). The level of reticence around romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendships comes around the same time the term “homosexuality” was coined, which begs the question as to why Doyle would still consider writing Sherlock and John as a romantic friendship during such a societal change.
Meta readings have also occurred with many of today’s popular characters, such as characters in Marvel’s cinematic and TV universe. There are tons of fan creations centering around the close relationship between Captain America and Bucky (aka the Winter Soldier), Captain America’s other close relationship with the Falcon, Iron Man and The Hulk’s friendship (as shown in the Avengers movies), and the friendship between Peggy Carter and waitress/aspiring actress Angie Martinelli in Agent Carter, just to name a few.
Despite canon interpretations falling short of fandom expectation, it’s beginning to be par for the course for actors who are affiliated with the fandom to speak out on behalf of their fans’ want for more inclusive entertainment. For instance, to address the Peggy/Angie fans, Peggy herself, Hayley Atwell, told fans at last year’s Fan Expo Canada what Peggy and Angie’s relationship meant to her. “The thing that stands out for me about Peggy and Angie is it’s seldom that you see on television friendship between two women that isn’t founded on the interest of a man,” she said. “There’s a genuine affection that they have for each other; whether or not you want to project the idea that it’s romantic or sexual is entirely up to you and how you want to view it. I think there’s a mutual respect that’s quite rare that I want to see more of in film and stories.”
As you’ll read in the next article (about the meta pairing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens characters Finn and Poe Dameron), Captain America co-director Joe Russo also states that he welcomes all interpretations of Bucky and Cap’s relationship. Also worth noting about the Star Wars pairing is that John Boyega recently confirmed to ShortList writer Chris Mandle that while the Poe/Finn pairing isn’t canonical, it was definitely something that existed in the mind of Oscar Isaac, who played Poe in the film.
With more and more actors co-signing fandom imagination, the day when there will be a mainstream LGBT couple in genre films and television could be coming soon. Maybe not soon enough, to be honest, but still sooner than originally thought possible.
So, I thought Benedict Cumberbatch was highly uncomfortable when it came to Sherlock fanfiction. I would have never pegged him as a person who intently thought about just how Sherlock would have sex (even down to what items he’d use). But, ol’ Cumberbatch has surprised me.