podcath: sherlock on rooftop (sherlock)
[personal profile] podcath
So this morning Sherlock discussions were everywhere, and the one that really fascinated me was [personal profile] cesperanza's OK, I get it, I get it!. Shortly thereafter, [personal profile] astolat wrote a story in response to [personal profile] cesperanza's insight/complaint, and I decided to podfic it. But more than just sharing it here, I want to talk about the way recording the story and my own responses to it made me made sense of yesterday's episode and some of the criticism.

First, here's the podfic:

beatings will continue podcover
Title: the beatings will continue until morale improves
Author: Astolat
Fandom: Sherlock
Length: 0:12:02
Music: The Exploited - Sex and Violence
Mediafire links: MP3 (6.3 MB) and M4B (7.5 MB)

And under the cut, my thoughts on all of this

So, one of the more interesting things about Sherlock for me is the way that Moffat and Gatiss both acknowledge and battle their role as fan writers. Matt Hills describes in his essay "Sherlock’s Epistemological Economy and the Value of 'Fan' Knowledge: How Producer-Fans Play the (Great) Game of Fandom" how Moffiss simultaneously gain cred by becoming another iteration of fan authors yet ultimately always regain their role as auteurs, as the authors who ultimately control the narrative. Thus, Hills argues, while the show places great value on fan knowledge and rewards recognition of the minutest of allusions and intertextual references, ultimately fans are supposed to stay in their place as consumers of the extended fan universe as created by Doyle and expanded by Moffiss. He concludes the essay with a somewhat depressing description that resonates strongly to me with the disappointment of many (female) Sherlock fans:
The great game of fandom played via the production discourses of Gatiss and Moffat remains, finally, in the service of professional, authorial distinctions, while textually-disciplined codings of affectively flat fandom imply that fan passions should be kept under masculinized control.
So even early on, it was clearly established that Moffiss's playful "fan" personae mostly was in pursuit of becoming the new author(itie)s rather than merely partaking in the multiplicities that are fandom creations. Moreover, as the dismissal of fans on DW and Sherlock showed repeatedly, it often seemed that the fannish past had to be eradicated even as it was parlayed into production contracts, that a fannish past was only valuable insofar as it lead to a position of franchise control.

Which brings us to last night's ep and [personal profile] cesperanza's provocative reading. Sherlock Holmes has always been about complicating and erasing the boundaries between fiction and reality. The Great Game, after all, is the conceit that SH in fact existed and that all the fictional narratives are to be taken as historical writings. By merging the diegetic and extradiegetic, so to speak, the boundaries of fact and fiction, characters and readers becomes conflated. This is a ploy often used in postmodern narratives, but an entire fandom has effectively anticipated this move through its elaborate play. And The Empty Hearse beautifully acknowledges this as it offers three contradictory explanations for how Sherlock faked his death, all implausible and likely untrue, all written by readers of the text, by fans of Sherlock, the character in the show (but, of course, as such resonating the many explanations over the long hiatus by many fans of the show Sherlock).

And on one level, I cherished this multiplicity, saw the show valuing our simultaneously contradictory explanations. But as I was reading [personal profile] cesperanza's post, I couldn't help wonder whether this is yet another way to control the narrative on and off screen. Yes, the show kept all our options in canon. But it also made everything we could possible write "theirs" in a way. And for any fan who firmly wants a show to verify their interpretations and head canon that's great. But I tend to view shows as the raw material we use to play with, and as such, Moffiss seem to yet again have their cake and eat it too--play at being fans and yet retain their complete control and authority.

So this brings me to [personal profile] cesperanza's reading. I wholeheartedly agree that Moffiss have been engaging since the beginning in a lengthy power play over who gets to control the narrative. After all, as fans, they are just like us, yet as producers, they get to have the last word, and they sure as hell love showing us that they do and can. Where I can't follow [personal profile] cesperanza completely is her sexualization of that reading, the way she connects the riding crop of 1x01 and the repeated celebration of violence with the way the show beats its (especially female) viewer fans repeatedly. The literal beatings and the figurative getting beaten by conflate in her reading in fascinating ways, especially with John's helpless beatings of Sherlock who nevertheless beats him in the subway car scene--yet again.

Enter [personal profile] astolat's story the beatings will continue until morale improves which gives John the final word (and thus us!). Sherlock clearly is the toppiest sub there ever was--we see that in 2x01 and the way he lets Irene top him yet gets the finale word and she is left "sherlocked." Likewise, even as he seems somewhat surprised at John's physical violence towards him, he continues to prod as if to see how far he can push John. In the story, however, John comes back and sexually tops. Or, rather, he beats the crap out of Sherlock, who likes it and they have sex. The end.

Except, everything about this story should make me feel uncomfortable. I don't need excessive negotiations, but I'm not a fan of domestic discipline, and this is closer to domestic abuse in the way John pretty much beats the crap out of Sherlock. Whether Sherlock wants it or not, it seems that we either have him remain in power and control and John yet again falling for his plots or we have John beat the crap out of him in anger. Neither are scenarios I particularly like.

Except, there is the moment when Sherlock realizes that he *is* asking for it, and it's an epiphany. It is here that John really beats him, I'd argue. Not by spanking him but by being smarter, more insightful, more intuitive than Sherlock. He knows Sherlock in ways Sherlock doesn't know himself. John 1 : Sherlock 0.

And the reason this story is so clearly a gift to [personal profile] cesperanza is that it give *us* back autonomy and authority. By writing John into a position of power, not only physically but emotionally and intellectually, [personal profile] astolat has wrangled control back from Sherlock and back from Sherlock, back from Moffiss. We can still tell all the stories we want to, and just like John has the power to just say No to Sherlock and walk away (and just like we can WRITE these versions of Johnlock), we can say No to the show and celebrate our own versions.

Because, in the end, brilliant as much of Sherlock may be, it is only one more fannish interpretation of Doyle's creation.


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