Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sherlock Holmes too gay? Is that even possible?

Robert Downey Jr., sexy sexy man and star of the new Sherlock Holmes movie, was recently on Letterman and made the following statements:
Letterman: “Now, from what I recall, there was always the suggestion that there was a different level of relationship between Sherlock and Dr. Watson.”
Downey: “You mean that they were homos…”
Letterman: [Laughs.] “Well…”
Downey: “That is what you’re saying?”
Letterman: “In a manner of speaking, yes…that they were closer than just out solving crimes. It’s sort of touched on in the film, but he has a fiancee, so we’re not certain. Is that right?”
Downey: “She could be a beard. Who knows?”
Paul Shaffer: “What are they, complete screamers? Is that what you’re saying?”
Downey: “Why don’t we observe the clip and let the audience decide if he just happens to be a very butch homosexual. Which there are many. And I’m proud to know certain of them.”
If anyone saw Sherlock Holmes, you can't deny the occasional homoerotic subtext. I admit my Gay Subtext Dial is turned up higher than most, and I can titter girlishly at almost anything, but some things in this movie were just blatant. Holmes's jealousy over Watson's sudden new fiancee. The constant couple-like bickering. Holmes's devilish sounding "Don't get too excited" as he's digging through Watson's pocket.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the movie.

And needless to say, others did not.
The US copyright holder, Andrea, Plunkett, has threatened to withdraw permission for a sequel if Holmes and Watson become gayer.

She told Total Film: “I hope this is just an example of Mr Downey's black sense of humour. It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future.

"I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books.”

Oh boo.

Is it really not in the spirit of the books? People have been contemplating Holmes's sexuality for a long while now. He's attached at the hip to Watson, shows varying levels of fear, disdain, and disinterest in women...and the late 19th century wasn't exactly a time where one hopped around flamboyantly and wore their homosexuality on their sleeve, so his actions are in alignment with closeted homosexual behavior. It's personally reasonable to take that sort of interpretation.

And you just know when someone starts with the effective "I'm not a homophobe, but" that they're about to say something stupid. Renee sums up my sentiment nicely:
When we watch a Sherlock Holmes movie, is it really that disturbing to have the character portrayed as gay? He is not going to whip out his penis instead of a magnify glass to solve crime. It is just a facet of his life, in the same way that it would be a part of heterosexual mans life. Honestly, the hand wringing and whining over teh gay really needs to end. We need to acknowledge that gay men and women are a part of every single society and as such, portrayals of them should be considered acceptable.
And for the people who think that gaying up Holmes would scare people away from the box office...well, I've already talked about that. With much fangirling and drool.

39 comments:

  1. Weird, I didn't even pick up on that theme/subtext at all. In the Victorian era, disdain for women was pretty common, and in the stories, Holmes implies he has no interest in sex at all, be it gay or straight as it would interrupt his ability to think properly.

    It's an interesting idea, certainly!

    I loved the movie.

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  2. "He has no interest in sex at all, be it gay or straight as it would interrupt his ability to think properly."

    Truer words have never been spoken ;P

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  3. I'm with spajadigit - any homosexual subtexting was lost on me.

    One thing I do have to admit to is the movie brought the story of Sherlock Holmes to life for me better than being forced to read the books as a kid :)

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  4. When the original stories can't agree among themselves about where Watson got shot, for Jebus' sake, I don't think anybody gets to complain about an adaptation "violating canon" or (in Plunkett's words) not being "true to the spirit of the books". Canon is, must be, constructed in the mind of the reader.

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  5. Sherlock Holmes is pretty much asexual in the books, with the possible exception of "The Woman", Irene Adler, but even that is more of a love/respect for her mind:

    "To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer — excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory."

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  6. Blake Stacey: the original stories even call "John Watson" as "James Watson" at one point!

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  7. Which is why fans have speculated that the "H." in "John H. Watson" stands for "Hamish" (the Scottish equivalent of "James"). The Young Sherlock Holmes movie has an inside joke about it: the teenage Holmes and Watson meet in a dormitory hall, and Holmes runs his Sherlock Scan. "Your name is James Watson, you're from the north of England, you spend a considerable amount of leisure time writing, your father is a doctor and you have a particular fondness for custard tarts."

    "My name isn't James, it's John!"

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  8. I'm not sure about Holmes, as Spajadigit did, I found him to be a sort of asexual genius-type; nothing mattered but the Game(oh, and the opium).

    However, after having just completed a giant collection of Hercule Poirot stories (so many plot holes, but so much fun), I'm reasonably certain that the little Belgian and Capt. Hastings were gay.

    And you know what? Who cares!

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  9. I'm writing my undergrad thesis right now about double life narratives of the 1890s and how/why homosexuality got pinned to the idea of crime and closets in 20th Century lit, etc. First chapter is Dorian Gray, second chapter is Jekyll/Hyde, third chapter is Sherlock Holmes. Believe me when I say there's an argument for this.

    That quote from the copyright holder will make an interesting footnote to refute. An argument based on the homosocial implications of characters like Watson and Moriarty in a culture rocked by Oscar Wilde's indecency trials (Conan Doyle met Oscar Wilde, btw, just after the first Holmes story was written) will crush the logic of someone who thinks it "drastic" to even suggest Holmes and Watson might have been domestic partners ifyouknowwhatI'msaying. If the interpretation is already seen as unacceptable, then any evidence which complicates the topic will be thoroughly ignored.

    But the beautiful thing about literature is: if you have a basic understanding of the historical context and you can back up your conclusions with the text, no one can tell you you're wrong. People can say that Sherlock Holmes wasn't a discrete, guilt-ridden homosexual all day long, but I've got the stories right here. They're talking to themselves, and they're not very convincing.

    Also: Holmes did cocaine (which was legal at the time), not opium. He was once in a opium den, but wasn't using, though at first Watson assumed he was. Cocaine is a stimulant, and Holmes used it to take the edge off of his extreme boredom when there weren't any interesting cases. Opium is a downer, it would have made him worse.

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  10. I saw the film with my father a few days ago. We spent much of the time grinning and snickering at the supposed “homoerotic subtext”, but to be honest, that sort of interaction (you know, the one people often joke about as being akin to that of “an old married couple”) is quite common among any longtime friends who know each other well enough to joke – and bicker – about anything. I did find Downey Jr.’s Holmes character to be a bit different from the books – less rigid and serious – but this only made me like him more. Seemed more … “human”, and less like a cold, emotionless puzzle-solving machine.

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  11. I haven't seen the movie yet...but just to be clear, you can make homoerotic jokes and be completely straight. It is called being comfortable with your sexuality. Why is that so hard for people to understand?

    Is Holmes gay? I don't know...and honestly I don't really care.

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  12. How the hell does anyone own the copyright on Sherlock Holmes anymore? Last I checked, anything that was created before 1923 was in the public domain and the novels were written from 1887 to 1915.

    Further, even if we include the short stories the only thing that had content after 1923 was the Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. Meaning the copyright should have rightfully passed into the public domain for all the characters and most of the original stories written by Doyle himself.

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  13. Sherlock did Cocaine AND Morphine. Depended on his mood.

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  14. the atheist sins not only against God, but also against man...




    ______________________________________________________________________________

    Atheist:

    have you for but a moment considered that you have adopted a position against 98% of the human race, both past and present?

    do you think you are RIGHT and they are all WRONG?

    WRONG


    now listen to this arrogant puffed up son of a bitch....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilWM7jIEN_k


    little scientist geek who would try to usurp God Himself!!!


    VISIT:


    http://isgodimaginary.com/forum/index.php/topic,40909.0.html

    you really need to add comment moderation to your blasphemy…

    ReplyDelete
  15. I haven't seen the movie so I can't comment about subtext. I never saw any gay subtext in the original stories.

    However, there is a serious other point related to this: There's no good reason that Holmes should be still copyrighted. This is a great example of how modern copyright legislation sucs. It has extended copyrights almost a century (and in the case of many things will extend more than a century by the time the Bono copyright legislation runs out). Thus, material which should be in the public domain, free for anyone to play with and interpret or rewrite as they see fit is restrained by copyright holders with zero relation to the original author.

    The point of copyright is to encourage artists to produce works and make them feel safe that they have a potential to make a profit on them. Copyright is supposed to promote the arts. In this case, as with many examples, it is unambiguously hurting them.

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  16. Here are all the ACD books available as audio from LibriVox.org. "All LibriVox recordings are in the public domain." Here is a description of LibriVox.org:

    "LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books. We are a totally volunteer, open source, free content, public domain project."

    So here's what I take from this: Sherlock Holmes books are on LibriVox. LibriVox covers books that are in the public domain. Hence, Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain. At least the books listed above are.

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  17. Whoops, I forgot to paste the list

    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "His Last Bow" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Hound of the Baskervilles, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Lost World, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Lost World, The (version 2)" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Parasite, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Poison Belt, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Return of Sherlock Holmes, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Sign of the Four, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Study in Scarlet, A" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Tales of Terror and Mystery" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "Tragedy of the Korosko, The" · (readers)
    Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. "White Company, The" · (readers)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Dear DM, forums/blogs only moderate dissenting comments when they can't refute their arguments and don't want to admit it.

    Please note this doesn't apply to offensive/personally repugnant remarks and spam, just disagreement and dissent.

    Dear Jen, I am aware that obvious troll is obvious, and will refrain from feeding further.

    Also, I don't think there was any real homoerotic subtext (or buttsex) in the movie, just a very passive-aggressive, emotionally manipulative relationship. Which they are both fully aware of. In a hilarious and entertaining manner.

    In conclusion, Sherlock was indeed > Avatar.

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  19. @Urban Wild Cat:
    That spam-troll is David Mabus/Markuze, a mentally ill parasite who pesters dozens atheist blogs (if not over a hundred by now) with the same cut-and-paste nonsense. And that’s when he doesn’t launch into death threats, as he has with PZ Myers, whom he seems to seriously hate. Police reports have been filed and everything. Best just tip-toe away from him as one would from a … well, a crazy person.

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  20. Apparently, Plunkett is not the copyright holder at all!

    http://www.sherlockian.net/acd/copyright.html

    "Plunket is proprietor of a guest house in Livingston Manor, New York. Her claims to rights in the Sherlock Holmes stories have been repeatedly rejected in U.S. federal court decisions ... She has also filed a claim to the name "Sherlock Holmes" as a United States trademark, and it too has been turned down."

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  21. Oh, that's who it is. You may note in the second part of my comment, that I had already decided to adopt that strategy.

    PS, La fields, if you think I'm wrong, tell me, don't just bitch about me on your blog! Also, I think it's silly to argue about whether Holmes used morphine IRL, and whether Watson got it wrong. He's a fictional character, and we can only really go by what was written.

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  22. Dude, bitching is what blogs were made for, and I'm a lit major/fiction writer, so me and real life parted company a long time ago.

    This stuff may be silly, but it's interesting. And I don't think you're wrong so much as I think I'm more right. Like I said, you can't really be wrong in debating literature if you can point to evidence in the text, just more or less convincing.

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  23. I'm with Spajadigit, Holmes is an Apollinarian despiser of sex. I don't think I like the attempt to "normalise" him with fisticuffs, humour and sexuality, IMHO he's one of the great weirdos of world literature and was better that way.

    BTW, why have we all forgotten the housekeeper? I bet Watson was schtupping her so that her squeaking would drown out the sound of Holmes' violin. :-)

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  24. @la-fields
    I'm fascinated by your research. Have you found the book "Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century" by Graham Robb? In it he has a whole section about Sherlock Holmes. His theory is the ACD gave Holmes a lot of characteristics shared by Oscar Wilde.

    @Hugo Grinebiter
    If you read the Sherlock Holmes Canon, Holmes had a sarcastic sense of humor and was very funny at times. Also, he was said to be an expert boxer: see the story The Solitary Cyclist. As for his sexuality, that's open to interpretation. Most Sherlockians consider him asexual. Who knows?

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  25. Also, Plunket is a crank who has no claim on the Sherlock Holmes copyright:

    The last copyright on ACD's work in the United Kingdom expired at the end of the year 2000.

    In the United States, the only Sherlock Holmes remaining in copyright is The Case Book, which will enter the public domain between 2016 and 2023. A legal challenge that would have invalidated a 1998 extension to the length of copyright -- putting Sherlock Holmes into the public domain immediately -- was thrown out by the Supreme Court January 15, 2003.

    The American copyrights are owned by the Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle. The American agent for administering them, and related rights in the Sherlock Holmes character, is Jon Lellenberg (Hazelbaker & Lellenberg, 211 East Delaware Place suite 605, Chicago, Illinois 60611), JonLellenberg@aol.com.

    A recently created web site for "the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate" represents Andrea Plunket, the former wife of Sheldon Reynolds, producer of the 1954 television series starring Ronald Howard as Holmes. Reynolds controlled the copyrights in the 1950s. Plunket is proprietor of a guest house in Livingston Manor, New York. Her claims to rights in the Sherlock Holmes stories have been repeatedly rejected in U.S. federal court decisions (including Plunket v. Doyle, No. 99-11006, Southern District of New York, February 22, 2001; Pannonia Farms Inc. v. ReMax International and Jon Lellenberg, No. 01-1697, District of Columbia, March 21, 2005). She has also filed a claim to the name "Sherlock Holmes" as a United States trademark, and it too has been turned down.

    http://www.sherlockian.net/acd/copyright.html

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  26. I had to disagree with the author (in my quotesroll), but I will still respect her in the morning. Really.
    Ms. Plunkett is a copyright parasite who's been lording her "ownership" of the Sherlock Holmes name for years. Ignore the silly bitch.

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  27. @ Anonymous: Yes, I found it through a Google books search and yanked a couple of quotes, and I'll most likely be going back when I write my Sherlock section this Spring. Mostly I'm working with Eve Sedgwick's Between Men and then cannibalizing specific articles for the quotes I need.

    I'm actually spending a lot of time with interpretations that are usually seen as illegitimate--like movies and modern retellings--that paint these stories as gay after the fact because that's how the behavior is read by a modern audience. There's a historical reason for that, and half of my thesis is a social argument based on how acceptable homosexuality was to write about from the late 1800s to the present. The codes and shorthand about a closeted or double life make homosexuality and crime synonymous in literature for a time, even after the courts largely decriminalized gay conduct.

    Each of my main texts is paired with a 20th Century American character who has the same characteristics but gets noticeably gayer: Dorian Gray is paired with Tom Ripley, Jekyll/Hyde with Fight Club, Sherlock Holmes with Batman. And again, it matters less whether those characters were intended as queer than it does that people read them that way.

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  28. @ Anonymous 5:58: It's been decades since I read any, so my memory is no doubt in error, thanks for the heads-up. Now you mention it, I vaguely remember the pugilism.

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  29. Batman/Robin, The Green Hornet/Kato, Cop buddy movies like Lethal Weapon,the Captain/Gilligan, the Lone Ranger/Tonto and now Holmes/Watson, they are all "ambiguously gay duos". Sure I can go for that,now it all makes sense.
    Kriss

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  30. the atheist sins not only against God, but also against man...



    Atheist:

    have you for but a moment considered that you have adopted a position against 98% of the human race, both past and present?

    do you think you are RIGHT and they are all WRONG?

    WRONG


    now listen to this arrogant puffed up son of a bitch....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilWM7jIEN_k


    little scientist geek who would try to usurp God Himself!!!


    _______________________________________________
    http://isgodimaginary.com/forum/index.php/topic,40909.0.html

    you really need to add comment moderation to your blasphemy…

    ReplyDelete
  31. While I might not have seen any homosexual subtext in the Sherlock Holmes movie, having heard about it before seeing it I was on the lookout...and yet still didn't see it. Not that I'd have a problem with it. The only thing that seemed to indicate it, though, was, at the beginning, there was a quick shot of some classical statues in Holmes's apartment.

    Not that owning classical statues make anyone gay, but I remember reading somewhere that, in Victorian England (and probably earlier as well) an interest in classical studies was usually a signal of interest in...other things.

    Even then it seems like a real stretch.

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  32. I'm a huge fan of Jules Verne, and in most of his stories there's an ambiguously gay duo in the form of the protagonist and his loyal (sometimes to the point of absurdity) manservant.

    I'd always wondered about those Victorian relationships. In the books women were there as distractions or obstacles and the love and loyalty the men had with one another got things done.

    It was a weird period in history, that's for sure.

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  33. Wooster/Jeeves. Although, IIRC, that was always the author's intent...

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  34. I grew up with Jeremy Brent, so I find it hard accept any new Holmeses. (I'm having trouble with the new Miss Marple as well - that did add a bit of girl-on-girl action to spice things up, funny enough.)

    I'm a latecomer to slash, so it takes a bit for me to pick up on any subtext. Given that Alix was one of my favourite BD as a kid, this is rather surprising, really.

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  35. THere was nothing gay about this movie. I think it's more that non-male-heterosexuals have a hard time relating to male heterosexual relationships that are based on mutual affection, wit, and loyalty, without the stereotyped macho affectations.

    My own male friends are all good looking and affectionate, without arousing any sexual feeling.

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  36. Has no one honestly read through the books? It's stated that Sherlock Holmes was asexual, and no, I'm not giving a dictionary definition for those who don't know what that means. So why does everyone think this when statements in the books go against it? It's insanity...

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  37. Is it really that insane?

    Yes, I have read some Sherlock Holmes. I also recall the character being labeled "asexual", which to me, stood out like a sore thumb. A closet-case red flag if you will.

    Keep in mind the era in which Sherlock Holmes was created. It was a time when society was dripping with euphemisms for any and everything that remotely smelled of impropriety. Furthermore, celibacy and abstinence are classic means of coping with a crisis of sexual identity. No doubt any literary figures from the era who shared a relationship like that of Holmes and Watson would require a preemptive condition like asexuality in order to minimize the appearance of what would otherwise seem obvious to any reader possessing the slightest degree of street smarts. Additionally, the very act of preempting suspicion only underscores the presence of something suspect.

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  38. Asexuality... a 'condition'? Excuse me. AVEN. Kinsey X. Look them up. As a happy aromantic asexual myself, I take exception. If what you mean to say is 'abstinence', then you are conflating celibacy and asexuality and that's kind of offensive. Just as a heads-up.

    I'm not saying that there isn't homoerotic subtext in Sherlock Holmes. While it's technically possible to read homoerotic subtext into almost anything if you try hard enough, I also think there is some, and I love any adaptation that plays it up. 

    However, it's not ridiculous to suggest that Holmes is asexual, either, and it's not something you need to scoff at ("a character was asexual? Bah! It stands out like a sore thumb! Everyone knows that people aren't really asexual!"). 

    Both interpretations make sense. Sometimes an author might have been alluding to something else-- and sometimes an author might have just been saying that their character is asexual. 'Death of the author' makes both readings equally legitimate.

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  39. Religious freedoms and the "gay agenda are on a crash course in America and this is a speeding
    train no mere earthly can stop.

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