February 17, 2011

Why Sherlock Holmes Matters....Especially Now

(One brief note - this entry is being cross-posted to my social media/civic engagement blog. Enjoy!)

Recently, while reading the many blogs that make part of my Google Reader feed, I came across this entry from The Baker Street Blog, brought to you by the fine people who also create the I Hear of Sherlock podcast. In this post, they mention the recent increase in Holmes-centered media, and finish by asking the question:

Why indeed is Sherlock back? And if he never went away, what's behind the current fascination with him again?

Personally, I would argue that he never went away - after all, he has been making a small - yet subtle - appearance in our popular culture, even showing up in subtle ways via television and comics.

However, given our current mystery-and-thriller-driven popular culture, I think that Holmes is becoming more popular because he is speaking to a really strong need.

Increasingly, we live in an age where information is plentiful, but the lines between opinion and fact are blurring. Look at any fan community - there, you will observe plenty of individuals who believe that because a particular filmmaker/artist/writer does not conform to their standards, that work - regardless of whether or not it has merit on its own - is either more or less valid.

Holmes, however, is a champion of rationality and insight - of making critical judgments based on observation. In a world where "critical thinking" is losing its meaning, and is usually meant to be a substitute for "you should have known better", Holmes and Watson remind us that what most people deem observing tends to be seeing - looking at the obvious rather than the hidden layers beneath. They also remind us that, ultimately, the world operates along rational principles...although human beings are less likely to do so.

One of the aspects of the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. Holmes movie that was emphasized in publicity was that Holmes was the first "superhero"....which is not the case. Holmes' "superpower" is rationality - a trait which anyone can aspire to, and which is something that Holmes, Watson, and Conan Doyle remind us is necessary in an ever-growing, media-saturated environment. If, as Steven Moffatt once observed, Holmes is "a man who wants to be a God", then Holmes reminds us that reason is the most divine gift of all.

Sherlock Holmes is becoming more popular, I believe, because he touches a very basic need in all of us - a need to feel as if we can understand the world, as well as have faith in our own intelligence.

And with this recent "revival", it is safe to say....the game is, once again, afoot

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