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Solving Riddles with a Smart Phone
By Kate Hickey
If I asked, I’m sure you could pull a few facts about Sherlock Holmes from the depths of your memory. He’s a detective. He has a friend named Dr. Watson. He plays the violin and he lives in London. There’s a whole bunch of stories written about him. You probably had to read at least one for school at some point.
The resurgence of the fictional detective’s popularity in the last five years is down to the multiple new adaptations of the source material. Warner Bros got the ball rolling in 2009 with the film Sherlock Holmes directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. In 2010, the BBC launched a miniseries that ensnared the entire world’s affections called simply Sherlock, bringing the famous consulting detective into the 21stcentury. And then in 2011, the Warner Bros sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows hit theaters. And then in 2012, NBC debuted their own modern Holmes with Elementary. The third film of the Downey Jr. franchise has been announced. At the moment, there’s money at 221b Baker Street.
What is it about this fictional detective that captivates audiences so much, for so long? Arthur Conan Doyle published the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, in 1887, and since then, Sherlock Holmes has become a part of our collective cultural lexicon. There’s a reason we say “No shit, Sherlock,” after all. But the Sherlock Holmes star burns brighter in the 21st century than it has since the 1980s. Why?
Perhaps it’s because of the mythology that surrounds the man. Sure, everybody likes an emotionally stunted anti-hero, but that can only entertain the public in one iteration for so long. But if you wrap an enough trappings, everyone will find something to latch on to, something that speaks to them.
The Ritchie films are action movies—far less cerebral or intellectual than the original stories – but they deliver a stunning visual of the Victorian aesthetic. Accuracy be damned, this is what comes to mind when someone says, “Victorian England.” Industrial London is dirty and polluted, which gives everybody a good excuse to make more of the “dark, gritty” movies that are in vogue right now. But surely there is something more to this fixation than dark and grit.
It’s the industry of the Victorians that entraps us. In the 19th century, there were huge leaps of technological advancement. They went from not having trains to having trains and not only trains, but also underground trains within one century. Sounds a bit like us. In my short lifetime thus far, our society has gone from not having a computer to having a mini super-computer in my pocket at all times. We’ve gone from pagers to flip phones to smart phones to tablets and we’re still moving forward. The technology in our culture defines us, and I don’t think anybody is quite sure what that means. We are all living in a rapidly changing world, where—just like the Victorians—leaps of advancement have been made within a lifetime and the gap of new knowledge between generations is immense.
The modernization of the Holmes stories really throws this into perspective. There have been several “modernized” Holmes iterations throughout history, but none that have withstood the test of time or commanded the interest of audiences worldwide the way that the BBC’s Sherlock and NBC’s Elementary have done already.
These two shows have attracted very enthusiastic audiences. In this digital age, a technologically literate Holmes grabs the attention of younger audiences who were raised to be technologically literate rather than had to learn it as the technology progressed. But the throwback to these stories and characters that people know and love keeps the door open for older, more traditional viewers as well.
Sherlock and Elementary have taken different tactics in modernizing. Sherlock stays truer to the plots of the stories; Elementary takes on a more equal social representation rather than adhering stringently to source material. But both shows have been well-received by audiences and Holmes fans.
There’s something about picking apart knowledge, about understanding the world around you, about living in an uncertain time and compensating by finding absolute, undisputable facts that makes Sherlock Holmes unable to be stifled.
Holmes navigates the terrifying, nebulous world by coming to conclusions based on observations. His decisiveness and certainty comforts us, living in a world where anything could go wrong at any moment. Holmes has done this for us for 127 years. At the end of each story, episode, or film, Holmes has found the solution for the problem. Perhaps he isn’t always successful in his work (but that’s okay – neither are we) but he does always find the answer. He uses everything he can to his advantage, modern technology included.
In our mostly-answerless world, where every choice seems to have endless implications and consequences, a straightforward answer to a complicated riddle is the most satisfying result to hope for.
#Real #SherlockHolmes #ArthurCononDoyle #ClassicLiterature #EnglishLiterature #London #Mysteries #Watson