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Sherlock is one long gay joke. 
9th-Aug-2010 07:37 pm
witch, disapproval

Why the heterosexism in Sherlock is more annoying than the racism.

Alright, I admit that this isn’t entirely true. I was pitching for controversy. ‘Cause really, for all the quality of the production, we are talking about a three-episode mini series in which the middle episode was so appalling it should really have been marketed with a warning: “This programme was produced by white people and as such may be unsuitable for persons of a sensitive disposition or those who thinks Chinese people amount to more than just tea-obsessed circus performing gangsters.” Watching that episode was a distinctly uncomfortable experience.

Not enough to stop me from coming back, though. I suppose I could blame my flatmates and my love of social TV watching, but I don’t have even have that. It takes more than a FedEx arrow to make me turn off, I guess. Besides, I have a ‘give it a few episodes and see’ policy.

The racism was obvious and blunt, but the heterosexism is annoying, because it’s consistent, pervasive, and always always played for laughs, because goshdarnit those gay people are just hilarious, aren’t they?

There follows spoilers for all three episodes, including major spoilers for the miniseries finale.

It started off so promisingly, as well. With the first queer reference being to John Watson’s gay sister. Sherlock proved how smart he was by completely deconstructing the life and situation of Watson’s ‘brother’ Harry, missing by a pretty large margin when Harry turned out to be short for Harriet. (Cause you know, to the world’s second greatest detective, lesbians and men are completely indistinguishable). This wans’t problemmatic on its own. On its own is made me squeal in delight. “Yes!” I crowed, “there’s lesbians in that telly box!”

When you’re starved for representation, every little counts.

Also, there was a joke about Sherlock’s heteronormitive attitude.

But it wasn’t going to be just one joke. Let’s laugh at gayness became the flavour, not just of the episode, which was rife with “I’m not gay – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I’m not. Gay. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s really important you don’t get the  wrong impression. Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of thing.”

Hey, y’know? I don’t want to be told that’s there’s nothing wrong with me. I want to be treated like I’m anything other than a freak. And yes, one moment of straight boy panic might be funny in the right context, but not when it’s repeated an average of twice an episode, for crying out loud? Yes, sometimes hose moments of awkward exist in real life. Yes, sometimes straight people act in homophobic ways, even if their sister is a lesbian, but that doesn’t mean I want to see it every time I turn the TV on.

So with gayness firmly fixed as the punchline for every other joke on the programme (I’m not exaggerating. We had the “haha you guys had a ‘domestic’” joke, the “spending time with you is not a date” joke, the “I’m glad no one saw that, otherwise they’d think we were gayers” joke. I think someone on the writing team had a gay joke check list), the final epsiode decided to really up the stakes with some actual gay characters. One really unpleasant Flaming Sterotype, with pampered lifestyle, hairless cat and an actual honest-to-Bob House-boy, and not just one, but two Evil Gays, just for kicks.

Actually I think the second Evil Gay made a comment along the line of not being a Real Gay. But he’d minced onto the screen, provided a perfect set up for Sherlock to objectify the gay with a string of “no straight man cares about his appearance” gags, and turned up the depraved homosexual act for the finale. And this man, ladies and gentlemen, is the main villain of the piece. Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty.

So, y’know, if, like me, you were waiting to see if the gay jokes to shut the fuck up before you made an opinion on the show, then don’t waste your time. The whole set up had been established as “gayness is hilarious and queer people are evil!”. For just three episodes, that’s a pretty neat accomplishment.

This post can also be found at Thagomizer.net. Feel free to join in the conversation wherever you feel most comfortable.

9th-Aug-2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
Watching that episode was a distinctly uncomfortable experience.

Just hearing it in the background was annoying. I was rather disappointed.
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9th-Aug-2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Being a member of a marginalised group doesn't always stop a person from participating in that marginalisation. I don't want to put motivations in Gattis' mouth, so to speak, but sometimes it's easier to participate in a string of "It's funny because I'm gay!" jokes than it it is to stand against the tide.

I know I've been and sometimes still am, guilty of saying something that could be construed as homophobic, because a) "it's OK, I'm gay!" and b)it makes the straight laugh.

See also: women who indulge in misogynistic behaviour/propping up the patriarchy.
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9th-Aug-2010 07:21 pm (UTC)
If only they'd just mentioned one thing along the lines of "while being an orphan/living on the streets/smuggling for the Tong, I ALSO leanred about tea". Instead of "then I got this job at the museum, because I'm Chinese and therefore TEA."

Or whatever.
9th-Aug-2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
If she'd been a few years older I could have believed she'd gone to uni, got involved in conservation, TEA, etc, etc.
9th-Aug-2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
What second episode? It went straight from the first one to the Evil!Gay!Moriarty, right? Although I may have to thank my brain for editing out anything about "tongs" and "chinese == tea ceremony"
9th-Aug-2010 07:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that. I'd noticed the jokes but obviously, being straight the pervasiveness hadn't necessarily registered. Perhaps it should have.

I can forgive it for failing the Bechdel Test- after all unless you change the genders of one or more of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty, and/or Lestrade its going to be very difficult to make it pass. (I think crime dramas are a hard area anyway, because much of the time the characters, regardless of their gender, will be talking about the perpetrator, who is usually male).

As for the second episode, the romp aspect chasing the mysterious evil secret society was fine, but not the racial stereotyping that could have come straight out of Talons of Weng Chiang (I know the writers love Who, but Talons is one of the best adventures in spite of its 1970s racism). Hell the stereotyping could have come out of the original books. And in some cases they were rather more progressive than this Sherlock was.
9th-Aug-2010 07:37 pm (UTC)
The Bechdel test is just one indicator and not a be-all and end-all, anyway. If Lestrade were female I think it'd just be fine even if she never spoke to Sargeant Twofer.
9th-Aug-2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
True, but its the indicator that I'm most willing to give a pass on given the style and source material.

I'm not sure a mixed gender Holmes/Watson pairing would work. Although the "no we're not a couple" crap would be just as annoying. Spaced got it right. But Spaced is based on that premise, Sherlock isn't

I just wish everywhere would stop hitting me over the head with it already. A joke with the landlady, and a slightly awkward conversation about Holmes being pretty much asexual and Watson rather more of a ladies man, and we're done.

I grew up on much of the Victorian Boys Own Adventure type stuff you did (I'm also pretty unobservant), you'll have to be explicit before I believe two male friends are partners.
9th-Aug-2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
Good work, and good timing for me too! I'm just sitting down to write up this episode myself, so can now just link to you for large parts of it. :-)

On the whole, I think you're entirely right about the wrongness here, and definitely right about Moriarty being meant to be an Evil Gay, despite his line about 'playing' gay when he was in disguise as Jim from IT. I do also think that there are the germs of a less prejudicial portrayal of a gay character trying to get out in the form of Sherlock himself, but that it is swamped by all the awful lines Watson keeps coming out with, and also hampered by inconsistent writing and the limitations of having only three episodes to work with for the moment.

But yeah - I am just trying to see the good side here, because there is so much else about this show that is good (design, most of the dialogue, use of source material, characterisation of Sherlock himself). It's just a pity it has such weird gaping flaws at the same time...
9th-Aug-2010 08:41 pm (UTC)
Oh look! MORE reasons for me to not want to watch Sherlock.

I hadn't watched it yet and wasn't really planning on watching it any time soon either - I'm not a Sherlock Holmes fan really and possibly an RDJ/Guy Richie version was the only way anyone would ever get me to sit and pay any attention to it - but this just gives me an added reason to want to stay away from the Beebs offering.
10th-Aug-2010 11:42 am (UTC)
Agreed. The "O! we are not together" jokes got very old very quickly in the first episode and so my started to block them out for rest of the episodes. The only charater I can really take the odd couple line from is Mrs Hudson becuase I find her doting endearing for all (Although I will admit your post has me now thinking about this in two minds).

My happy moment is when I recognise something very Arthur Conan Doyle.

I do want the lab assistant to get someone, I think it was uttely cruel to use her as they did in this episode after all the jokes at her expense. Holmes is aromatic but they are playing 2 females off him and that got me ticked.

Its been more style and substance I think. Other than the dated racism in the 2nd ep that has been the one I like the best.
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10th-Aug-2010 01:29 pm (UTC)
I was one of those that did ask for this, and thank you for the write up :).

Honestly? Wow. No, really. I have yet to see the series though I know a couple friends gushed of it, but then again they gush about anything on BBC. So I wondered with your bit and well it paints a picture that I am glad I am not watching it.

You structured the argument very nicely with starting with Watson's sister and said points toward it. What really does give the true meat is when you demonstrated the gay flavor and then the kicker of Moriarty.

I have to agree, for three episodes that is indeed a feat few can accomplish.
10th-Aug-2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
Watson's sister made me glee, but yeah, steadily downhill from there.

I love this show to pieces but it could have been so much better if they had left out all the fail.
10th-Aug-2010 11:04 pm (UTC)
While I could never have pointed it out as eloquently as you, yes. The gay jokes were beginning to vex me by the second episode. The 'deduction' in the third made me fume, slightly.

Anyway, thanks for making this post. My apologies for any spelling mistakes or incoherence - I am somewhat drunk. Proofreading, but still.
20th-Aug-2010 11:51 am (UTC) - ENTIRELY OT:
I miss you. Hurry up and get your thesising finished and do that whole moving-to-'Merka thing so that you can tweet more.

Okay? Okay. Good. I'm glad we have our priorities right now.

*smooshes you*
26th-Aug-2010 06:47 pm (UTC) - Re: ENTIRELY OT:
Strange, at no point did I agree with anything said in this post. To me, it sounded like you watched the entire series looking for things to have a go at. Writer Steven Moffat said he included the references to them being gay because he liked the idea that people would assume they were a couple and not be disapproving. The joke about someone seeing them in the swimming pool was not about them being gay at all, it was about people talking about other people. Or maybe I was watching it with an open mind as opposed to assuming that every reference to homosexuality was offensive.
Sorry, but again your post sounded like someone who, rather than trying to stop homophobia and things along that line, merely wanted to complain and whine and use their sexuality as an excuse.
I am bisexual and didn't find it offensive at all.
27th-Aug-2010 09:22 pm (UTC) - Re: ENTIRELY OT:
Thank you for taking the time to comment, though I do wish you had left a name. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to reply, but I have been moving house.

I'm happy that you enjoyed the series. However, I'd appreciate it if you took the time to read this post of mine before you decide that someone being offended is good cause to accuse them of whining or use the 'open mind' gambit.
13th-Sep-2010 07:34 pm (UTC) - Re: ENTIRELY OT:
Sorry, about not getting back, I prefer not to use a name and do not have livejournal. It is nothing personal.
I am incredibly sorry if you found my post insulting, I read it back after posting it and found my wording not very good, I didn't get my point across the way I wanted to.
I enjoyed the post you recomended and found it very interesting and agree on a lot of points in it.
I am afraid we must disagree on the Sherlock issue, me and all of my gay, straight and bisexual friends loved it (though I am inclined to agree with some of the racism points.)
13th-Sep-2010 08:55 pm (UTC) - Re: ENTIRELY OT:
Thank you for getting back to reading this. I was not sure if you would get my reply, without notifications.

Anyway, thank you again for commenting. I really appreciate that you did so.
28th-Jun-2012 03:44 am (UTC)
Hoorah, I finally found someone who sees Moriarty the way I do! Honestly felt I was going mad surrounded by all these people that think he's awesome, when personally the scenery-chewing campness of the portrayal in my opinion just seems to be playing to the stereotypical action-movie villain cliche of 'campness / effeteness is EVIL'. I thought the writers couldn't be that obvious, and that he was meant to be an actor Moriarty had hired to portray himself in a 'lol American movie villain' way. (Maybe that will still turn out to be true? Hope so.)
28th-Jun-2012 11:19 am (UTC)
Thanks for dropping by :) There's always something gratifying about having someone confirm that they share your opinion.
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