Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Intensifying the Already Awesome: Why?

Original Paget illustration
Sherlock Holmes, on the current BBC series, Sherlock, is a "high-functioning sociopath." (He has said this several times throughout the series.) I love the show, but, as a repeated reader of the old Holmes tales, I can tell you that there is no indication of his being quite a sociopath. He is a genius, for sure. He is quirky. He has issues, including an addiction (one that was common in the era). But, of course, in order to make something work with a modern audience, the writers "amped" thing up. Also, the comfortable, often teasing relationship he had with Watson in the stories has become an intense, almost inexplicably strong near-obsession with the good doctor and his well-being.* (Spoiler alert: Holmes blows someone's brains out at point-blank rage in order to protect Watson's wife's reputation.)

Does story, today, need to be so intense in order to work? The Holmes stories have remained somewhat popular in their original state, so, it makes me wonder if we're not stoking a fire that is already burning plenty high.

Rathbone and Bruce (Watson as a dolt)

Every ad or promoted post on Facebook is billed as "shocking" or "hilarious." "Extreme" has been the catchword, in advertising, for everything from particular sports to snack chips for more than a decade, now.

A few years ago, McDonald's even went so far as to refer to a "decadent drizzle" of chocolate on their sundaes. ("Uh, yes, I'll have the Frozen Oxymoron Treat...")

I was watching the season finale of The Biggest Loser a few weeks ago. I vowed I would actually go back and count them, and didn't, but, the host of the show and the contestants must have uttered the word "amazing" four times a minute. (I don't mean this to be hyperbole: I really think that must have been the case; it was live -- this is what happens, I suppose.) "You look...amazing... What was it like living on the ranch?" "It was...amazing...I learned so many amazing things and Dolvette was...amazing."

Downey, Jr. and Law (lifeless Watson)
Can so much be so amazing?

I'm one of those who believes that these trends seep into the human mind with repeated exposure. We are in a place where everything has to be more "intense" and more "amazing" than the last things. When we see everything amped up, we start to feel we need to amp up things that are already pretty awesome, in the true sense. For instance:

Recently, some friends have been posting videos of parents coming home from war and surprising their kids. The last one I saw was undeniably cute: a little girl is opening her "birthday present" and her dad pops out of the box, returned from Afghanistan. is adorable and I totally see why people like these. But it makes me wonder... we really need to do something like this in a creative way? Isn't it enough that this girl's dad is home? Does he have to come up with a "viral" stunt -- with a big "reveal"? Don't we kind of cheapen the profundity of basic human interaction by surrendering to the idea that a mere father/daughter reunion, after a lengthy time of separation (one that could have been permanent) isn't quite enough?

Freeman and Cumberbatch 

Recently, I heard someone talking about the advice she was giving to a male friend who wanted to propose to his girlfriend: "You'd better do something cool," she said. "It's all about the story..." she said.

Is it? I thought it was about a lifetime commitment to the person one loves. I thought that was good enough. Apparently, as with most things in a world that is moving more and more steadily away from me, I appear to be wrong.

I'm a known nut. But proposing to Karen seemed too important for theatrics, comedy or video. I didn't want it to be "amazing" or "shocking" or "hilarious" or "viral." I wanted it to be sincere.

(*The angle of homosexuality has been explored both humorously and seriously in the show. If memory serves [and I have no documentation for this; just my dad's lessons], people questioned Holmes and Watson's living arrangements in the original texts, which is why Doyle had Watson get married to Mary and move out of 221B for later adventures; just to be clear in a time when such a thing would not have been tolerated. I think the producers of the new show are implying that Sherlock could be in love with Watson, but, other than the circumstantial reaction of the reading audience in Victorian England, there isn't anything in the texts to support this reading of their relationship.)

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