February 13, 2014

The Problem with Sherlock (Holmes)

Filed under: Popular Culture, Current Events, Academic Intellectual Erudition — jpmahoney49 @ 6:35 pm

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Since the end of the BBC’s season 3 of Sherlock, the blogosphere’s been buzzing like angry bees from one of Holmes’s hives. “Too sentimental!” “Too unrealistic!” “Sherlock’s gone soft!” “High-functioning sociopath we can deal with, but murderer?!”

True, Mom and Dad Holmes may have overstayed their welcome in season 3. Although Mr. and Mrs. Cumberbatch were adorable and quite good, perhaps Sherlock should’ve shooed them out of the season altogether when he shooed them out of 221B Baker Street. “Delayed action stabbing?” A super-fine blade slipped through a heavy-duty, military-grade, wool uniform? Stretching our credulity a bit. And so much sweetness this season with the addition Mary, the precocious little Archie in “The Sign of Three,” Christmas at the Holmes’ house. Only to have the sweetness snatched away to be replaced by the unexpected bitterness of a hero-turned-killer?! What’s going on?!

Fellow Sherlock fans, I beseech you to keep calm.

Nothing that happened this season is out of step with the rest of this magnificent series. Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss are staying true to the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle and sticking with the paradigm that has made this show the closest representation of Doyle’s books ever brought to screen.

The problem of all screen adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories is one of perspective. In the novels and short stories, we perceive Holmes through the eyes and voice of John Watson. Most of the work is in the first person, with Watson playing narrator. It is brilliantly done. Without Watson as the reader’s intermediary, Sherlock Holmes would never have become the icon he is today. To his contemporary audience, Holmes would’ve been insufferable. Rude, self-absorbed, impatient, monomaniacal, at turns lazy and crazed, Holmes would hardly have appealed to most Victorians on his own.

That’s where Watson comes in. The Dr. John Watson of the books (and happily, Martin Freeman’s John Watson) saves us from being subjected to Holmes directly. Smart, brave, loyal, adventurous, Watson represents the kind of man Victorian Britons aspired to be. He’s a successful doctor and a decorated military veteran. In short, he’s a good man. Dr. Watson is admirable, and he admires Sherlock Holmes. We hear only those things about Holmes that Watson finds fascinating, and we hear those things in Watson’s voice. We see Holmes through Watson’s lens, somewhat clouded by amazement, confusion and, let’s face it, some hero-worship. But it works beautifully, and the result has been 130 years of Sherlock Holmes, flourishing and adapting to new audiences, new settings, and new media.

Which brings us to Sherlock.

Like all other screen adaptations, Sherlock has had to deal with the problem of perspective. Unlike a book, in which the narrator is responsible for what the reader sees and hears, on film, the audience gets a direct feed. Watson is still there with us, but he’s no longer standing between Holmes and us. He’s one of us, an observer; he’s lost his ability to protect Holmes for our prying eyes.

Admirably, Sherlock has not resorted to the merely 7% effective solution so many other adaptations have taken. To soften Holmes, many productions turn Watson into comic relief; he becomes a chubby, walrus-mustachioed clown. (Moffatt and Gatiss had some fun with that convention this season, giving Freeman a much-maligned and short-lived mustache worthy of Nigel Bruce.) But this tactic is unfair to Watson, Holmes, and Doyle. Watson is not a fool; he’s a doctor. He’s not clumsy or oblivious; he was a soldier. What’s more, Holmes would not suffer a fool. He has very little patience for stupid people (or normal people!), so it would be incongruous for him to want a silly man as a companion. Doyle never wrote foolishness into Watson’s character. Any comedy in the stories usually comes from Holmes’s snide remarks about silly people around them.

A few productions, most recently, those with Robert Downey Jr., have tried a different strategy – turning Holmes into comic relief himself.  Downey hams it up, using his big, brown eyes to great effect. And the movies use quite a bit of physical humor to keep Holmes from intimidating the audience too much. Of course, adding some sexual innuendo in the form of Irene Adler keeps things light as well.

Sherlock has used the Irene Adler trick too, but one of the things I love about this series is its Watson. Martin Freeman’s doctor is as close to Doyle’s doctor as I have ever seen. The character is brilliantly written and acted.

And therein lies a problem.

Without a foolish Watson, Sherlock’s Holmes is intimidating, awkward, bipolar, manipulative, even vicious. At times, Cumberbatch’s spot-on performance can be difficult for even modern TV audiences to watch. Many bloggers remarked on the painful awkwardness of “The Sign of Three,” with Holmes’s awful, rambling best man speech. Well. Yes. Of course, it was. It would be.

Without turning Watson into a buffoon, Gatiss and Moffatt have used a number of foils to tone down Sherlock’s hard edges. Irene Adler, of course, cleverly represented as a female Holmes. James Moriarty gave us a truly evil Holmes. Mycroft is “the ice man” version of Holmes. Magnusson was the amoral capitalist version of Holmes. These foils have worked well, helping the audience realize that, yes, Holmes may be a high-functioning sociopath, but by comparison with Mycroft, Moriarty and Magnusson, he’s a swell guy.

Season 3 was no less true to the formula Gatiss and Moffatt have developed to stay faithful to Doyle’s vision: Cumberbatch’s Holmes is a horribly abrasive genius; Freeman’s Watson is smart and solid. Foils were used to make Holmes appealing by comparison. Knowing their hero had to kill Magnusson at the end of the season, Gatiss and Moffatt may have overbalanced a little, but not much. Holmes’ execution of the villain is not that big a shocker. Magnusson, like Milverton in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,” had to die. In Doyle’s story, Holmes watches the villain’s murder, does nothing to stop it, and prevents Watson from turning in the killer. To actually pull the trigger is not much of a stretch. So all the cute and sweet this season perhaps wasn’t necessary for modern audiences, but it was certainly true to the formula.

Even the “delayed action stabbing” is not so bad when you remember how faithful Gatiss and Moffatt are to Doyle. Yes, such a method of killing someone is unrealistic. But then, Doyle’s stories are not always steeped in real science either. Phrenology, anyone?

For those Sherlock fans who are also Sherlock Holmes fans, this season was not so problematic perhaps as for those who see the show in its own self-contained bubble. Still, those who are concerned that the show is devolving should take solace. It is being quite true to a successful formula, and it is still one of the best things on television.

Fans of the books, however, may be starting to fear that, at the rate the show is burning through Doyle’s storylines, can it really last much longer?

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January 6, 2014

Greetings from the Polar Vortex!

Filed under: Popular Culture, Family and Kids, Current Events — jpmahoney49 @ 4:28 pm

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The temperature is currently -9 degrees in my hometown. Our forecast low for tonight is -14 with a windchill of -38. Yesterday we received 11 inches of snow. It’s January 6th, and we are already on the leaderboard for monthly snowfall totals: 5th snowiest January in Indiana history!

I love it.

Truly, I do. My Facebook page is full of weather posts - pictures of snowscapes, screenshots of temperature readings, grumbly memes about winter. These posts are overwhelmingly negative. Even the sunshiny brightsiders in my life are grumbling (Geez, all it takes to destroy their positive outlooks is a foot of snow and some sub-zero temps? Wimps.)  A few of my fellow winter-philes are enjoying this, but even we understand that this kind of weather is extreme and dangerous to the foolish, infirm, or impoverished.

Since I’ve checked on my all my chickens and found them all safe in their nests, though, I’m going to revel and bask in this tundra. While the folks around me whine and complain and wish away the white, longing for flip-flops, heat, sunburn, sweat, mosquitoes and drought, I’d like to point out that this weather is NOT all bad. In fact, there are some really great things about it!

1. Those West Nile mosquitoes that will arrive with spring? This weather reduces their numbers: “Cold temperatures perform a great public health service by killing off disease-mongering insects” (Harvard Health Letter, 1/10).

2. The cold also helps destroy icky water-borne microorganisms, the kind of nasties that thrive in the tropics and temperate zones.

3. By essentially quarantining people for several days, this severe weather can help to slow down the spread of the worrisome flu epidemic we saw last month.

4. Crime goes down with the mercury; you’re less likely to be the victim of a violent crime committed by a stranger when it’s cold.

5. This weather SLOWS things down. This is one of the things I really appreciate about a good, hard winter. My life (and the lives of many people I know) is too fast. Not like in an Eagles’ song kind of way, but in a our-family-has-no-white-space-on-our-calendar-for-three-weeks kind of way. An I-have-to-buy-a-birthday-gift-for-Jimmy’s-party-on-the-26th-even-though-it’s-only-the-5th-because-I-won’t-have-any-other-time-to-do-it kind of way. I hate that. In weather like this, there is no hurry because NO ONE is in a hurry. Heck, we can’t even leave the house! Wonderful.

6. This weather makes things quiet. Another reason I love severe cold snaps: for the first time in weeks, I wasn’t awakened by the damn dogs next door.

7. The snow covers up the ugly. Weeds, brown grass, litter, the junk in the renters’ yard? All covered up for now. :)

8. With little else to do, chores become diversions. My house has never been cleaner! I’ve re-organized closets, sent several boxloads of unnecessaries to Goodwill, dusted the whole house. The kids haven’t even complained when they’ve had to do their chores because, well, they’re kind of bored at this point. We were supposed to go back to school, but we’re closed tomorrow.

9. Shoveling snow is good exercise. My husband’s burned more calories in the past two days than he probably did in the two weeks previous!

10. Playing in the snow is a lovely, novel means of family fun. In Indiana anyway, our winters are usually more cold than snowy. When we do get big snows, it’s unusual enough that we want to get out and play in it. Before the hazardous temps moved in, we played outside for an hour. (Our snowman is nearly buried in a drift today, though. Poor guy.)

11. Sub-zero temps allow intelligent people to more easily identify the stupid people in their lives. These morons will pop out all over the place to proclaim that global warming is a hoax.  (Scientists, can we please just kill the phrase “global warming?” It’s confuses the morons. “Climate change,” please, scientists.) Evidently, the record-breaking heat currently happening in Australia doesn’t count for the stupids because it’s not happening right in front of them; heat only counts if it’s where they are. Anyway, it makes for a super-simple way to identify all the people I need to hide on Facebook.

So for those of you in the frigid with me, stay safe and try to appreciate some of the benefits of this crazy weather. For those of you enjoying warmer climes, don’t gloat too loudly; my bitter friends may come after you after the travel restrictions are lifted!

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December 13, 2013

10 Life Lessons I Learned from Becoming a Writer

Filed under: Academic Intellectual Erudition — jpmahoney49 @ 12:31 pm

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I’ve been trying to become a writer since I was in 1st grade. After 35 years, you’d think I’d have it down. But as with any career, writers learn new things every day. (Just the other day, I learned the word “cenotaph!” I’ve yet to work it into a conversation, though.)

Anyway, some lessons about writing are small: noun-verb agreement, proper pronoun usage, remembering the difference between “effect” and “affect.” (Never can get that one right, but who cares?)

But some lessons are big ones, better learned earlier than later. And of these lessons, some of them are about more than just writing; they’re about life. Here are 10 that direct not only what I put on the page, but also what comes out of my mouth on a daily basis, what I do with my time, how I set my priorities.

  1. Sticks and stones break bones; words break hearts.
  2. Don’t write angry.
  3. The Creator made them, but he gave the characters minds of their own.
  4. Always check your sources!
  5. A great work is never completed; it is only abandoned.
  6. If you need to achieve something, don’t be paralyzed by the notion that it needs to be perfect in the first pass: Do something now! Revise it later.
  7. The story is dull without a little conflict.
  8. Always remember your audience.
  9. Correcting a grammar mistake in a professional or widely distributed message is a courtesy; correcting a grammar mistake in a friend’s conversation is just bitchy.
  10. Truly important issues should not be reduced to epigrams and sound bites.

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November 19, 2013

Christmas Ambush

Filed under: Uncategorized — jpmahoney49 @ 7:47 pm

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I was doing my regular weekly grocery shopping in my regular superstore. My list in one hand, my phone in the other, I was walking my usual route from the grocery side to the department store side because, of course, all the shampoo and aspirin is nowhere near the apples and Pop-Tarts. I was checking my list against my calendar on my phone, making sure I had all the necessaries for this week’s upcoming events, not even paying attention to where I was going because it was a Thursday morning, and I know exactly where I was going as usual.

I looked up from my list.

My heart began to pound.

I felt dizzy and slightly nauseous.

I thought I might pass out.

I had stumbled into the Christmas section.

Oh.

My.

God.

Really? Already? Why does it always start so EARLY? It’s not Thanksgiving yet, doggone it! Why do we have to pole-vault over my favorite holiday, the best holiday, the least controversial, most inclusive, most relaxing holiday and skip right to Christmas, the most hectic, fraught, restricted, disappointing holiday on the calendar.

Yet there it was in its gaudy, green-and-gold glory – the Christmas section, complete with trees, ornaments, wrapping paper, stockings, toys, candy, snowmen, reindeer, Santa Claus, and the sweet baby Jesus.

Sigh.

As a Christian, I know I should love Christmas, but I seem to like it less and less every year. My fellow Christians insist on dragging out the moth-eaten “War on Christmas” and flogging it for all its worth. (What is it worth anyway? Ugh.)

Our family’s December calendar is already completely full. My family will be running from one event to the next, feeling guilty because we are late, or worse, had to turn down an invitation or two to attend the other three or four that weekend. There’s cooking, shopping, wrapping, and mailing to do. Not to mention all the family traditions we’ve accumulated through the years that are now more obligations than anything else.

Most of the activities I would like to do – the Cantata at the local Catholic church, the performance of “White Christmas” at the community theater, cozy nights by the fire – will be neglected because we’ll be so busy running to events, getting items checked off the to-do list, trying not to quash anyone’s Christmas wishes.

And then there is the rush of sheer panic I feel whenever I think of all the STUFF we’ll be bringing into our home. My children are the only grandchildren on both sides of the family; my parents, my in-laws and my sister insist on buying them stuff they can unwrap. They don’t need anything, of course, and my son would actually be much happier with digital media. My husband and I certainly don’t need anything, but we will get things. And we will have to find places for this stuff in a house already overrun with stuff. I can’t help thinking that, in five years when my son starts college, I will be quite bitter about all the money wasted on stuff he didn’t need when we could’ve saved it for his tuition.

So I have been feeling very Grinch-y these past few days, wishing there were a way to just skip “this whole Christmas thing,” and knowing, of course, it will come “just the same.”

Until then, though, I’m going to look forward to Thanksgiving, refuse to shop that day or Black Friday, and try to come up with a strategy for converting to Judaism.

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October 20, 2013

My Colts-Manning-Irsay Rant

Filed under: Uncategorized — jpmahoney49 @ 1:05 pm

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Just for a moment, let’s pretend that football is about human beings. Not teams, logos, merchandise, playbooks, win-loss records or MONEY.

The game is about PEOPLE. Players, coaches, staff, owners, and fans.

I’d like to introduce you to three human characters. First, the exiled veteran. A talented leader, smart and well-spoken, he has led his team to many victories and won the hearts of his fellow citizens.

Second, the new kid in town. The young man has potential; the people are becoming attached to him, though he’s a little awkward and inconsistent. He is an innocent bystander to the unfolding drama.

Third, the emperor. He has all the power and all the money. When he wants something from the people, he tells them his empire is theirs, but in the end, he makes whatever decisions he likes. Having inherited his empire from a father who also held no loyalty for the citizens, he makes it clear that his word is law, even though he has never gone to war himself.

For many years the veteran brought joy to the empire. As he got older, though, he was unable to recover from his injuries as quickly, and the emperor grew impatient. He threw the veteran out of the empire and recruited the new kid. The new kid is doing fine, and the citizens are learning to love him, but many remember the veteran. They have followed him in his new kingdom; they wish him well.

And now the day has come for the veteran to return to his old stomping ground.

Peyton Manning has returned to Indianapolis.

The citizens are divided, but the emperor’s position is unquestionable. Jim Irsay, true to form, opened his big mouth to ungratefully pronounce that Manning was let go because he won only one Super Bowl. Irsay is a prat.

Manning extended the Colts’ seasons 11 of 14 years.

He took us to two Super Bowls.

He turned Indianapolis into a viable football market.

He gave us a representative we could be proud of in all those goofy TV commercials and Youtube videos and on Saturday Night Live.

He gave back to the community through his foundation and the children’s hospital which bears his name.

Obviously, none of that matters to Jim Irsay who loves hearing himself talk almost as much as he loves lining his pockets with the money of Indianapolis taxpayers and Colts fans. For him, it’s all about the ring. Guess he values that more than all the dollars that we paid for tickets to those Manning-earned playoff games.

And the new kid is stuck in the middle. Poor Andrew Luck has huge shoes to fill. Maybe he will. Who knows? But I’ll tell you that if some Time Traveler returned from the future and told me that Andrew Luck will win eventually one of two Super Bowls with the Colts, I’d be thrilled. Sounds great!

Of course, no one knows the future. Maybe Luck will never even get to a Super Bowl. Maybe he’ll take the Colts to three and lose them all. Maybe he’ll go to five and win them all. Know what? We can only enjoy them one at a time, and the fact that Manning won one for us still makes me happy and proud. I will never be disappointed that we didn’t get more out of him. In fact, I hope he gets more Super Bowl victories.

Yep. My hope this year is that Manning wins the Super Bowl with his new team. If he can achieve an undefeated season at the same time, good for him. He’s a great guy. I’m grateful for what he did for my team and my city.

And I’d love to watch Jim Irsay writhe.

Does it make me a bad Colts fan if I’m okay with a loss tonight? I’m not a violent person, but I might hit you if you questioned my loyalty. I’ve been a Colts fan since they moved to Indy when I was 12 years old. I watched the Mayflower trucks roll into town. I remember the NFL sportscasters freaking out over the move, bashing Bob Irsay for being disloyal to Baltimore. I remember the Baltimore mayor almost crying on the national news. I remember Mayor Hudnut proudly shaking hands with Irsay on local TV. I remember an Indy business sold t-shirts that read, “Indianapolis Orioles.” (It was funny at the time.)

I survived multiple losing seasons, the Jeff George debacle, the heartbreaker loss to the Steelers in the ’96 playoffs, a succession of coaches and running backs. I still have my Harbaugh jersey.

Don’t question my loyalty to the Colts.

But if the Colts lose tonight, Irsay loses. Manning wins. On a human level, that makes me happy. No matter what jersey he’s wearing, Manning deserves a win, and Irsay does not. I will be disappointed for the Colts and for Andrew Luck, who deserves a chance to earn the city’s love. Irsay is making that harder for him. If Irsay wants the people of Indianapolis to stop hating on him for cutting #18 (not to mention #63, #44 and other beloved players in that one shattering move), he should take a tip from class act Manning and keep his mouth shut.

Win or lose, Denver or Indianapolis, Manning or Irsay, tonight around midnight this game will be over. The teams will finish their respective seasons. Manning will likely play in the NFL for a couple more years. Luck could play for a decade or more. And God forgive me, but if Irsay’s bad habits catch up him before his Colts win another Super Bowl, I’d be okay with that too.

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