Sunday, July 16, 2017

For Everyone Who Says It Doesn't Matter

Who were your childhood heroes?
I’m betting they were figures you saw in media. Whether sports stars or characters from movies, TV, or books…or, heck, politicians (though I shudder to think about who might be idolizing the current administration), they were likely omnipresent on screens large and small, including the one in your head.
And if you’re like me, those childhood heroes shaped a lot of who you became.
My heroes came from TV and movies: The Ghostbusters, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Scrappy Doo, Doc and Marty from the Back to the Future trilogy, and (as discussed in a previous post) Sherlock Holmes.
These characters were alive and vibrant and took action. I loved to watch them, working hard to save the day, and I loved even more re-enacting their adventures (usually in my head, whilst traipsing around our large yard).
Books tended to be where I went to find characters who looked and thought more like me. I consumed books about young women at a rapid pace (Babysitters Club, the Alice series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Little Women, Caddie Woodlawn, etc).
These characters were unsure of themselves but led rich inner lives. They spent time thinking and worrying. Their actions weren’t as large or as impactful as those of my heroes, but they mattered in small ways. They taught me that introspection and emotions were important in their own right.
And then came Dana Scully. It’s hard to express how much of an impact one character had on me. She took what I loved about my action-oriented heroes and combined it with the soulful complexity I found in books. Scully was tough when needed, but she cried when it was warranted. She was smart and skeptical and took the patriarchy to task. She was a doctor in a well-cut (at least in later seasons) suit.  
In short, here was a character who looked and thought like I did. But she was a hero. She took charge. And she was presented in a visual medium, which meant that it wasn’t just my mind saying she looked like me. Some producer somewhere had decided that it was okay for a woman to inhabit this space.
Society’s approval, whether we like to admit it or not, matters…especially for young people. Doubly so for young people who aren’t in a majority privileged with constant representation.
But back to my FBI agent/hero Dana Scully, who inspired me to go into medicine. If you look at the job shadowing proposal from my Junior year of high school (2000, at the height of my X-Files fandom), you’ll see that I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. And although I didn’t end up in quite that specialty, the plan took me where I needed to go.
And I wasn’t the only one. Most reports of “The ScullyEffect” are anecdotal, and I can’t offer more than that. But of my close female medical school friends, four out the five of us identified Scully as a major reason we pursued this specific education. (The last friend related more to Rory Gilmore, which is not surprising, and actually serves as another illustrative point of the powers of female representation, because she’s a quiet, small town girl who went to an Ivy League school.)
So when I hear people, men especially, downplaying the importance of representation in media or talking about how casting a character as female ruins the piece of media for them, it hits the same sore spot inside as anti-intellectual behavior.
I am who I am because some TV producer somewhere made a decision to create a strong, complex, and wonderful female character.
Imagine the young women who might be inspired to go into electrical engineering by Jillian Holtzmann, or to grow up and showrun for Dr. Who, now that there’s a woman as the 13th Doctor (yes, fans do that, as Steven Moffat likes to remind us).
There are no limits to the human imagination, to the number of new characters or interpretations of old characters. If something gives someone, especially a young person in need of a role model, joy or encouragement, why would you ever want to take it away? And how can you say it doesn’t matter?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Speckled Band or a Motley Crew?

Here it is, a review of my first scion meeting.

This gathering of The Parallel Case of St. Louis was well-attended (ten of us made it, despite very busy traffic in an already difficult-to-navigate area of the City), and the male:female ratio was an even 1:1, a very pleasant surprise.

The discussion around "The Speckled Band" was varied and interesting, and a great summary can be found over here. I'll make a separate post about my main take-away after I do some research (into the experience of women, widows in particular, in Imperial India in the 1860's), but here's a rundown on a few smaller topics that piqued my interest:

1) Has there been an analysis of the foot-pounds of torque needed to bend and unbend a fireplace poker?

2) Are there more Colonels or Doctors in these stories? What's the proportion of Good Doctors to Evil Doctors?

3) ACD and his depictions of outgroups such as gypsies, jews, Mormons, etc led to a small discussion about Mormon reaction to A Study in Scarlet. This interested me because: remember the little Tassy from last time, excitedly jabbering about The Great Mouse Detective and Young Sherlock Holmes? At least a bit of that excitement happened at church socials...and my childhood church was The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

 Admittedly, that segment of the Mormon Church elected to stay in Northwest Missouri as opposed to moving West, where ACD portrayed all that murder, kidnapping, and involuntary servitude. But the Danites were formed in response to violence between Mormons and settled Missourians on a site near which the Community of Christ still hosts summer camps. (I'm actually a little surprised there aren't snaps of my brother on that website, because he's a pastor at the Guilford branch and baptised all his kids at that camp.)

Okay, so there's probably an entire blog post to be made about this. Sorry that got away from me.

4) Although there was some (extraneous) discussion about the "Millenial work ethic," I've learned not to engage, a lot like how I let older attending physicians talk about how "weak" current residents are because we're only working 80 hour weeks.

I was more off-put by some joking about blaming the Russians being a trend worth parodying. I can't imagine not taking the current political situation seriously and personally and grabbing on to any reason to expel a politician intent on removing protections for my peers and my patients.

5) We talked a bit about Victorian Orientalism and its inclusion in Holmesian canon, and that got me thinking of the response to BBC Sherlock's "The Blind Banker." I still truly love the mystery in that episode, and understand where Stephen Thompson got the template for his missteps revolving around fragile/mystical Asian women, yellow clues, and torture for entertainment. But I gather that he took criticism well, improving to write the absolutely stellar "The Reichenbach Fall."

Recently, I've been engaging in some discussions over in television fandom land about cultural criticism vs fan entitlement, and how expressing dismay at over-reliance on damaging tropes can bring awareness to writers so that we can change what's acceptable culturally. It sounds so reasonable written like that, doesn't it? But there are slippery rules about engaging with creations and creators over there that have resulted in even some of my gentler attempts at conversation about media and fandom getting shut down as censorship or entitlement. But I digress.

Next time in the blog-o-sphere: Female strength in The Speckled Band...contextualizing the choices of Helen and Julia Stoner.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Me and the Mouse...and Detectives

As is the case with many a Sherlock Holmes fan in their thirties, I first got into the Great Detective through a different species: a Walt Disney Mouse.

I was a child of the Disney rennaissance. The Little Mermaid hit when I was in kindergarten, Beauty and the Beast when I was in second grade, and Aladdin in third. Nestled between those last two, the theatrical re-release of The Great Mouse Detective was very well posed to grab my interest. And once I saw Basil and Dawson face down Moriarty...I mean, Ratigan, I fell headfirst into other Holmes adaptations (Young Sherlock Holmes in particular).

When my children's editions of selected Holmes stories were read, I went on to more diverse detective fiction: Encyclopedia Brown, the Something Queer series, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children...heck, even The Babysitters Club Mysteries. Television offered a plethora of detectives: Inspector Gadget, Scooby Doo, The Pink Panther, and, if you stretched it, Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers. It was a good time to be a smarty pants kid.

But looking back a bit further, I found signs that I was familiar with the legend of Sherlock before this exposure. In my first grade magnum opus, "I Want to Be...When I Grow Up", which featured drawings positioned to allow a picture of my face to fill a hole in each portrait, one of the pages is labelled "detective" and pretty clearly depicts me as a Holmes protege.

I mean, how cute is that?

As I grew, I sought out female detectives: Mrs. Pollifax, Miss Marple, and Stephanie Plum were my favorites, but eventually I returned to the Great Detective. In college, I tackled three of the Holmes novels over a long weekend. I dragged my entire family to see the first Guy Ritchie Holmes film, and I really should have started watching the BBC's adaptation when it started airing, but alas, medical school and residency kept me from it until January of 2016.

The point of all of this navel gazing is to emphasize that I, as I assume is true of many a Holmes fan before me, have always been attracted to a mystery. I live to piece together the evidence, either before or after the story's sleuth has reached their denouement. Just like Sherlock, I live to prove I'm clever.

Come to think of it, that urge is likely a large part of why I became a physician. I couldn't have voiced it as I was completing my medical studies, but being a doctor feeds three of my major intellectual hobbies: science, acting, and detection. The fact that the built-in caregiver role makes use of my wellsprings of empathy is nice as well. You could almost say that being a general practitioner unites my inner Holmes and Watson (as I feel it did for Doyle himself).

Next time: an account of my first scion meeting, with The Parallel Cases of Saint Louis!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fangirl is as Fangirl Does

I've always been...excitable; zealous, even, about things that appeal to me. Because of my introversion, such things tend to be media: books, movies, television, music, plays, podcasts.

Perhaps the best description of this aspect of myself that I've ever heard came from my older sister. Shortly after watching me squee about gifts on my twenty-fifth birthday, she turned to my mother and said, "Tassy's just very interested in a lot of things, isn't she?"

Expressions of my fannishness burst forth in many forms, from an early love of dressing up as my favorite characters to being a monthly contributer on a podcast about BBC Sherlock and using fandom crafts to relate to an adolescent patient.

But let's talk about my experiences from adolescence on. I have tended, as I understand is common in transformative fandom, to go back to this well when I hit a rough patch in my life. As I've been in treatment for major depressive disorder since age 17, rough patches abound.

In 1997, seventh-grade me fell hard for The X-Files. The dynamic between the leads, the presence of a complicated, intelligent, strong female character, the knock-out looks of both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson...sigh. I wanted to be Scully (and later realized I probably wanted to be with her as well). She's a large part of why I went into medicine, and a good number of my female med school friends have said the same.

I recorded episodes off Fox and the newly-minted FX, yearning to be a completist. I had episode numbers, titles, and synopses memorized. I owned the line of official behind-the-scenes books. And I snuck downstairs at 5am more than a few mornings to read shippy fanfiction over a dial-up connection on my HP Pavilion.

I didn't comment or engage with other fans (and was probably too young to be reading what I did), and I didn't have the words to express why I stopped watching my favorite show after a lackluster season seven.

Now I know that conflicts between the producers and Duchovny led to the shark-jumpy plot line of Mulder's abduction, and the need to be bigger, better, and weirder birthed the "let's show how scared we are of the female body" experience of Scully's pregnancy.

I finally went back for a complete rewatch from 2014-2016, in preparation for the new short series (which was horrible and culturally insensitive in multiple ways), and trying to understand what the hell happened to my favorite show. Meta by online fans and reviews by professionals at the AV Club helped me in my quest for self-education in media studies.

The end of high school was peppered with small fan experiences around Harry Potter, Stephen King, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the Baz Luhrmann films. I began to be interested in the motivations of creators, and read everything I could about that. (I also entered--and won--a beauty pageant because Miss Congenialty made it seem so fun.)

College was a period of forced maturity (due to the influence of a stuffy boyfriend), but I do remember liking symphony concerts better when I read the blurbs in the program contextualizing the composers and their work...and studying Soviet history and culture as an undergrad truly helped me understand my Russian lit course better. My favorite book is still The Master and Margarita, which makes little sense without the context.

In medical school, I dove into the Twilight phenomenon...but it wasn't about liking the books and movies. I was part of a twisted "not all women" approach critiquing the WTFery we saw in the stories and the fandom. If you want to see a shining example of this trend at its best/worst, my blogger of choice was Cleolinda Jones.

I joined a LiveJournal group dedicated to making as much fun of the series as possible while rooting for the lead actors to get together (such was my introduction to Real Person Fiction--don't @ me). The clever memes combined with asking questions about why in the world this story resonated with so many women led me to throw Twilight parties where we riffed on the movie and ate vampire cupcakes while sparkle-painting Edward Cullen action figures. It was a heady time.

With the few neurons I had to spare during residency, I imbibed a clever, meta-fictional sitcom called Community. This show paid homage to media ranging from John Hughes to Hearts of Darkness with so much cheek, aplomb, and emotion. I followed fan discussion threads on LiveJournal for episodes I hadn't seen yet, and read as much fanfiction as I could get my hands on (nearly all relationship-focused). The return to fandom sans engagement was a welcome distraction.

And finally, in the excess of free time that occurred when I was no longer working 80 hour weeks, and after I had settled into my outpatient practice, I queued up BBC's Sherlock on Netflix. And as soon as Irene Adler revealed she was Sherlocked, I realized I had fallen, too.

Next time in the blog-o-sphere: An exploration of my interest in the Great Detective and detectives in general.

Monday, May 1, 2017

A Little About Me

It seems appropriate to start by introducing myself.

I'm a 32 year-old female physician living in the Midwestern United States. For the past year and change, I've been pretty deep into the fandom for television's BBC Sherlock.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, here's a fairly good definition of fandom, from the sometimes-crude Urban Dictionary, posted by Brianne in August of 2004:

"The community that surrounds a tv show/movie/book etc. Fanfiction writers, artists, poets, and cosplayers are all members of that fandom."

My experience in internet fandom has been long and varied, as has my experience with Sherlock Holmes and his numerous adaptations. I hope to record, in this blog, my attempt to parlay my dedication to an ephemeral television series into a lifelong interest in one of the oldest fandoms on record, that for Arthur Conan Doyle and his archetypal characters.

I recently attended a fan convention for Sherlock Holmes fans, 221 B Con 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. This came at an emotionally raw time for me, due to some stress from intra-fandom relations.

Which...looking back now, seems incredibly ridiculous. I had briused feelings from a scuffle over ownership of a minor female character with fans who had displayed a persistently negative attitude toward critical analysis of media. Why did I even care?

I had been considering attending a meeting of my local scion society, but was so afraid of my reception that I'd put it off for almost a year. But at the convention, because of the nature of a panel on which I would be speaking, I had dinner with a group of BSI Sherlockians, and my reception was so incredibly warm. These people were excited to play the game, to engage in the type of debate and mental exercises which had met such resistance in the BBC Sherlock fandom circles I inhabited.

So here I am. A young, professional female embarking on a journey to re-familarize herself with the ACD canon, and to read, for the first time, the writings of the Baker Street Journal and other academic publications dedicated to Holmes, Watson, and Doyle. You should see my bookcase. Collapse is threatened by the weight of expectation and brainpower contained on its shelves.

As to the title of the blog...I lived on an egg farm from birth to four years of age, and my personal history as a Missouri farm-girl who continues to break through the fences others construct, is a very important part of me.

Welcome to my madness. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Next time in the blog-o-sphere: my history in fandom.

For Everyone Who Says It Doesn't Matter

Who were your childhood heroes? I’m betting they were figures you saw in media. Whether sports stars or characters from movies, TV, or...