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.