In the second episode of the first series of Sherlock, the famed detective and his partner deal with ciphers (a la The Dancing Men) to try to solve a set of murders that seem to target entirely unrelated people. Also: RACISM. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Sherlock.
You know, I haven’t really had the chance to do something I started off this whole wild adventure with: complain. Loudly. And pervasively. If you’ve noticed, ever since I finished the Twilight series, every series of books and television that I’ve picked up since then has been something I’ve become a fan of. Which is great! That is so terribly exciting for me. I love finding new things to enjoy! But the entire Mark Does Stuff idea was spawned from that original book series, which…well, if you followed along, you know that I nearly had a nervous breakdown from reading those books. And I don’t say that as hyperbole or to make light of that concept. I seriously had extremely adverse physical and mental reactions towards the process, WHICH WERE NOT REALLY ALL THAT FUN. So there’s been a part of me, deep in the back of my mind, that worries that one day I’ll choose a series that I am initially excited about and then I’ll grow to hate it and my very special manger and terror will become entertainment and such. Which is fine, but man…I hate so much stuff as it is.
I don’t want to hate Sherlock. I loved the first episode a great deal. And I don’t think that I’ll end up detesting this, but holy fucking god, this episode did not help me to love this show at all.
IS IT TIME FOR MARK TO BRING BACK THE ALL CAPS RAGE MACHINE? It might be. I can’t promise it. But it’s no longer in the back of my subconscious. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Because jesus christ, this episode pissed me off. (Not all of it, as there is stuff to like and enjoy, but we’ll get to that.)
So let me start off with some perspective, both personal and a bit more public than that. I’m a person of color. I like that term. And my relationship with my race and ethnicity has been rather confusing and bizarre for me. I’m Mexican, adopted by a Japanese/Hawaiian dad and a mother who’s part Irish and Welsh and a whole other host of ethnic backgrounds, all of them neatly and succinctly summarized by saying she’s white.
I don’t speak Spanish. I learned a lot by osmosis and through school. I don’t pass as white in virtually any social situation, though I don’t always get read as being Latino. I get “Middle Eastern” a lot, both because people seem to think everyone from that area looks the same and because I have a heavy beard, which makes them SUPER RACISTS or something. No, seriously, the ridiculous Islamaphobia I have been the butt of, despite being Latino, is mind-blowing sometimes. Thanks, racist people.
Actually, here’s a great starting point to understanding what it was like for me, a brown kid in a sea of white faces as a child, to grow up without people who looked like me. I wrote about my experience as a child of color because of a very important idea that I still have to struggle with to this day. It was much more prevalent in my childhood, but this particular episode of Sherlock reminded me of those days. And if this is a totally new concept to some of you, allow me to elaborate!
When I was a kid, no one had brown skin. I mean….no one! I lived in Boise, Idaho and my twin brother and I were the ~exotic~ foreigners to our classmates. It wasn’t something that was particularly used against us when we were that young, and at times, it was nice to get attention period, negative or positive. The whole concept of exoticism now drives me up the wall, but at the time, it wasn’t as othering as it soon would become. Instead, though, I just simply believed really absurd things because I knew no better. You know, things like “Prince Eric is totally my father,” or “Mom, I am seriously Egyptian, please take me to my pyramid.”
As I got older and moved to a neighborhood FULL of people who looked so much more likely, I became far more aware that what the world presented to everyone else wasn’t any different. I still didn’t know of many people with brown skin on television or in the bands I listened to. (Side note: This is how I rationalized away the homophobia in Bad Brains. They weren’t white and they were playing hardcore and this excited me until I could not be any more excited. Oppression intersects in interesting ways, no?)
If there was anything I was able to pick up at a very early age, it was how lacking minorities were in popular media. I noticed how so few women went to hardcore shows. I noticed that Latinos like myself were caricatures on the television. I noticed how homosexuals were always sassy partners in the movies. And it bothered me so much that I would go out of my way to find and support things that countered this idea that the world was very white and very straight and very male. Of course, I now know this is much more prevalent and damaging than I did when I was just thirteen years old, but there are few things in the world that can make me groan or roll my eyes hard enough to spawn thunder than pop culture that relegates marginalized groups to frustrating stereotypes. (I AM SIDE-EYEING YOU SO HARD, GLEE.)
So, have I introduced myself properly? Feel like you have an idea where I’m coming from? Ok, cool, because WHAT THE FUCK DOES STEPHEN THOMPSON AND EVERYONE WHO CRAFTED THIS EPISODE THINK THEY ARE DOING
I MEAN. OK. LET ME START WITH THE OBVIOUS ONE. “Ooooh, oh my god, Chinese people are soooooooooo ~exotic~ and ~totally weird and foreign~ and have ~totally different customs than we do~ so LET US PAINT THEM AS A CULTURE THAT IS TOTALLY GOING TO PLAN AN OVERCOMPLICATED PLOT JUST TO ~THREATEN ALL THE POOR WHITE PEOPLE’S LIVES~
Ok, despite that I have a Japanese last name (which I love!!!) and that I have an entire branch of my family made up of people who are Hawaiian and Japanese, I make no qualms about being Asian myself. I’m not! So I am no expert on doing the wonderful “ASIANS ARE TOTALLY WEIRD” dance that this episode waltzes all over Chinese people. What I can say is that, as a person of color, I HAVE SEEN THIS USED SO MANY BILLION OF TIMES THAT I CAN SPOT IT A MILE AWAY.
How many tropes can you spot??? LET’S TURN IT INTO A GAME.
1) Oh no, Asian people are really scary with their gangs and all! Oh no, this is so terrifying, all these Asian gangs!
2) Asians are totally like, the most amazing acrobats and like, they can bend into all kinds of fun positions so they can MURDER A BUNCH OF WHITE MEN someone call The Sun and tell them to put this on the front page SO WE CAN SAVE THE POOR WHITE MEN BEING MURDERED IN THEIR EXPENSIVE HOUSES AND LOFTS.
3) Chinese people are totally, like, into breaking the law to bring their non-white products into Great Britain so they can, like, totally take over our markets! Oh no, this is so bad!
4) Oh, Asians! You steal and kidnap our people so you can murder them with ridiculously inefficient but distinctly Asian apparatuses!
5) Oh, those silly Chinese! They are so ridiculously talented at whatever they do with their unique skills and we should fear the fact that they are going to TAKE OVER OUR COUNTRY. (That’s a subtext, for the record, as it’s probably the one trope that isn’t explicitly spelled out.)
6) It’s not my fault that I am in this situation! I am not a bad banker, and capitalism is not an evil economic entity that created the situation where I could lose all this money so quickly! No, it’s totally the ruthless Chinese and their dedication to thievery that caused me to die! None of this is my fault!
Do you get the picture? I know that I have spoken about 2% about the actual plot and content of this episode, but can you imagine how terribly distracting this was? Literally, like every 5 minutes, I was facepalming at the same familiar narrative about a “foreign” culture being presented to me. Actually, that process went a little more like this:
Grimacing —> Wincing —-> Eye Rolling —–> Facepalming —–> Head-Desking —–> Shouting At The Heavens —–> WHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYY
Ok, maybe none of this makes any sense to you, and maybe you’re ready to write off a lot of this as situational or specific only to “The Blind Banker.” What is so disturbing to me about how casual these stereotypes are here is not that I believe some of you cannot recognize them. As it’s been made apparent, quite a lot of people apparently picked up on how ridiculous a lot of the framing was in this episode. Which is good! I am glad people can start to recognize that it’s seriously perfectly fine to look at media and pop culture with that kind of critical eye. These are all good things, yes?
What disturbs me is the fact that these narratives about the Chinese, about Asian people in general, and about all those under the umbrella of people of color EVER MADE IT INTO THIS EPISODE IN THE FIRST FUCKING PLACE. I don’t place the blame or thrust of this complaint on a single one of you who recommended me this show or who watched it an ultimately enjoyed it. I wouldn’t say I dislike the show myself. We’re at 50/50 here and it’s always different for me when I decide I’ve reached the breaking point of a specific show or book or band or whatever. I don’t think I’ve reached that point and I think I’ll be ok going into “The Great Game” and still manage to enjoy the show.
I just seriously wonder what the fuck went on in the heads of Stephen Thompson or Euros Lyn or Steven Moffat or Mark Gatiss or anyone who wrote this script or contributed to it. I wonder if there wasn’t a point that one of them didn’t stop to think, “Well, shit. Are we really going to do this? Do we really need to frame this entire episode this way?” Surely, someone saw this and thought that maybe this was a really awful, awful idea to try and execute, right?
And I know the inevitable is coming, so let me address it right off the bat: I’m not calling any of these people racists. I like to think that I am able to make the distinction between whether a person has written an unfortunate implication or relied on a stereotypical narrative or just framed everything poorly. And honestly, that’s probably what these people did. I know people might say things like, “BUT THEY HAVE ASIAN FRIENDS!” or “THERE ARE CHINESE ACTORS IN THIS AND THEY DIDN’T PROTEST!” and then I’ll just want to lay my head on my pillow and sleep for a really long time because that just makes me tired typing it.
Actions, behaviors, words, and narratives can inherently support casual racism, and that doesn’t mean the person or organization behind it dons a white robe and pointy hat on the weekends. Casual racism is still racism, and sometimes it feels more insidious than out-and-proud racist blather. I imagine that all these people felt they had good intentions for this story and perhaps they even wanted to write an episode that wasn’t full of white people. But that doesn’t mean the end result is something that I necessarily want to support or enjoy. If anything, “The Blind Banker” feels like incredibly lazy writing, and I’d like to believe that Moffat, Thompson, and Gatiss are much better writers than that. We don’t need narratives like the ones presented here to tell a story. Well, not only do we not need them, we don’t want them. I just want to see something different.
And look, don’t take my word for it. I’m a person of color and these narratives are so familiar to me that it pains me to have to write about them IN FUCKING 2011. But when it comes to the distinct flavor of Orientalism and Yellow Peril that this episode seems to bash over our heads, you should seriously read the words of Anna Chen, who summarizes these exact problems much more beautifully than I have.
- Ok, I did do a lot of yelling here. Fair enough. And despite that it’s really, really hard for me to look past the prejudicial bullshit in “The Blind Banker,” it’s not all bad!
- The opening scenes between Sherlock and Watson were a treat, especially the contrast between Watson fighting a payment device while Sherlock fights a man with a sword.
- I also enjoyed that the show outright acknowledges the issue of money. How do these two get paid? I feel like I’m not going to have too many questions about that in the future.
- I did feel that the women in the first episode were a bit disposable and two-dimensional, so I’m glad we get a bit more from Sarah. Who, by the way, goes on the worst date of all time by the end of this episode. Also
- In the scene where Sherlock and Watson arrive at the Lucky Cat Emporium, it was nice to see that Watson was actually a step ahead of Sherlock. Sometimes, Sherlock gets so lost in his brain that he can’t see the obvious.
- A wonderfully creepy moment: Sherlock realizing that the killer hasn’t left the apartment he just broke into.
- It’s also great to see the growing relationship between Sherlock and Watson, from Sherlock’s uncomfortably awkward attempts to be social with Watson by crashing his date with Sarah to trying to “hang out” with him. It’s endearing, really, and also contributes to a wonderfully hilarious homoeroticism between the two. LOOK, I CANNOT IGNORE THE SUBTEXT. Does anyone else feel like it’s PAINFULLY OBVIOUS?
- Ok, so is the “M” at the end of the episode Moriarty? IT HAS TO BE.
- Don’t answer this, just thinking aloud: Why did Sherlock let Dimmock take the credit?
- Ok, this is so bizarre, but LAST SHERLOCK REVIEW TOMORROW. Oh god, WHAT A WEIRD SENSATION.