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Meta: Neoliberal Holmes, or, Everything I Know About Modern Life I Learned from Sherlock (BBC 2010)

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Everything I know about the twenty-first century I learned from Sherlock Holmes (BBC version, 2010):


All problems have solutions.

All solutions are rational.

Everything that is rational can be comprehended, analyzed, and discarded.

By you.

You know everything worth knowing.

You are the master of the universe.


Merit rises to the top. Raw intelligence, that's what matters.

You can't look for intelligence in the Metropolitan Police Force. Why even bother? The private sector is where insight is found. Trust the consultants.

The state is there to facilitate your work. And defuse bombs. And take the bodies to the morgue.


People respond to intelligence. They desire intelligence. They answer the text messages that intelligence sends. They fetch things for intelligence. They are willing to put up with the rudeness that occasionally accompanies intelligence. They ask intelligence out on dates.

Intelligence is sexy.

Intelligence is power.


It used to be that clients would show up on your doorstep with a story, a plea, a mystery. This used to be how the game started.

Now victims show up dead.

Easier that way, to assess their problems.

More efficient.

Besides, you'd rather text than talk.


Look at London. Bright lights, big city. It's beautiful.

The light is beautiful. The colors are beautiful. The clothes are beautiful. This whole show is beautiful.


London is safe. Clean. Well-lit. Seen through a plate of glass, a kaleidoscope of reflections.


This is a city of well-maintained classical buildings (distant past) and high-tech modernism (present and future).

No one of any interest ever lived or worked in something built in the sixties, anyway.


Some people say London is a battlefield. You see it more as a playground.


Money is no object.


Buses and subways are for people whose time is less valuable than yours.


The vast majority of people in London are white. People who are not white are statistically more likely to be blood-thirsty, murdering villains. Or dead, victims themselves.

What? You're just counting. Numbers, hard numbers, that's what you want.


You just happen to be white.


Did that man just call his hostage a "stupid bitch?" Did he really? What right does anyone have to call any woman...

But, wait. He's a psychopathic murderer. That's how we know he's crazy.

Because no sane man would ever say that out loud.


Once, famously, a woman got the best of you.

Now, you get the best of the woman, every time.

Freak. Ha!

That was then, this is now.


Women protest that they don't want to take care of you, but they really do.


He taught me, rather than he learned me.

I was, not I were.

Hanged, instead of hung.

The man has killed his wife in a brutal stabbing, but what really rubs you wrong is his dialect.

Nothing like a death sentence to cure someone of being working class.


Homeless people, your "eyes and ears" around the city, emerge when they might be useful. Otherwise, they are invisible. Disinfect yourself after contact.


It doesn't help anyone to care.


Sometimes a disguise will gain you entry to an important place. Discard it as soon as possible. Don't even bother to keep up the pretense. You don't want anyone to mistake you for a working man.


On the other hand, people may assume you're gay. Don't worry. Don't protest. We won't go there.


Text flashes before you. Clues flash before you. Fast. Disorienting. Don't get distracted. The crucial details here are not factual, not for anyone except the master of the universe.

The key to this show, for lesser mortals, is character. Watch for Sherlock's expression. How does he feel about the situation at hand?

You spend a lot of time watching Sherlock's face.

Sometimes, you watch John watching Sherlock's face.

Funny how riveting a cold man's face is.


Selling drugs is dangerous; you can get out of your depth before you know it, in trouble, in debt, you'll kill your near-brother-in-law on the off-chance that you'll be able to sell something of his for a profit. Selling drugs leads to a life of crime.

Buying drugs and occasionally enjoying them, on the other hand, would be entirely fine. It would be interesting, actually. It would add to your mystique.

But of course, you're clean. Did everyone hear that? You're clean.


You are untouchable. Your friends are untouchable. The law exists to facilitate your investigations. When it's convenient.

The state itself is outdated. You have the world in your hand, on a mobile or a laptop. The new order is conflict-free and flexible.


Even when someone dies, it's not your fault.

People die, that's what they do.

Oh, sorry. Other people die. That's what they do.


You, on the other hand. You solve problems. Lestrade and Donovan and Dimmock have tried, but your methods have been tested in the open market, proved to be the best.

No problem is ever solved collaboratively. No assistance is helpful. No other types of intelligence are acknowledged. There is no such thing as society, only individual problems, and individual problem solvers.

They should take your word as gospel.


People are taken hostage. Bombs are detonated. People are killed. A child's life is on the line. A roommate deals with loss. A woman grieves the man who would have married her. A man shakes in terror. A head sits in the refrigerator.

Their names and stories pass by too quickly to catch. None of them really matter, anyway. Only ninety minutes, total. Still two mysteries to go. Real problems are abstract, logical, and impersonal, unconnected to daily life, personal experience, local knowledge, or the vagaries of chance.

This is the great game. The one thing that matters in this game--

No, it's not that we win. We always win.

The one thing that really matters is that Sherlock Holmes might...

God, is that John?

He's got a vest! He's covered in explosives!

...the one thing that really matters...

Look at Sherlock Holmes' face. Watch carefully for any register of emotion. This is what we've been waiting for: a hint of anger, fear, or compassion. The show has been training you to do this for more than four hours, training you to search for the slightest sign of emotion in this man's face. You are riveted.

...the one thing that really matters is that Sherlock Holmes just might have a heart, after all.

Because that's what important. The master of the universe loves and suffers like the rest of us.