Sammi, thanks for this post. Bromances are central to my dissertation on male friendship in American narrative culture, and the basic position I take therein is that, yes, the bromance as a genre is part of an evolving discourse and performance of homosociality in a “post-closet” culture. As I argue in my dissertation, ‘bromance’ (along with other recently coined terms, such as ‘the man date’) suggest that male friendship is borrowing from romantic heterosexual discourse as a way to rearticulate male friendship. Likewise, Ron Becker, in his article “Becoming Bromosexual: Straight Men, Gay Men, and Male Bonding on US TV,” writes that “bromance discourse appropriates cultural codes connected to homosexual bonding as a means of acknowledging the possibilities of homosocial bonding.” A notable early use of ‘bromance’ was the 2005 article in The Guardian by Nirpal Dhaliwal entitled “A Fine Bromance.” Dhaliwal writes that bromance refers to “gay-straight friendship,” friendships between gay men and straight men. However you look at it, the genre and the discourse of bromance provides a queered framework for understanding male friendship, which in the twentieth century were closely policed against any signification of queerness.
Pegg & Forst are a great example for this topic. I’m particularly fond of this clip from Hot Fuzz, which demonstrates how Edgar Wright quotes from romantic comedies in developing the bromance between Pegg and Forst’s characters.
Sammi, I wonder, however, what you make of the explicit disavowal of queerness in the clip you chose? I tend to think the bromance might demonstrate how contemporary culture is evolving past Michael Kimmel’s “masculinity as homophobia” thesis; but the clip demonstrates how straight male homosociality still depends, to a certain extent, on the repeated disavowal of queer desire and the reaffirmation of heterosexuality through sexual conquest. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Interesting. I’m fascinated by the way that “progressive” voice fit—or do not fit—into the broader fan communities. For example, there is apparently a substantial homophobic rejection to the queer Hannibal fanfic subgenre. With your post, I immediately thought of GamerGate and how virulently anti-feminist the online world can be, and how feminist advocates can be subjected to relentless harassment. But did you ever detect an anti-feminist backlash on Twitter to #JWDB, or was it simply ignored by the majority of the fans?
I was rather struck by the way that Joan and Sherlock’s relationship did quickly become parental with Kitty. Specifically how Joan’s therapeutic relationship with Sherlock was transferred to Kitty. For me, one of the pleasures of the series is its renegotiation of the norms of heterosocial friendship (a quarter of a century after the declaration that “men and women can’t be friends” in When Harry Met Sally…). In the first season, the series played with the will-the-or-won’t-they trope but pretty clearly shut the door on that possibility in the second season. Sherlock certainly sees their relationship as a superior to heteronormative coupling. The mentor/therapist relationships with Kitty creates an alternative family structure (a recurring motif in contemporary American television with series, e.g., Friends, Will & Grace, New Girl, Happy Endings, etc.). Sherlock similarly imagines a sort of a familial threesome between John, Sherlock, and Mary (with Sherlock as the asexual husband/son).
#joaniarty! That’s amazing. Thanks for the tip.
Thanks Jeff. I was pretty involved on Twitter during the first season but it’s gotten a bit more difficult over time, so it was nice to revisit these convos, and hopefully use this post as a springboard to develop a larger piece.
I would have to say that I don’t think the #JWDB discussion caught on the way I was hoping but most of the fans who took part seemed to have a saavy take on gender politics and TV representation. Although, I wonder if the Tumblr discussions are more pervasive which I am less familiar with (I prefer talking about TV on Twitter). Clearly, there is a strong if minor contingent of feminist Elementary fans who are not afraid to get vocal on social media. Given the construction of Joan, this doesn’t really surprise me at all. I think that there are many women out there who, like me, never cared much for the original series, like at all, but were drawn to the show because of Lucy Lui and the creation of Joan Watson.
Ah Kitty. I have to say I really like her and think she’s a great addition to the show. However, I’m sure she’ll take some flack from fans who think she’s taking attention away from Joan, which is what happened with Moriarty. Some fans argued that the writers were more attentive to her character than Joan’s, illustrating how these discussions are inflected with gender and race issues (the white woman side character getting more attention than the racialized woman who is a co-lead). So that adds another layer to these discussions.
Kitty’s relationship with Holmes feels quite different than Watson’s which might have to do with her age - she is much younger - but she was [spoiler!] also a victim of a sex crime. This creates interesting power dynamics between the 3 of them - Holmes wants both of them to be involved in Kitty’s training while Watson seems more reluctant (i.e., her comment “we’re not her parents”)…it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out and whether she too will resist the sidekick conventions.
btw, if you’re interested in queer fandom readings, I’ve seen quite a bit of stuff on Tumblr about Moriarty and Watson.
Great points Liza-Anne and I was thinking the same thing re: the writing of Joan for season 3 as a response to season 2. More and more, I also think that the writers are purposefully exploring the power dynamics between them, and it certainly does look like it has shifted in Joan’s favour this season (although I’m a bit behind!).
As for the “equality/power” issue, from a feminist perspective, a relationship that is not “equal” is clearly problematic but “equality” is also still an ideal, something we are striving towards everyday (we still live in white male-dominated society). I think Elementary actually acknowledges these challenges as seen through the evolution of Watson/Holmes. Right now I have more questions than answers: What do we even mean by “equality” within the context of the show or the politics of gender representation? That women can do the same jobs as men? That they are as smart, etc? Or are we saying there is “equality” if they work on the same number of cases and so forth? What I love about this show is that unlike other detective/crime shows, the main partners actually talk about, negotiate and constantly define the terms of their relationship, professionally and personally.The status of their partnership is not taken for granted and nothing is assumed. For me, this seems more authentic somehow. Does it matter if the power shifts, so long as it does so “equally”? Isn’t that a kind of equality?
However, just based on some of the comments I’ve read about this season, some women viewers are still unhappy, and perhaps the constant back-and-forth will continue to frustrate them. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those fans who think that Joan already has too much representational power (i.e., tweeting things like “this isn’t the Joan Show!”).
This is a fascinating examples of audience/fan research. I’ve done a bit of this looking at the queer fandom that has gathered around NBC’s Hannibal, but what you’re presenting seems a bit more subtle: on the one hand, the fans are calling for simply better storytelling (it seems to me), but, on the other hand, there is a clear feminist impetus underlying the fan criticism. Can you say how representative the #JoanWatsonDeservesBetter contingent is within the Elementary fan community? (I’d be interested in any sense of the community you might have—or even if we could speak of a specific fandom.)
I recently started looking at the #Elementary Twitter postings on the nights when the show airs, and I was struck by the ambivalent discussions around Kitty, specially in her relationship with and positioning to Joan. How do you see the addition of Kitty relating to the #JoanWatsonDeservesBetter discourse?
Elementary was one of the series that I chose to binge-watch over the summer. And I agree with both of your points: Joan was written as Sherlock’s equal in the first season but was written as less than his equal in the second. Now in the third season though I’m noticing some rather dramatic shifts that may actually end out tipping the scales more in Joan’s favor (such as [spoilers] having Sherlock seek Joan’s permission to rejoin the NYPD as a consultant). Part of me wonders if this is the writers attempting to make up for poorly writing the Sherlock/Watson relationship last season or if they are doing this to demonstrate that the balance of that relationship will constantly be shifting. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the potential implications of this kind of relationship where there really is no equality, the power is just always shifting.
Thanks for these responses, Natasha and Jeff. I do think that the heroes I’ve analyzed operate outside the constraints of hegemonic masculinity. Most obviously, they violate hegemonic masculinity’s emphasis on individualism and physical strength.
Holmes’s “post-love” state is an interesting counter-point to the trend I’ve analyzed. Natasha’s post about Watson’s struggle to assert her place in their partnership suggests that Holmes is losing out on a colleague and friend who could make him “stronger.”
And that idea of love being a source of strength or even a weapon does trouble me, too. However, I appreciate that the weapon of love is often used for its protective capabilities—insulating the heroes from the “dark side,” compelling them to make moral choices, etc.
Jeff, I appreciate the additional layer you add to our understanding of hero/sidekick/villain relationships and their triangulated nature. In my book on media marathoning, I offer a more comprehensive profile of hero and villain, united by the synecdochal relationship Kenneth Burke articulates between hero and villain. The Matrix’s Oracle also offers an interesting take on this relationship when she tells Neo that Agent Smith, “is you, your opposite, your negative—the result of the equation trying to balance itself out.”
Let me make an analogy: A lot of the “westerns” I study—Brokeback Mountain, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, City Slickers, and Deadwood—so dramatically undermine the conventions of the genre that it becomes difficult to apply the label to them without some qualification. The more entrenched a genre is, the more it is able to be manipulated for potentially progressive and subversive ends—consider how the French New Wave repurposed American genres, e.g., Godard’s Alphaville or Breathless or anything by Jean-Pierre Melville.
So too the the hero/sidekick formula seems to lend itself to playful subversion. Some part of the power of Elementary is how it creates the hero/sidekick scenario and then undermines it—and the series keeps flipping the script (pardon the cliché) by having Holmes and Watson swap mentor/protégé roles throughout the series.
I was thinking about the structural similarities between the examples and arrived at the following observations. In each example you have an underdog story. The underdog, emerging from meager circumstances (an despised orphan, a farmer from a backwater planet, and a hobbit from the provincial Shire) and through struggle becomes the savior of the world. Skywalker and Potter actually become the paragons of their craft (Jedi and wizard) in part due to a sort of birthright and prophesied destiny. (I’m actually not that up on my Harry Potter, so I may be getting some of this wrong.)
All three, despite their various abilities, are set against an evil figure who appears to be infinitely more powerful than they are. The uber-villain has come to their power through the same mechanism that the hero has come to his (wizardry, the dark side of the force, the rings of power)—which creates a backchannel connection between the hero and the villain. (Just as Moriarty and Sherlock are similarly connected.) The uber-villains are desiccated versions of the hero, consumed by their source of power: the Emperor is withered husk, Voldemort is gaunt vampiric figure, and Sauron is literally disembodied. (Also, Darth Vader’s pale necrotic, cybernetic body and Gollum’s similarly distorted cadaverous body.)
Then, as you point out, these heroes are often pulled back from the brink of becoming the thing they most despise by their scrappy band of friends and/or allies.
Can we do anything with these structural similarities? I’m specifically thinking that, in developing the relationship between the hero and his sidekicks, we need to develop some way of talking about how that relationship is triangulated with the villain as an alter ego for the hero.
But I also want to interrogate the ideology that may be lurking behind the “love conquers all” thematic you have identified here. Perhaps too there is something about the notion of articulating that love is a “weapon” that might ought to give us pause.
Thanks for this post Lisa. Do you think that heroes like Potter and Skywalker (both white men) symbolize a different kind of masculine hero? Your post seems to suggest that the sidekicks’ love and acceptance enables these male characters to transcend the limitations of hegemonic masculinity (which in your examples seem firmly embedded in the evil characters who reject such “weaknesses”).
Interestingly, love is not a word that comes up very often in Elementary, and definitely not between Watson and Holmes. At the beginning of season 2, Holmes proclaimed that he was “post-love” at least romantically speaking, and although it seems clear that he does care for his colleagues and certainly his partnership with Watson, “love” remains somewhat unspeakable within the show. Much of this has to do with Holmes’s cynical worldview and yet, some of his (and JLM’s) finest moments have been when he’s at his most vulnerable.