On Being a Purist (and How I Saw the Light)

Yes, Gentle Reader. I’m the obnoxious nerd harshing on your favorite reboot.  I’m the purist who gets off on leeching every last bit of enjoyment out of your viewing experience by pointing out all the ways the new version got the canonical version wrong. I’m the geek with the exhaustive knowledge of this particular fandom and will in fact, ask William Shatner for the combination to Kirk’s safe in Episode 25*.  That this is unfortunate makes it no less true for me and for others out there. I have, however, come to a point in my life where I have seen The Light, as it were, and feel compelled to both defend and attack my own outdated position.

To begin, let me say I believe there is a place for purism in fandom.  I believe that the deep love and respect for a particular work of media or literature invites a desire to maintain the integrity of said work. Too often we’ve seen good creations butchered in countless sequels, prequels, reboots, and remakes that indicate to anyone watching that Hollywood ran out of ideas ages ago. Apparently, they prefer to send a fandom’s loyal fans running for their Xanax as their favorite show or movie gets appropriated for summer blockbuster bucks. If the people did it correctly the first time decades ago, you’d better believe that some suit somewhere believes it can be redone for a new audience.  They want to make it hip.  They want to make it cool, edgy, nu!Wave, dare I say “modern”.  Spare me.

Oftentimes, in the attempt to modernize and repackage, they completely overlook the essence of the show in favor of more cosmetic updates.  Let’s give Superman a mohawk and some “S” tattoos! That’ll work!

My “nerdrage” hackles have been raised on numerous occasions.  As a fan of comic books, disappointment comes with the territory; superheroes will always be a hot property for TV and movie studios, now especially so, and there will always be some studios who get it right (Warner Brothers/ Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Marvel Studios/Iron Man) and some studios who fail miserably (X3, Joel Schumacher’s BatmanGreen Lantern (yes, I’m predicting already that it will suck. Ryan Reynolds is NOT my Hal Jordan.  Less abs, more personality, please.)**.

See what I mean? I can’t stop myself, even now! The movie’s not even out yet and already I’ve passed judgment! To me, Ryan Reynolds lacks the depth of character and range of emotion to play Hal, a complex character who has depth far beyond the surface flyboy persona.  If some amount of purism and respect for the original subject matter does not exist, all portrayals will remain just that: a superficial simulacra, soulless and meaningless.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have the cult of canon, the fanboy’s slavish devotion to the source material and fiery rage at any and all deviation, however minute, from the text.  For example, the Lord of the Rings fandom’s irritation at the omission of Tom Bombadil, a minor character whose presence does not directly drive the main plot.  In order to condense an uncondensable epic, Peter Jackson, as director, needed to edit his lengthy movie to something that movie-goers could digest. Even the most die-hard fans had to understand that cuts were a necessary evil to keep the movie from being 127 hours long. I thought fans would be reasonable; I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that some were not.

It doesn’t help that many of my fandom interests are considered hot properties for movie and TV execs; Star TrekPhantom of the Opera, Sherlock Holmes, 80’s animation (GI Joe, TMNT, Transformers) and TV Shows (A-Team, Knight Rider), DC/Marvel/etc comic book superheroes are all in high demand in multiple mediums and have been reinterpreted numerous times throughout the years. I’m open-minded enough to give certain remakes a look-see, based on initial reviews and the personal integrity and creativity of the director/producing staff. Oftentimes, I’ll stew in my own righteous fangirl indignation and lament the loss of true creativity. Then there are times…when I’m served a dose of humble pie. Black cherry, with french vanilla Breyers on the side, please.

Months ago, several friends of mine worked hard to convince me to give the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes a try.  No no, quoth I.  I had seen Robert Downey Jr.’s version in the theatres (with low expectations in mind) and enjoyed it immensely for what it was: an edgier, action-filled blockbuster interpretation of Conan Doyle’s tales.  I chose not to rebel against it for several reasons: 1) RDJ can do no wrong; I would watch that man run around in a paper sack reciting the Jabberwocky (admit it, you would too); (2) Ritchie clearly took the time to do research and incorporate certain necessary elements that would both please the fans and engage with the source material. This time, however, I was not in the giving vein. My one and only true Sherlock is a man by the name of Jeremy Brett, may he rest in peace.  If you haven’t seen the Granada Sherlock Holmes, do yourself a favor and queue it up in whatever medium you wish. His performance is magnificent, his mannerisms precise and perfectly in character and his elegant appearance the stuff of dreams for most of us Sherlockians. Furthermore, Edward Hardwicke’s Watson is perfectly nuanced, a perfect, stalwart, brave doctor, friend, and colleague. Simply put, I had no damn room or time for yet another Holmes and did not wish to be convinced that another could share Jeremy’s hallowed space.

Weeks passed.  Months passed.  Others spoke of this BBC Holmes and again I avoided the hype machine. I probably should have known better considering the last hype machine I chose to (initially) avoid went by the name of Harry Potter.  I know, I know.  Whatever you’re saying right now, I deserve it.  Anyway, I decided to put my purist inclinations and pompous fandom-related indignation aside and give it a try. So, I watched. And grinned. And laughed and gasped and was in awe and nearly teared up out of the sheer emotion of finding an old friend. My friend, there he was.  The Holmes I grew up with and loved, with whom I deduced and smashed statues of Napoleon and killed giant Hounds and ran around the foggy streets of London.  Yet, different.  Younger, modern, more handsome. Yet, still my Holmes.  What a fascinating conundrum.  What an eye opener.

Perhaps the moral of this story is one of open-mindedness, of freeing oneself from the rigid boundaries of tradition, and rejoicing in new interpretations of timeless, beloved stories (provided that they are approached with love, intelligence, and a care for what made the original great to begin with).

Thank you, Sherlock. It’s as you said in the Study in Scarlet: ”It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.” 

*NB: I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Shatner at a Trek Convention and rest assured I did not ask him such a thing. I simply grinned like a kid in a candy shop.

**This was written many months ago, before Green Lantern came out in theatres.  Based on the reviews and box-office outcome, I’d say most of the world agreed with me.

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