Sherlock Holmes: The Game is On…


When the BBC first aired ‘Sherlock’ (2010) -a new modernised depiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s (1892) ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’- it resonated with, not only its British viewers, but audiences all over the world. The curly haired detective brought Sherlock Holmes to the modern world in a way that it had never been done before. No longer did the character wear his classic deerstalker or smoke a pipe but instead wore his now iconic scarf and popped collar whilst battling addiction. The same could not be said for the 2009 film (Ritchie, 2009) starring Robert Downey Junior, depiction which stayed much truer to the original novel. The two representations of Sherlock Holmes contradict each other massively and both hold very different ideologies. Williams (1977, pg.55) defined ideology as “a system of beliefs characteristic of a particular group or class”. The fact that the media have the power to construct and uphold dominant ideologies is dangerous. The media has the power to control the way people identify themselves and others. Throughout my analysis, I look to discuss the different stereotypes which are held in modern British society. I look to examine how such as iconic story can influence the way in which we precise the world.

Fan input played a massive role in the success of the show. With the growth of social network and Web 2.0, fans are able to become emerged in the universe of their favourite detective. Jenkins et al (2009) argue, with participatory culture, fans “believe their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection with one another”. This idea of audience participation has become a massive part of the modern media with today’s audiences wanting to become more active. Within this essay, I look to understand how audiences become a part of the show and the impact they have on it. I also look to understand whether the convergence of the show onto different platforms has made it more relevant and look to understand the way fans consume the show. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first published ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ (1892) I doubt he realised how successful his stories would become. The character has easily become one of the most well know and with there being over 20,000 related texts (De Waal, 1994) having come from the story; is it a surprise? With the success of Sherlock Holmes in the media, across multiple different platforms and decades, it is a perfect example of media in transition.


Sherlock Holmes is a character which has transcended time. The original novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was first published in October 1892. Since then there have been multiple reincarnations of the story. The canon of Sherlock Holmes is constantly evolving. In 2009, Guy Ritchie’s (2009) adaptation of Sherlock Holmes was released which gave a twist to the Victorian story and made the character of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson into action stars. In 2010, the TV show ‘Sherlock’ was first aired and 4 seasons later it has a massive following. The show has become a cross-platform text in order to engage with a modern audience. After the show aired the producers created a website for John’s Blog, which plays a massive role in the show, as well as Sherlock’s website. Not only this but there has been an app released called ‘Sherlock: The Network’ which allows fans to become immersed in the universe they see on TV allowing them to become more active. The show has taken advantage of new technology in order to become relevant in a technological society; for example, the show has been made available on Netflix for fans to stream. This is without mentioning the merchandise which has been put out by the BBC including a graphic novel which retell the episodes of the TV show. Not only have the institutions manipulated the use of new technology but fans have been seen to embrace it as well. The Sherlock fandom have been seen to create a community using social network to share their fan art and fanfictions with each other. If, as Evans (2011, pg. 20) states, “transmedia have become more… about creating a coherent, deliberately cross-platform narrative experience” then Sherlock is a prime example of this. It is clear through its many interpretations and through the BBC’s use of convergence that the Sherlock Holmes’ Franchise want to create a community.

Different adaptations of Sherlock Holmes

Eagleton (1999, pg. 1) suggests ideologies distort the way an individual views the world due to “rigid preconceptions”. The media are definitely guilty of using ideologies to control the way consumers think. Every text has underlining meanings and agendas which conform to an ideology. Baudrillard (1977) infers ideologies are made up from signs and symbols to create a corruption of reality. Audiences are shown a false consciousness when they view media texts because they are seeing an institutions reconstruction of society which can never reflect reality. Ideologies and stereotypes lie at the heart of this because representations and stereotypes take away the complexity from reality and create a superficial view of the world (Dyer, 2002). This gives massive power to the media as they work as an ideological state apparatus to uphold dominant ideologies within society. As I said in my introduction they have the power to dictate the way we, as media consumers, view the world assuming they accept everything the media dictates. Althusser (1969) states those in charge choose the ideologies. This is clear as big capitalist cooperation’s have the power to choose the values and ideologies which audiences are fed. However, in modern society, the audiences have the power to choose which ideologies they believe. They have choice over what texts they buy into due to a multi-platform media. This is clear in the Sherlock Holmes franchise as there are so many remakes and interpretations audiences have the power to choose their text based on the ideologies and representations which resonant with them and that they can identify with more.

Participatory culture is becoming more important in modern media. Jenkins (2006) inferred it is becoming more prominent and widely accessed. Fans and audiences are becoming more active in todays’ society. With the idea of fandom becoming part of our culture, producers are encouraging fans to become more involved with the universes they are creating. Chandler and Munday (2011) define participatory culture as products which prove the consumer experiences has turned into one of production. They make reference to the Idea of “the boundary between the producer and consumer” becoming blurred. Evans (2011) made clear, as I stated before, media producers are looking to make use of the idea of transmedia in a new way. In recent years’ producers have encouraged audiences to become more involved and create fan art and fiction. In the past media corporations have been less kind to fans and have filed law suits to stop them from participating in their media texts as Rose (2011) discusses in control a chapter from “The art of immersion”. However, participatory culture has begun to rise and that isn’t without the support of media institutions. By encouraging fans to become a part of their universe, they not only create an active community and following, they make their media product more relevant in modern media as fans spread their products across different platforms and keep a flow of conversation going, even when media texts aren’t being produced.


When analysing the changing ideologies within the Sherlock Holmes Franchise it is important to focus on the man himself. The Steven Moffat (2012) depiction of the famous detective is completely different to the Guy Ritchie (2009) interpretation of the character. Although both gave the story a modern twist, Ritchie’s depiction of the famous detective stayed true to the original. However iconic characters, such as Sherlock Holmes, are constantly being updated in order to stay relevant for modern views, which is exactly what the BBC aimed to do with the TV Show ‘Sherlock’. The BBC’s Sherlock was presented to hold modern British ideologies in just the character’s persona. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock was seen to be much more sarcastic and satirical in comparison to Downey’s. This highlights how the BBC aimed to enforce British ideologies and stereotypes as this is a stereotypical “British Humour”. This was highlighted in ‘A Study in Pink’ (BBC, 2010) when Sherlock says “Come on, where is her case? Did she eat it?”. The use of this satire towards the other detectives makes Sherlock sound irritated and impatient. This sarcastic tone fits into British culture as it is the humour we are expected to have. However, Downey’s Holmes (Ritchie, 2009) is seen to be much more charismatic. This is best highlighted when he first meets John’s Fiancé, Mary. Sherlock is seen to try to appear likeable; he wears a clean suit, he laughs and calls Mary “My dear”. This is a clear example of American ideologies coming through as, through his clothes and mannerisms, Sherlock wishes to appear civilised wishing to be the best he can in front of strangers. In this BBC News article (2014) they talk about how Sherlock Holmes acts as a way of viewing Victorian society through the novel, I believe the same could also be said with both the TV show and the film. The two characters highlights how American and British cultures are very different. Stereotypically Americans are seen to be much more sociable and outgoing then the British. This links to the ideology of the American dream giving Americans a more optimistic outlook. Even within a film that is set in Britain it is clear that there are different values and ideologies put into each media text because of the ideologies the Ideological State Apparatus choose to enforce.

Similarly, it can be seen that the producers aim to create a hyper-reality through the representation of British culture. The media create a world within their media texts which audiences want to be a part of, as I stated when talking about participatory culture, but they model these worlds off reality to make fans feel that these universes are the same. As Dyer (2002) inferred, the media aims to reflect reality but instead creates their own distorted version of the world which upholds their ideologies. This is seen through the use of British iconography throughout both texts. In the TV Show, viewers are constantly shown the two main characters drinking tea, getting into a black cab or using a red phone booth. Similarly, in the 2009 film the characters are seen to be wearing bowler hats and both media texts show iconic places in London such as London bridge and Buckingham Palace. The use of British iconography reinforces British culture and holds these dominant ideologies of ‘Britishness’. Throughout both texts the audiences are shown small signs and codes which indoctrinate them into viewing British culture in a certain way. This highlights how the media use ideologies in order to control their audience and make them conform to their way of viewing the world. As Hall (1997) inferred the representations and ideologies that the media portray have the power to distort reality and change people’s perceptions of the world. This is highlighted through the representation of class and capitalism in the two Sherlock Holmes. Although these representations are to be expected from the Ritchie (2009) adaptation because it is set in 19th century so the society that we are viewing is reflective on old fashioned ideologies. This is best highlighted through the scene where Sherlock disguises himself as a beggar and gets threatened with a gun by a rich man. This highlights how people of a lower class are looked down on in society and emphasises how we live in a capitalist society where everyone works for themselves. Although, as I said, these ideologies are old fashioned they are clearly still enforced by the media. This is clear as these dominant ideologies are still being upheld in the BBC’s Sherlock which is meant to be reflective on modern society. This is highlighted through Sherlock’s clients. In ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ (BBC, 2012) there is a montage at the beginning of the episode where the audience are shown Sherlock dismissing “boring” clients. All these clients are presented to be stupid and working class. This is seen through the mise en scene as they are wearing plain, dull clothes in comparison to Sherlock’s suit. There is a clear class barrier created as Sherlock is made to appear superior. This is also seen in the framing of the scene as all the clients are sat in a chair, whilst Sherlock is stood above them and walking around them. This upholds dominant social ideologies and enforces that people with a higher class are seen as more important.

However, with audiences having a more active role in the media it could be argued that they are also dictating what ideologies they are shown. We are no longer living in a traditional patriarchal society as woman are becoming more and more empowered and so ideologies in the media have begun to change with society and the voice of the people. As Jenkins et al (2006) state, stories should be remade in order to fit the needs of audiences. This is best seen through the representation of Irene Adler. In both adaptions of Sherlock Holmes, Adler is represented to be a complex character and plays an important role to the movement of the story. In the movie, during the action scene, Adler wears trousers and a blouse which goes against the norms of woman’s clothes in 19th century society, highlighting how the producer has modernised the text in order to make the film relevant and agreeable to modern audiences. Similarly, in the Sherlock episode ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ Adler is seen to use her sexuality in order to empower herself. This is highlighted through Sherlock’s first meeting in which she is naked. This highlights how producers have made their text more relevant to a modern audience by using ideologies from the current social movement post-feminism. As stated in an article from ‘The Artifice’ (2014) Adler is remade throughout the different waves of feminism. In the TV Show she has been shown to be recreated into a more feminine character clearly having been moved into the third wave of feminism.

Participatory culture

With a story that can transcend time, like Sherlock Holmes, is it any surprise that fans want to become closer to the characters they love? Fans turn to these alternate universes to escape their own and find adventure elsewhere. Through social networking fans are able to come together in their shared love of Sherlock Holmes and find fulfilment which their lives may not give them. Social networking has become one of the most popular ways to communicate with people. We are living in a meme culture and the Sherlock fandom are no exception. The fans are always commenting on the show and creating jokes within the fandom to create a sense of community and to highlight their like-mindedness. Both Downey and Cumberbatch have been made into countless memes and jokes through the fandom. As Jenkins (2013) suggests fans are creative but lack the means to make original content so they take their favourite show and create something that is theirs. The memes which the fans make are only a small part of this. Fan-fiction and fan art has been around for years but it has become more prominent since the rise of social network. Fans are able to share their work and people involved in the shows and films notice. In an interview with Wired (2009) Robert Downey Junior hints at there being a gay element to his character when talking about his character’s relationship with Doctor Watson. This hint in the interview could have been sparked by all the fan-fiction that is out there because so many fans “ship” the two characters together. Similarly, when Benedict Cumberbatch appeared on The Graham Norton show (BBC, 2015) they talked about how the fans compare him to an Otter. This acknowledged of the fandom empowers fans because they know the work they are putting out there is being seen and being recognised. They get excited knowing that their favourite stars have acknowledged their production.

Institutions are seen to embrace participatory culture to market their products. In modern society, social network means the fastest way to spread something is through the fans. This is highlighted through the Sherlock season 3 trailer (BBC, 2013). As in the trailer the screen is filled with multiple different hashtags. At the end of the trailer the hashtag “#SherlockLives” comes up. This hashtag then spread all across social media through the excitement of the fans. This highlights how the BBC used horizontal integration as a free method of marketing as they understand that the best way to share information is online. As Jenkins (2006) states, media conglomerates are encouraging fans to spread conversation about their texts. This is similarly seen within the marketing of the (2009) Sherlock Holmes film release. Stars including Robert Downey Junior and Rachel McAdams attended Comic Con and offered fans an exclusive clip from the film making this select audience feel like they have a unique experience. This fan interaction encouraged fans to get excited and to take their voice to the internet to help create hype around the film. Fans are being encouraged to start conversations and create a space online for the ‘fandom’ because it means that media institutions can spread their text through them which is desirable in today’s capitalist society.

Jenkins (2009) infers producers use different platforms to give them a “Fanboy” identity. This creates a kin like relationship between the producer and the audience. The BBC utilised their twitter by doing “#SherlockLive” which gave the fans an insight into the world of their favourite detective allowing them to help him solve a crime. This gave the producers a “fanboy” identity as it mimicked how fans pretend to be their favourite character in the real world. This is not the first time the producers of Sherlock have done this. They have set up John Watsons blog and Sherlock’s ‘The Science of Deduction’ website from the TV Show. On both websites, they would post entries as if they were the character; bringing them to life. This type of behaviour from an institution encourages the fans to become a lot more active and apart of the fandom. However, by making a blog or website, the BBC are giving the fans a controlled area which can be monitored, so although they are encouraging fans to become a part of their universe it is under their terms. It could be argued that by institutions mimicking the way fans act and by giving them a platform to talk about their texts it gives power back to the institution. The institution has the power to monitor what is being said, even through the use of hashtags on twitter they are able to monitor what their audiences are saying and react accordingly. In comparison to the BBC multi-platform use of cross platform media to encourage fans to participate more it is clear the producers of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie didn’t utilise the different platforms which were available to them.


Sherlock Holmes is arguably one of the most recognisable characters. Before researching into my case study, I was unaware of how many adaptations of the story there are and how many different forms it has taken. From analysing my case study, I can understand how dominant the idea of participatory culture has become. Modern audiences enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with producers. As a media producer, I can understand it is beneficial to embrace this and give fans platforms. Similarly, as a consumer I can appreciate the empowerment and pleasures that come from becoming more involved within a fictional universe. I feel that the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ definitely made use of the idea of convergence and saw the benefits of having a multi-platform presents, whilst the Ritchie movies defiantly stayed closer to more traditional media. Before researching my case study, I had no idea how big the ‘Sherlock’ fandom was and how dedicated the fans are. I had no idea how extensive the fandom is or how much fan art and fiction is out there. I have gained a greater appreciation for the dedication of fans and their work. It is now clear to me the control and the power institutions have through ideologies. Media texts are full of signs and symbols which hold different ideologies. Through my research, I can understand how the media have become so important in modern society. It was interesting for me to see how the different interpretations of Sherlock Holmes held different ideologies because of their different producers. Through their texts the producers were able to create hyper-realities of Britain. It was interesting for me, as a British citizen, to look at these texts and see how the producers constructed British ideologies within their texts. From this essay, I have learnt not to take everything the media presents at face value but to question why they have constructed the ideologies they have.


Sherlock Holmes will constantly continue to evolve as a trans-media text; the character is so popular and resonates with so many different people. Due to modern media audiences are able to feel more involved in media production. With participation culture on the rise, audiences are constantly becoming more active, creating more conversations about their favourite shows and becoming a part of a community, but this isn’t without the input of institutions. The BBC’s Sherlock have embraced audience participation and allow their fans to help them market their products. With fans becoming more active it means they do have more of a say of what goes in their favourite shows. Institutions have begun to change the ideologies they put in their shows to meet the needs of the fans. Although not all ideologies empower fans and many media texts are full of signs and symbols which are used to control the way audiences think. Within my case study I can see how different cultures hold different ideologies through comparing the BBC’s Sherlock and Ritchie’s 2009 film. This is what makes Sherlock Holmes so endearing to a mass audience because it has the ability to change and be rewritten in order to suit the audience and time period. Sherlock Holmes is a story that has transcended time and will continue to be retold across different platforms.

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