Anyone familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series knows something is up with the lovable British detective. However, for the purpose of this character study, I think it’s best if I delve into a specific incarnation of Holmes. I’m going with Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Holmes, as seen in the BBC drama Sherlock.
If you haven’t seen Sherlock yet, I suggest you catch up quickly. The Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss creation modernizes Sherlock Holmes’ work, updating the major characters of the franchise for the 21st Century.
It is in this modernization that several character traits of Holmes that, to be honest, were always there but never seemed too prevalent, are emphasized. Holmes, while working on a case, becomes obsessed with the science of crime solving, throwing away many major creature comforts and some life-necessities, such as sleep, in pursuit of the answer. Furthermore, Holmes shows an inability to connect with people, considering them pawns to the game as opposed to living, breathing beings. Some have said that Holmes’ actions show that he’s a sociopath.
However several articles, including a 2012 piece from psychologist Maria Konnikkova and a 2011 piece from Dr. Karl Albrecht show that these traits probably mean Holmes was less a sociopath and more an undiagnosed man living with Asperger Syndrome.
Of course, anytime you mention Asperger’s around me, my ears perk up. So I did research. And while it is true that no two “Aspies” are alike, the similarities between me and Sherlock Holmes are awesome! Okay, maybe awesome isn’t the right word, but they are similar.
For example, I am a stickler for focusing on one task and going to town on that task, ignoring all other tasks and ignoring contact with people. There have been times that, even though I have an article due for Lady Geek Girl, she has to actually call me to remind me that there is an article I should be doing. And while it must be frustrating for Lady Geek Girl to constantly have to keep me on task, I feel that her best impression of Dr. Watson is amazingly helpful.
Furthermore, Holmes’ inability to humanize… err… humans is eerily similar to how both I and several diagnosed Asperger’s adults treat other people. In some of our eyes, people are the pieces to the game of life. We are attempting to win our objective, and must deal with other pieces to do so. Holmes must deal with the rules of society and other people to get cases solved, a concept that frustrates the hell out of him in Sherlock.
While I turned turning my obsession with the game of life into the career of studying communication, Holmes turned his obsession with the game into a career of solving crimes. And the Asperger’s tendencies have not gone unnoticed by many. In an article, The Guardian says that “Cumberbatch has a reputation for playing odd, brilliant men very well, and his Holmes is cold, techie, slightly Aspergerish.”
Even the show references it in “The Hounds of Baskerville.”
I’m sure this development is not by accident. On average of 1 in 100 people are diagnosed with some form of Autism, so there is a good chance that some of society’s most famous characters were on the Autism Spectrum. To be honest, Holmes’ Asperger’s may be the beginning, not the end, of a trend in character development.
That’s not to say that an increase in characters with Asperger’s will most definitely be a good thing. It can be. If the portrayals are strong enough, Asperger’s characters can become a solid staple of media.
But my worry is that the concept could become a cliche. So really, Sherlock makes me cautiously optimistic for Asperger’s in television and movies. It can be done well, but will it be done well consistently? That remains to be seen.