Imperial and Critical Cosmopolitans: Screening the Multicultural City on Sherlock and Elementary
Abstract: This article argues that two modern reinterpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, that is the BBC’s Sherlock (2010–) and CBS’s Elementary (2012–), differ in their representations of the city in ways that bear significant political ramifications. In particular, Sherlock repeats many of the social structures of Conan Doyle’s stories that construct an imperial cosmopolitan vision of life in London, while Elementary offers an interpretation of Holmes’s life in modern New York with a critical cosmopolitan ethos. Building on the works of Craig Calhoun, Ann Stoler, Paul Gilroy, and Walter Mignolo, this article argues that imperial cosmopolitanism refers to a colonial node wherein the global circulation of goods and people leads to increases in segregation, social differentiation, and ethnocentrism, whereas critical cosmopolitanism refers to circumstances under which the arrangement of the global city creates increased contact between various kinds of people as well as decreased social differentiation, which may lead to mutual understanding, solidarity, and what Lauren Berlant calls political empathy. This article demonstrates these two divergent approaches by analysing the programmes’ aesthetic choices, depictions of social contact between Holmes and the diverse inhabitants of the city, and the representations of women, particularly with regard to the casting of Watson. As a result, the article finds that Sherlock depicts London from above as a space that must be strategically traversed to maintain social distance, while Elementary depicts New York from street level as a space wherein Holmes learns to encounter diverse others as co-equal citizens and the audience is invited to experience multiple perspectives. Consequently, Sherlock reiterates an imperial cosmopolitan view of urban globalisation, while Elementary includes key preconditions for the emergence of critical cosmopolitan mentalities.