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The Worst Possible Taste

BBC Sherlock metafic

Rating 12 (tastelessness)

Warning: this was inspired by a discussion at a Sherlock meet-up in the autumn about limits on writing fanfic, during which two of my previous betas specifically said they would refuse to read any fic I wrote on this topic. This contains no graphic violence, but is nevertheless gratuitously offensive to cat-lovers.

Summary: Mary Sue Sutherland, hapless writer of RPF, has once again got herself into trouble.

From the blog of Dr John H. Watson

14th Aug

Sad News

I have a bit of sad news for regular readers of this blog. You will remember me talking about Felix, the seal point Siamese who adopted us earlier in the year. (Well, technically he was a rescue cat, but as far as Felix was concerned, it was him rescuing us from our boring and cat-less life). Sadly, Felix's luck ran out this week. A speeding motorist hit him on the road outside 221B, he sustained serious injuries and had to be put down. I know how popular my posts about Felix and his exploits have been with my readers, so if anyone wants to leave memories or tributes to him in the comments, please feel free to do so.

UPDATE: *Please* don't write poems in the comments. You know what happens if you do. (If anyone is new to this blog, and doesn't know, just read the posts tagged: 'haiku incident' and 'scansion for the dim-witted').


7th September

All her friends had abandoned her and she was in deep trouble with the authorities, but Mary Sue Sutherland was not yet dead. Under the circumstances, she was mildly surprised at that.

She'd known she was being targeted, of course, after the break-in. The theft of her computer and her husband's laptop might pass as petty crime. But the removal of every writing implement from the house – that was a message. As was the fact that she was promptly escorted from the local branch of WH Smith's by a member of staff the moment she strayed too near the stationery counter.

Her husband was doggedly writing essential messages with a twig dipped in a diluted solution of his own home-made blackberry jam.  She didn't like to think what he'd say if she suggested using the precious fluid to write fanfic again. And besides, what could she do even if she did manage to write out a story in longhand? Her ASBO banned her from all use of the internet.

This couldn't go on. She cut out large letters from bits of cardboard and stuck them on the upstairs window:


She wasn't altogether surprised when five minutes later her mobile phone started to ring. Though it was still slightly creepy, because she knew she had it switched off. And the voice at the other end was startling: she'd presumed it would be one of his minions, not Mycroft Holmes himself. She really had got up his nose this time, hadn't she?

"Do you realise, Miss Sutherland," the icy tones announced, "how much trouble you have put me to in the last fortnight?"

"I'm very sorry," she said. There was a time and place for grovelling and this was undoubtedly it.

"I almost wish now that I had outed you in the first place," Mycroft went on. "However, I still have no wish to disgrace the august institution for which you work by revealing their employee's penchant for licentious and libellous writing, so your secret remains safe for the moment, Dr S. Consider yourself fortunate."

"How can I when I can't write?"

"Cravings getting bad yet? The itch to scribble, scribble, scribble another damned thick story eating away your brain?" Mycroft's voice now sounded a bit like Sherlock's, in some of the TV clips of him. She wondered again what he actually looked like. She always described him in her fics as tall and dark and thin like Sherlock, but for all she knew he was really a fat blond with tattoos.

"Have you phoned up just to gloat?" she asked, trying to sound calm. "Haven't you got wars to start somewhere?"

"What I am endeavouring to ascertain is whether your last story was motivated by active malice or sheer blind stupidity. I presume the latter, but it's as well to check. You have achieved some notoriety, of course, as a writer of real person fiction."

"It's a well-established genre."

"So is the misery memoir and progressive rock; it doesn't make the result any more desirable. The problem is that such fiction is easily confused with the truth by the more feeble-minded surfers of the internet. I have enough problems as it is with members of the coalition who believe that The Onion is an accurate reflection of US politics. I do not need a writer with your lurid imagination wrecking my brother's reputation."

"The prompt was for dark Sherlock."

"There is a difference between dark and morally depraved."

"But that's the point!" she insisted. "I was interested in writing about a man who's not bound by conventional moral standards. You must admit, that's an aspect of your brother's character that comes across clearly in interviews. And I read this research article-"

"Offensiveness with footnotes, Miss Sutherland, is no less offensive."

"I read this article by a psychologist called Jonathan Haidt. He argues that our moral judgements are made instinctively and only subsequently rationalised. So people believe things to be morally wrong even when they can provide no logical justification for their beliefs. Haidt's done an experiment to demonstrate that. He thought up scenarios in which there was no harmful intention or consequences, but most people still believed the action was immoral. I wanted to write a fic incorporating some of those ideas."

"I can hardly believe I'm saying this, but the world might be a happier place if you could just master the art of writing pornography. So you decided to show Sherlock as a transgressor of conventional pieties, did you? A man bound only by his own logic?"

"Yes. Only the problem was, people had already written stories very similar to some of Haidt's scenarios. There was one in which a dying mother makes her son promise to visit her grave every week, but he doesn't do so because he's so busy."

"I can hardly see the readers of your type of trash balking at that one. Sherlock's inconsiderate nature is well-known, after all."

"And Haidt had another one involving reactions to flag desecration. And I thought-"

"You thought?" There was a quizzical tone to the haughty voice now.

"That that wouldn't really work, since there is already, erm, Union Jack cushion-fucking RPF."

"There was such fiction, indeed. It has now been removed from the web to a place of safety. As has its writer."

"Right...And another of the unjustified moral taboos Haidt mentions is consensual intercourse between a brother and sister, if they're taking contraceptive precautions. But people have already written incest fic about your brother. And about you. Well, about both you and him, obviously."

"Your point, if you were capable of articulating it, is presumably that people read about Sherlock committing such acts and yet their opinion of him is unaffected?"

"As I said, it's all fiction and I do make that clear."

"Miss Sutherland, if the British public could distinguish between fact and fiction, would the Daily Mail still exist? You are relying, in reality, on the belief that a large number of people will continue to admire my brother whatever he is alleged to have done."

"I suppose so."

"Wrong, of course. You have managed the difficult feat of producing a fictional version of Sherlock Holmes too offensive even for his...fangirls. Your story is no more, thanks to a convenient accident at LiveJournal. Your mission now, should you choose to accept it – and I should mention that there will be rather serious consequences if you do not - is to begin to remove the stench it left behind."

"What do you mean?"

"I want you to return to your writing, distract your fellow band of smut-peddlers with some new sordid titbits, in order to overwrite their memories of this fic. But what I expect now is nice Sherlock. Fluffy Sherlock, one might almost say."

"There's nothing fluffy about your brother, except possibly the mould in his coffee cups. Allegedly."

"So one of your little band of fanatics has managed to get into 221B again, have they? I'll need to upgrade the security yet again. It's curious how much easier master criminals are to deter than the middle-aged and desperate, isn't it?"

"I should point out that I know how old you are, Mr Holmes," she replied. "It's not just detectives who can find things out."

"Indeed. I gather that the Service once nearly employed you. How lucky an escape for all of us that they didn't. What was your referee's comment? A woman of many talents, but not necessarily the ones you are looking for. But can I suggest that you now confine your nosiness to the searching out of sordid facts about the Middle Ages. Any urge to write fiction should now also concentrate on its more wholesome aspects. Your computer, suitable refurbished, will be returned to you tomorrow and the ASBO will be lifted. You will also be receiving a little present from me in your e-mail."

"A virus?"

"No, of course not. A schmoop bingo card, Make sure you use it. Good day, Miss Sutherland, and have a happy, cuddly time writing." The line went dead.


She sat in her home office and stared at the spot where her computer had once been, and would soon be again. And then at the messy stack of papers beside it: newspaper cuttings, drafts in longhand, print-outs from The Science of Deduction and John Watson's blog. Better do some tidying up, she supposed. And right at the top, there it was: the copy of Haidt's article that had inspired her to write The Worst Possible Taste. She'd circled the key paragraph in red biro, back in the days when she'd still been allowed pens:

Three additional stories involved unconventional food and sexual practices, designed to trigger the emotion of disgust:

Dog: A family's dog was killed by a car in front of their house. They had heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog's body and cooked it and ate it for dinner.

What she'd forgotten when she'd been writing, of course, was that even enthusiastic writers of BDSM and deathfic were still terribly sentimental about animals. Particularly cats.

The research article in question is: Haidt, J., Koller, S., & Dias, M. (1993). "Affect, culture, and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog?", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 613-628


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 23rd, 2011 09:26 am (UTC)
Don't tell Mycroft I'm at a computer
*punches air* *goes back underground*

Before I go though: Offensiveness with footnotes. Misery memoirs and prog rock. Our favourite Mary Sue with a three pen problem. I can barely breathe for squee!

Dec. 26th, 2011 07:37 am (UTC)
Re: Don't tell Mycroft I'm at a computer
One of the people at the meetup was Gayalondiel, who's written loads of death!fic, and I'd also been talking to ginbitch about all the different kinky stuff she'd betaed and how almost nothing could shock her now. Ginbitch mentioned how she'd put her cat into one of her stories, and at that point wires in my head crossed and I asked them both if they'd write dead cat fic. And the looks I got...

But I'm starting to worry about Mary Sue, after this. Maybe I'll have to kill her off again. ;-)
Dec. 23rd, 2011 07:45 pm (UTC)
I am a cat parent and I still found this hilarious. :)
Dec. 26th, 2011 07:40 am (UTC)
Glad you didn't object - there's just an awful logic to Sherlock's mind sometimes (and probably mine as well) that makes this sort of idea happen.
Dec. 24th, 2011 12:34 am (UTC)
Hah! Awesome. And, really, why shouldn't we make use of our dead pets when meat is so expensive these days?

Uh, does this make me technically immoral?
Dec. 29th, 2011 07:42 am (UTC)
No, it doesn't make you immoral, it makes you a logical thinker, who does not let conventional sentimentality cloud your rational thought. (Well, that's what Sherlock would say, anyhow). There are some more scientific arguments against eating dead carnivores - herbivores tend to taste better.
(no subject) - shehasathree - Dec. 24th, 2011 02:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 29th, 2011 07:45 am (UTC)
My view of academic life is that you can read and discuss anything, provided you have long and reference-packed footnotes, and you cultivate an air of not enjoying what you're discussing, just reporting it. It's how I get away with writing in RL about sex and sexuality.
(no subject) - shehasathree - Dec. 31st, 2011 05:32 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 24th, 2011 12:36 pm (UTC)
UPDATE: *Please* don't write poems in the comments. You know what happens if you do. (If anyone is new to this blog, and doesn't know, just read the posts tagged: 'haiku incident' and 'scansion for the dim-witted').

Dec. 27th, 2011 04:23 pm (UTC)
The cat died in a very good cause! This is hilarious!

Dec. 29th, 2011 07:47 am (UTC)
I wasn't expecting you to read this, given your views on dead cat fic, but I'm glad you enjoyed it after all. I promise I won't harm any more animals in my writing.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )