Elementary, My Dear Watson: The Influence of Culture on the Portrayal of Autism in the Character of Sherlock Holmes Adaptations
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Conan Doyle’s stories on Sherlock Holmes have been adapted on a large scale. The fictional detective remains one of the best known literary characters around the world. The three most recent adaptations are contemporary television series which were broadcast in Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively. Interestingly, Conan Doyle’s detective has often been associated with autism. Autism is often regarded as a fascinating disorder by the public, since it emphasises the concept of Otherness. Furthermore, since global television formats are often adapted to the local preferences of the audience, and the portrayal of autism in fictional characters reflects how a local society perceives autism, the question arises to what extent culture influences the portrayal autism in the character of Sherlock Holmes. Two research questions were formulated. The first focuses on the presence of ASD-features in the Holmes character across the three adaptations. The second question mainly focuses on the influence of culture on the portrayal of autism. The corpus of this comparative analysis consisted of two episodes of each of the three adaptations. The findings regarding the first question showed that Sherlock portrays some aspects that are often associated with ASD. Regarding the second question, it seems that the autistic traits Sherlock portrays are universal, since Sherlock’s behaviour was quite similar in each adaptation. However, the way other, normative characters responded to Sherlock’s behaviour seemed culture-specific. In conclusion, the outcomes of this study show that the portrayal of autism in the character of Sherlock Holmes is consistent, yet, the influence of culture becomes visible through the response of normative characters, which represent society’s view on autism.