Detectives Who, How & Why

Sherlock & Poirot



I responded to Calmgrove’s post, “Locked Room Cozy is a Page-turner” , making an observation on the nature of the whodunnit. This is pure speculation, but if we keep in mind that all forms of Mass Media contain values, beliefs and ideologies,  one can see how male biasesand values could shape the characteristics of mystery stories and the development of the literary detective.  I suspect that the whodunnit almost falls into male and female categories. Obviously readers and writers of both genders can move from the one type to the other. However the evolution of the genre appears to have evolved out of a societal-cultural role pattern and expectations. Early detectives, tended  to rely on the male preference for a mechanistic approach to solving the mystery. Their knowledge and observational skills concentrated on the how of the mystery.  In effect, the whodunnit is very often a process of discovering how it was done in order to catch the perpetrator of the crime.

Lady Detectives 3twq

 The early Lady Detectives  were written in the model of the male detectives, using their skills and knowledge in the same manner as their male counterparts.  Their advantage was in how society under estimated them and in their observation of things, most men would have considered inconsequential, the emphasis was on the how in order to arrive at the who.

In 1938, Zelda Popkin introduced Mary Carner, considered the first modern female detective

Male whodunnit – How-dunnit discovers the mechanics of the mystery.


Female whodunnit – Why-dunnit leads to the mechanics of the mystery.



Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple demonstrates a shift as observations about human behaviour  places more significance on emotions and motivations. The one detective figures out how it was done to discover who did it. The other detective investigates motive, the why, which leads to who. The who then helps provides the means of unravelling the method . Both detectives are essentially puzzle solvers who approach the puzzle from different sides.


The Hard Boiled detective follows a convoluted emotional path full of ethical grey areas. Lots of physical encounters, where action & threat are a metaphor for the detective’s emotional vulnerability. The solitary male detective follows a physical trail to the emotional heart of the mystery. The puzzle/mystery is cracked open (to crack the case); the detective seeks emotional whys in a hands on manner. The mystery always involves the eternal mystery of the dangerous/unattainable woman, Femme Fatale.



Black Mask - The Maltese Falcon








In the Noir world of the Hard Boiled Detective, women could be obstacles, goals,  and antagonists. Even so, the Lady Detective could play out the role of protagonist, as long as she followed the masculine path of the knight errant down the mean streets.








Typography from Paper to Cinema


FROM PAPER TO SCREEN is a short animation by Thibault de Fournas. That first component  explores the development of typography on paper ( the basic rules) and then is followed by a presentation of the evolution of the use of typography in cinema.

Using  sound and animated text & imagery, the whole piece effectively becomes  visual kinetic poetry .

The pieces of Music used were:
Clair de Lune – Debussy
Shoot the Piano Player: Poursuite  a composition by
Georges Delerue is performed by – Hugh Wolff & London Sinfonietta .


21th Century Machine - Mystery Map List  Caslon, William, Roman typefaces (specimen).

I Know that Icon, Just Can Not Place The Medium


Bill Amend’s strip points out a problem with comic publishing and the superhero genre in particular. Everyone knows the character(s)/set-up, but they have not read the originals. In the case of the comic book  that also means the current   on-going series.

Older folks will say, well that is for children. This is incorrect on two counts. First point is that comic publishing have been skewing to an older demographic target audience since about the early seventies. This thanks in part to the Baby Boomer Generation.

The tail end of the BB-Gens entered teen years in the 70s and the comics followed. Marvel lucked in to this trend first when Stan Lee coped with writing his comic superheroes in a slightly more realistic manner and acknowledged  the absurdity of of the characters’ situations.  How the average superhero earn money, ride a subway, get a date or deal with a head cold became a plot element. 


Current popular songs, movies and food showed up in the Marvel Comic Universe. The shawarma scene at the end of the Avengers movie was a typical Marvel comic element.


The gritty adult oriented  fantasy, horror and mystery of DC Vertigo comics line was also an acknowledgement of changing demographics and the need to hold on to an audience that enjoyed the graphic narrative form. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series being one that moved into literary acceptance as “Graphic Novel”.

DC Comics Sandman Fantasy hg

DC Comics Sandman

This however brings up the second error in stating that  comics are for kids, like Trix.

Kids are not reading comics. The comics publishers so successfully chased after the older demographic that their product was no longer accessible to the younger demographic – this was not simply a shift in content.  The increased price of printed paper entertainment together specialty stores taking over distribution altered the buying patterns. More serialized interconnected stories were great for an audience that had the money and a comic store available.


This helped produce the scene in Amend’s comic . You have an audience that knows the characters from television (live action & cartoons), movies, video games and toys, but have never read the original source material- even if it still being published monthly.


SUPERMAN #44 – cover art JOHN ROMITA JR. and KLAUS JANSON 2015

I remember my son  commenting years ago that his fellow students would get into debates about characters like Spider-man or Batman without having read any of the comics. They “knew” the character and debated the minutiae  of events, relationships and characters, as if they had been “reading” the stories for years.

While this situation is strange, it does have forerunners within Mass Media history. Consider this, among the most recognized fictional characters worldwide the following have been in the top twenty for many decades: Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Dracula, Frankenstein (The Monster), King Arthur, Merlin, Robin Hood, Zorro, Superman, Batman. Now consider how many people have actually read the original poems, short stories and novels which introduced the the first eight characters.


Most people have acquired a knowledge of those characters through movies and television. Some earlier generations may have been exposed through radio dramas, newspaper comic strips and  comic books.


That is why so many people had a vague sense of Sherlock  being alive running around in a deerstalker in a fog bound London right up into the late 1950s. It is also why Tarzan was regarded as a dumb monosyllabic  ape-man ( get an actor of limited skills who is an Olympic swimmer – looks good in a loin cloth ) and Frankenstein  was the monster, not the doctor (easier to market Frankenstein vs. The Wolfman).

Sherlock & Poirot

It also  helps us understand why the  character of Superman evokes such a strong opinion as to a movie interpretation. Generational layers of movies and television have created a distilled version of the character, that any deviation creates hostility. An expectation of emotional tone means that presenting something different feels like a piece of very familiar music that is altered/distortwed in tempo and style.

Mass Media consumes itself. As one form of Mass Media rises it imitates the codes and conventions of  the most dominate Medium and tries to absorb its content.  Look at the transition from Oral Literature to Written forms.  The significant pieces of Oral Literature are collected in a written form and edited. This early written body often takes the form of sacred text.


Shinto Text

Shinto Text

In reality, only a small number can read and write at this cultural stage. Emphasis is still placed on oral presentation, often accompanied by music. Eventually, some of these narratives take on the form of theatre. Medieval Passion Plays and the Morality Plays see the shift as those with the ability to read & write take the content of Biblical Stories, Allegory & Parable in combination with Folktale to generate a new Medium.

Scenery for the Valenciennes Mystery Play, 1547.

We have to wonder how much of the characterization of the Biblical protagonists & antagonists came from the stage interpretation and how this would shape the Medieval audiences understanding and expectations. David against Goliath is not that different from Spider-man against the Rhino.

Presently, we are cycling through a change in Mass Media that bears a strong resemblance to the lengthy transitional stage to a printed text society. As visual media  becomes more dominant, popular culture and general knowledge  is being shared in new forms. Many members of society are relying on those forms to acquire knowledge and have developed a shared experience based on them.

As a consequence, the comic book narrative is been absorbed into these other forms. Survival of the comic book narrative depends on how effectively and cost efficiently it can move to digital text and the Graphic Novel format. It is the only way to recapture and maintain a large enough market share. Whether this will encourage the movie & television audiences to sample the product is difficult to gauge. History has shown that here are many who are satisfied with the adaptation and will not seek out the original source.

The other factor now playing into this is how valuable the continued generation of new comic book material is to the other forms of media. Converting the source material into film and television may be of such economic benefit, that companies such as Disney and Warner Brothers  will maintain some form of comic book production.

Media Literacy: Personal Cultural Space & The Vampire Maman


Today I discovered Vampire Maman, a fascinating blog about   The Musings of Modern Vampire Mom by the author Juliette Kings.

Kings’s blog is full of quirky humour and insight. One post that got me thinking in tangential directions was Thank you for pissing off my teenage daughter . It was an open letter to her 14 year old daughter’s  English teacher. As a retired  teacher (English/Spe.Ed/Media Literacy), I found it delightfully refreshing in how it both expressed parental concerns and showed a depth of understanding of a teacher’s difficult role in a child/teen’s life. The ironic humour was very effective and the observations were insightful.

Of course it brought up a number of ideas that I would like to address. The first thing that jumped out at me was how her daughter was not allowed into the Honours English and that as a consequence she was in a mix of students whose life/academic goals & classroom behaviour/attitude were disappointing.


Here in Ontario ( Canada), the educational goal/challenge levels currently Academic (University & College), Applied ( College & Workplace), Open, Essential ( Locally Developed) and Life Skills. While a student and their parents are given guidance and suggested educational pathways to choose from, they are free to select their own pathway. This means if you want to take an Academic rather than Applied or the reverse there is nothing preventing you.



Applied students are motivated to succeed and have a wide range of life & educational goals, as they come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. As a consequence, it is more difficult to create a programme that satisfies and engages them all equally. There also tends to be more students within the demographic requiring Special education support, creating even more diversity in learning styles and motivation.



I am not sure of what kinds of choices in educational programme were offered in this situation (American), but from the description of  frustrations expressed, I think Vampire Daughter is more Academic oriented than many of her classroom peers. This is challenging both for her and her mother. It will also mean her teacher has a challenge as well in engaging the girl and any other students who are in similar circumstances .


One of the concerns in Juliette Kings’s post  was about how her daughter’s reading interest and attire could have been misconstrued by the teacher.

 ……She reads books about drugs, suicide, cancer and mental illness. These books are dark. These books don’t have happy endings. Nobody celebrates at the end.

Her reading list includes: Go Ask Alice, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Fault in Our Stars.  ……………. No doubt you noticed that my kid wears a lot of black and too much black eye liner as well.

Source: The Doll in The Wall – Click Image to read

Fortunately, this Maman  could see both her child’s unease and positive aspect of the teacher’s concern. She responded with a post that acknowledged both the child and the educator as partners with valid issues.  She accomplished this with humour and a balanced understanding of her child’s needs and the professional needs/duties of the child’s teacher. Very well done.

This brings me to where education, Media Literacy and Personal Cultural Regions meet – sometimes in an uneasy conversation. We all have our own Personal Cultural Space that we live in. It comes with its own idiolect that we use when expressing our Self to those around us. It includes not just our language(s), vocabulary, gender, age, race, ethnicity and personal interests, values &beliefs, but also our body language including dress, the accoutrements of our daily life ( key chains, wallets, cellphones, tablets, actual printed text, recorded music, vehicles, pets). 



As you can see, this Personal Cultural Space is heavily saturated with Mass Media ( both content and devices). We need to keep in mind the Principles of Mass Media when we encounter and interact with others and their Cultural Space. All Mass Media convey intended and unintended messages.  Mass Media always has context, but that context may be altered.  A team logo or religious symbol has specific meaning for different individuals.  In effect, each individual creates/carries context with them, as a part of their own Cultural Space.  The transmission of messages has to cross Cultural Spaces that can disrupt context.



Click link for Shakespeare’s Sonnets III & XXIX

When the English teacher became concern with her student’s choice of reading material and style of dress, the teacher’s Cultural Space was influencing how she parsed the message that her student was expressing through within the student’s own cultural Space.   This is part of the daily interaction that  educators, students and parents must negotiate.

Click Image to see source – They Say Chivalry is Dead

We can take this a step further, and consider wider generational and social communities. We then see that many conflicts within North American society  ( Canada & America) can be seen as form of Mass Media interactions. The use of Media Literacy as a means of interpreting the messages of Personal Cultural Space will go towards breaking down misunderstandings & averting potential conflict.