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[Image description: A screenshot of Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee-Miller as modern-day, trenchcoat-wearing Joan Watson and Sherlock Holmes]

I haven’t watched Elementary yet, but I’ve been warily watching the online reaction to the newest Holmes adaptation to hit TV since its announcement–especially after CBS revealed that Watson was to be played by Lucy Liu. I thought Tumblr would have imploded from the sheer weight of the seething rage of fans alone.

The most common reaction was dismay/anger at how Elementary dare break-up the Bromance (I’ll talk about the Slash later) between Holmes and Watson. This made me think more about why we (the fandom and/or society in general) place Bromance at such a high pedestal. Of course, Bromance isn’t a recent phenomenon; even from my limited amount of literary knowledge I can already list the following: David and Jonathan, the entire Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh, Dante and Vergil, Robert de Saint-Loup and Marcel the Narrator, Gatsby and Carraway… Intimate non-sexual relationship between men have always been highly valued, especially if the men involved are each celebrated in one way or another.

‘Bromance’ is, however, a relatively new term. While many classic texts celebrated the ‘manliness’ of intimate friendship between men, the (relatively recent) rise of homophobia made many men embrace a new ideal of ‘manliness’, one which didn’t allow for overt expression of emotion, especially to other men. Today, gender roles and expectations have been relaxed enough to allow men to express their emotions more freely. Check out this 2011 Thinking Allowed episode on ‘softer masculinity’ among secondary school boys (bonus: there was also a discussion on whether Doctor Who is leftish and anti-American). We might still have boys hugging one another and saying ‘no homo’ (this is a bad thing), but Joey and Chandler, Ted and Barney, Ryu and Ken, Naruto and Sasuke are winning this culture war. Bromance is celebrated everywhere now, and not just in fandom–look at how many Adam Sandler/Seth Rogen/Paul Rudd/Jason Segel movies are now branded as bromance.

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[Image description: a panel from the King of Fighters comics showing chibi Robert Garcia and Ryo Sakazaki each with an arm around the other’s shoulder, simultaneously saying “Yeah! We’re bros!”]

But what about non-bros bromance? Yes, there is ‘womance’, but compare the Wikipedia page for bromance and womance to get a sense of just how much more bromance has over womance or any other kind of relationship in terms of cultural recognition and value. How about a ‘bromance’ between a woman and a man, ala Henry James and Edith Wharton, or Harper Lee and Truman Capote?

The best judges of bromance or any other relationships are only the people involved in it. We consume bromances and other relationships differently than the people involved do: we judge them, we put a value on them, we romanticise them. But just what is it that makes bromances more highly valued than other relationships? Why is it that many are crying Elementary’s Holmes’ and Watson’s bromance would never ever be as awesome as (BBC) Sherlock’s because Watson is a Joan instead of a John?

Back (way back) when intimate relationship between men was cool, manly and desirable, and one of the reasons is because that means men would be minimising contact with women. Is this still the case today? One would think so with the sad prevalence of ‘bros before hos’ mentality. While happily gender roles for males have been relaxed, women–to be more exact, female relationships–are still constricted by certain stereotypes. When a bunch of women get together, it is ‘Girls’ Nights Out’, or ‘Slumber Party’. Women get together to gossip, to go on a shopping spree to paint each others’ nails, to cry over boys, burn exes’ photographs and drool over George Stephanopoulos. When bros get together, they party, get drunk, get high, play videogames all night, jam in a band, have lots of sex with lots of sexy girls, (insert any bromance movie/How I Met Your Mother/Big Bang Theory storyline here). That is not to say that mutual manicure is inherently worse than gaming all night–this is how our society has chosen to classify and judge ‘girly’ activities and ‘manly/cool’ ones. In short, bros do cool stuff in a bromance while girls in female relationships are, well, Sex in the City and ‘chick flick’. Bridesmaids and to a certain extent Lena Dunham’s Girls have done a lot to show that real girlfriends actually do pretty awesome (and sometimes gross-cool) stuff together, but they are the exception. Even so, many people seem to be unable to accept that girlfriends actually do quite cool stuff together which is usually in the ‘bromance’ domain (I personally bear witness to many friends’ complaints to that effect, but I’m sure a quick Google search will reveal reviews/blog posts to back this statement up).

I actually thought the Internet (or at least the part of Internet I hang out in) would be rather pleased that Lucy Liu, a terrific actress and a WOC, had been cast in a leading role in a new hyped-up drama. There may be many reasons why Holmes’ and Watson’s chemistry in Elementary won’t live up to the one in Sherlock, but one of them should not be because Watson is now a girl.

I did say I’d say something about slash Holmes/Watson. I too am wary of the possibility that CBS made Watson a woman to prevent the occurrence of ‘awkward’ homoerotic moments between Holmes and Watson and make Elementary ‘family-friendly’. It is a very slim possibility though, seeing that awkward homoerotic moments have been a staple in American TV since Kirk and Spock. But if somehow this turns out to be the main reason for casting Lucy Liu as Watson, then obviously this is not something I would defend.