Doin’ The Cockroach

“Money?” Frode said.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens with mystery, but proceeds to weave a tale of finance. Blomkvist is a financial reporter, guilty of libel and without much money himself. When Salander is giving her report to Frode about Blomkvist, Frode asks her about his financial state. She replies simply with, “He’s not rich, but he’s not starving. Income tax returns are attached to the report. He has about 250,000 SEK in the bank, in both a retirement fund and a savings account. He has a bank account of around 100,000 kronor that he uses as cash for working expenses, travel and such.” Blomkvist is not rich. Converted into USD, he has just under $40,000 in the bank and around $15,000 for travel, placing him directly in what we would consider the “middle class”. He is our “everyman”, our control group, in Larsson’s study on class and corruption that is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Stieg Larsson represents the lower, middle and upper classes in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, weaving their stories together into one narrative, solving the mystery of the murder of Harriet, Henrik Vanger’s grandniece. The Vangers are Larsson’s upper class, they are wealthy, they have power and they know how to wield it, as shown when Henrik announces The Vanger Corporation’s partnership with Millennium, Blomkvist’s magazine that is having financial trouble after his conviction of libel. But Henrik Vanger’s cooperation with Millennium, isn’t out of the goodness of his heart, he want’s Blomkvist to solve the case and he can’t have him distracted by news that his magazine is about to go under. Blomkvist mentions numerous times, most specifically when the two of them first meet, how Henrik is a practiced politician, how he can get what he wants by spinning words and telling a story that gets you hooked. But while Henrik never openly does anything illegal, the rest of the Vanger family has secrets behind closed doors. The entire Vanger family is full of anti-semites and as we later learn, murderers and rapists. We get to discover all this as Blomkvist, who is both firmly rooted in the middle class and a reporter who investigates corruption amongst the wealthy, begins his search for who killed Harriet.

However, Blomkvist isn’t alone in his search for the killer. Soon he is joined by Lisbeth Salander, a lower class hacker who did the background check on him. She is representative of the lower class, though interestingly, by choice. Dragan Armansky makes note in the novel that she could be making far more money than she does, but that she chooses the freedom of her time over additional money. This could partially be that in her experiences with researching people for her job with Milton Security, she has seen how people with wealth are so easily and so often corrupt. However, with her job as a hacker, this brings up the question of what Larsson believes to be corruption.

Blomkvist is the middle class reporter and the one who is always bringing up the topic of calling the police, something the Henrik and Lisbeth are often against. Larsson paints Blomkvist as the “good boy”, the least corrupt of everyone, but even towards the end, he’s ok with Lisbeth using less than legal methods of gaining the information he wants. The Vanger family is full of corruption, anti-semites, murderers, rapists and terrible people in general. Lisbeth has no regard for privacy, digging into people’s computers illegally to obtain the things she wants. While the Vanger’s are generally portrayed as being the worst of these, Larsson’s narrative asks a question about money and corruption, whether it is wealth that corrupts, or if humans are already corrupt by nature and the wealthy are simply the most visible.

The Power of Three

In Veronica Mars, our title character is a social outcast, her father the disgraced sherif, her mother gone and her social life destroyed. But in our other two films, we understand our main characters, Jeffries and Holmes, to be outsiders as well, Jeffries within the confines of his home and Holmes within the confines of his mind. Being an outsider in detective film, gives our main characters a perspective that enables them to be stellar detectives. The common thread that all three films weave is that either the audience or the main character looks at the film through both a metaphorical and a literal lens. In Veronica Mars, we see our main character’s literal telephoto lens that she uses to spy on people and in Rear Window, Jeffries watches his neighbors through his own telephoto lens. Sherlock is more subtle, the audience is placed behind the lens, always looking through windows or glass or the screen itself. Sherlock seems to exist in a sort of world all his own, very isolated from everyone and the audience feels that by being so removed from the action.

Isolation is a metaphorical lens that weaves these three together as well. Veronica Mars is a social outcast due to her father’s disgraced status as the town sheriff, her previous status with the popular kids revoked and we see her life tumble into a downward spiral that eventually leaves her cynical and on a path for vengeance. Jeffries, is also forcibly removed from his previous environment, having broken his leg. He’s stuck having to watch his neighbors for lack of better things to do because he cannot be in his normal environment. Like Veronica when we meet her, he’s not totally isolated, Jeffries has his girlfriend and caretaker during the film and Veronica has Wallace and her father (though her cynicism begins to make her not trust her father in the episode viewed in class). Sherlock is the lone character who is not forcibly removed from society and instead chooses not to partake of common societal norms (socialization for one…). This allows him to view the world from a different perspective, one that isn’t muddled with biases towards or against people. We can see this in the episode A Study in Pink where he begins to describe and convict Watson for shooting the villain, but then stops as he realizes it was Watson who most likely saved his life.


In The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett creates the idealized detective as someone who is removed and will do whatever is necessary to accomplish their goals. In The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade throws his entire clientele to the police in order to save himself and bring back some semblance of normalcy. In Veronica Mars, our title character breaks into lockers and steals security feeds to bring some form of balance back to the corrupt justice system of Neptune High. Jeffries spies on his neighbors and ignores social norms to discover that his neighbor is a murderer. Sherlock constantly breaks laws, breaking into homes, stealing key cards, ignoring orders from authority figures, all to discover whodunit, how and why. Characters who partake of social hierarchy are usually portrayed as being less efficient then our detectives, who ignore rules and norms to achieve their ends and be stellar detectives.

Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not


In Steven Moffat’s revision of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes series, Moffat brings Holmes and company into the modern era. This modern view allows us to view Holmes through a different lens, in this case seeing the issues that Doyle discusses in his series through a modern lens. Juxtaposing the original story with the revisions that Moffat has made can show us how our set of societal norms has changed since Doyle’s 19th century detective was first conceived.

Sherlock Series 2 – A Scandal in Belgravia Trailer

A Scandal in Belgravia parallels Doyle’s novel in a number of ways. Watson blogs rather than narrates. In fact, his blog takes the place of Doyle’s novel in a number of ways, even sharing the same titles as Doyle’s original stories. The blog idea is also shown with typography, showing Sherlock’s deductions as he’s thinking about possibilities, differentiating from Guy Richie’s films where Sherlock verbalizes his deductions and courses of action. The audience is also still placed in a passive state in Moffat’s films, the same as in Doyle’s stories. In Doyle’s stories, we’re reading Watson’s account of his and Sherlock’s adventures, in Moffat’s films we are often placed behind windows, looking through mirrors. It detaches us from the action, forcing us to realize that we have absolutely no participation in what is going on*. We are helpless and reliant on Holmes to solve the case.


In the case of A Scandal in Belgravia, Sherlock must solve Irene Adler, the same woman from A Scandal in Bohemia, with a modern twist. Adler is more fully developed in Moffat’s film, the subtlety traded for the detail needed for a film medium. From the 19th century story to the 21st century film, she transforms from a simple actress into a dominatrix. Despite the shock value, this isn’t much of a stretch for Doyle’s novel and in fact is a fairly good modern translation of occupation. Much as C.S. Lewis vaguely describes many of his characters, leaving much up to the reader’s imagination, Conan Doyle leaves much up to translation about Adler. It is our romanticized view of the past that causes us to believe that Irene Adler was of the same occupation that our culture is currently obsessed with. We now elevate actors and actresses to celebrity status, following them in tabloids and entertainment shows. However, in the 19th century, the job of an actress was not considered appropriate for a woman, much as our heteronormative society would consider the job of a dominatrix to be an inappropriate occupation for an intelligent, sophisticated woman, something Adler proves herself to be numerous times.

This is a theme that both the original text and Moffat’s revision do an excellent job of capturing. Doyle very specifically describes Adler as having the, “mind of a man”. In the original story, the simple idea that a woman could be on the same level as a man was shock value enough, not to mention that this woman was an actress. Moffat is able to capture that same feeling, but with the subtle change that we are now shocked that someone is on the same level as Holmes, that she can intrigue even the great Sherlock Holmes to the point of emotion. We are shocked by her occupation, the modern equivalent of a 19th century actress (in fact, Mycroft refers to her as an actress of sorts in the film). We are essentially shocked by the same things that Doyle proposed in his novel.

Sherlock meets the naked Irene Adler – Sherlock Series 2 – BBC

Adler’s occupation fits her characterization though. She is presented as having “the mind of a man” and so her role as a dominatrix, reinforces the idea that she is given dominance over others (in the novel, Sherlock is said to have considered her to be above all other women). It isn’t much of a stretch to consider that Irene Adler might identify as a man, despite biologically being female. This idea isn’t even specific to Moffat’s version, it can be inferred from the very description of her. As every other element of Doyle’s story creates a shock of sorts, the idea that Adler could be a transgender, genius with a socially inappropriate occupation and who can defeat Sherlock Holmes is rather fitting with the rest of the novel.

*Note: As an interesting note, Moffat has also included active audience participation in his television episodes before. In his episode of Doctor Who, Blink, the villains can be turned to stone when they are being observed. During the episode, there are numerous times when the characters are not looking at the villains, but the audience is, thus they remain stone.

Un-Whipped – A Maltese Falcon Reaction Paper

“Sure you are.” He took tobacco and papers from his pockets and began to make a cigarette. “Now you’ve had your talk with Cairo. Now you can talk to me.” She put a fingertip to her mouth, staring across the room at nothing with widened eyes, and them with narrower eyes, glanced quickly at Spade. He was engrossed in the making of his cigarette. “Oh, yes,” she began,”of course-” She took the finger away from her mouth and smoothed her blue dress over her knees. She frowned at her knees.

“She put a fingertip to her mouth, staring across the room at nothing with widened eyes, and then narrower eyes, glanced quickly at Spade.” Brigid O’Shaughnessy is an interesting character. Not only does she act as our femme fatal in The Maltese Falcon, but she is a character who can’t quite figure out what sort of character she wants to be. Earlier in the novel, she pistol whips Joel Cairo, a man who she is implied to have a history with, but then she is promptly found on a chair, crying and acting rather childish. In this passage, we see a more subtle part of her indecision as a character.

As Sam Spade is pulling tobacco and papers from his pocket to make a cigarette, something that Hammett has before turned into a descriptive sexual fantasy of sorts, we get to see Brigid’s response. As Spade rolls his cigarette, we see his character in control of that situation, but it’s also mirrored in his conversation with Brigid. Sam is the one rolling the cigarette, he’s also the one stating to Brigid that she can talk to him. He doesn’t ask her; he tells her.

Brigid responds with her own version of Spade’s cigarette. She “places a fingertip to her mouth, staring across the room at nothing with widened eyes.” Her response is subtly sexual, her finger in her mouth, mimicking Spade’s cigarette. Her widened eyes, however, give away her almost childish nature. But just like when she pistol whips Joel Cairo, we see her indecisive nature when she narrows her eyes. She makes an attempt to be more “hardboiled” even if Hammett portrays her as needing Spade. Hammett reverts her back to her more childish nature before the paragraphs end however, taking her finger away from her mouth and smoothing out her dress over her knees.

This is where the reader can see Hammett portray Spade as the “tall, strong, mysterious, hardboiled image of masculinity”, but this time we can see the portrayal through Brigid. The last sentence of the passage, “She frowned at her knees.” is reminiscent of Wilmer, the smart mouthed boy who shadows Spade earlier in the novel. Both characters, who are portrayed as childish (either all the time or in passages), have difficulty looking Spade in the eye. Brigid stares at nothing with wide eyes and then stares at her knees. Wilmer is able to bring his gaze up the Spade’s chin once. Hammett uses this illustration to say that neither character can measure up to Spade. They are both childish, whereas Spade is masculinity personified. Spade is in control, he is the one rolling the cigarette, he is the one asking the questions, he is the one telling (not asking) Brigid to talk to him.

This entire passage continues to place Spade in a position of power amongst all the other characters he encounters. It places Spade, the image of masculinity, at the top of the “food chain” of power. He is in control of his cigarette, he is in control of the conversation with Brigid. He even gets a slight jibe in at Cairo suggesting that he is superior to him, that Brigid has had her talk with Joel and it ended with Cairo getting pistol whipped. Now she needs to talk to him and he, the tall, strong, intelligent and above all else masculine hero, will succeed where Joel Cairo, the queer, fat, foreigner, failed.

– E.P. King

Suck It And See – A Maltese Falcon Reaction Paper

“Spade’s thick fingers made a cigarette with deliberate care, sifting a measured quantity of tan flakes down into curved paper, spreading the flakes so that they lay equal at the ends with a slight depression in the middle, thumbs rolling the paper’s inner edge down and up under the outer edge as forefingers pressed it over, thumbs and fingers sliding to the paper cylinder’s ends to hold it even while tongue licked the flap, left forefinger and thumb pinching their end while right forefinger and thumb smoothed the damp seam, right forefinger and thumb twisting their end and lifting the other to Spade’s mouth. He picked up the pigskin and nickel lighter that had fallen to the floor, manipulated it and with the cigarette burning in a corner of his mouth stood up.” – The Maltese Falcon, pages 11 – 12

“Spade’s thick fingers made a cigarette with deliberate care…” is the first line of a paragraph that elevates Sam Spade’s simple task of rolling his cigarette into something that’s descriptive enough to almost be sexual in nature. Removing elements of the sentence show how Hammett’s details create an erotic image of Spade’s cigarette. The sentences, “Spade’s thick fingers… with deliberate care” and “thumbs rolling the… inner edge down and up under the outer edge as forefingers pressed it over” can be created simply by removing references to the cigarette.

This point is important though because it shows Sam in a position of power. Sam Spade is in control, he is the one rolling the cigarette, he is the one “spreading the flakes so that they lay equal at the ends”. It pushes the idea of masculinity that Hammett pins on Spade and seemingly continues with Hammett’s earlier description of Spade being almost the stereotypical image of masculinity. He’s described as long and bony and v shaped in a number of capacities in the first paragraph of the novel and in the cigarette paragraph, that image is shown in a different way.

As he goes through the motions of rolling his cigarette, he does it with practiced ease, with precision, most likely through experience of rolling them rather often. In the first chapter, we’re shown that he smokes a great deal, “On Spade’s desk a limp cigarette smoldered in a brass tray filled with the remains of limp cigarettes.” We can see bits of his personality come into play in this routine, bits of said masculinity that Hammett carefully characterizes him with. He is calculating and precise, he likes things equal, but only if it benefits him.

We can see his calculating, precise nature in how closely he pays attention to the flakes laying equal at the ends. How he carefully measures said flakes. But Sam’s selfish nature is also illustrated at the end of the passage, as the entire process of creating the cigarette, all his effort and time and patience, was all for his own benefit and enjoyment.

Spade’s lighter even has parallels to his character. Made of nickel and pigskin, the nickel would make it hard and cold. The leather, is a warmer feeling to hold suggesting that Spade isn’t completely without feeling, but it isn’t a soft material either. The leather is tough, strong and still with the capacity to be cold (as anyone with leather seats in a car can attest too). Spade picking the lighter off the floor that represents himself is also another aspect of this, suggesting that Spade is a man who will pull himself out of trouble. He doesn’t want help and will pick himself up and light the cigarette he rolled himself, by himself. All these aspects add to Hammett’s image of Spade being the image of masculinity, even if some aspects of this image are rather harsh.

The passage ends with the image of who Hammett wants us to imagine Spade to be. The iconic image of a man, perhaps a bit of a badass, with the cigarette he rolled himself “burning in a corner of his mouth”.