And so I find myself once again writing about Benedict Cumberbatch. This seems to be becoming a pattern.
It is strange because firstly, I still don’t consider myself anyone’s b****. I am not anywhere near as committed as some of these ladies (but I just had to have that title for this blog post, come on!). Two, the shenanigans of actors are hardly the subject-matter of what seems to be “my kind” of blog post. As I am still finding out what exactly my kind of post is, however, they might be – who knows?
This isn’t to say that I am not following what is going on in the world of film and television – I trained as a performer for a bit, I am still very much in love with the stage and frankly, the prodigious talent of some of the actors out there bowls me over (as do the goods looks of some of them, I am not ashamed to admit). However, given the things I have so far obsessed about in my blog ramblings, whatever Mr Cumberbatch is up to seems like an odd choice of topic.
Then again, perhaps it isn’t. After all, amongst the things that really irk me are a journalists drawing questionable conclusions. Also, Mr Cumberbatch and I seem to share concerns these days (as do a lot of others but there you go; I happened to come across his expression of them). I address these concerns but ranting about them – perhaps rather ineffectually, given the reach of my audience – on here, while Mr Cumberbatch has found his own way of going about them; by holding signs up to the paparazzi. Undoubtedly, he is reaching a much wider audience than I am. I am glad of it; here’s someone who can make more people aware of the things most of my few (but all the more valued) readers already know about.
The downside for him – and possibly upside for me – is that he draws criticism whereas I, so far, haven’t (and not for lack of trying either).
As happened, again, this week, when Mr Cumberbatch decided to hold up a 4-page statement to the paparazzi, raising some questions about recent events regarding the omnishambles that is the NSA revelations, David Miranda’s detention, the reaction of governments, the threat to a free press and miscellaneous.
Now, personally I think that anyone taking it upon themselves to shine a light on these issues and alert more people to them is doing a laudable thing. Or perhaps because I am biased because I have been missing outrage, protest and dialogue on the part of anyone who isn’t a journalist, blogger, human rights activist or government official. So hat tip to Mr Cumberbatch for hopefully reaching another section of the general public.
Strangely, this had made him a subject of some derision or – as I like to call it – Cumberbashing. If that term was ever to make it into the OED (omnishambles did too, after all), I’d probably define it roughly like this: “habit of some members of the media to deliberately misunderstand what someone (usually a high profile public figure) is saying at every turn and drawing questionable conclusions. Synonyms: Snowdenbashing, Greenwaldbashing…” Or something like that anyway.
An example of what I mean: In response to Mr Cumberbatch’s efforts on set, Marina Hyde asks in the Guardian whether or not he is “using his powers wisely”. Now, that sentence alone prompts questions about what status exactly Ms Hyde assigns Mr Cumberbatch. I mean, if she expects him to be some kind of Caped Crusader who she thinks should be aware of the great responsibility that comes with his great power, then I am not surprised she is easily disappointed. I am pretty sure that superheroes exist only in comic books. Then again, given the quite heroic choices (and even though I don’t like the hero-villain rhetoric, what better example of the attribute “heroic” is there in this day and age?) of a certain NSA whistleblower whom I applaud with deepest respect and gratitude, perhaps there are some heroes in this world too.
I am not implying that Mr Cumberbatch’s actions weigh as heavily as Mr Snowden’s but that doesn’t mean they aren’t laudable either. Much like the rest of us mere mortals (i.e. the mostly un-heroic mass blundering about trying to cope with life), he is doing his bit.
Again, you could dispute my idea that Mr Cumberbatch is like the rest of us but, really, why? Because he’s in the public spotlight and we’re not? Surely, simply being seen by a large amount of people doesn’t make anyone extraordinary by default. It is their actions that do. And given the virtual silence of so many others on subjects that should provoke public outcries (and by that I don’t mean the usual suspects but the actual public), what Mr Cumberbatch is doing makes him stand out in a good way, doesn’t it? He isn’t alone in drawing attention to things that alarm him either. Many celebrities – and non-celebrities, obviously – have protested against Russia’s anti-gay laws for example – and rightly so! I didn’t see them drawing much criticism or being accused of “subconsciously holding [their] fans in contempt.” Tilda Swinton when she waves a rainbow flag outside the Kremlin isn’t accused of hinting that we should all be ashamed of ourselves for looking at pictures of her rather than protesting against Putin.
So why Mr Cumberbatch? You see, here is precisely what irks me and why this might (its connection with the Snowden-Miranda-case aside) fit in with my usual obsessions after all: this is another example of someone making illogical deductions. So in a way, that’s precisely the kind of journalism or commentary that I like to dissect and which started this blog. Back to my roots, so to speak.
More specifically, I do not see how Mr Cumberbatch “subsconsciously holding his fans in contempt” follows from Mr Cumberbatch offering “idiots [i.e. paparazzi] some much-needed perspective.” I fail to see where there is a fine line in between the two because “the unfortunate implication of Benedict’s signs [isn’t] that the sort of people who might see the photos have such a lack of interest in anything else in the news that this is their only access to trenchant comment on the big news of the day.” Neither do “the signs hint – unintentionally [or not] – that the world is divided into two discrete sets: people who already know about things such as Egypt and the Miranda case, and people who might be interested in set shots from the new Sherlock.”
Now, I cannot be the only one who thinks that this is a bit of a leap. I mean, how does it follow that Mr Cumberbatch harbours the thought that “the idea that there might be people right up to speed on events in Cairo or the Guardian’s basement, who also happen to be vaguely interested in flicking through a few shots from the Sherlock set […] seems a modern bestraddling too far”?
Similarly, how does the conclusion of a divide between people interested in the “Sherlock” set and people “who already know about things such as Egypt and the Miranda case” follow from the simple act of holding up a couple of pieces of paper with Mr Cumberbatch’s thoughts in written on them? Is there some secret NSA code at work here that I am not partial to?
Yes, certainly there will be people who are interested in the “Sherlock” set and who have little idea about what is going on in Egypt and Syria or what happened to David Miranda. Vice versa, there will be people who know a lot about those things and nothing about “Sherlock.” But that doesn’t mean that the two are mutually exclusive or that Mr Cumberbatch was implying any such thing.
I for one, consider myself an example of the kind of person who, while trying to keep up with the atrocities committed the world over, still quite likes to read the latest gossip from the world of celebrity – mostly because I like making holes in it but also because it affords me a bit of a break sometimes and, on many occasions, has its own examples of people “using their power” to do good. And why shouldn’t they?
What I find strange is that just by being the centre of attention of a type of media that Ms Hyde herself seems to hold in contempt (she does call them idiots, which they may or may not be), Mr Cumberbatch seems to have turned from an otherwise perfectly ordinary person, who shares many of the views the rest of us hold in regard to Egypt and David Miranda – and who has found his own way of expressing these views to the public – into someone who “is troubled by what might be perceived to be his role in this debased culture, and is struck by the injustice of his being – only by association, of course – lumped in with that second group”. The “second group” being the shallow idiots who are more interested in snapping a pic of the “Sherlock” set than what are unarguably more important issues. “Thus,” Ms Hyde continues, “he makes a brave bid to differentiate himself from all the trivia-narcotised morons who might be vaguely interested, for a couple of minutes, in glancing at some snaps of him.”
I find the rhetoric strange. On the one hand, Ms Hyde accuses Mr Cumberbatch of unconsciously, pre-consciously, consciously or whatever making this about himself by trying to differentiate himself from the “morons”, on the other hand she calls this a “brave bid”. Clearly, she is being ironic, as there is nothing brave about jumping on the Miranda or Egypt bandwagons to make oneself appear in a favourable light?
Allow me to answer your question, Ms Hyde. No, “Benedict’s” signs do not “imply that anyone who finds themselves in the sort of intellectual backwater where they might happen upon a picture taken on the Sherlock set should “Go read about Egypt”? In such a market-led sector, it can only be as much a comment on the consumer as the producer.” This inference is flawed. B (implication that anyone who finds themselves in that kind of intellectual backwater… and so on) does not follow from A (Mr Cumberbatch telling journalists to “show the world something important”). This deduction seems to be based on your own (self- ?)contempt for people who you believe are by default swimmers in intellectual backwaters for being interested in pictures of the “Sherlock”-set. Or on contempt for Mr Cumberbatch for what you think is his indictment of such behaviour – quite possibly because you feel that this includes you. This kind of reminds me of that scene in “The Reichenbach Fall” when Kitty Reilley and Sherlock meet in the loo and he tells her in no uncertain terms to get lost. Off she goes on a crusade against him that then sees her inadvertently partnering with the Sherlock’s nemesis.
You see, you’ve yourself fallen into a trap here; you suggest that Mr Cumberbatch holds the view that both the photographers and the people seeing the photograph inhabit the same intellectual backwater. Some might, you are probably right. But you yourself write that this is indeed everyone who takes these photographs, anyone who shares these photographs and anyone who happens to see them. Surely, you will admit that this is nonsense in a world where content is multiplied a gazillion times by millions of people? Surely, no one would suggest that they’re all intellectual retards? And surely, you are not accusing Mr Cumberbatch of thinking that? How daft would he have to be?
Then again, perhaps I getting you wrong. I do admit that your final two paragraphs give me pause. Surely, you do not mean to say that entertainment photography has no place in this world? Surely, you don’t mean to say either that “1) [being interested in] world affairs, or 2) typing out disparaging comments about people who are not talking about world affairs at that moment […] are the ONLY acceptable pursuits, AT ALL TIMES”?
Nah, I don’t think I’m getting you wrong. And since and I’m obviously completely desperate to become the subject of your derision for writing you a 2,000-word response, even though I don’t smoke, can I just say that the words used in your final paragraph (“dullardry”, “well-meaning”, “total irrelevance”, “benighted”) and most importantly the transition from the informal use of “Benedict’s” first name to “Cumberbatch’s” last name, make it quite clear who you accuse of harbouring views 1.) and 2.). I am sure some people do. I am not sure that Mr Cumberbatch doesn’t. For all I know he could despise all those daft morons who snap pictures of him on set – and the morons who multiply them and the morons who look at them etc etc.
Ah but you see, then he might also just be some guy who is troubled not so much by what he perceives to be his own role in “this debased culture” but by what is going on in Egypt and much closer to home. Fine, you might say that as he is evidently in the public spotlight, he might have chosen to go about it in a different way. Interestingly, I do not see you suggesting how.
I say, let the man make a statement. If it reaches people that are not yet aware of the atrocities being committed around the world, and helps them become aware of them – all the better. He’s clearly in a position where he can nudge people, and I for one am sure that many of his fans will start looking these things up. I am sure many Cumberb****es are capable of that – if they aren’t pretty well informed already! I am worried that you don’t seem to give them as much credit. Rather, you seem to display precisely the attitude you attribute to Mr Cumberbatch.
I am not even sure he was drawing attention to the problem you mention; that people are unaware of what’s going on away from the immediate vicinity of the “Sherlock” set. The not knowing. Perhaps it was more the deliberate ignorance – the refusal to discuss – displayed by many of the media that he was drawing attention to. And that is something that should be, and has been, criticized.
I am not sure either that there is a “philosophical trap” here, as you call it – and least none other than the one you have built yourself. Namely the idea that there are people who know and people who don’t know what an “acceptable pursuit” is, and that the people who do know (like yourself) are entitled to deride anyone who doesn’t follow these pursuits. Unless they’re called Benedict Cumberbatch – then they aren’t even entitled to voicing their opinion because whatever they say is based on the fear of being equated with the implied “wrong” half and not on any legitimate concern about the state the world is in.
You see, what irks me is how you deride Mr Cumberbatch for underlying assumptions that you think prompt his actions when you are guilty of exactly the same thing.
Mr Cumberbatch himself has something to say about this: “[People] know you from the trail you leave with your work […] They assume things about you because of who you play and how you play them, and the other scraps floating around in the ether. People try to sew together a narrative out of scant fact.”
You see, that’s the real trap here – and you, Ms Hyde, seem to have fallen right into it.
Now. Maybe that’s not true. Perhaps I am sewing together a narrative out of scant information. I certainly don’t profess to have a better idea about Mr Cumberbatch than you do and I am aware that people have accused him of moaning. So considering that he seems to be entitled to stating his views in public only when it doesn’t involve anything serious or – heaven forbid! – the questionable conduct of some of the media, perhaps he should keep his mouth shut.
But hang on! That’s what he did, isn’t it? He didn’t actually say anything this time around, did he? He wrote it down. He made sure it was caught on camera (how beautiful is the subtext when you consider that this time he raised questions about NSA spying and silencing investigative journalists?). He is now being accused of making everyone who photographs him holding up his scribbles turn themselves into the morons you think he thinks they are. But perhaps he was simply trying to turn an unfortunate situation – namely his understandable annoyance at being hunted by photographers every step of his way – into an opportunity. That’s not being mean, that’s not even being negative. That’s clever. That’s seeing a chance and seizing it. That’s taking the opportunity of shining a light on something that has been on his mind and about which is he right to think that it’s important.
Perhaps if we stopped assuming the worst of people then instead of bashing them for their alleged ulterior motives, we could instead discuss the things they are trying to draw attention to in the first place.
I, for one, am going back to discussing world affairs now. Because they upset me. Because they concern me. Because I am interested. Because they should be discussed.
I’ll still continue to look at photos from the “Sherlock”-set. I will be curious to see what Mr Cumberbatch comes up with next. And I might discuss it on here because it’s fun – and because I am perfectly well capable of doing both: being interested in world affairs and following up on celebrity news.