I am a Cumberbitch.
Not a Cumberbabe, Cumbercookie, nor a cog in the wheel of the Cumbercollective. A good ol’ fashioned O.G. Cumberbitch. That is to say, I’m a longtime, fervent fan of the body of work (and body) of actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
Jumping head first into the publicity tour for his latest film The Imitation Game (and a new happy development in his personal life), Cumberbatch has been all over the media with features in Out, Fast Company, and Vulture, not to mention buzz over his final confirmation as Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (And thereby making SDCC increasingly obsolete? Discuss!)
Being a part of the Cumberbitches United Front means being known as an authority on all things related to Cumberbatch, acting as the Keeper of the Cumberkeys, if you will. Such a position grows more unnecessary the more popular and mainstream he becomes. Not only does his latest media frenzy focus more general attention on Cumberbatch and his work, but it also focuses more attention on his built-in “rabid” fan base.
Vulture‘s interview/profile on Cumberbatch, his fans, and the memes they create touches on this subject from an outside perspective. Like many reports on subcultures, not everything about the reported community is covered nor are the nuances of the community understood. I can’t speak for every Cumberfan: this reflects my Cumberbatch fandom experience.
Bein’ a Basic Cumberbitch
Somewhere in the winter break of late 2010/early 2011, I watched the first series of BBC’s Sherlock. A quick binge-watch and prolonged Tumblr perusal later, I became a burgeoning Cumberbitch. From then on, the Sherlock fandom and Cumberbitches United Front took up most of my Internet time as I anticipated the future Sherlock series and went through the talented super British actor’s back catalog. Pro-tip: watch Starter for 10 and Third Star; skip Fortysomething.
Memes, inside jokes, and puns (so many puns) developed as Cumberbitches fed on another’s enthusiasm. Anything involving otters, Gingerbatch, and the unaired Sherlock pilot still brings me pure, unadulterated joy. Vulture mentions #cumberwatch, and I’d like to think I helped popularize the term. Never forget Cumberwatch 2012 a.k.a. the 2012 Oscars coverage that refused to show Cumberbatch on screen save for three seconds during War Horse‘s presentation. Not to mention the Cumberwatch when he confirmed attendance at The Avengers premiere AND NEVER SHOWED UP AT THE RED CARPET. Oh no, I’m not still bitter for wasting 2 hours on multiple shaky cam live feeds. Not at all.
Memes and adulation aren’t the only aspect of the Cumberbitch fandom. Genuine, valid criticism from the fanbase is an oft-unreported part of the fandom experience.
Because we humans are complicated creatures, sometimes one aspect of our identity runs into conflict with another. As much as I identify as a Cumberbitch, I’m first a stalwart supporter of the proliferation of people of color and women’s representation in society and culture.
That’s why I refuse to identify as a Cumberbabe or another moniker that Cumberbatch has suggested as alternatives to the fan-derived Cumberbitches. He has stated on numerous occasions that Cumberbitch seems misogynistic. What is misogynistic is a man telling a woman what to call herself and explain to her what constitutes as misogyny. So, no thanks, I’ll call myself whatever I want to, thank you very much.
The Khan Conundrum also caused me to reflect on fandom identity in relation to my social politics. For those out of the whitewashing pop culture dialogue (fix that), the Khan Conundrum refers Benedict Cumberbatch’s casting as Star Trek Into Darkness villain Khan Noonien Singh, a character known in Star Trek canon to be of North Asian, most likely Indian, descent. Ecstatic enthusiasm for the opportunity to watch Cumberbatch in a significant, slick role in a sci-fi cultural juggernaut was immediately tempered by the disconcerting disappointment in witnessing another role seemingly perfectly crafted for an actor of color go to a white actor.
Blame for the Khan Conundrum falls most directly on JJ Abrams, the executive producers, and writers of the film. And yet, whether conscious of the decision or not, Cumberbatch chose a lucrative, high-profile career move over rejecting the pervasive cultural norm of whitewashing.
Then there’s the issue of Cumberbatch’s discomfort with his fan base, a feeling experienced by almost all popular celebrities. Fans can “get out of hand,” and yet opinions can vary greatly over what “getting out of hand” actually means. Illegal activities, creepy questions, and creeper live interactions encompass “getting out of hand” to me. Other than that, all is fair game! Individuals express their fandom in a multitude of avenues, so just because I don’t read much Cumberfiction, for example, doesn’t mean others shouldn’t read and write it.
Much to Cumberbatch’s apparent chagrin, there will always be Cumberbitches. The levels to which the Cumberbatch fandom celebrates their community goes way beyond mainstream. In essence, Cumberbitches will continue their vibrant, wondrous lunacy despite his growing acclaim and credibility as a “real” (read: not-just-Internet) celebrity.
The Cumbercampaign Conspiracy
From what I can tell from inside and outside of the fandom, most of the talk regarding his engagement being strictly a career move has been from news and gossip outlets reporting on said engagement as opposed to strictly fandom sources. Sure, do some fans think outlandish things? Yeah! When do human ever not think outlandish things?
Let’s face it: it’s Oscar season and Cumberbatch has his best chance so far in his career to snag an Academy Award. He wants it. Bad. And he isn’t alone: fellow actors Michael Keaton, Keira Knightley, Eddie Redmayne, and Reese Witherspoon are but a few who are also actively campaigning this
election cycle awards season.
Here’s as far as my Cumberbitch Cumbercampaign conspiracy theories go:
- Do you think the timing and manner of his engagement announcement is part of his Oscar campaign? Yes.
- Do you think his engagement and relationship is part of his Oscar campaign? No.
- Do you think he’ll win the Oscar? As of now, no. But give the Harvey Weinstein machine time.
- Do you think he deserves to win an Oscar? Yes! If only for Third Star—his performance in that slayed me. I haven’t seen The Imitation Game yet, so I can’t say.
- Do you think his Doctor Strange casting will help/hurt his Oscar chances? Help, definitely! He’s posturing himself to be a part of the Hollywood machine, and Hollywood looooves Hollywood. Plus, his thespian cred remains in tact as his short residency as Hamlet at the Barbican became a well-publicized point of contention as to why he couldn’t (at first) join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
- Do you think he’ll be a good addition to the MCU? I think so, but frankly, I don’t care. My Tumblr feed will be filled to the brim with MCU canon Hiddlesbatch and that is good enough for me.
There is nothing wrong with being a part of a celebrity fandom. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise—not the general public, not the media, and not even the celebrity herself or himself.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to add this reapersun tote bag to my Christmas list.