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Fans, Fandom And The Cult Of Cumberbatch

Christine Bancroft |
October 10, 2013 | 2:50 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter/ Fandom Expert

You stop that. You stop that right now. (Tumblr)
You stop that. You stop that right now. (Tumblr)
Okay, buckle your seatbelts, motherchuckers, because I'm going to tell you about goddamned Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch.

Of course, considering the veritable glut of stories regarding the actor, you could probably find information regarding the 37-year-old actor. You need go no further than this very website to see some of the many stories that feature him. Or, if you prefer, go to one of the thousands of movies he's starring in that are coming out in the next year. Maybe you've seen him in "Star Trek: Into Darkness" or the BBC's phenomenal "Sherlock," which will presumably come back for series three before the last syllable of recorded time. Maybe you've seen his stage work (I'm a huge fan of "Frankenstein," directed by Danny Boyle and distributed through National Theatre Live) or heard his voice work in "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," on radio in "Neverwhere" and "Cabin Pressure" (oh God, "Cabin Pressure" is fantastic). Regardless, through his lengthy résumé of respected roles, he's amassed a dedicated and active fanbase. 

READ MORE: 9 Things You Need To Know About Benedict Cumberbatch

His fans, to his (and some of their) dismay, are called Cumberbitches. I have a mixed relationship with the term. On one hand, I don't like the term and it's gendered specifically to include only female-identifying fans, so sucks to suck if you're male. He's expressed his distaste for the term, preferring alternatives like "The Cumber Collective," and many fans have agreed with him; after all, fans, inasmuch as they are passionate, are also fiercely protective, and making Cumberbatch uncomfortable is not one of their interests. 

But, at the same time, the term's also pretty funny. His name is pretty funny. Most things about him, and the fandom, are generally agreed upon to be "pretty funny."

"I hate you," I whisper sadly, while weeping softly onto my keyboard. (via Tumblr)
"I hate you," I whisper sadly, while weeping softly onto my keyboard. (via Tumblr)
Some fans have argued that it's a way of "taking back" the term "bitch" from its pejorative historical meaning and utilizing it as a form of empowerment—that women can define for themselves what the term means and how it should be used. One of the reasons for the continued use of the term is just that it's funny as hell, which is fair. My male friends who are fans of the actor have used the term "Cumberbitch" to apply to themselves; others have disagreed. So it's a matter of personal opinion. 

Many of his fans first discovered the actor via BBC's "Sherlock," which first aired on BBC1 and PBS in 2010. The show's second series brought in millions more fans and garnered a dedicated fanbase online, especially on Tumblr and Livejournal. 

READ MORE: Into The Hive Mind: BBC's 'Sherlock' And The Fandom That Waited

It's inexplicable, really, in spite of his massive talent. He's not conventionally attractive, although he fits the "tall, dark and handsome" bill at 6", he likens himself to Sid the Sloth from "Ice Age" and he's been compared to otters in a viral photoset. Most fans say that it wasn't his looks that sparked their interest for him, but the way in which he portrayed a classic character with such aplomb. 

"We fell in love with his talent," one anonymous Tumblr user said. "Everything else came second. The voice helped, though." 

His voice is fantastic, a rich baritone, and will be featured as the titular dragon in "The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug" on Dec. 13. One comment on the trailer read: "His voice is so deep, my stomach is doing flips. Imagine that in surround-sound." Another simply said, "Well done, Benedict." 

Once described by the London Times as "a Jaguar hiding in a cello," his voice is smooth as his diction. He has read poetry, fairytales and short stories, to the delight of millions who fancy his voice as much as the man himself. Educated at Harrow on a drama scholarship, one of the UK's premier public schools, he comes off as intelligent and charmingly awkward in interviews, which further cements his fanbase's love and respect for the man. Not only does he possess a passion for learning and reading, he seems genuinely just…nice.

One of the favorite fan activities is gently poking fun at his ridiculously British name (usually upon the formula of two three-syllable words starting with B and C respectively—Bandersnatch Cummerbund, Britishguy Sillyname, Beautiful Quiteacatch, or my own, Bend'n'snap Cootiequeen. There's even a generator.) and doing analysis of the roles he's played, many of which are highly intelligent men, such as Stephen Hawking in "Hawking" or Christopher Tietjens in "Parade's End." Many artists have commented that they enjoy drawing and painting him, because his unusual features, with sweeping cheekbones and a pronounced cupid's bow, are excellent practice for face shapes and facial expressions.  

Everyone should try to see Danny Boyle's "Frankenstein," with Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating roles as the Creature and Victor Frankenstein. (Tumblr)
Everyone should try to see Danny Boyle's "Frankenstein," with Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating roles as the Creature and Victor Frankenstein. (Tumblr)
While a vast majority of the fans are respectful, the actions of a few have a tendency to reflect upon the whole. Every fanbase has those who act inappropriately or disrespectfully—some fandoms more than others. And no fandom is without controversy.

Because fandom is typically a community of people who have come together over a mutual affection for a subject, many people consider the fandom a place of respite. They're just as protective of the fandom as the actor, and when someone "attacks" the fandom or does something to make them uncomfortable, they will become defensive. Fans who act irrationally and out of the ordinary, not only embarrass the rest of the fans but give leave for media pundits and non-fans to shame others. 

Any time a female is a fan of a male actor (regardless of acting talent), she is criticized for only "liking him because he's hot" or some similar nonsense. Cumberbatch's fans are no different. Especially as the actor takes on more and more roles and becomes more visible, they're told that they're not "real fans" (read: any female who goes to the rebooted "Star Trek" films are only in it for the attractive cast, and are therefore lesser human beings; if you're only interested in seeing the upcoming "August: Osage County" this Christmas for Cumberbatch, you are a blight upon the theatre community, etc.).

So really, it doesn't matter if you're a fan of a talented actor, or the roles he's played, or even if the franchise, because if you're a female, you're only there for the men. 

While the Cumberbatch fans get faced with this often, especially with long-standing franchises like "The Lord of the Rings" films and novels or "Star Trek," they attempt to turn it on its head. His attractiveness is rooted in his charisma and his talent, making him charming as a whole, rather than based on a specific facet of his appearance. He's handsome and he looks damn fine in a suit (even though it appears he can't actually dress himself, but he can read the hell out of a Keats poem and is possibly one of the finest actors of this age.

I would tell you to "keep an eye out for him" in the coming months, but all things considered, I don't think that will be a problem. However, he will be doing an "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) on Reddit on Oct. 11 at 12:30 EDT in preparation for "The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug," so be prepared for millions to swoon. 

ALSO SEE: Film Review: 'The Fifth Estate', Benedict Cumberbatch Is A Convincing Julian Assange and Wikileaks Releases Julian Assange's Letter To Benedict Cumberbatch

You can reach Staff Reporter Christine Bancroft here or find her on Twitter here. She also hosts a weekly fan culture column here on Neon Tommy, called "Into the Hive Mind."



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