Hannah McGill: Skeptical about Cumberbatch fans

THE great clash that finally destabilises civilisation may not occur between ancient religions, political movements or sheets of ice, but between rival factions of Benedict Cumberbatch fans.

Skeptics have a problem with Sophie Hunter and Benedict Cumberbatch. Picture: Getty Images
Skeptics have a problem with Sophie Hunter and Benedict Cumberbatch. Picture: Getty Images

I’m not even sure if “fan” is the right terminology. There’s liking an actor’s posh growly voice, appreciating his interesting taste in screen roles, maybe even admiring the unusual arrangement of his facial features – and then there’s giving over a considerable amount of your time to online speculation that his wife is a paid fake, they never really married and their baby is a doll.

Not only am I not making this up, but the Cumberbatch followers who subscribe to these notions are numerous enough to have a collective name. They call themselves “skeptics”, and they are locked in ever-deepening conflict with “nannies” – their term for those Cumberbatch enthusiasts not given to querying whether his wife Sophie Hunter really lives in his house or what their baby is made of.

Over-investment in celebrity private lives is nothing new, of course. Lord Byron’s groupies clustered outside his house and followed him on holiday. A fan of the author Sinclair Lewis who in 1930 offered to do “everything – and I mean everything” for him received a sharp cease-and-desist from his wife Dorothy, signed “Mrs Sinclair Lewis to you”. Early Beatles devotees wept when the band members wed. But the potential offered by the internet for researching celebrities’ lives, coming to bizarre conclusions, and connecting up with similarly-inclined people to egg one another on has cranked things to another level.

In her 2011 memoir Your Voice in my Head, the writer Emma Forrest recounts that during her relationship with actor Colin Farrell, they were grimly addicted to reading horrible online gossip about their relationship. That was only the babyhood of the weird strain of fandom that has now attached itself to Cumberbatch, and other male celebrities including One Direction members, Robert Pattinson from the Twilight films and Jamie Dornan from 50 Shades of Grey. With its preoccupation with falsehood and fakery, it has more in common with extreme conspiracy theorising than with any existing form of groupie behaviour. Just as so-called “truthers” try to rationalise disturbing world events by claiming that every horror from Columbine to 9/11 to the Bataclan has been elaborately staged in the name of extending gun control or promoting the New World Order, so these new celebrity obsessives cope with the fact that their beloved is out of reach by declaring every visible aspect of his personal life to be fake.

A selling-point of an internet-enabled world used to be that it brought us closer to those we admired – we could peep into their lives, maybe even communicate with them directly. Now it’s being used to place famous people yet farther away: on the far side of great far-fetched myths about who they “really” are. Maybe it’s just built into fandom that making stuff up about them, however cruel or mad, feels safer than accepting that they’re just ordinary people after all.

Knight-time mystery for Danny

THERE’S a children’s programme my kids watch called Mike the Knight, in which a boy who has scant life experience and still goes by the childish diminutive of his name faces the responsibilities of knighthood. Speaking of which… arise, Sir Danny! Yes, Danny Alexander has been granted one of the highest honours in the land. Weird, right? Bit weird. Andy Murray hasn’t got one. Keith Richards hasn’t got one. Roald Dahl never got one; nor did Richard Burton, JRR Tolkien, Charles Darwin or Oscar Wilde. Danny Alexander, though, was a shoo-in for the history books, apparently! For what? After all, the will of the people did not seem to be to honour him earlier this year: his former constituency ousted him by more than 10,000 votes in the General Election. Mike – I mean, Danny the Knight himself guessed vaguely that the gong must be for “turning the economy around and getting the country on the right track”. Because he did that, apparently. Still, he didn’t seem terribly convinced: “It was something I didn’t expect.” One imagines him on the phone: “Are you sure it’s me you want? Maybe you’re looking for Danny Baker? Dannii Minogue?” It’s a mystery. And almost certainly nothing to do with the palace facing a Scottish box to tick and a shortage of notable non-nationalists.

List things that matter!

TIS the season of the end-of-year list, when enthusiasts rack their brains to make themselves look relevant and informed, and then see each other’s lists and feel secretly resentful about other people remembering cooler stuff than them. I have gone on the record about hating lists, which gives me a great excuse not to participate in their compilation. I also just can’t remember what I’ve done, though. Rather than ranking cultural product, it’s increasingly appealing to me to award more abstruse categories. Let’s keep a note of our best sandwiches, and best one-liners in response to rude treatment in shops, and bore each other come festive time. «