Lay Off the Benedict Cumberbatch Jokes Already


Let’s get this out of the way: Benedict Cumberbatch has an unusual name. Benedict Cumberbatch is not Hollywood handsome. And Benedict Cumberbatch has a rabid fan base that could stand to take it down a notch or 70. All of these statements may be true, but none of them are reasons for taking potshots at Cumberbatch that boil down to such highly sophisticated arguments as “He looks weird” and “His name sounds funny.” And posting said opinions in various corners of the Internet does little to prove how much more mature one is than Cumberbatch’s more hardcore admirers.

Though nowhere near as ubiquitous as the endless GIFs and photo sets commemorating Cumberbatch and his fictional relationship with Martin Freeman, the backlash against Tumblr’s favorite thespian has been slowly but steadily gathering steam. The latest development is the Benedict Cumberbatch Name Generator, a site that’s exactly what it sounds like and spits out oh-so-clever parody names like “Bukkake Colleywog” and “Bulbasaur Crumplehorn,” some of which don’t even bear a vague resemblance to the original (“Hairyballs Crucifix”?). Like so much of the humor surrounding Cumberbatch, the punchline of the joke amounts to, “Look, weird name!”

The name generator may be the most prominent example of Cumberbatch hate, but it’s been floating around for a while. I’ve seen cracks on Twitter comparing the poor guy to a mid-transformation Animorph and pictures of aliens on Tumblr with captions like “guys stop blogging about benedict cumberbatch already!!!” Neither joke is significant or funny enough to merit an actual link, but trust me, they’re out there. And too often, they come from corners of the Internet that should know better — often the same people who write and reblog justified critiques of Cumberbatch’s whitewashed role in Star Trek: Into Darkness and Sherlock’s queer-baiting problem.

The problem with Cumberbatch humor is that it takes reasonable critiques of an actor’s work and turns them into ad hominem attacks on a guy who, at the end of the day, is a talented performer with a hyperactive fan base he’s not really obligated to answer for. And most Cumberbatch jokes seem indirectly aimed at said fan base instead of Cumberbatch himself; the gist isn’t necessarily that he’s botched beloved characters like Khan and Sherlock Holmes (and soon, less-beloved figures like Julian Assange), but that it’s time for those silly teenage girls to back away from their computers and stick to worshiping the Robert Pattinson poster on their bedroom wall.

Brief disclaimer: all of this isn’t to say that the animosity directed at Cumberbatch is as malicious as public critiques of stars like Portia de Rossi and Quevenzhane Wallis. When fans complained about Rossi’s physical appearance or Wallis’s “unpronounceable” name, those criticisms carried a heavy undercurrent of sexism and racism that just doesn’t apply here. Cumberbatch is a white dude with all the advantages that entails, and snide comments about his looks and name don’t perpetuate the same social ills that similar attacks against women, people of color, and other marginalized groups do. But he’s still a human being entitled to not being compared to an alien for daring to put his face in front of a camera.

It’s reasonable to be put off by the hordes of Johnlock ‘shippers and self-identified “Cumberbitches” out there. But the sane reaction to overeager fans isn’t an equal and opposite reaction feigning horror that a bunch of people dared to be enthusiastic about something. It’s leading by example: either arguing why Cumberbatch is overrated in a level-headed and non-Regina George-ish way or, better yet, staying silent and letting those crazy kids (and some adults) reap the simple joys of fandom. After all, what’s it to you if someone who isn’t as conventionally attractive as the average A-lister becomes an unlikely sex symbol? If anything, the idea that people who don’t look like Brad Pitt can have admirers too is a fairly positive one for teenagers to internalize. And whether it’s intentional or not, it’s that not-too-shabby idea that all those Animorph jokes end up undermining.

Personally, I like Cumberbatch. I don’t identify as a “Cumberbitch,” largely because I don’t think anyone should call themselves a “Cumberbitch,” but I’ve had a soft spot for him ever since his bit part single-handedly took Cloud Atlas from “irredeemably awful” to just “terrible.” [Correction: Mr. Sixsmith was portrayed by James D’Arcy, not Cumberbatch. My opinion of both Cloud Atlas and Cumberbatch’s talent still stands.] Sherlock’s gotten me through many a finals season, and while casting a white actor in the role of Khan was a terrible decision on J. J. Abrams’ part, I enjoyed Into Darkness and fully intend on seeing The Fifth Estate. So on behalf of my fellow admirers, a confession: we know he’s not mind-blowingly gorgeous. Some of us are even capable of not passing out at our desks when we find out he officiated a gay wedding in Ibiza. And believe it or not, most of us already know Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t infallible, no matter how clever his paparazzi comebacks. So please, don’t feel the need to explain this to us. Especially via name generator.