Benedict Cumberbatch is sexy. Not because of his hipster name or “geek is the new cool” look (those are merely a plus). Benedict Cumberbatch is sexy because he’s got the guts to redirect the limelight on more important news than the shooting of series 3 of the BBC’s Sherlock.
“Go photograph Egypt and show the world something important,” he scribbled on a piece of scratch paper before encountering the paparazzi loitering around the set of the internationally popular television show.
A few days after his manual Egypt “post,” Cumberbatch once again crafted the paparazzi into his own personal Instagram staff by telegraphing more hand-written messages: “Hard drives smashed, journalists detained at airports … Democracy? Schedule 7, prior restraint. Is this erosion of civil liberties winning the war on terror…? What do they not want you to know? And how did they get to know it? Does the exposure of their techniques cause a threat to their security or does it just cause them embarrassment?”
Britain’s Guardian newspaper took a typically classist view of Cumberbatch’s peaceful protest, most likely because the young actor openly criticized their handling of evidence in the Snowden case. Justifying their destruction of hard drives containing some of Snowden’s leaked documents, the Guardian responded by criticizing Cumberbatch for being a member of the “debased culture …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.” To the newspaper snobs, “The signs hint – unintentionally, perhaps – 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.”
In other words, that’s the snobby English hoi polloi way of saying, “You’re so bloody inferior. Now, if you please, ignore the large mess of poo we’re standing in thanks to this uncultured Mister Cumberbatch.”
What Cumberbatch has done is effectively turn mainstream media on its head. He acknowledged what the rest of us Internet mavens knew long before Robin Thicke ever had a hit tune: the lines have blurred and if anyone is on the losing end, it is the Guardian and its old-school ilk.
Moreover, in an age where American pop culture mavens feel the need to beg for Obama’s aid in taking down the latest actor to portray the Caped Crusader, Cumberbatch provides a much-needed example of the power of pop culture in the age of new media. His is a one-man movement that illustrates the expansive power of the individual in an era where one photo can send a global message. The fact that he got under the skin of the mainstream media proves wrong the Guardian‘s theory that only classy people — the folks who don’t dish pop — know real news. If they weren’t so worried about the power of an image they wouldn’t have covered the story in the first place.
The Sherlock revival may be giving a not-so-silent nod towards pop culture’s obsession with all things geek. Cumberbatch’s use of his own limelight to draw attention to global concerns outside the sphere of pop culture is a clarion call to pop-culture geeks the world over to use their brainpower in the service of something greater than entertainment trends. The passion is there; it is the focus that needs direction. While we have every new media tool to get the job done, we better get on with it.
My guess is that Argo‘s Ben Affleck would agree.