“I’m an idiot,” admits Benedict Cumberbatch

One ought to compliment the actor on his capacity for frank self-assessment. Not many idiots acknowledge their mental deficiency with such openness and equanimity.

Actually, as someone who grew up in an actor’s family, I know that Mr Cumberbatch’s honesty was pretty much redundant. All he had to say was “I’m an actor.”

I’m not trying to suggest that it’s impossible to find an intelligent actor. All I’m saying is that I’ve never met one, and I’ve met many thespians in my life.

There must be something about the ease with which actors slip into other people’s personalities to suggest they haven’t got much in the way of their own. And if one looks for empirical proof to support this a priori proposition, all one has to do is to read a random show business column.

For example, the other day the half-Kiwi, half-Aussie actor Russell Crowe was in South Korea, plugging yet another film about Australians in the First World War.

By the sound of it, the film’s main message is that Britain’s principal war aim was to have as many Australians killed as was possible without wholly divesting the country of its male population.

Having donned the personality of one of the victims in the film, Mr Crowe clearly hadn’t had time to doff it by the time the promotion tour rolled along.

Speaking to a South Korean audience he expressed an unscripted belief that Korea’s plight under the Japanese occupation was exactly the same as Australia’s was – and still is! – under British tyranny.

My wife was up in arms, but then I reminded her of Mr Crowe’s profession and asked her to consider the source. She instantly quieted down.

As to Mr Cumberbatch, it’s not his honest admission, laudable though it is, that’s remarkable, but the circumstances that prompted it.

Speaking on an American TV chat show, Mr Cumberbatch felt called upon to highlight his impeccable liberal credentials.

To that end he dropped a tear or two for the plight of British black actors, who work on their craft just as hard as Mr Cumberbatch, but find good roles harder to come by. “I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK,” he concluded.

COLOURED!!! He might as well have said that all black actors should be sent out to work in a cotton field – the ensuing brouhaha wouldn’t, couldn’t, have been any more thunderous.

Never mind the impeccably liberal sentiment – feel the word ‘coloured’. No one cares what Mr Cumberbatch, or anyone else for that matter, thinks, means or even says. Content is nothing; form, everything.

If Mr Cumberbatch hadn’t realised this before, the public outrage in all media drove the point home with sledgehammer power.

“Racist!” “Outrageous!!” “Offensive!!!” “Insulting!” Each red-hot denotation spelled an earth-shattering connotation: Mr Cumberbatch could kiss the Oscar for which he was nominated good-bye.

Such awards sometimes go to giftless hams, but they never, ever go to racists, homophobes, misogynists or any other transgressors against the ‘progressive’ code Hollywood upholds more passionately than the Decalogue and the Sermon of the Mount put together.

The definition of a racist is broad. It may include not only someone who professes hatred for other races, but also someone who is UNAWARE or INSENSITIVE.

And failing to keep track of the kaleidoscopically fluid terminology deemed appropriate to describe members of off-white races is a sure sign of a well-nigh criminal deficit in awareness and sensitivity.

Clearly, if Cumberbatch wanted to retain a Chinaman’s… sorry, an American Person of Chinese Extraction’s chance of catching the coattails of the disappearing Oscar, he had to defend himself and do it fast.

Now, the easiest way to present a case for the defence would have been to point out that the most powerful American organisation devoted to the fight against racial discrimination is called the NAACP.

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the self-appointed jury, stands for the National Association for the Advancement of – are you ready for this? – Coloured People!

So the term still has currency in the best possible circles. Black people who feel slighted or offended seek solace at the NAACP’s good offices without ever feeling the least bit offended.

That’s what I would have said. But I’m not running for an Oscar, and my own liberal credentials are anyway shot to hell every time I put my fingers on the Mac keyboard.

Mr Cumberbatch felt he really had to ham it up this time. And so he did, issuing a 147-word statement in which he owned up to idiocy.

“I’m devastated,” he beat himself on the chest, “to have caused offence by using this outmoded terminology… I make no excuse for my being an idiot and know the damage is done…”

The damage is indeed done – to Mr Cumberbatch’s Oscar chances. Those were already rather slim, for his very name has strong racist overtones.

One doesn’t bump into too many Benedict Cumberbatches at a Peckam or Brixton council estate or, for that matter, a South Bronx or Watts project. The name screams ‘white middle class’ or, even worse, ‘white upper-middle class’.

And “white upper-middle class” in its turn screams ‘racist’ so loudly that one has to strain one’s vocal chords to outshout it with redeeming messages. The subtlest of hints at the remotest of possibilities that the chap acts in the character implied by his moniker, and he’s dead.

Not physically, you understand, not yet anyway. He’s dead socially in the very circles that nominate chaps for Oscars, invite them to Notting Hill or Park Avenue parties, admit them to Pall Mall clubs and their American equivalents.

So he might as well be dead physically – unless he does a DIY Lazarus and comes back to social life by issuing nauseating, grovelling, stupid apologies.

But perhaps Mr Cumberbatch doesn’t realise that’s what they are. He is, after all, a self-admitted idiot.





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