We are exactly one month out from the release of Doctor Strange, which means the Marvel Hype Machine™ is officially engaged. The first bit of timed publicity is Benedict Cumberbatch covering Vanity Fair, in a profile called “The Mind-Bending Benedict Cumberbatch”. You would be forgiven, however, for thinking the profile was called “Benedict Cumberbatch’s Fans Are A Train Wreck And We Can’t Look Away”. The profile wants to connect Cumberbatch’s adrenaline-junkie youth with his acting career, but every other paragraph, it seems, writer Michael Schulman stops to comment on the hysteria that surrounds The Batch.
He’s identified as “the internet’s boyfriend”, a title which Tom Hiddleston has gladly rescinded, and while the interview touches on his career playing “socially challenged geniuses” and the number of life-threatening scenarios Young Batch found himself in, it keeps circling back to his fans. I can’t imagine his publicist—or Cumberbatch himself—is thrilled about this, but at the same time, this has consistently been the marketing angle of up-and-coming, and mostly British, male actors. You don’t really see this kind of thing with women—when a woman does attract massive internet attention, it’s usually tinged with something darker and meaner, like the love-hate affair with Kristen Stewart.
But crazed fans get a lot of attention. Tom Hiddleston was internet famous years before he cracked the mainstream as the future subject of a Taylor Swift revenge song. And remember Robert Pattinson’s screaming hordes, some of which still believe he is secretly married to Kristen Stewart and has two fake kids with her. The way that fans invent characters from famous people and spin off increasingly fantastical stories to explain their personal lives is endlessly fascinating to me—the Saga of Rob And Kristen’s Imaginary Children never gets old—so I understand the compulsion to address it when interviewing someone like Benedict Cumberbatch, himself the subject of conspiracy theories about his marriage and family.
But the unexplored angle is why this keeps happening to British celebrities, in particular. Chris Evans has a large, mostly female, very loud fanbase that is increasingly bonkers, but that doesn’t dominate the conversation when he’s being interviewed. Nor does it for Jake Gyllenhaal, or Chris Hemsworth, or Jeremy Renner, whose fans have come up with some delightfully unhinged theories about his daughter.
I want to blame it on Beatlemania and say that there’s some trace in our pop culture DNA that makes us turn it up to eleven for British celebrities, but it goes back further than that. Jack the Ripper and HH Holmes operated at the same time, but though Holmes killed more people and in way more fantastic style, English Jack is by far the more famous Victorian serial killer. And it’s not even an American/Brit thing because the internet is borderless and these bananas celebrity fandoms are multi-cultural and multi-generational, and the hysteria is experienced all over the world. I don’t have an answer, just the observation that this kind of distractingly insane fandom only happens more around male British actors. If you have any theories, I’d love to hear them.
PS: The Batch is at his most alien-handsome in these photos. Click here for more.