Monday, May 5, 2014

Confessions From a Former Cumberbitch

My new blog: 

For two months, I became so obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch, I didn’t dare proclaim it on Facebook. Not for fear of ridicule, but because I didn’t want him to find out after we started dating. I mean, I’m not trying to be a creeper here.

I started watching BBC’s “Sherlock” because of the critical and audience acclaim and by the very first episode, Cumberbatch had me intrigued. This soon turned into obsession.

I spent about two months being completely obsessed with him. I watched everything he’s ever been in, including The Fifth Estate on opening night. I expected it to be packed and was genuinely surprised it was only me and five other people. I even rewatched movies I’d seen but didn’t realize he was in. To me, Cumberbatch was sophisticatedly handsome and I attributed his great acting ability to the fact I had previously thought he was ugly in Atonement the first time I had watched it. This man could do no wrong. Even when he was slightly embarrassing during interviews or kept mispronouncing “meme,” I would shake my head and think, “That’s just Ben.”

It was bad. I was convinced I was going to be his wife and the mother of his children. I had serious conversations with myself about if I could be happy raising kids while he was on location. I imagined the fights we’d get into about it. Then I’d imagine the fun signs the kids and I would make to welcome him home at the airport. I imagined the discussion he and I would have about boarding school and the funny stories he’d tell about me on talk shows. The one problem I saw with this future is that I wanted Benedict to marry me for me and not for future children. I mean, what if I couldn’t get pregnant? How would we cope?

I would like to point out again that I am not crazy. I may have my moments but I am still relatively normal. 

So what the hell happened?

A “Social Crisis”
When people hear about adolescent girls and their obsessions with One Direction or the fanatic loyalty of Beliebers, people laugh and shake their heads and chalk it up to stupid, young girls and their hormones. I think there’s more to it than that. I became obsessed and I no longer have the hormones of a teenager now that I’m in my mid-20s. So if hormones are not the reason, then it must be something else. I believe adolescent girls become obsessed with celebrities due to a social crisis.

Adolescent and teenage girls spend the majority of their time worrying about how others feel about them. They want to conform so they don't get ridiculed, but they also want to stand out and be special. It's an incredibly stressful time, trying to determine which aspects of themselves they hide and which they should let shine. To help with this process, they use the social clues and cues of their peers. Sure they are all individuals with their own unique quirks, but the cool unique quirks are approved and encouraged by their peers while the undesirable ones fade away. It's called socialization and everyone goes through it during middle and high school.

So if hormones are no longer a problem for me, what connected me with young girls must have been that feeling of figuring out where we fit in the world. I had just quit what I thought was my dream job and moved back in with my parents across the country. I was moving to a place where I had no friends anymore – they had all moved away like I did but they were better at living their lives than I was, apparently. I had no idea where I fit in anymore and would have to figure it all out again.

People don’t question when “nerds” lose themselves in comic books or an online fantasy world. They don’t fit in to this world so they spend as much time as they can in another. Young girls do the same thing when they lose themselves in a fantasy world of famous celebrities; the only difference being the young girls want to fit into this world. And what better role model than the celebrities their peers love. That’s key. I had seen Cumberbatch in movies before but didn’t notice him. It was only after hearing how everyone loved him that I miraculously came to the same conclusion. Yes, he is a talented actor, but that’s not why I became obsessed with him. I became obsessed because others loved him. Just as I wanted to be loved by others.

Loyalty and the Celebrity
When a celebrity falls out of favor with the public and their fans not only defend them but attack back (I’m looking at you Beliebers), it all starts to make more sense when you realize they aren’t defending the celebrity; they’re defending the fantasy world they put so much time and energy into. When you attack the object of their worship, you are actually attacking the worshipers by saying they chose wrong. No one wants to be wrong. Plus they chose this celebrity because he/she was loved by the world (and by the world, I mean their peers). To realize he/she is no longer loved is to realize the love they so crave never lasts. Their illusion of the celebrity isn’t shattered; their wishful view of acceptance is. And so they dig in their heels and stand their ground. If they still love the celebrity, then maybe they can still be loved as well.

Why Young Women?
So why do celebrity obsessions overwhelmingly affect young women? It has to do with the fact that boys have men to look up to; to aspire to; to model themselves after. Young girls are told that behind every great man is a woman. It’s said with a cocky smile, like the teller is imparting some secret Ya-Ya Sisterhood knowledge that men don’t know about. It is told to young girls to empower them, but it does the exact opposite. It tells young girls their greatest power lies in being next to someone with greater power.

Michelle Obama, Betty Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hilary Clinton all did/do great things, but they did so with their husbands’ last names. Hell, even Hermione got married, seemingly just to get married. I think Rosa Parks, Oprah, and Queen Elizabeth I are the only three women in history to be mentioned without a man’s name on either side of theirs. And we’re taught that Queen Elizabeth I didn’t marry in order to protect her crown, not because she, you know...didn’t want to get married.

I’m not bashing marriage. Plenty of married women are “equal” or “greater” than their husbands (thank you Beyonce and Tina Fey). But young girls are overwhelmingly told their power lies next to someone else. So it’s no surprise many celebrity obsession fantasies are about marrying said obsession. Even when the obsession is non-romantic, the young girl imagines herself as a friend whose life is devoted to the celebrity, say, Taylor Swift. In the fantasy, Taylor Swift thinks of the young girl as an equal; but the world knows they’re not.

Why This Matters
The reason this matters is because if someone is obsessed with a celebrity (again, remember the fact that you know the difference between ‘like/love’ and ‘obsession’), it doesn’t have anything to do with hormones (plenty of ‘older’ women get obsessed as well) or ‘silly girls’ or rolling your eyes. It should be taken seriously because the obsessed person is a hurting person.

An obsessed person doesn’t value themselves so they try to imagine themselves next to someone the world values and they end up morphing themselves to that ideal. Some do so literally by getting plastic surgery to look like the person they are obsessed with. But on a smaller but no less harmful scale, they will alter their beliefs and dreams for their fantasy of perfect acceptance. For instance, I dreamed of my future children with Cumberbatch. The only problem is I don’t want children. I can’t even handle how needy dogs are. I also panic at responsibility and get pretty pissy if someone doesn’t appreciate how much effort I’ve put into something. I don’t like to think of it as I’d make a terrible mom, but that being a mom would make me a terrible person. And yet for two months I fantasized about having two or three kids and spending my days at home with them while Ben worked. I’d have dinner ready when he got home and we’d spend the evening listening to him recite poetry. I had turned into a 50s housewife. I don’t actually want any of that in my life (except for listening to Cumberbatch recite poetry – he could recite the phone book with that voice). And I know that if my life did turn out like that, I’d be pretty miserable.

An obsessed person is a hurting person. Instead of making fun of their obsession, please try to realize they are only looking for love and value (thankfully in the safer place of their mind as opposed to teenage versions of orgies and drug dens (also known as basements)). Talk them up. Make them want to be their own hero. These kids are only seeing the success of these people, not the hard work. With 24 hour news, YouTube, and the rise of the 15-minute celebrity, kids are more convinced than ever that all they need is a one-shot Hail Mary to get famous and so they put all their energy into that as opposed to putting it back into themselves. Show them people who dealt with the same insecurities as they do on their way to being successful. Teach them the value of hard work, perseverance, and grit. 

Most girls will grow out of their celebrity obsession. We can only hope they grow out of it because they’ve found their value within themselves. Most won’t. They will continue on with their lives but still fantasize about acceptance instead of realizing they only have to accept themselves. These women will lead lives of quiet desperation; quiet only because having a life-sized cutout of a celebrity is too loud, but lives desperate nonetheless. Just because they are better at hiding their depression and anxiety does not mean it is still not there. These can cripple a human. And only morons laugh at cripples.

UPDATE: After reading a few comments in a few places I have posted this, many people want to know how I "got over" my obsession. I saw a picture of Benedict kissing a Russian model after she had stated in an interview that she was in a serious relationship with someone else. Suddenly I realized that Benedict Cumberbatch is just trying to figure it all out like the rest of us and I should start doing the same. I still admire the man; he is a great actor and loves his fans but he is no longer an object of worship, just admiration.


  1. Witty, vulnerable, well thought out, well defended and supported. A bit harsh at the end. Hope you are kind and gentle with the girl who wrote this piece. She seems like an extremely cool person to me.

  2. Thank you so much for your thoughts. It helps me a lot to "get over it"!

  3. Kelly, you're gifted.

  4. Great article. I found so much of myself in it. And it is true: obsession is a result of being unhappy and leads to more unhappiness.

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  6. The author of this blog entry is painting fans as obsessed, and assuming that "obsession" is immediately bad. This is actually related to my thesis right now. People like the author who belong to the out-group (i.e., those who are not fans or who are not as intense as fans) paints the in-group (i.e., those who are fans in every sense of the word) as obsessed, when the in-group describes themselves as passionate. This is the "social crisis" she is talking about, and she does have a valid (albeit biased for the out-group) point. All was fine until she assumed that the "obsessed young person" is a "hurting person". This is another factor that is at play here. There is a tendency for fan behaviour to be viewed as either normative or pathological. You either see what the fan does as a normal thing--most often when you're coming from an in-group perspective--or as a sort of sickness, as this person--and as someone from the out-group--does. I am not saying that what this person's argument is invalid, only that it is incomplete. An obsessed fan is not necessarily impaired by their obsession; nor are they obsessed because they are impaired. This article paints a very bad picture of fans, portraying us as impaired individuals who have a skewed sense of reality and who are looking for and needing "love and value". There is nothing wrong with being a fan or with being obsessed about anything. Someone labelled as obsessed may see him/herself as passionate--it's just a matter of perspective. Fan behaviour only becomes a problem when it becomes detrimental to the person, and one should never generalise the way this author has. There is so much more to fan behaviour and to being a fan than just obsession.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this. I'm the same age as you and thought I had lost my mind ;) You have helped me realize that I don't need to daydream about celebrities to make me feel better about myself. I'm good enough as I am. Can't wait to spend more time with myself from now on.