Today on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ website was a poll informing me that Benedict Cumberbatch is considering leaving Britain for the US as a result of all the ‘posh bashing’ that goes on.
The poll asks “Is Benedict Cumberbatch right that posh-bashing has gone too far?”
For those who don’t know, Benedict is Sherlock Holmes. A bloody good Sherlock Holmes too. His feature length BBC adventures have all been excellent, with genuinely witty scripts and Cumberbatch’s ‘Sherlock-with-Aspergers’ is pretty brilliant. It’s much better than those over-the-top action-packed Hollywood bollockbusters too.
So I’m a tad disappointed that the chap is so damn wet. He complains that he is often“castigated as a moaning, rich, public-school bastard”. And there was me thinking he was just upset that people had been taking the piss out of his silly name. As someone with a silly name, I could empathise with that. There’s something rather bourgeois about both Benedict and Beaujolais. But, if his posh name was that much of a problem, he could presumably use some of his riches to pay for a name change to something more ‘common’, such as perhaps Ben.
It’s probably not purely the name then. Perhaps it’s because he’s rich, and comes from public school, and moans? Quite reasonably, moaning rich people are probably apt to piss the rest of us off quite a bit, especially at tight financial times like this. While having a silly name, lots of money, fame and a very good job might be a cause to moan for some, for most of us, we’d gladly change our names to anything under the bloody sun to avoid getting up early in the morning to earn a pittance packing other people’s shopping.
I was just getting smug thinking how utterly justifiable ripping posh toffs was, when a slight doubt creeps over me. See, the way I broadly see it, it’s fair game to take the piss out of aspects of a person they’ve freely chosen- Tories, train-spotters, racists, Strictly Big Brother’s With Talent Mating On Ice fans, people who eat tuna. It’s on the other hand not ok to take the piss out of people for things they haven’t chosen: age, race, skin-colour, goofy teeth (still bitter), disability, gender etc.
But what if Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t ‘choose’ to be posh? After all, it was presumably a result of him being born into a rich family, going to an expensive school, and growing up mostly socialising with other rich people at the expensive school. Technically, says the ever-present-pedant, he couldn’t help it! No, maybe he couldn’t, but I’m still inclined to side with the school of thought that goes ‘socialisation is no excuse for being a racist, rapist or total dick’. Obviously, being posh is not in itself as bad as being a racist rapist total dick, it often just means you sound silly.
The thing people don’t much like, the thing that really does piss us off, is privilege. And we’re right to be pissed off about it. We’ve all got privileges; I’m damn lucky to be a white middle-class male in this kind of society, my girlfriend still has the privileges of being white and middle class, my friend although not white has the privilege of being male and middle class and so on. Some simply have many more privileges than others.
Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty damn privileged, so he should shut the f*** up moaning and get back to being a bloody good Sherlock Holmes. The posh can handle a bit of bashing: when we get bashed, we lose our jobs, our benefits, our healthcare or our homes. Get some perspective Benedict ya posh bugger!
This article first appeared in Lancaster to Euston