Last week, I had a long overdue meet up with some fine MA friends last week and, after a few cheap pints of bitter, one of them mentioned how he thought that Benedict Cumberbatch had no right to complain about getting “posh-bashed” because it’d all turned out ok for him due to his background. He’d benefited from being posh, it’s let him afford a place in the business, so he should be able to take a bit of stick for it.
Now, I understand where this attitude comes from although, beyond the flawed assumption, it was the sheer vitriol tossed at Cumberbatch that struck me as truly ugly. I mean, while we don’t even know the circumstances of his rise to fame, he hasn’t just come out of nowhere. He’s been working since 2000 odd and is 36: he’s probably paid his acting dues.
Also, the wider point is that, as Miss Lumley says, you don’t have to be posh to be privileged. Posh is a lifestyle, Privilege is a shortcut. You can deplore the latter, but, while there can often be a strong correlation, it is not inherently linked to the first. It’s easy to do. Just recently, Julie Walters, out of a sense of genuine concern, mentioned that she was worried that only those who’d gone to posh schools could afford to act.
Yet, as with everything, it’s more complicated than that. The area I grow up in is full of people who aren’t members of the aristocracy, but are more than a little minted. Most are of the “self-made businessman” mould, who hard faces and printed haircuts you find lining the seats at Stamford Bridge on a Saturday afternoon. Their kids will not suffer for much and if they, say, like Bennie C., wanted a life in acting, they would be financially supported through it. These people are not ‘classy’ in the sense that people seem to link to poshness, but they have cash and influence.
More and more, I’ve come around to the idea that – on a day to day basis – I don’t care how someone got somewhere, as long as they do what they’re doing well. Maybe being the right person can get you through the door but, in most cases, if you’re shit you don’t stay in the room too long. Cumberbatch is generally regarded as a decent actor, and that’s – as much as I know of him and his ascent – is all that should matter in terms of his getting roles.
Longer term, there is a greater mobility issue (though I’m not fond of that term since it conceptualises the whole thing as a need to get *up* in the world, which is a poisonous notion), and this is actually where I can take my friend’s point. The arts has a heavy skew towards a particular, shall we say, Cumberbatchian background, and that in turn can lead to being privilege through connections if you share that background. Nepotism is dirty and it’s rife.
On the most basic level though, whilst we are making, and should to continue to make, efforts to equalise the arts world (need to start with producers before actors, but that’s for another post…), we can’t hate people for matters over which they had no choice. By all means, let’s dismantle the old boys network, let’s fund more scholarships, let’s encourage those with passion and talent but who feel the life isn’t for them – just let’s not waste our energy ripping people for where their parents decided to send them to school.
i.e. Hate the game, not the player.