Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet, lifeblogging and smartphones

I was sitting at my office desk yesterday reading the big boss’s Financial Times (he’s away on vacation).  And in it was an interesting article written in the wake of Cumberbatch’s plea for fans to stop photographing and recording videos during his Hamlet performance at the Barbican Theater. 

I might add that I viewed Cumberbatch’s backstage request on YouTube and thought that his exquisite politeness alone should be enough for future theatre-goers to pay heed and stop hassling him with their phones.  Talk about killing the public with kindness, not to mention courtesy; this man is a total Class Act.   Honestly, he makes Donald Trump look like an orangutan.


Anyway, back to the FT article written by Gautam Malkani.  It spoke to me because Malkani addressed the phenomenon of lifeblogging, which, I suppose, is what I do as I buy fruit and fish at my local Sunday market and then, somewhat self-consciously, post photos of them onto my blog.  Does this smack of cyber narcissism or a certain smug self-satisfaction?  I’ll reply to my own question by saying that I like to think of myself as a chronicler, as much for my own benefit as for others.  Since childhood I’ve been keeping a diary and since adolescence I’ve been taking photos, so I guess a personal blog is a natural extension of those activities.

Here’s an excerpt from Malkani’s article –

“In fairness, the soliloquy was impromptu. After a tough night playing Hamlet at London’s Barbican theatre, Benedict Cumberbatch emerged from the stage door and begged his fans to use their smartphones to spread the word that he would rather his fans stopped using their smartphones.”

“The reason for his mini freak-out? His performance had been made harder by members of the audience recording it, and he wanted his fans (the culprits) to relay this. “I don’t use social media,” he told them as they continued filming him with said smartphones, “but I’d really appreciate it if you did tweet, blog, hashtag the sh*t out of this one for me.””

“However, the actor also raised a question that has dogged the digerati ever since all these devices gave rise to what we now call “lifeblogging” or “self-documenting“: if we are constantly recording, uploading and sharing whatever we are experiencing, are we really experiencing it?”

“Mr. Cumberbatch said he wanted to give a life performance that his fans would remember “in your minds and brains” rather than on their phones. The protagonist of David Lynch’s film, Lost Highway, perhaps put it best when he said “I like to remember things my own way…not necessarily the way they happened.””

“Self-documenting is now so normal that our online self and our offline self can both feel equally real – two personas who go out each day and gather material to bolster one another. If you fail to Facebook or Instagram your evening out, you might as well have stayed in. Sure, we are acting like narcissistic stars of our own big-screen biopics, but if we did not digitally document our offline life, a very real part of our “self” might cease to exist.”

“The more rarefied the experience, the greater our need to document it.  To ban recording devices altogether is akin to banning spectacles – our phones have evolved into extensions of our minds.  If that causes Mr. Cumberbatch to freak out on stage, so be it.  At least, after centuries of debate, we now have a new reason why Hamlet cannot just get his act together and waste his uncle.””

7 thoughts on “Benedict Cumberbatch, Hamlet, lifeblogging and smartphones

  1. I agree with Mr. Cumberbatch. I have owned cameras and video cameras (I’m dating myself here, of course) and have gone through periods where I used them extensively. However, I came to realize how much I was missing by documenting everything and I gave all of it up. I rarely take pictures and am not a user of social media, either – I gave up Facebook about three years ago.

    I really don’t think that spectacles and recording devices can be equated. One is a necessity; the other is just showing off (for a lot of people).

    • I agree totally. There are days when I leave my camera at home and in a funny way I feel a little bit liberated. I do not own a smartphone – up until 4 months ago my cell phone was really old (I purchased it in 2000) and when I pulled it out of my bag, people actually laughed. Now I have a new one, but it’s the most basic standard model.
      I loathe Facebook and loathe Twitter even more.

  2. What you’re doing is somewhat different in the sense that it’s a true weblog or much more akin to a diary. 🙂

  3. Bravo, Benedict! I have sat through so many events with people obsessively taping every second of a performance. I cannot help but wonder why they feel compelled to try to preserve every moment? Why must they always plant a device between themselves and llife? “Hamlet”, of all places, is the MOST inappropriate venue for this distraction since the character is struggling with what it means to be alive in a world of pain, grief and duty. Turn that thing OFF!

    • Benedict Cumberbatch is really the “man of the moment”. What I don’t understand is – why don’t theaters forbid the use of filming during performances?

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