Stephen Fry: the thinking sheeple’s genius

Stephen Fry

Once upon a time I was in love with Stephen Fry. What is there not to like? Erudite, creative, knowledgeable and humorous. On paper, he is the celebrity who is most likely to appeal to language-loving lefty types like myself. And QI is one of the most enjoyable shows on television.

Except that Stephen Fry has become a bit of an over-exposed, verbose, patronising old fart. In this video, Fry lectures his Australian interviewer about her own country’s history, pontificates about why Australia needn’t bother with the whole republic debate and enlightens us about typical Aussies and their values. I’ve extracted below some select quotes from Fry’s stream of consciousness interview:

On why, despite appearances, the British monarchy isn’t irrelevant to Australia:

So often this happens in history, as it does in evolution: things that seem counter-intuitive and peculiar often have an amazingly good effect.

That statement would have had the potential to be a good point, if only Fry cared to elaborate on what “amazingly good effect” the British monarchy currently has on Australia. (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t.)

On why Australians should basically just give up on this whole business of worrying about becoming a republic:

Ask yourselves this question as Australians: Do you really want another layer of tribal, hate-filled politics in your life in Australia? Isn’t it bad enough at the moment just how much division there is in Australian political life, between Liberal and Labor?

Thanks, but we’ll be the judges of that. Despite his trademark desperation to demonstrate how much he knows about everything, Fry appears to be unaware that one of the most pervasive problems with the current state of Australian politics is that there essentially is no division between the Liberal and Labor parties.

And if we did become a republic, there are apparently plenty of intelligent, representative Australians who could be our first President:

Adam Gilchrist… Barry Humphries… Allan Border.

Has Stephen Fry made it into the 21st century yet? This part of the interview made me want to eat my fist.

I’ll admit that this video isn’t really all that offensive and, in Fry’s defence, the interview certainly wasn’t meant to be a serious discussion. It is, however, another nail in the coffin of Stephen Fry having anything useful to say. Mr Fry is indeed a man of words and knowledge, but I’m not sure if we should regard him as anything more than that. His almanac-like approach to being intellectual and gratuitous use of fancy words make for a great TV show like QI, but when it comes to sharing his opinion about anything of significance – something that requires critical thinking, not just recalling facts and using flowery language – what he proffers often lacks any insightful, relevant analysis. This is worsened by the fact that he’s about 20 to 30 years off the pace and tends to rely more on stereotype than original ideas. Australians are larrakins! They love sports! The two major political parties in Australia are Labor and Liberal! For a man who makes a living out of being a supposed intellectual, it’s all pretty superficial stuff.

Am I, in this world of abundant mediocrity, being unfairly critical of this one celebrity? Am I biased because I’m a republican (this kind, not this kind) and I don’t take kindly to being lectured to by a pompous Brit about how I ought to approach the question of my own country’s identity? Probably. But what is alarming about the Stephen Fry phenomenon is that he is revered as some kind of demi-god. If you need any convincing about this, just ask his 3.2 million Twitter followers. What is it about this man that draws such a large following? Let’s consider a random snapshot of Mr Fry’s Twitter feed. What insights or humorous witticisms will Saint Stephen, the man frequently referred to as “The God of Twitter”, gift to the world today?

Stephen Fry's Twitter Feed

To be fair, not all of Mr Fry’s tweets are meaningless private conservations:

Stephen Fry is a pompous twit

Urgh.

The fact that Stephen Fry has a cult-like following and is regarded by many as a great thinker is perhaps a symptom of a bigger problem: mistaking knowledge (of words, facts) for genius. Whether a certain amount of that confusion has always existed or whether it’s getting worse is something I’m not sure about. What I do know is that we are steadily progressing further and further into an age where the answer to almost any question of general knowledge can be uncovered, by anyone, in around 60 seconds. That’s not a bad thing, but consider what the implications could be. Will critical thinking become more prized as a result? Or will the volume of information and ease with which we attain it take precedence over its quality and the art of reflection, evaluation and analysis? Does Stephen Fry have 3.2 million Twitter followers simply because the information age has enabled those people to gather and express the opinions they’ve always held? Or is the information age (which includes mainstream media, its vicious news cycle and all the attendant troubles that go with it) actually shaping how we, particularly young people, respond to information and ultimately what we understand to be intelligence? Maybe I’m drawing a long bow here in attempting to understand why so many relatively educated people regard Fry as a genius. But even so, and at the very least, the fawning adulation of Stephen Fry is disturbing as society’s ability to think critically grows ever more tenuous.

So I’m not suggesting that Stephen Fry isn’t good at anything or that he’s not a talented or funny person. But before all you poor Fry-worshipping sycophants start petitioning to have the man canonised, please consider this: just because a person imitates Oscar Wilde and uses words that you need to go and look up in a dictionary doesn’t mean he is a genius. Stephen Fry is an abundantly intelligent man, but not necessarily a great thinker.

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15 responses to “Stephen Fry: the thinking sheeple’s genius”

  1. Bob says :

    Stephen Fry – broadcast journalist and perennial bit part actor, whose entire media shtick is to pretend he is vastly cleverer than you or I, apparent justified on basis he can read cue cards and went to Cambridge at some point many years ago, prior to an astounding 15 years as a cocaine addict. His opinions….

  2. JJ says :

    Thank you for writing this! It’s rare to come across this kind of critique(or any) of Stephen Fry. I think that those who aren’t crazy about him are in the minority. He seems to be elevated to some kind great figure, from my surfings on him on the web.

    I absolutely hate him! He’s just too much! Poking his nose in everywhere. Jesus Christ!

  3. A guy says :

    He is of above-average intelligence and has a broad but superficial smattering of cultural knowledge. He is very far from being a genius. He isn’t even ‘brilliant’, although he is articulate. He never took his education beyond his first degree, as he took up a successful career as a comedian. That was a wise choice, as he had a talent for it. He also had the personal foibles of an average man, and these took their toll on his talent in time. However for the past few years this man seems to be desperate for attention and money. As a result his former easy geniality is beginning to look very plastic and artificial. His lack of specialization in a particular knowledge field or in academia is also making him look very overextended indeed when he is allowed to run his mouth on any subject that might be required of him on national television. He reaches his limits and he struggles. As a result, when asked irrelevant and strange questions such as ‘who is your favorite philosopher’ the name-dropping and, worse *inaccurate references and statements* just don’t cut it. They stick out and look more and more strained, to the increasing number of people in this country that are educated and don’t necessarily accept that an upper-class accent should earn someone reverence as opposed to a ‘foot in the door’ at the proverbial dinner table.

    Really sorry to draw this comparison, but Michael Barrymore and Jimmy Saville were feted as national treasures for no apparent reason by the same people who are foisting Stephen Fry on us. It’s the same old 80s gang of losers (Jeremy Clarkson, Hugh Laurie et al) handing themselves awards, talking pompously about things well above their paygrade and well beyond their erudition, and simultaneously depriving us of the current generation’s crop of talent. Blackadder wasn’t even that good. The 80s were a fun time and we all wish this was the 80s again. Unfortunately we just have these showbiz washouts from a different time and place. Where is the new talent?

  4. Mudmap says :

    I wonder if Stephen Fry’s friendship with Prince Charles might have something to do with his somewhat unelaborated support of the monarch as a “good thing” (to quote Martha!). It is unlike him not to elaborate – generally that is where his brand of humour comes from (the elaboration).

    The comment on Australian politics is equally mystifying as our political system is based on the Westminster system…..and their (mostly) two party system. And isn’t division (ie: alternatives and choices) the point of the system?

    • Sheeple Liberator says :

      Yeah, I don’t care what his opinions are about the monarchy in the UK. But when he rocks up to Australia and starts talking this rubbish it gets a bit tiresome. He’s got no idea what he’s on about.

  5. Syd Walker (@SydWalker) says :

    My Eureka moment with Stephen Fry was watching an episode of his American Tour series a year or so ago.

    Fry gave a little homily about his ideas on the military industrial complex and US militarism, giving a brief summary of the case for and against rather like a judge doing a summing up at the end of a trial. It was wittily done, but vacuous and utterly conformist.

    Essentially, Fry gave the power-crazy imperialist strand that’s now deeply woven into the fabric of American life a reassuring thumbs-up. His spiel was like a magician’s trick. Only after the words stopped did it occur to me that he’d actually advanced not one single rational argument in defense of his position.

    In this era, people like Fry are essentially propaganda agents. He can break free from this – and should, if he has any integrity. But from that time on, the promotion will stop. For someone with an ego as sizeable as Fry’s, that must indeed be a daunting prospect.

    This pro-establishment conformism relegates him to the ranks of minor intellectual. Even in the war-mad America of today, many remember Mark Twain and his pithy, quotable attacks on the rise of American imperialism. Who now remembers the names of the smooth-talking conformists who denigrated Twain at the time?

    • Sheeple Liberator says :

      Hi Syd. I don’t remember that particular episode although I did watch a few of the shows in his American tour. I thought it was funny and entertaining, but I didn’t really consider it to be much more than that.

  6. Crystalwayward says :

    I confess I have no opinion one way or the other about Stephen Fry, but I admire your ability as a writer to expound intellectually, and at length, upon the topics you cover in this blog. Keep writing! I can’t wait to read more! 🙂

  7. Richard (@brumplum) says :

    Hi,

    I found your blog because you left a comment on mine about wwhether plums can be used in my damson recipe (yes, but damsons are a loot more tart than plums and have a more concentrated flavour, so I would suggest cooking down for longer and using less sugar)

    I assume you found my blog because of my spat with Mr Fry on Twitter two years ago (the anniversary is in exactly a week’s time) and the resulting international fracas.

    I’ve never beeen to Australia (although I’d love to visit sometime) and I’m not quite au fait with your politics so I can’t comment on the validity of his observations, but I agree that a combination of over-exposure and having swallowed his own PR have turned Stephen Fry from being an interesting oddity in the world of celebrity (someone who can read more than his own celeb profiles) into an insufferable bore who pontificates on everything although he doesn’t actually have a clue what he’s talking about.

    And worse, he’s now doing as a matter of course something which he never used to do and for which he was praised more than once: talking down to his audience and making sure that we all KNOW that he is imparting wisdom we could not glean anywhere else.

    Even QI has turned into a shadow of its former self (compare full episodes from series A with some of the drivel from series I) and has started talking down to its audience.

    I would also like to challenge anyone who read his second volume of autobiography to being comfortable with the arrogant smugness dripping from every page, again something which was not present in Moab Is My washpot.

    As for Twitter, someone once said that every Briton signing up to a Twitter account gets to follow @StephenFry as a welcome gift. I have not understood for a very long time why he is produced as a rent-a-quote figure on all matters of tehcnologiy, and Twitter in particular, when he has many peers on the codemy cirtcuit who do a considerably better job. (take your pick of David Mitchell, Rob Schneider, Rob Brydon or Jimmy Carr to name but a few of the major names)

    I unfollowed him a long time ago and Qi has gone from being required viewing every week to something I might put on in the bakground while doing much more important things, as it no longer deserves any more than a fraction of my attention.

    • Sheeple Liberator says :

      Hi Richard, yes I did come across your blog while doing a bit of research on Stephen Fry’s bizarre Twitter following. I thought your experience was unbelievable – Stephen Fry is so precious that he can’t handle being called “a bit boring” by a random member of the public? Please, grow up. I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t think he’s necessarily God. Nothing against the man, but let’s all get some perspective.

      Thanks for the tip about the damsons recipe. I have always liked the concept of Nutella but not the sickly sweet taste so I can’t wait to try it out.

  8. Miss Demure Restraint says :

    I want to start by saying . . . if you’d rather not participate, I totally understand. I have declined in the past myself. It is kind of a pain in the arse. That said.

    I’m awarding you the Versatile Blogger Award because I like your blog and think others will too. As with everything in life, there are strings attached. 1) You are to give the award to 15 other bloggers you feel are deserving and notify them of the award. 2) Make a post thanking the person that gave you the award (moi’) and listing your 15 choices. Provide links to these 16 blogs in your post. 3) Lastly, in your post, list seven things the bloggy world doesn’t know about you.

    Here is the info I was given for the graphic of the award to be used in your post.

    Personally, I had trouble with it, so feel free to contact me if you need help.

    The bottom line . . . whether you participate or not . . . I think you have a rockin’ blog.

    • Sheeple Liberator says :

      Wow, thank you so much Miss DR! Being recognised now and again is nice, isn’t it?

      I gratefully accept the challenge… now to narrow my list down to just 15 favourites! 🙂

      • Geoff Poole says :

        Think yourself lucky that you live in Australia, i.e. a long way from Stephen Fry. Here in the UK there are times when he’s practically unavoidable. Your post (and the replies) summed him up very well. He’s an articulate entertainer, nothing more. I share your republican leanings, and my views, as well as Fry’s on the future of Australia’s constitutional links with the UK are of no relevance. A recent Australian premier (Gillard?) was openly atheist; I would have thought that would be an issue for Fry to comment upon- an atheist in the USA has practically zero chance of getting elected to the top job. In the UK it sometimes feels that everyone must listen to what Fry says or tweets. It’s gratifying to know I’m far from being the sole dissenter. Great blog.

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