Stephen Fry: the thinking sheeple’s genius
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?
To be fair, not all of Mr Fry’s tweets are meaningless private conservations:
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.