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What unsuccessful people have in common is they talk about themselves all the time.
July 3, 2010 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Stephen Fry on "What I wish I'd known when I was 18" (30 minute video; transcript)

[via this question]. Audio is left channel only for some reason, so switch speakers/headphones to mono if possible
posted by rollick (106 comments total) 131 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love Stephen Fry, how he always speaks not to make a point but to be understood. His books, too, seem to me special in this way... he's concerned with being honest, and being precise to that end, not with being clever or thought of as anything in particular. That openness and approachability has to be in the person first, to be in their work at all. And it's a kind of taking responsibility too, not just talking the talk.

There's that bit in Catcher where Holden differentiates between writers who're just great writers (who you can worship as such), and those you'd actually want to call up and hang out with. SF is definitely of the latter kind for me, and mostly, sadly, that list is comprised almost entirely of writers thought of as "funny". But it's really not about the funny, you know? Funny is almost reductive, when applied to them.

Thanks for the link. :)
posted by mondaygreens at 3:36 PM on July 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


What unsuccessful people have in common is they talk about themselves all the time.

Fuckin' Proust.
posted by tigrefacile at 3:49 PM on July 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


gah! this is too awesome. thnx!
posted by liza at 3:52 PM on July 3, 2010


truly, things like this are the reason I love being a part of mefi. Blue, you rock.
posted by timsteil at 3:56 PM on July 3, 2010


Sometimes I read too many newspapers and academia blogs and political blogs and I start to worry about how "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" [tm] what with the Fox "news" and the oil spills and no one's educated anymore and income disparity! and everyone hates the gays! and all these fuckin' endless wars! and kids don't read books anymore! and Lady Gaga!* and climate change! and The Rapture! and then I go to twitter and see that the erudite, frequently-polysyllabic Mr Stephen Fry has 1,594,124 followers, and I calm down a bit. Say what you will about him, but the man does from time to time craft a damned fine sentence.

*(Almost) all I know about her is that I saw her shoot sparkly flames out of her breasts at Glastonbury last year so in my book she's A-OK
posted by tractorfeed at 4:24 PM on July 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


11:10: If there is a phrase that makes my heart sink, that's - "Not impressed".

If Matt ever decides to put rotating quotes on the site margin, I hope he starts with this one.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:25 PM on July 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Also, Stephen Fry is an impeccable Pooh Bear. That is all.
posted by e.e. coli at 4:26 PM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I might be able to listen to this man for hours without interrupting once.
posted by Senator at 4:41 PM on July 3, 2010


"You know the number of times you hear people say "Oh, [Shakespeare] was ruined for me at school" and I, I tend to say to them "Yeah, I don't really like the Grand Canyon, or the Lake District, or the Mountains Of Scotland because I’ve had really bad Geography teacher so I don't find either of it very beautiful" I mean just not sensical. You just.. It's a sign of people stopping back and blaming something else rather than just saying "Oh, I wasn't ready for that, maybe I never will be, but I'm not gonna blame someone else for it".

Amen to this sentiment, so many times over. I really like his response to people like that.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:51 PM on July 3, 2010 [39 favorites]


Big fan of Stephen. All I can say is thank god people put episodes of QI up on bittorrent.
posted by crunchland at 4:56 PM on July 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Just wanted to say, I'm a big fan of this having a transcript! More video FPPs should have them.
posted by limeonaire at 5:11 PM on July 3, 2010 [11 favorites]


Sometimes I'm ambivalent about ol' Stephen – I think I've felt that way ever since his reviews of the iPad – but this was really, really nice and refreshing, and reminded me why I loved the dude in the first place. Thanks so much for it, rollick.
posted by koeselitz at 5:50 PM on July 3, 2010


Hah! Yeah that question was mine. I needed to find that video so I could show a friend just how radical a shift he suggests in the way one should live. The part about using one's eyes to see out and not be seen into was perfect also.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:11 PM on July 3, 2010


I think goal orientation is absolutely disastrous in life. Two things happen: one — you don't meet your goals, you call yourself a failure. Secondly — you meet your goal, you go: "Well, I'm here, and now what? I'm not happy. I've got this car, this job, I'm living in this address, which I thought the place I wanted to be, and... what?" Because you're going for something outside yourself, and that's no good.
This is a fine reason to avoid setting your goals for things outside of yourself. Instead, set them for things inside of yourself: feel content with my living conditions; become skilled at that thing I like doing. And those will imply metrics, ways of telling how close you are to what you want, and then you have something that looks a lot like the kind of goal Stephen objects to: move to that place I like; impress that person who is good at that thing I like doing.

A lot of people don't get that. And even those who do will often do it wrong, because people screw up. That's surely not enough reason to abandon goals.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:51 PM on July 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


Big fan of Stephen. All I can say is thank god people put episodes of QI up on bittorrent.

They're also available insta-streaming on YouTube, if you'd rather be, like, efficient or something.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:02 PM on July 3, 2010


Also: Rhinoceros. Horse. Audiobook. Seriously. Goddamn.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:09 PM on July 3, 2010


Rhinoceros Hippopotamus. (Damn Ionesco!)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:11 PM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Listening to Stephen Fry reminds me that charming, interesting people still exist. I listen to him, rapt, like I would've listened to C.S. Lewis, or Voltaire, or Aristotle in ages past. Sometimes I worry that technology reveals everyone to be merely flawed, dull facades of what they might've, in a less enlightened time, been able to convince the public they were actually like all the time.

But then Stephen Fry gives me back some hope that greatness isn't just the lionizing effect of history, that it's attainable for real people in this lifetime... and I really need to spend some more time pondering my own mediocrity.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:42 PM on July 3, 2010


He's got a marvelous way of expressing things so clearly and concisely, both in the way in which he speaks and the way in which he thinks about things.

And what do you know about your own country if your own country is the only country you know?

Not only do I agree whole-heartedly, but this is the simplest and most eloquent way I've ever seen it expressed. This one I could do in an essay, but for Stephen Fry? One sentence is enough. It just makes me happy to see someone so skilled with words.
posted by harujion at 7:51 PM on July 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow. I'm just sitting here being open to ideas. And There are NO ANSWERS! Bafflingly freeing. I'm gonna go make up my own (answers).
posted by bam at 8:08 PM on July 3, 2010


tractorfeed: "Sometimes I read too many newspapers and academia blogs and political blogs and I start to worry about how "the world is going to hell in a handbasket" [tm] and then I go to twitter and see that the erudite, frequently-polysyllabic Mr Stephen Fry has 1,594,124 followers, and I calm down a bit. "

That is quite reassuring now that you mention it. I don't twitter or FaceSpace so I'd not have known if not for your post.
posted by LoveAndBottleRockets at 8:37 PM on July 3, 2010


And what do you know about your own country if your own country is the only country you know?

Not only do I agree whole-heartedly, but this is the simplest and most eloquent way I've ever seen it expressed. This one I could do in an essay, but for Stephen Fry? One sentence is enough. It just makes me happy to see someone so skilled with words.


Gads, that is so well put. I've been trying to explain this concept to people ever since I lived in Germany for a year as an exchange student way back in 1986-87. I usually try to use something clumsy like the "how do fish describe the water they swim in", but that somehow seems to fly over the heads of most I talk to (who likely have never been outside their own country).
posted by hippybear at 8:38 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find Stephen Fry an interesting and informative chap, but one thing I can neither fathom nor stomach is all the TV commercials that he does here in the UK. I can name three off the top of my head; Twinings, Tesco (meh), and Direct Line. Does he not get paid enough money with QI, all his many books, his appearances, films etc.. that he has to prostitute himself to the most banal forces in our society? I'm sick of seeing him on my TV trying to sell me garbage.
posted by Monkeymoo at 8:51 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good interview. So glad this has a transcript; I'd have typed one for myself eventually if this post hadn't been done. Thanks rollick.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:09 PM on July 3, 2010


He strikes me as something of an elitist. I mean, here is some guy who's basically achieved everything he's wanted, talking about how people shouldn't bother setting goals.
and American television is filled with people /sitting in chairs on it's sort of afternoon talk-shows / going "I need"-whining, whining about their lives. /"I'm beautiful, I'm lovely and yet nobody... You know, I'm special, I have needs..." /Oh! Shut up, stop whining.
Complaining about listening to people with problems, apparently he would prefer they all shut up and let him enjoy his charmed life, or whatever.

The rest of it mostly seems like a bunch of meaningless pablum. Maybe the delivery made it more interesting, I just read the transcript. I did just watch a few minutes of the video, though, and found it dull.
posted by delmoi at 11:01 PM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


18 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was 18
posted by euphorb at 11:11 PM on July 3, 2010


The transcript was worth reading. As somebody said, perhaps the man is a little naive to the realities of those less fortunate than he. Frankly, as I was getting toward the end, I started to discount his words, since they come from his "charmed life". (Something about successful people talking about their view of the world rankles me. What can I say?)

But then he revealed that he's gay. That gave me pause, and brought me back to attention. Being gay gives him cred. He has faced the judgment of others, and learned to accept himself. I respect that. Furthermore, I relate to him, rather than saying he's had a "charmed life". I can believe he's had to struggle, and deal with fear, shame, etc., which makes him seem more human.
posted by noahhs at 11:35 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Geez, noahhs, delmoi – have you guys really never heard of or seen Stephen Fry? Probably a good idea to find out who he is before seeing this, I guess.
posted by koeselitz at 11:42 PM on July 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


The transcript is missing his final point:
I suppose the thing I’d most would have like to have known or be reassured about is that in the world is what counts more than talent, what counts more than energy or concentration or commitment or anything else is kindness. And the more in the world you encounter kindness, and cheerfulness (which is kind of its amiable uncle or aunt), just the better the world always is – and all the big words: virtue, justice, truth, are dwarfed by the greatness of kindness.
Hear, hear.
posted by homunculus at 11:43 PM on July 3, 2010 [11 favorites]


(Something about successful people talking about their view of the world rankles me. What can I say?)

This is a common enough impulse; bully for you in admitting to it. I felt that way many years ago, until I worked with many people who were high achievers. From that I learned that suffering is universal - and, what separates the "men from the boys" (so to speak), is that those who *pay attention* to what's inside, without becoming the egomaniacs that Fry Loathes, are worth listening to , and learning from, no matter their material conditions, or notoriety.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:58 PM on July 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Yeah, I don't really like the Grand Canyon, or the Lake District, or the Mountains Of Scotland because I’ve had really bad Geography teacher so I don't find either of it very beautiful" I mean just not sensical. You just.. It's a sign of people stopping back and blaming something else rather than just saying "Oh, I wasn't ready for that, maybe I never will be, but I'm not gonna blame someone else for it".

Amen to this sentiment, so many times over. I really like his response to people like that.


It's not a very good response because his analogy is slanted. The parallel would be that you were bundled off against your will to trudge down in the Grand Canyon, in the Lake District, and around the Mountains of Scotland—not allowed to go at your own pace or experience it in your own way, but rather force-marched along on a tight schedule, lectured on what to look at, what to think about while you looked at it, then forced to write papers demonstrating how well you'd processed all that, and those papers were graded and the scores on them affected your life path.

Are those places still beautiful? Yes. The real question is, can one drink a full life's measure of beauty from the world without seeing those damned Mountains of Scotland again, thanks?
posted by fleacircus at 12:32 AM on July 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't much like older men in a romantic sense, or sexually.

But I would marry that man in a heartbeat, no questions asked, if he ever showed the slightest interest.

Stephen Fry has one of the sexiest goddamn brains I have ever witnessed.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:34 AM on July 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Look, Stephen Fry is who he is. He comes from the background he comes from, and had the advantages he had. He can't really do anything about that, or change the fact that his world view is most influenced by his own experiences. He is the very definition of elite, unless you want to talk to me about how people who go to Cambridge had to really struggle to get in.

"If you can say of the work you do that it's more fun than fun, then you're in the right place."

That is a rare thing. I cannot imagine Stephen Fry, how has a brain the size of a planet and knows something of the world, thinks otherwise. I do not think Stephen Fry is saying "If you don't like your job bagging groceries, then just change it - be an astro physicist instead!" I think he's simply saying that that's a goal, to have a life's work that is about more than bringing in a pay check to buy the next latest and greatest thing and getting your fulfilment from the things, rather than the work.

Does this world view deal gracefully and practically and immediately with those people who's work is about bringing in a pay packet to put groceries on a marginal-income table? No it does not. If you want to decide that this therefore has no value, to you or at all, that's perfectly fine.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:37 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


But then he revealed that he's gay. That gave me pause, and brought me back to attention. Being gay gives him cred.
Really? Being gay gives him the cred to crap on 'unsuccessful' people? People who "talk about themselves" rather then being like:
Who, who'd you feel more sorryful, who you actually want to hug? /The person you happen to know /has a tumor and he just getting through life /not talking about it, smiling, trying not to embarrass anybody about it, /or that kind of person "I have a leg that hurt, that one.. /and I have this pain here, and doctors don't know what to do about it, and I get these flashes.." /Oh, Christ, I'm sure it's terrible for you, dear, but shut up!
Yeah, STFU you cancer ridden broken leg sufferers. I'm trying to enjoy life!
Geez, noahhs, delmoi – have you guys really never heard of or seen Stephen Fry? Probably a good idea to find out who he is before seeing this, I guess.
When did I say I'd never heard of him?
This is a common enough impulse; bully for you in admitting to it. I felt that way many years ago, until I worked with many people who were high achievers. From that I learned that suffering is universal
Those people don't know what suffering is. Fry asks how we can know our country without knowing any others. I would ask how can the rich and 'successful' know the pain of the 'common people' without, well, you know.

--

Like I said, I read the transcript. It seemed like pablum. I think that if you learned more from listening and having conversations with your friends in college then you didn't learn much
posted by delmoi at 12:57 AM on July 4, 2010


fleacircus: “The parallel would be that you were bundled off against your will to trudge down in the Grand Canyon, in the Lake District, and around the Mountains of Scotland—not allowed to go at your own pace or experience it in your own way, but rather force-marched along on a tight schedule, lectured on what to look at, what to think about while you looked at it, then forced to write papers demonstrating how well you'd processed all that, and those papers were graded and the scores on them affected your life path.”

But that's his whole point – nobody is; nobody's forced to do anything. Once we're adults, we can do anything we want. We don't have to go to the Grand Canyon or read Shakespeare or play dodgeball with anybody. And the fact that we're still stuck in critical modes based on childhood slights is silly.
posted by koeselitz at 1:10 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


That was a well spent half-hour. I don't know much about Stephen Fry other than I always enjoy listening to him speak. His closing thoughts on the value of kindness hit the spot, reiterating one of my favorite literary quotes.
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies — "God damn it, you've got to be kind."
- Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
posted by BoatMeme at 1:12 AM on July 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


But that's his whole point – nobody is; nobody's forced to do anything. Once we're adults, we can do anything we want. We don't have to go to the Grand Canyon or read Shakespeare or play dodgeball with anybody. And the fact that we're still stuck in critical modes based on childhood slights is silly.
No, you've missed the point. The point is that being forced to do something makes doing it less enjoyable in the future, because it dredges up all the old memories. If you were force marched through the grand canyon as a kid, you probably wouldn't enjoy it as an adult. Fry thinks that's a sign of weakness, and a form of dishonesty.
posted by delmoi at 1:13 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Stephen Fry may seem like he has led some kind of charmed life, but back in 1995, he suffered a severe bout of stage fright which led him to abandon the production he was in three days after it opened, and he spent a long time trying to recover his sense of self and his career after that. He was pretty much a persona non grata in stage and television circles for quite a while. Apparently the incident led him to attempt suicide (which wasn't the first time he'd attempted to kill himself, actually), and it was only through hard work and a lot of grace that he managed to recover his career and standing. He still suffers from it, most recently giving up hosting the BAFTA awards due to his inability to deal with this problem.

Yes, he seems privileged, but between his stage fright (crippling if you make your work by being in front of people), and his battles with manic-depressive disorder, not to mention his years of self-loathing and confusion about his sexuality, I think he has a lot of valuable things to share from his vantage point. And since when is there something wrong with having an elder sit down and share wisdom about what they've learned about life?
posted by hippybear at 1:15 AM on July 4, 2010 [18 favorites]


delmoi: “When did I say I'd never heard of him?”

The fact that you referred to him as "some guy who's basically achieved everything he's wanted" was a strong implication. And really part of what I was getting at was that I meant what I said; I think this video really only works in context, if you have some idea of who he is. If you take it as being just "some guy," then you don't have the background necessary to see where he's coming from.

But you apparently do, and you still didn't like it. So what do I know? Anyway, count me as one person who often finds Stephen Fry a bit pretentious and dull, yet who nonetheless liked this.
posted by koeselitz at 1:15 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, yeah, hippybear is dead-on. I think it's kind of cruel to paint Stephen Fry as having had a "charmed life;" he's got a steady job as the host of a quiz show, which I'm sure brings in some money, but for many actors it'd be seen as the kiss of death. And what other credits does he have? A few brief comedy roles? A minor sketch show? Not a huge deal, this Stephen Fry. I think he's one of those whose following pretty much outweighs his ability to draw a paycheck from big-money productions.
posted by koeselitz at 1:17 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fry thinks that's a sign of weakness, and a form of dishonesty.

No, actually. Fry thinks that if you weren't intellectually or emotionally ready to approach an experience which was pushed on you as a child, and you continue to dismiss it as unworthy when you are an adult without reexamining it through a more mature standpoint... THAT is a sign of weakness and a form of dishonesty.
posted by hippybear at 1:26 AM on July 4, 2010 [16 favorites]


+1 hippybear, and further, if you are unable to regard the thing being pushed upon you as separate from the experience of it being pushed upon you, that is deeply symptomatic of the self-absorption he's talking about.
posted by BoatMeme at 1:49 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Those people don't know what suffering is. Fry asks how we can know our country without knowing any others. I would ask how can the rich and 'successful' know the pain of the 'common people' without, well, you know .


Yes because being 'rich and successful' buys you immunity from suffering right? That's definitely how it works because the suffering of 'common people' is explained by the fact that they aren't rich or successful, ergo once you have 'success' then suffering is a thing of the past. If only we could have told all the rich and successful people who have committed suicide throughout history that. "Don't jump! You're rich therefore you can't possibly be suffering because you're not one of us!"

I think that it is your understanding of the terms 'successful' and 'suffering' that needs recalibrating, not Fry's.
posted by jonnyploy at 1:50 AM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pompous snob
posted by A189Nut at 2:13 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good video, but if you are trying to follow it from the transcript alone I think you will miss a lot of the nuances in what he is saying.
posted by Lanark at 2:30 AM on July 4, 2010


But that's his whole point – nobody is; nobody's forced to do anything. Once we're adults, we can do anything we want. We don't have to go to the Grand Canyon or read Shakespeare or play dodgeball with anybody. And the fact that we're still stuck in critical modes based on childhood slights is silly.

I was speaking pretty narrowly... My point was that studying a map does not count as experiencing a natural vista, ever, whereas reading Shakespeare counts as reading Shakespeare, even if you do it in school and under duress. The thing being affected is the thing in question, there's no glib out.

I don't want to go into what experiences of which 18 year olds should be discounted, or the statute of limitations on formative events. That's just not going to lead to anything except I hope agreement that, man, it sure is impossible to make 18 year olds ever understand how much they don't know, innit? (I'm not going to touch "nobody's forced to do anything," either.)

Honestly I don't know what the "whole point" is; I stopped watching the video before halfway. It sounds like he was implying you should want to read Shakespeare, though. And if you don't, well then you can only blame yourself for being an incomplete adult, UNWORTHY TO BEHOLD THE SACRED.
posted by fleacircus at 3:20 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think goal orientation is absolutely disastrous in life. Two things happen: one — you don't meet your goals, you call yourself a failure. Secondly — you meet your goal, you go: "Well, I'm here, and now what? I'm not happy.

Boy, I disagree with this as much as anything I've ever read. The situation he is describing is the classic case of the Olympic athlete: most fail to get that Gold Medal, and the ones that do frequently have no idea what to do next. But for those of us in 'normal' lives, having goal(s) goes a long way to providing meaning to life. And the (s) is important: you need to have reachable goals, to bring the pleasure of satisfactory accomplishment, and you need ones that perhaps always remain just a bit out of reach, to bring the pleasure of anticipated accomplishment.
posted by woodblock100 at 4:01 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Regardless of what you think of the speech, "fuck you -- you're successful!" is a bad trap to put yourself in. Perhaps Fry isn't giving luck the credit it deserves for getting him to where he is now, and that's fair to point out, but there's two things worth noting here: (1) he's not really talking about the external trappings of success (although obviously without them, he might feel a great deal less fulfilled) so much as he is the cultivation of an attitude; (2) the talk is meant to share useful insights, and while "I got lucky, yo!" may be true, it's not a truth that will be helpful to anyone else. It might help people who haven't been so lucky feel better about having gotten less out of life than they wanted, but I think that's basically like saying you're helping a sick person by giving them a morphine overdose. They may feel better for a minute...but then. It's a comforting fantasy to imagine that other people's success happened strictly because of luck (as opposed to with the assistance of luck), but what does it do for you? It's an anesthetic, not a cure.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:15 AM on July 4, 2010


have you guys really never heard of or seen Stephen Fry?

I was going to say that I've never heard of him, but then saw the reference to the stage fright further down, and remembered reading a big article about that a long time ago. So for me, at least, some sort of context would have really helped.
posted by Forktine at 5:29 AM on July 4, 2010


The truth of this is his jealousy of Hugh Laurie!
posted by A189Nut at 5:31 AM on July 4, 2010


"...Zeno, one of my favourite philosophers, had a pupil next to him and he gave him a bean and said to put it on the table in front of him and said "Is that a heap?"
And the pupil said - "No!" So he added another one, "Is that a heap?"
Pupil said "No, it's not." He kept adding and eventually pupil said - "that's a heap"
So then he says, oh, then the heap is 17, I take this away, it's not heap anymore."

This little story would make the basis for a nice little catch-phrase, methinks.
posted by Floydd at 5:52 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


"...studying a map does not count as experiencing a natural vista, ever, whereas reading Shakespeare counts as reading Shakespeare,"

No. Just as the map is not the territory, the script is not the play.
posted by Floydd at 5:56 AM on July 4, 2010


Yeah, STFU you cancer ridden broken leg sufferers. I'm trying to enjoy life!
I think you're projecting some ego-centrism here. His point is not so much that it is tedious for everyone else, but that it isn't self-serving either: people feel more compassionate to the stoic cancer suffererer than the endlessly-complaining woman with a hurty leg.

This comes from his experience too. His life has only been charmed in a limited financial sense; his battles with depression very much count as suffering. Even now from time to time on his Twitter you see him fighting the urge to be exactly the kind of empty moaner he is warning against. Last time he did it -- complained against someone who was rude to him on Twitter -- it made the national news. He knows that whereof he speaks.
posted by bonaldi at 6:31 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


And what other credits does he have?

Well...

Let's not mistake American ignorance of anything not filmed within its borders for not being a big deal.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:31 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whoo! It's my day off from counseling at an academic summer camp and I find MetaFilter is arguing about all the things my ten-year-olds have been arguing about all week? I am fucking stoked.

I actually just got back from a Shakespeare festival yesterday, too. (Though we saw A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, which is Sondheim, not Shakespeare.) It's like destiny or coincidence or something.

Anyway. A lot of my campers have decided that they hate Shakespeare because of how they're taught about him in school. They're ten years old; to them, this is logical. It still took about thirty minutes to stop them hating Shakespeare and make them want to see Romeo & Juliet performed on stage. That's because when you love something, usually it's pretty easy to make people love that same thing.

(Process: Teach them that "biting your thumb" was like "flipping them off" in Shakespeare's day. Then go through that first scene explaining what all the banter's about. Skip ahead to Romeo's whole Rosaline thing so that they get Shakespeare KNOWS he's a dumb ole goofy romantic without a lot of sense. Then draw parallels between Romeo's childish behavior and the behavior of Italy as depicted in the play, and they suddenly get that whole concept of literary depth, which is a lot less bullshitty than teachers decide to phrase it. Finally remind them that the depth matters less than the simple joy of seeing actors joke and fight and fall in love on stage, and that the really awesome thing about Shakespeare is that he tries to make every line something that excites you in multiple ways. Bam. Twelve kids converted and I had a bagel in my mouth.)

As for this whole goal-setting thing: When Fry says not to set goals, he's NOT saying that you should sit on your arse for the rest of your life. You guys arguing that are kind of bothersome/lacking basic comprehension. Because he IS saying that people should be trying to change, trying to experience new things, etc., and so therefore it ought to be pretty obvious to us all that he's using "goal" in a very specific sense, i.e. to refer to a concrete "destination" at which point we arrive and found ourselves devoid again of meaning.

This session I'm TAing the Existentialism course. The teacher I'm working with is marvelous: Completely serious, doesn't crack jokes, moves through the subject rapidly. And none of the kids who signed up for it knew what Existentialism was beforehand. So when they had to fill out their class objectives, they wrote down vaguer things than kids in some of my other classes do. They couldn't pick a point at which they'd declare themselves done with learning the subject. So they approach the class not seeking a particular endpoint, but rather just exploring the subject as a whole.

This is a camp that attracts a lot of overachievers. (I noticed it especially last year when I worked at Princeton, which a lot of kids attend specifically because it's an Ivy with a killer reputation.) We have courses for SAT Prep and for attaining higher grades and all that jazz. And we get kids who have decided on particular goals in life, whether it's playing for a certain ensemble or attending a certain school. But there's a difference between the sorts of kids who have these goals because they think it's a natural extension of doing what they love, and the sorts of kids who set these goals and then try to model themselves around them.

My high school valedictorian was the latter sort; when Yale rejected her it kind of invalidated twelve YEARS of her trying to construct a "perfect" student resume. The kid in the year after that was much more laid back, and excelled in school largely because he was naturally interested in all the things that were being taught. While in many ways he's an overachiever, when you meet him you don't get that strained egotistical attitude that you get from a lot of unpleasant academic types. The "I want to go here because I deserve to go here because if I don't go here there is something wrong with me" type. Which Fry is talking about here.

I have found, in my admittedly limited and biased youth, that people are always more interesting when they care about other people. People who live their lives as a self-centered soliloquy are only as interesting as that monologue, which is to say not much. People who live their lives with a certain degree of passion for the world around them are as interesting as all the things they've seen and done, and every day are a little more fascinating than they were before.

This last year I worked harder than I've ever worked in my life. But the things I worked on weren't ends unto themselves — they were just natural reactions to all the places/things/people I'd seen/done/worked with. So it was a lot of fun and a lot of things got done but in the process I realized, for the first time, what it means not to determine your own worth by the things you create. And I realized that the bitterest and meanest and smallest people I know are the ones who are convinced that they are merely the sum of their achievements and their accomplishments, or else, if they have never achieved or accomplished much, they're the ones who judge others by the same metric.

Regarding Olympic gold medal winners — who the fuck cares about the Olympics? If you're really passionate about a sport, then you're doing it for the sport and not for the medal. That's why I love the competitors who can so easily shrug off a loss — they know that the event matters more than the reward. My friend's brother left middle school to train at a snowboarding school because that's what he loved. But if he gets anywhere with the sport it'll be because he's having "fun at work" and not because he really thinks that snowboarding a shitton is a sacrifice on his part. Kind of like how I doubt any Nobel prize winner ever consciously set out to win a Nobel prize.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:32 AM on July 4, 2010 [40 favorites]


Who, who'd you feel more sorry for, who you actually want to hug? /The person you happen to know /has a tumor and he is just getting through life /not talking about it, smiling, trying not to embarrass anybody about it, /or that kind of person "I have a leg that hurt, that one.. /and I have this pain here, and doctors don't know what to do about it, and I get these flashes.." /Oh, Christ, I'm sure it's terrible for you, dear, but shut up!

I really wish he hadn't put it this way. The pressure to be a stoic cancer patient is really maddening when you're in the middle of it, and worrying about what minor reality will make someone uncomfortable is probably the least productive thought there is. Our ideas about cancer for one, and each other and our experiences for another, are pretty crazy and ignorant by default, and while the overall point there was don't be egocentric, listen to others, I think listening to people who are suffering is probably less egocentric than expecting someone to toe the line you set for "embarrassment" even when it's clearly difficult to do.

But this is coming from someone who did a whole documentary about his bipolar disorder.

Okay, so don't complain. I wish he'd said there's a difference between sharing an experience, and what you learn from it, and complaining. Because we really don't need to underscore the "stoic cancer patient" bullshit.

I love Stephen Fry, don't get me wrong. It's just that building very revealing descriptions into a virtual installation about my experience with cancer was a crucial part of my emotional recovery, and it's created a lot of useful and interesting conversations with doctors and nurses and educators, so I don't think my lack of stoicism was such a bad thing. I'd hate to see someone shut down in the extremely healing act of communicating the experience because Stephen Fry thought it was embarrassing, that's all. People really admire him and listen to what he says.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:55 AM on July 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


And in my experience, which is not show business, the people who don't manage to make a splash, to change someone's mind, to make any significant change at all are not the ones who talk about themselves all the time. They're the ones who think they have nothing worth sharing to say.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:59 AM on July 4, 2010


Rory: There's a lot in your comment, but I just wanted to single this part out.

If you're really passionate about a sport, then you're doing it for the sport and not for the medal.

Have you ever played a competitive sport? Because that is not how it works. Sure, there is a such a thing as "the love of the game," but it's the fact of the competition that drives people to hone their abilities far beyond anything they would have achieved absent that competition.

The desire for victory is not a shallow thing.
posted by pts at 7:15 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Deep down inside, I live with the realization than Stephen Fry knew more at 18 than I do now.
posted by tommasz at 7:25 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's kind of cruel to paint Stephen Fry as having had a "charmed life;" he's got a steady job as the host of a quiz show, which I'm sure brings in some money, but for many actors it'd be seen as the kiss of death. And what other credits does he have? A few brief comedy roles? A minor sketch show? Not a huge deal, this Stephen Fry.

Wow, are you joking? I don't think there is a more prolific person working in the entertainment field. In addition to having countless supporting roles in TV and movies, he has had 3 TV series (The Kingdom, A bit of Fry & Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster) in which he stars. He has had 4 novels published. He has had recorded hundreds of hours of radio both fiction and nonfiction including 2 shows entitled Saturday Night Fry which ran simultaneously-- one was a talk show, the other was comedy sketches.

In fact, as a true true Fry aficionado, I'm a bit pissed at him for spending so much time twittering because he started a new audio series called The Dongle of Donald Trefusis and then just dropped it after 3 episodes (I think it is supposed to be 12 episodes long and it's been a year since the last episode.)

He has Bipolar Disorder and he goes through cycles of being manic in his output and then depressed. He's an awesome force of nature.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:46 AM on July 4, 2010


> And what do you know about your own country if your own country is the only country you know?

Also, what can you possibly know about Earth if Earth is the only planet you've ever visited? What can you know about the times you live in if you haven't lived in any others? What can you know about being human if you've never been any other species? What do you know about yourself if you've never been anyone else?

Unless one is willing to reach the same implied conclusion for the restatements as for the original, the answer to all four questions is "a very great deal." Which pretty much vitiates the quoted one as ego massage for the cosmopolitan, and that is almost its entire appeal. What remains is not no content ("varied experience can be illuminating" and the like) but these are truisms, not some remarkable insight.
posted by jfuller at 7:48 AM on July 4, 2010


I think goal orientation is absolutely disastrous in life. Two things happen: one — you don't meet your goals, you call yourself a failure. Secondly — you meet your goal, you go: "Well, I'm here, and now what? I'm not happy.

Boy, I disagree with this as much as anything I've ever read.


I think he was spot on in general and this was one of the parts I related to the most. I think what he is saying (or at least how I saw it) is not to settle for anything simply because it was a goal. A lot people I know did exactly that, they got to a point by reaching goals which society had defined for them as "success" (house, job, car, big plasma screen etc) and then didn't know where to go from there, and a sense of stagnation set in. I think this ties in with his point about new experiences and being less self-absorbed. If you can set yourself goals whilst bearing those two points in mind then I don't think he would have an issue with you.

I also agree with him in general about the dangers of being self-absorbed and the benefits of thinking of others first. Both points apply to the good people of Metafilter. You get the daily highs of an internet forum helping people in abstract and concrete ways, linked to the daily lows of the "listen to ME" crowd. It's what makes it fun here.
posted by jontyjago at 7:48 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


And what do you know about your own country if your own country is the only country you know?

Related to this ... I really enjoyed his six part television series 'Stephen Fry in America' (which airs occasionally on HDNet here in the States) based on his book of the same name.

"I was so nearly born an American." [video | 04:14]
posted by ericb at 8:08 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Have you ever played a competitive sport? Because that is not how it works. Sure, there is a such a thing as "the love of the game," but it's the fact of the competition that drives people to hone their abilities far beyond anything they would have achieved absent that competition.

There's a difference between competing for the thrill of competing and competing just to win. In the one, what matters is that you're facing somebody who's going to push you. In the other, you don't care about the push as long as you get what you want.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:32 AM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


> And what do you know about your own country if your own country is the only country you know?

Also, what can you possibly know about Earth if Earth is the only planet you've ever visited? What can you know about the times you live in if you haven't lived in any others? What can you know about being human if you've never been any other species? What do you know about yourself if you've never been anyone else?


We've only just in the past couple of decades starting to realize that life on other planets may be able to exist in conditions we never dreamed possible. It's not all carbon-based, it may not require water to exist, etc.

We deal all the time with the idea that the time we currently live in, while assumed to have identical ideals and ways of life as every age that has come before by most living now, actually doesn't share much in common with any time in the past no matter how much people might want to project our current mindsets backwards in some kind of idyllic reverie.

We're also just now starting to learn that other species, which we largely have assumed to be simply "stupid animals" have rich inner lives and forms of society we had never presumed to exist before. Bacteria actually talk to each other! That's a new discovery which has radically changed our assumptions about a lot of things, and the more we learn about the other fauna on the planet, the more we realize that we actually have no clue what's going on.

Finally, we truly don't know what it means to be anyone else. It's so easy to assume that someone else, faced with the exact same set of circumstances, would have the exact same thought patterns as you and would come to the same (to you) logical decision about what is going on. But truly, we are brains trapped in flesh-and-bone jars atop meat robots we control, and we have no way to fully interface with one another. To assume that you understand anything about the inner workings of someone else's mind is to accept a fallacy of the highest order.

Without any true experience of "the other", whether it's on a personal, species, temporal, national, or planetary level, the only context is the one you know. Until you get outside your zone of experience, all you are is a person bobbing in the ocean. You can't see far, but you see horizon all around you and think you see everything. Until you finally find a rock sticking out of the water, and you climb up even that ten feet or so, and suddenly you realize that horizon you thought was infinite was actually very close and now you can see ever so much further.
posted by hippybear at 9:18 AM on July 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


dirtynumbangelboy: “Let's not mistake American ignorance of anything not filmed within its borders for not being a big deal.”

Secret Life of Gravy: “Wow, are you joking? I don't think there is a more prolific person working in the entertainment field.”

Hee. Sorry. Should've known that fellow Fry aficionados would twitch violently at that.

All I meant, guys, was that delmoi's characterization of Stephen Fry as "some guy who's basically achieved everything he's wanted" was pretty unfair, since Fry is one of those actors who, y'know, has to work for a living. And he does, happily; that's why he appears in a lot of different productions, and clearly gives a lot of attention to his roles.

It's just that none of those productions is of the huge sort of variety that would lead an actor to that place of never having to work again. Such roles exist, and it's not a crime to have a huge hit; but Stephen Fry has never had one. That means absolutely nothing about his quality as an actor of the awesomeness of his shows (please understand, you're talking to a guy who adores Blackadder, and who has all four seasons of A Bit Of Fry & Laurie on DVD) – it just means they haven't exactly deposited millions of dollars at his door, and painting him as one of those actors who's "arrived" and therefore is way, way above the rest of us is silly.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe my American ignorance has blinded me to the fact that Stephen Fry is actually the Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise of England, commanding billions of pounds per role and being swooned over everywhere he goes. Personally, I think he's a lot more of a normal guy than that; that's why I like him.
posted by koeselitz at 9:20 AM on July 4, 2010


Interesting to read this SA article on The Willpower Paradox after listening to Fry on goals.

And thanks for the post; enjoyed it!
posted by dpcoffin at 9:22 AM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


(I mean, think about it, though – when they made A Bit Of Fry & Laurie, they couldn't even get the Beeb to go for four consecutive seasons, and had to spread it out to air the episodes. Which is sort of criminal, but I think it illustrates the fact that Stephen Fry, brilliant and wonderful guy though he may be, doesn't command some sort of worship in television over there. Which is probably a mistake, but that's how it is.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:23 AM on July 4, 2010


when they made A Bit Of Fry & Laurie, they couldn't even get the Beeb to go for four consecutive seasons, and had to spread it out to air the episodes. Which is sort of criminal

That's quite typical in British television, actually. Your beloved Blackadder, for example, was four six-episode series spread over seven years. Madness!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:02 AM on July 4, 2010


For some reason I keep reading the link as What I wish I'd known when I was eighteen inches.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:13 AM on July 4, 2010


What I wish I'd known when I was eighteen inches.

I think you're looking for the gay porn thread, over there.
posted by hippybear at 11:17 AM on July 4, 2010


Yes because being 'rich and successful' buys you immunity from suffering right?
I never said that, but the tragedies that strike the successful are things that we all need to deal with, whereas the average person, or poor people have a whole host of other problems they need to deal with.
posted by delmoi at 11:56 AM on July 4, 2010


This man is a joy to listen to and learn from.
posted by superiorchicken at 12:26 PM on July 4, 2010


I wish stephen fry would talk into my left ear for 30 minutes every day
posted by tehloki at 2:26 PM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Regarding Olympic gold medal winners — who the fuck cares about the Olympics? If you're really passionate about a sport, then you're doing it for the sport and not for the medal. That's why I love the competitors who can so easily shrug off a loss — they know that the event matters more than the reward.

Exhibit A: Bode Miller.
posted by ericb at 2:31 PM on July 4, 2010


In his book, 'Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun,' Miller stated that his goal as a skier was not to win medals, but rather to ski "as fast as the natural universe will allow."
posted by ericb at 2:52 PM on July 4, 2010


Bringing this around to MetaFilter's latest boyfriend, Craig Ferguson went to his producers and said, "I'd like to do a one-on-one interview, for the full hour, with no audience." The producers thought he was crazy, since American viewers are not used to hour-long, one-on-one chats--especially without "taking calls from the viewers." He then said, "And I'd like the guest to be Stephen Fry." The producers thought he was even more crazy, because who the hell in America knows Stephen Fry from a hole in the ground?

From YouTube:

Craig Ferguson and Stephen Fry talk for an hour without an audience, Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4
posted by tzikeh at 3:15 PM on July 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Pompous snob.

As for the mistaken myth of Stephen Fry coming from a "silver spoon in the mouth, British elitist family" of privilege (as seemingly inferred above in this thread), Stephen Fry was the grandson of Hungarian Jews with a number of family members who died at Auschwitz. His father was an electronics engineer. In addition to his admitting/sharing later in life his struggles about his homosexuality, his mental health and attempted suicides he had a rocky start when he was expelled from a number of secondary schools. At 17 y.o. he stole a credit card from a family friend, was arrested and as a result spent three months in prison. After his release he vowed to turn his life around...seeking to sit for the Cambridge entrance exams which he subsequently passed.

Just because he speaks with a Birtish accent and is erudite, learned and concise in delivering his thoughts and ideas he is hardly (in my book) a "pompous snob."
posted by ericb at 3:17 PM on July 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


Bringing this around to MetaFilter's latest boyfriend, Craig Ferguson ...

Totally off topic -- be sure to check in tonight on Craig Ferguson's fourth year of hosting the 'Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular' on CBS (10/9 Central).

It's the 37th. anniversary of the Esplanade concert; the 125th. anniversary of the Boston Pops.
posted by ericb at 3:30 PM on July 4, 2010


Stephen Fry interviewed by Peter Florence, Hay book Festival, UK 2010: Stepping through an alphabet of topics:Ambition, Boredom, Cambridge, Darts, Eros, Folk Music, The Genome, Hitler, Isherwood (Christopher), Ive (Jonathan), Knighthood, Lambeth Walk, Miami,Norwich City, Oscar Wilde, Psychotherapy,
Q.I., Rowling (J.K.),Sex, Twitter, Uppingham (Public School), Uppingham, Vile Bodies (Evelyn Waugh novel), Wagner, Young Stephen(letter to).
posted by rongorongo at 3:36 PM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Though I agreed with the majority of what he said, I too cringed at the "stoic cancer survivor" thing. But it simply seemed poorly thought-out -- he was comparing someone with cancer (who is stereotypically stoic) to someone who always complains a lot about little back pains, etc.

Not the best analogy but it didn't seem like he was truly saying stoic people with cancer are better than other people with cancer or anything like that.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:36 PM on July 4, 2010


Anyone who thinks Stephen Fry is a snob knows nothing about Stephen Fry, full stop.

tehloki: I wish stephen fry would talk into my left ear for 30 minutes every day.

You're in luck: Fry has narrated over 40 audiobooks, including all seven Harry Potter novels (the UK editions), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and all of his own works (Moab is my Washpot, in particular, is a joy to read/hear).
posted by tzikeh at 3:37 PM on July 4, 2010


It's not a very good response because his analogy is slanted. The parallel would be that you were bundled off against your will to trudge down in the Grand Canyon, in the Lake District, and around the Mountains of Scotland—not allowed to go at your own pace or experience it in your own way, but rather force-marched along on a tight schedule, lectured on what to look at, what to think about while you looked at it, then forced to write papers demonstrating how well you'd processed all that, and those papers were graded and the scores on them affected your life path.

I saw his point as being that you can either hold onto this childhood grudge forever and prevent it from letting you experience something truly wonderful, or you can let it go. After a certain point holding onto bitterness like that is fundamentally egotistical, it serves no purpose but to make one feel like a martyr, and is something we should strive to overcome.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:39 PM on July 4, 2010


Thank you for this.
posted by flatluigi at 3:56 PM on July 4, 2010


*British accent*
posted by ericb at 3:58 PM on July 4, 2010


Craig Ferguson and Stephen Fry talk for an hour without an audience

Previously
posted by hippybear at 4:26 PM on July 4, 2010


[Tiny links expanded; please don't use url shorteners on mefi, it serves no useful purpose here and has downsides.]
posted by cortex at 4:51 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have found, in my admittedly limited and biased youth, that people are always more interesting when they care about other people. People who live their lives as a self-centered soliloquy are only as interesting as that monologue, which is to say not much. People who live their lives with a certain degree of passion for the world around them are as interesting as all the things they've seen and done, and every day are a little more fascinating than they were before.

Rory, that's easily one of the (and this is not the right word, strictly, but it fits for me) loveliest sentiments I've ever seen expressed on this website.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:26 PM on July 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Agreed – how'd I miss that comment? Fine stuff, R. Thanks for it.
posted by koeselitz at 11:33 PM on July 4, 2010


What I wish I'd known when I was 18"
posted by sagwalla at 2:31 AM on July 5, 2010


And what do you know about your own country if your own country is the only country you know?

Not only do I agree whole-heartedly, but this is the simplest and most eloquent way I've ever seen it expressed.


Probably a lift from Kipling, who said it even more concisely:

And what should they know of England who only England know?
posted by Jakey at 3:21 AM on July 5, 2010


Interesting. I guess my exposure to Fry has been very limited. I just know him as the lead in Wilde (I thought he did a poor job) and I briefly viewed his show on America before having to turn it off from sheer boredom. And now I just read this speech, which I thought was pretty heavy on the question "how do I make people like me more". So, not a fan. Am I only seeing the worst of this man or what?
posted by The ____ of Justice at 5:29 AM on July 5, 2010


Probably a lift from Kipling, who said it even more concisely:

Yes, as was made clear when Fry says "There was this saying... I think, that was Kipling who said it:"...
posted by hippybear at 9:16 AM on July 5, 2010


"Do you like Kipling?"

Just had to throw that in. Thin pretext, but it is kind of Fry-ish.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:02 AM on July 5, 2010


I think goal orientation is absolutely disastrous in life. Two things happen: one — you don't meet your goals, you call yourself a failure. Secondly — you meet your goal, you go: "Well, I'm here, and now what? I'm not happy.

Boy, I disagree with this as much as anything I've ever read.


Add me to the list of those who believe he was spot on with this, but from a different angle.

There are two types of goal orientations cited in the literature** on motivation and psychology: a performance goal orientation and a learning goal orientation.

A learning goal orientation (aka Mastery orientation) "stems from an intrinsic interest in one's work--a preference for challenging work, a view of oneself as being curious, and a search for opportunities to permit independent attempts to master material."

A performance goal orientation (aka Ego orientation) "stems from one's extrinsic interest in one's work--the desire to use one's work to achieve valued external ends."

Those with a learning goal orientation have been shown to be attracted to challenging situations, to not be derailed by mistakes, are oriented to reflect and improve their abilities/ performance.

Those with a performance goal orientation have been shown to hesitate to experiment, do their best to avoid negative feedback from others, become anxious/discouraged by failure, avoid situations where there is a potential for failure.

It seems to me that what Fry is advocating is a learning goal orientation, versus a performance goal orientation. When those with a performance goal orientation meet with failure or don't meet their goals, it negatively affects their self-concept and their subsequent motivation/behavior towards new challenges. "Goals" in themselves are not good or bad, necessarily. But if you attach your ego to the accomplishment of an external task for the pursuit of external recognition, he is right to say that you will very often be disappointed with your life.

**See Meece, Blumenfled and Hoyle, 1988
posted by jeanmari at 3:08 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


p.s. Big shout out to all of you Mastery Mefites out there who spend hours in Mefi just to learn for the fun of it... :)
posted by jeanmari at 3:14 PM on July 5, 2010


Thou shalt not question Stephen Fry!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:33 PM on July 5, 2010


Or, at the very least, if you're going to question him... have a video camera handy and post the results to vimeo.
posted by hippybear at 3:35 PM on July 5, 2010


He could have made a better job of distinguishing hanging your happiness on certain life outcomes ("I will have this kind of home or these kinds of possessions by the time I'm 30") and near-term objectives. His life turned around when he resolved to go to Cambridge and got busy making it happen. To set a goal to do the thing that is in front of you, the best and most fulfilling thing you can imagine doing, isn't a bad thing at all; quite the reverse, really. It's setting criteria for happiness that he's speaking against.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:54 PM on July 5, 2010


Watching QI, I sometimes imagine Alan Davies as the affectionate and adorable pet human to Stephen Fry's beneficent and otherworldly sky god. And what a wonderful privilege it would be to know someone with a heart and mind so vast, and the ceaseless purring I might do in the same situation.
posted by cowbellemoo at 4:31 PM on July 5, 2010


I like Stephen Fry, and I think that if he is a snob, he is a snob in the right kind of way.

This said, I had two reactions to his talk. First, that for someone who reacts viscerally to those who talk about or think about themselves, he seems to think it quite natural that HE should talk about himself and agitate constantly about his own issues.

Second, he struck me as someone whose philosophy of life was very much skewed toward one that would make others like him. Everything he said he believed seemed oriented toward public consumption. Perhaps that means he's not very much of a snob at all.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:47 PM on July 5, 2010


for someone who reacts viscerally to those who talk about or think about themselves, he seems to think it quite natural that HE should talk about himself and agitate constantly about his own issues.

Not to excuse him from egoism because I think, all else aside, he is a man who has an abundance of ego, but I doubt this point is lost on him. Fry strikes me as the sort of guy who would very knowingly talk about his visceral reaction to others' self-obsession while engaging in self-obsession himself, and be keenly aware of the essential irony in that.
posted by cortex at 8:27 PM on July 5, 2010


for someone who reacts viscerally to those who talk about or think about themselves, he seems to think it quite natural that HE should talk about himself and agitate constantly about his own issues.

Well, in this one instance, it's an interview. About Stephen Fry. With Stephen Fry. About things Stephen Fry thinks about life.

I've seen a lot of his television, and have read a great number of his books, and most of them are not about Stephen Fry. At all.

What are you referring to when you say he "agitates constantly"?
posted by hippybear at 10:23 PM on July 5, 2010


Fry may well be aware of the irony at some level; not sure that makes it better.

And yes, I am aware that it is an interview with Stephen Fry about Stephen Fry, and that creates a certain license.

But there's something rich about him preaching for the abnegation of self while holding forth about his views on this and that, and using the sinful "I" throughout. Indeed, there's something rich about it: what of the hoi polloi who don't have the luxury of an interview in which they can indulge themselves? I guess they may be the vile commenters, clawing their way toward self-expression (but worth ignoring). Or perhaps they are the social networkers, probably lacking any real content to share via technology, save their innate talent for interacting with others -- but not, surprisingly, indulging their obsession with themselves in Twittering and Facebooking and so forth. Perhaps what Fry likes about social networking is that the lowers converse among themselves, while tapping into the expressions of the privileged who earn the right to engage in one-sided, egomaniacal -- but full of noblesse! -- expression.

Not saying he's wrong, just not as (effectively) self-reflective as one might like.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:11 AM on July 6, 2010


The thing I like about Fry is that he encourages people to live in the present. To appreciate the now.

I suck at this, but I'm glad he's out there trying to convince me to be better.
posted by quin at 1:38 PM on July 6, 2010


It's probably a shame to let this get burried here, but this documentary on Stephen Fry searching for the roots of his family is one very intimate, moving and sad piece of TV.
You should see it, but keep some tissues ready.

Stephen Fry on Who Do You Think You Are.
posted by ts;dr at 4:29 PM on July 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


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