Skip to content

An Exceptionally Literate Celebrity Controversy, Courtesy of Stephen Fry

October 20, 2009

As you know, Tweed fans, it’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Especially when we go for a while without looking past our own noses, we all benefit when we remember that there’s a whole big world out there. I received just such a reminder when I recently read about the huge controversies swirling around Stephen Fry these days.

I can hear you rising up all across America, getting ready to cry out in unison, “Who the hell is Stephen Fry?!”

Yeah, I didn’t know Fry either, at least not by name, until this week. I did recognize him instantly as the guy who, in the “Chris Martin” episode of Extras, berated Andy Millman’s awful sitcom in a backstage conversation at the BAFTA awards ceremony. As with several guest stars on Extras (Ross Kemp, Les Dennis, Keith Chegwin, and others), I remember assuming that Fry, whose name or career I didn’t bother to look up at the time, must be at least somewhat famous in England and just leaving it at that.

Turns out Stephen Fry is actually quite huge, and I’m actually quite ignorant. In England, he’s a well-known TV personality (he hosts QI, a popular, comedic game show that sounds fascinating and eminently entertaining), and he was part of a comedy duo with Hugh Laurie, who has gone on to fame in America as the title character of House. Fry’s other great source of both acclaim and notoriety in the UK and Europe is his Twitter presence—as of this writing, he has 869,885 Twitter followers and counting.

Here’s where things get interesting. In the wake of what he perceived as a hateful, homophobic attack on the recently deceased Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, Fry encouraged his Twitter followers to lodge formal complaints against Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir. The result? 21,000 complaints were lodged with the Press Complaints Commission, and some businesses pulled their ads from the Daily Mail Web page. This is proof positive that, at least in the Twitter-verse, Fry is massively influential and actually uses Twitter as a public platform to ask his fans to, you know, do things. This sharply contrasts with how Twitter is used by some famous Americans who have attained such a huge following (more on that later).

But now Stephen Fry has had to turn around and do his own apologizing for some coarse comments he recently made about Poland, Catholicism, and the Holocaust. I must point you to Fry’s Web site, where he has written (some would say too late) a probing mea culpa that touches on everything from Twitter and turd-sucking (Fry would prefer that indelicate activity to holding elected office) to press freedoms and political scandals. In a roundabout way that works in a few more jabs at the column he still hates, he also sympathizes with Jan Moir during their simultaneous episodes of public scrutiny and opprobrium.

From an American perspective, this is all quite remarkable for at least two reasons. First, Fry’s soul-searching public apology was exceptionally literate and had nothing to do with a sexual transgression. No more needs to be said there. OK, I’ll just say this: Sanford, Pitino, and Letterman!!!

More thought-provoking is Stephen Fry’s use of social media in ways deeply foreign to most American celebrities. With Drew Carey as a recent notable exception, many famous Americans use Twitter as merely another platform for self-promotion. Their marketing has a profit motive rather than a social one. A queen (or perhaps princess) of all this is Miley Cyrus, who recently put a rap video on Youtube about how she’s canceling her Twitter account.

Among other things, including a remarkably clear indicator of her lack of musical aptitude, Miley’s hip-hop flirtation with leaving Twitter seems to be an indirect way of starting her own campaign. Not a movement to actually accomplish anything, mind you, but one to keep Miley Cyrus on Twitter. A campaign, started by Miley herself, to ask Miley to take no action. Not activism, but inactivism—The American Way. Even if Miley’s actually sincere in her intention to quit Twitter, she still wrote a song about the move and put it on Youtube. She’s obviously not going gentle into that good Web 2.0 night.

It’s by no means the greatest lesson to be learned here, but it must be highlighted, once again, that England has at least one celebrity who uses Twitter as a virtual protest megaphone and his blog as a vehicle for such turns of phrase as “I am, despite my prolix propensities and orotund enunciations, infantile.”

While we have Miley Cyrus, who would monumentally fail the vocab test represented by Fry’s sentence and then do a mush-mouthed Youtube video about how unfair the test was and how everyone needs to buy her new jeans or breakfast cereal.

Now that I know who you are, Mr. Fry, you’ve almost inspired me. If I had your Twitter profile, I would start a campaign to encourage Miley and other American celebrities to read 20 books—or at least use a damn thesaurus—and take a civics course before unleashing another wave of social media inanity on us. I don’t suppose you’d want to unleash your prolixity on something like that—would you?

One Comment
  1. October 20, 2009 4:52 pm

    Fry ran his own group, Modern Drugs, while he was attending Sheffield University in the early 1970s. WordPress Blog Hosting

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: