Freedom Fry


The foam-flecked outrage evidenced in various column inches and online comment sections following entertainer and activist Stephen Fry’s interview1 last week with Dave Rubin for the “Rubin Report” has set tongues wagging almost as much as Fry’s comments themselves. For context, during the course of his interview with Rubin, which touched on political correctness, warning labels on literature and theatre pieces, and freedom of speech on campuses and in general, Fry made the following observation:

If you say: ‘you can’t watch this play, you can’t watch Titus Andronicus, or you can’t read it in a Shakespeare class, or you can’t read Macbeth because it’s got children being killed in it, it might trigger something when you were young that upset you once, because uncle touched you in a nasty place’, well I’m sorry. It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place, you get some of my sympathy, but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy because self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity.

The ugliness of the backlash against Fry QED’d his comments in the most elegant of ways, with journalist and noted LGBT activist, Paris Lees, penning a grossly misrepresentative and decontextualising straw man argumentum ad misericordiam, by way of response.In it, she holds that Fry launched a ‘sustained attack’, ‘sneering at victims of child [sexual] abuse’, going so far as to misquote Fry as saying ‘it would be awful if people didn’t read Titus Andronicus’, ignoring everything that followed Fry’s ‘because’, and therefore ignoring his entire point.

Fry was not addressing – and certainly not belittling – victims of childhood sexual abuse. Although that remark was doubtlessly ill-advised, the object of his critique, should Lees or anyone have been at all bothered to actually listen to what he was saying, was the culture of political correctness unchecked, and of its disciples: the self-important, self-indulgent prima donnas with a grotesquely bloated sense of entitlement (generally, although somewhat unfairly, referred to as ‘millennials’), and the so-called Social Justice Warriors, who are comprised, informally, of legions of faceless and anonymous keyboard activists; and formally, of various far-left-wing news outlets and their hacks, who see fit to drop their journalistic integrity like a hot potato, if it means boosting ratings by whipping credulous readers into a frenzy, at the expense of a hapless bipolar celebrity. That, and our ensuing cultural and intellectual impoverishment.

Fry could not have been more explicit in his singling out of the self-pity movement as the object of his ire. Unfortunately, as reactions have shown, the emotive nature of his example eclipsed the pertinence of his message.

That message, quite simply, was a criticism of the climate in which the assorted tragedies and brutalities that occasionally befall us in life have to be sugar-coated and wool-wrapped, because heaven forfend we actually be obliged to confront our stark realities, eyes wide open and senza sordini, processing and thereby growing from our personal histories.

1 YouTube. “Stephen Fry on Political Correctness and Clear Thinking.” 4 Apr. 2016. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
2 Lees, Paris. “No-one would listen to Stephen Fry if he was poor.” The Guardian, 12 Apr. 2016. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.

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