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Being Stephen Fry

No detailed idea what it must really be like: he has started writing on Stephen Fry, so we are surely going to get a better idea.

He’s in our minds, of course, with the documentaries he’s doing, which are jolly good: although about discrete subjects, they are also largely about Being Stephen Fry as well, which is not a bad thing with someone we all seem to think is substantial as well as good fun and interesting. Fry-type preferable to Theroux-type, for me, for its greater verisimilitudinousness. One is reminded of Malcolm Muggeridges’ strictures on TV being a lying medium when watching Theroux.

The two-part examination of manic-depression or Bipolar Affective Disorder as they call it nowadays, and his own cyclothymia, in The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive seemed pretty honest to me – as was HIV and Me – but I did not like it when he went on a minor spending spree because there was no moral consequence for him of profligacy : the vast majority of severe bipolars who spend what they haven’t got end up in big trouble. They are not rich. Why didn’t he just say he liked to spend then go find someone who did the same (and had no money) in order to demonstrate the terrible consequences?

: :

[removed central section because it was ill-thought, saying not very much and mostly wrong]
In life we rarely reveal everything about ourselves: who we are is partly predicated on acting out a part we chose. When I-write, the first person in a novel, I can never tell the truth that the omniscient impersonal narrator can.

Maybe we should treat Stephen Fry meta-narratively? He is everywhere, so is to all “in tents and porpoises ” a grand discourse in his own right. He’s a bit like a gas which expands to fill the available space, in the nicest possible way of course. As well as all his veritable accomplishments in comedy, film, writing, and documentary he’s even giving sage advice on videojug.


Daniel Wegner’s 1999 paper, The Seeds of Our Undoing.

The last but one paragraph:

Another line of evidence suggesting a role for ironic processes in the etiology of some disorders comes from studies of what happens when mental control is rescinded. The best examples of such work are the series of experiments by James Pennebaker and colleagues. When people in these studies are encouraged to express their deepest thoughts and feelings in writing, they experience subsequent improvements in psychological and physical health. Expressing oneself in this way involves relinquishing the pursuit of mental control, and so eliminates a key requirement for the production of ironic effects. After all, as suggested in other studies conducted in my lab with Julie Lane and Laura Smart, the motive to keep ones thoughts and personal characteristics secret is strongly linked with mental control. Disclosing these things to others, or even in writing to oneself, is the first step toward abandoning what may be an overweening and futile quest to control one’s own thoughts and emotions.

The last sentence :

When we relax the desire for the control of our minds, the seeds of our undoing may remain uncultivated, perhaps then to dry up and blow away.

Useful in examining why we write on the web as opposed to in a private place. What is it that makes us decide that one thing can be public and another private? I find it difficult to put too much personal detail into blogs, though I let free rein to my thoughts: it must be IKWYL Syndrome. But there another element of reticence: it is too easy, by publishing on a blog, to demonstrate how limited one’s intelligence is! It is often written too quickly and there is not the research, thinking and elimination of much of the flotsam and jetsam that often comes into consciousness.

J B Priestly:

Many a man is praised for his reserve and so-called shyness when he is simply too proud to risk making a fool of himself

Andre Dubos

Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people.

And it is to narcissism and blogging in particular that I will return when I have done a bit more reading.

Finally: the distinction between hypergraphia and graphomania. One for Stephen perhaps? Why not a QI question! Don’t worry you can have that one for free. The scenario would be even more annoying than the one fleshed out in the two dialogues in Let Fame.


The original real reason for starting this post – just remembered – was to to examine the notion that some people are determinedly happy to muscle in on someone famous’ life (a nice example in Fryworld, the FaceBook debacle {1} {2 }), while others are more circumspect.

In the early days of weblogs, there was a lot of “Why am I blogging?” going on. I had a go in Weblogword, along the lines of it’s like writing Post It! notes, getting into the car and sticking them randomly to telegraph poles in the middle of the countryside.


Now then, how many times have I used I in this post and where are the letters of John Cheever? I have recently learned that he started using the personal pronoun in his personal correspondence and fiction as he got more famous.

October 5, 2007 Posted by | celebrity, Fame, fiction, Irony, John Cheever, Navel-gazing, non-fiction, Writing | Leave a comment


Stephen Fry has added a blog to his website. His second post Let Fame, long and discursive – the length of which the concern of many of the so far over 200 comments it received – led me in short strides to some of the academic work on celebrity. One of the most interesting (though at one unscientific remove, slight barmy) studies was the effect (or not) of fame on the creative writings of Kurt Cobain, Cole Porter, and John Cheever:

The Psychological Consequences of Fame: Three Tests of the Self-Consciousness
by Mark Schaller (1997), Journal of Personality 65:2, June 1997 by Mark Schaller, Department of Psychology,University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada .

The abstract explains:

Three investigations tested the hypothesis, that the attainment of fame leads to chronic self-consciousness. One of these studies also examined the relationship of self-consciousness with self-destructive behavior. Analyses of Kurt Cobain’s and Cole Porter’s song lyrics indicated increased use of first-person singular pronouns after each songwriter attained celebrity. An analysis of John Cheever’s short stories indicated greater use of the first-person narrative voice following his first brush with fame. Other analyses revealed that variations in Cheever’s fame were positively correlated with use of first-person singular pronouns in his private letters and journals. These measures of self-consciousness were also positively correlated with Cheever’s self-reported alcohol use. Together, these, three studies offer the first empirical support for a self- consciousness hypothesis linking celebrity to self-destructive behavior.

and includes a quote from Leo Gaudy at the end:

In the urge to find a better, more perfect self, the possibility of uncovering a worse, more misshapen one hangs like a threatening cloud. Lurking behind every chance to be made whole by fame is the axeman of further dismemberment.

I suppose it is but a short step to the analysis of Stephen’s writing.

Although Let Fame covers a lot of ground, I am as intrigued by the comments stream. The number of comments in such a short space of time is surely a measure of fame: whatever these people are writing about, the suspicion is that they are attempting in one way or another to brush, albeit mostly lightly, against fame. Quite a few mention incidents where they were in his proximity.

It is not always easy in the writing styles of these comments to detect the humour and irony. Apart from a few quite funny ones, what comes over is the earnestness, which would seem to fit with the fan-tasy: that’s what the fan’s role in the fame nexus is. Though some of my reading suggests that built in, too, is “you can build ’em up and you can pull ’em down.”

The wiki:celebrity is quite useful. I should advise Stephen to get cracking on an edit of that entry! He could use himself as an example.



“Only connect”. One thing thing almost certainly leads to another on the web. I ended up (half wondering about myself in that medical book syndrome state) reading extracts of a book and interviews with its author, Sam Vaknin (“world expert” on narcissism ) : Malignant Self-Love:Narcissism Revisited.

In interview he says:

….celebrities fulfil two emotional functions: they provide a mythical narrative (a story that the fan can follow and identify with) and they function as blank screens onto which the fans project their dreams, hopes, fears, plans, values, and desires (wish fulfilment). The slightest deviation from these prescribed roles provokes enormous rage and makes us want to punish (humiliate) the “deviant” celebrities.

There’s a pile of it in that vein, but taking away the jargon, there certainly something there. He’s bound to have expounded a poor man’s version of narcissism and its malignancies on Oprah Winfrey. It’s the sort of book title she would love to read off the book cover as she held it high as her latest recommendation.

October 4, 2007 Posted by | celebrity, Fame, human nature | , , , | Leave a comment