Is Intellectualism the new black?

Do you ever feel like you’re not quite clever enough? I’m lucky enough to have a circle of friends who are all incredibly intelligent, well-read, driven and successful, but that can sometimes make me feel like I’m running on a conversational treadmill that’s set just a few notches too fast.

A recent conversation with one of said friends introduced me to a new kind of networking event that is popular with start-ups, called Dumbest Person In The Room. The premise is pretty basic for a thing thought up by supposed intellectuals: you must try to be the dumbest person in the room. To achieve this, everyone must bring a plus one who they deem to be smarter than them, and thus you surround yourself with people who are inspiring, educational and generally beneficial to your personal and professional development.

My treadmill analogy still applies, if tenuously, so I’ll stick with it. Bear with me. You go to the gym to get fitter, to improve, meaning that when you train you have to do things that are just a bit too hard, too heavy, too fast. Yes? Then, eventually, those things will get easier, you will have become fitter, and the pain of it all won’t seem so futile.

Dumbest Person In The Room works by the same logic, that intelligence, or intellectualism (I firmly believe them to be very different things) require training and hard work. This is obviously true – or I wasted a lot of time and money on university – but it seems to me that intellectualism is becoming something of a fad. What Dumbest Person In The Room does is commodify intelligence and turn it into a kind of social currency that, in its proliferation, is losing its value.

Like any trend, it’s getting blown out of proportion, and people are becoming more concerned with how others perceive it (and broadcasting it on social media) than the inherent virtue of the thing itself. This is why people lie to their friends about being ‘three quarters of the way through War and Peace’ when they actually spent their holiday flicking through 50 Shades.

Society valuing intelligence as much as, say, beauty or wealth has historically been prized is no bad thing. And 90% of the time I am left feeling as inspired and professionally developed as these events intend me to. But 10% of the time I’m left feeling like an overweight hamster flailing around on a neon wheel with a cheek full of nuts I can’t swallow but can’t spit out. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to fake-laugh at a joke and then subtly Google it under the table. But for every one of these occasions, there is almost definitely another one on which I’ve had to explain myself. I (and anyone else feeling like this) should probably keep this in mind. And maybe stuff my cheeks with fewer nuts, but that’s a different issue.

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I’m moving!

As of now I will be posting from a different blog – anovelyearblog.wordpress.com. Follow for posts about my year (or three) of travelling the world, working abroad, and reading a copious amount of books.

For the love of God, stop going near the river when you’ve had a few

Durham students are attacking the council over lack of safety measures around the River Wear.
Durham Council says that the students need to calm down and develop safer drinking habits.

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After three tragic deaths in the space of just 14 months, those of Sope Peters, Luke Pearce and Euan Coulthard, there is a wide reaching consensus in the city that something has to be done. With every local publication, student or otherwise, screaming ‘enough is enough’, Durham Council is under a lot of pressure. A student petition, which gained over 9,000 signatures, and The Durham Tab’s ‘Make Our River Safe Campaign’ have been very clear about the fact that they blame the lack of safety barriers and CCTV down by the river for these tragedies. Police and Council spokespeople have been equally clear about what they think is to blame, and it’s something that we keep coming back to again and again: student drinking culture.

The result of this is that rather than mourning these tragic deaths and pulling together, as a city and a university to keep our students safe, everyone is simply blaming everyone else. Word-of-the-month for angry, overly liberal students, ‘victim-blaming’, has been tossed around more than once, while police officials are just desperately trying to get us to take responsibility for our own safety.

Let me be the first to say that introducing minimum pricing on alcohol in supermarkets and bars will have little to no effect. Students will just buy bog-standard couscous in Tesco instead of their usual quinoa. Releasing statements about the dangers of ‘pre-loading’ (the act of drinking before you go out drinking, in case you were wondering) has such an overwhelming overtone of ‘so this is what the kids are getting up to these days’ that no one is going to take them seriously. Going out, and pre-drinking beforehand, is such a huge part of student life and culture that there is very little anyone can do to change it. We like drinking, and will continue to do so. It’s as simple as that.

Saying that, one would think that the students of the third best university in the country (depending on which league table you’re looking at) would have enough brain cells to rub together to realise that alcohol + river is a dangerous combination. The saddest thing about the whole situation is that Sope, Luke and Euan were just being normal students, having a nice night, like hundreds of others were at the same time. Why should they and their families and friends pay the price for what is seen as normal behaviour? And why should it take the loss of three lives for people to realise that something is not right?

Shockingly, in the same way that the Council have not rushed to install safety barriers and CCTV, students have not changed their behaviour. Just a week after Euan’s body was recovered, another student was pulled from the river by emergency services and was lucky to survive. The police escorted a friend of mine home when he was found wandering, alone and drunk, on Framwell Gate Bridge, the exact place that Euan was last seen. He could have been the next name splashed all over the news, just because no one was willing to cut their night short to make sure he got home okay.

Just to be clear, I am not saying students should stop drinking. I am not saying that anyone in particular is to blame for what happened to Sope, Luke or Euan, or that it’s not heart-wrenchingly sad. I’m also not saying that the Council shouldn’t look into physical ways of preventing people from going down to the riverside at night.

What I am saying is that people need to remember how vulnerable a position drinking to excess puts them in. I’m saying that we all need to learn to look after each other a bit better – don’t let your friends walk home alone. Don’t buy them four Jager-bombs when they’ve already downed half a litre of vodka at home.

We aren’t children, and we don’t want to be treated as such. But for the love of God, stop going near the river when you’ve had a few. That last vodka-Coke is not worth the risk of not waking up in the morning.

Othello by Frantic Theatre Company, Oxford Playhouse, Friday 24th October 2014

As one of our good friend Shakey’s better-known plays, you would expect today’s numerous productions, adaptations and modernisations of Othello to drag up unpleasant memories of classrooms and GCSE misery. However, Frantic Theatre’s punchy, dub-step infused showstopper managed to blast any notions of boredom from the room, and made this twisted tragedy relevant and gripping once again. Who would have thought that honour killings and talk of pouring pestilence into people’s ears could seem completely at home in the incongruous setting of a dingy, modern day pub, where the war on Cyprus means gang warfare and Cassio’s transgressions occur after a heavy night on the shots rather than after a cheeky sip of wine.

It never ceases to amaze me how this harrowing tale can elicit so many laughs from a live audience – it’s clear that the dramatic irony of people constantly referring to perhaps the slipperiest villain of all time as ‘honest Iago’ is one of those comic devices that only comes across in person. While remaining faithful, for the most part, to the original play, the strong Northern accents adopted by the cast were the only obvious nod towards this modernisation’s setting in the Yorkshire Race Riots of 2001. Even without this being verbalised, the social division, turmoil and anguish of the time were palpable.

What made this production so engaging was the choreography, the staging and the way that the characters interacted outside of the dialogue. Steamy montages of dubious goings on in the pub toilets and sexy games of pool added an extra dimension, and brought a new light to Iago’s paranoia about Othello doing his office t’wixt his sheets. Obvious parallels were drawn between the tenderly intimate consummation of Othello and Desdemona’s marriage and the violent, fatal end to it all – the use of the pool table allowed one to mirror the other, with heart-wrenchingly dire consequences.

The cast as a whole worked as a well-oiled machine, and the majority of the show was executed flawlessly. Aside from his outstanding physical power, Mark Ebulue gave the weakest performance as Othello, but this is arguably unavoidable when playing the role of the weakest character. Steven Miller was the only performer who gave a truly perfect rendition of his character, Iago, and, true to the character’s form, surreptitiously stole the show. Kirsty Oswald managed to give substance and grit to Desdemona, who so often languishes in her own pathetic innocence on stage, and Leila Crerar brought a touching desperation to her loveless marriage with Iago.

This was a clever, emotional and innovative rendition of a classic, and brought a fresh new take to the stage. The soundtrack, choreography and innovative set meant that this play exploded into the 21st century and hammered home the fact that Shakespeare can never and will never be forgotten.

Post-Edinburgh Blues

So, the post Edinburgh Blues have set in. Somehow my parents’ living room in rural South Yorkshire just doesn’t have the same buzz as the Royal Mile. In my boredom I have begun to reminisce about all of the wonderful (and not so wonderful) shows I was lucky enough to see this month. Here are a few that I have been boring my friends and family to death with recollections of this week:

The Canon, By No Mean Feat Productions, C Too
http://edfringereview.com/r/U9y7NTdISBCsokj7XDx6yg

This sketch show was simply an English Student’s wet dream. Only funny if you have enough literary nouse to know who the third Bronte sister was (Who Bronte? Anne Bronte!), I saw it twice and was on the verge of making a third visit. The fact that the cast was particularly attractive (go to http://edfringereview.tumblr.com to see the full run down of the Fit Men of the Fringe) obviously had nothing to do with it, but the fact that their flyers were bookmarks with their faces on didn’t do any harm.

Loud Poets, Scottish Storytelling Centre

Just to let you know, I’m not a crier. Ever. But somehow the Loud Poets had me in tears. To anyone who thinks that poetry is a dying art, you are wrong. So, so wrong. What could be more fun than encouraged drinking and rowdiness, glowsticks and incredibly talented performance poets? Hilarious and moving, I will be Youtube stalking Miko Berry, Kevin McLean, Douglas Garry and Agnes Torok for months!

Americana, Hungry Bitches Productions, C South

I am so in love with The Hungry Bitches – if I tweet them much more they will probably look into getting a restraining order. After reviewing them last year and giving their show Facehunters a glowing 5 star review (http://edfringereview.com/r/UgKGtivURIi7nx-IXDx6yg), I had high hopes for a show full of homosexual activity and spectacularly raunchy musical numbers. I was not disappointed. What’s not to love from a show that explores love, teenager-hood and homophobia in the Deep American South through the medium of rock/pop/musical theatre? All I have to say is; please make your soundtracks available on SoundCloud. That is all.

God’s Own Country, Fine Mess Theatre, Zoo Southside
http://edfringereview.com/r/U9t0GENETSG6zygvXDx6yg

Confusion was probably the resounding emotion I left this performance with. That and a slight guilt at having such unerring sympathy for a character who turns out to be a rapist. Bear with me for a second. I’m not mental. It was a stunning five star performance from Joel Samuels, whose performance was so captivating, so competent in evoking emotion in the audience that I left feeling utterly bewildered by the horrifying ending. A proper masterpiece.

I am I am, Harry Michell and Lowell Belfield, Guilded Balloon
http://edfringereview.com/r/U9vzwvYMSd2ZRjSbXDx6yg

These two are adorable. Literally, I have never wanted to hug anyone more. Sorry, I’ll stop being patronising now. Their musical comedy show was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and made even better by Lowell overhearing EFR Marketer Lucy Diver saying he was hot after the show and the consequent awkward introduction. He took it well. Updates on their engagement to follow. In other news, EFR loved them on a professional level too.

Circa: Beyond, Underbelly Productions, Underbelly, Bristo Square
http://edfringereview.com/r/U19hAn6cTrSxDX7GXDx6yg

These guys missed a trick by not having ‘Defying Gravity’ featured in their soundtrack. As someone who can barely do a forward roll without dislocating something, seeing these people flying with ease from one person’s shoulders to another, let alone swinging from great heights, clinging on only by the flimsiest of body parts, was jaw-droppingly amazing. Talk about muscle tone!

On the Box!, Bowjangles, Greenside @ Nicolson Square
http://edfringereview.com/r/U9DXb7LwSLyNgX5tXDx6yg

Whoever thought it would be a good idea to take a string quartet, put them in sparkly shoes and make them dance around for an hour in their own imaginary TV show was…absolutely right! Despite the fact that they were all drowning in sweat by the end of it (poor Esmé had to fling a cello around the whole time), On the Box! was probably the most strangely entertaining thing I saw all festival. Either way, it made playing violin look almost cool (almost) and was, basically, a right laugh.

Jessie Cave, Espionage

This girl is weird. Very, very weird. Hilarious, pregnant and practically having a life-crisis on stage, the ex Harry Potter actress makes doodles and cardboard cut outs work strangely well as part of a stand up act. I spent half the time laughing, and half the time feeling genuinely awkward and worrying whether she was actually having a break down. I hope that was the point? Either way, she is definitely one to watch (oh, what a cliché!)

So, there you have it, my very own Picks of the Fringe. Now I’m off to moan some more about being bored, stalk people on Twitter and put together a dastardly plan to get me back up to Edinburgh next year.

The Arty Guy

I am finding my ever-growing attraction to men in fancy dress disturbing. Guy-liner and a pirate hat? Yes, please. Dancer who looks like Jesus, complete with rubber-band crown of thorns, simulating getting spit-roasted on stage during a musical about gay rights in South America? Step away, ladies. I worry what the Fringe is doing to my taste in men.

What there is no shortage of at Edinburgh is Arty Guys. Usually, the Arty Guy is reclusive and hard to find, but in the month of August he is lured out of his usual habitat – a quiet spot, such as a library or a park, where he can brood in full view of everyone else, so they know how Arty he is – to prowl the Royal Mile offering flyers to the unsuspecting passer by. He can also be found in one of Edinburgh’s many independent coffee shops, and feels most at home in establishments with exposed brick walls and coffee that comes in cups smaller than his hands.

The Arty Guy will don the traditional garb; jeans that are so tight you wonder how he can possibly sit down to play his guitar, and a pair of sunglasses to protect his sensitive eyes from the glaring Scottish sun.

The mating call of the Arty Guy is somewhat more complex than that of other mammals. Often with vocabulary that includes words like ‘post-modern’ or ‘metatheatrical,’ and almost always at least one quote from Derrida or Spivak, the Arty Guy uses a wide but vague knowledge of literature, theatre and philosophy to impress the opposite sex.

At the top of the Arty Guy food chain lie the specimens with the ability to grow unnecessarily long beards, and have a line of Tennyson poetry tattooed somewhere on their being. The Fringe is a breeding ground for such men, and is almost definitely the reason that the Arty Guy’s prey, the Alternative Girl, (and a number of disparaging bloggers) return here year upon year, to hunt in the waters (or puddles) of Edinburgh.

Life On The Fringes of Society

The Edinburgh Fringe. No other festival harbours the world’s biggest collection of weirdos. An orgy of the arrogant, the arty, and the downright eccentric, I can genuinely say that there is nothing like it. Nowhere else on earth could you find such a huge and varied collection of craziness, all thrown together in a month of parties, plays and perfunctory press events.

Of course, editing Ed Fringe Review has its perks. On one occasion I somehow found myself watching the Edinburgh Tattoo fireworks from the penthouse of the Hilton, drinking a Hendricks and tonic that I got for free, while chatting to a Canadian stranger about his multimedia collage of Paradise Lost. The fact that I was wearing a bright red EFR sweatshirt that hadn’t been washed in a week and am so spectacularly uncool and unprepared for such situations that I spent a good half an hour consumed with helpless giggles is beside the point.

If nothing else, the Fringe is a place to revel in your own pretentiousness. Surrounded by Oxbridge thesps, I am routinely disappointed if I have a conversation that does not involve an exclamation of ‘So meta, darling!’ My proudest moment so far has been getting almost every joke in a production by Cambridge students called The Canon: A Literary Sketch show. Finally, a situation in which my English degree is useful!

It’s very in vogue at the moment for comedians to rip the Fringe – it’s people, its places…the subtle but constant stench of deep fried haggis balls – to shreds. They also love a good dig at the reviewers, but inevitably end up sounding like that dickhead that gets rejected from Oxford then shouts about elitism and how they never wanted to go anyway. At the end of the day, the Fringe is bloody great. And anyone who says otherwise has either never been, or is just flat-out wrong. Sorry, friends, but that’s the truth. Now, I’m off to enjoy some haggis balls.

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