Hardly a knockout fight, says Reef Younis of Stephen Fry and Kissy Sellout’s recently verbal sparring.

Illustration by Peter Beatty

Illustration by Peter Beatty


“Dubstep is my life.” It’s probable that it’s the first and last time those words will reverberate around a Cambridge University chamber. But as the opening gambit to Stephen Fry’s impassioned rebuttal to the burning question of ‘This house believes that classical music is irrelevant to today’s youth’, it’s the perfect introduction. Less perfect is the Cambridge University Debate Society’s self-congratulatory live stream of the event…and subsequent banning of any technology that might update, tweet or electronically make notes. Progress, indeed.

Away from pedantic media gripes, tonight is the celebrated alumni versus the city urchin homeboy; Stephen Fry vs Kissy Sell Out, with classical music awkwardly sandwiched in-between. On paper, it’s an unlikely threesome; in the flesh, so it proves. Talking to a packed hall, a visibly nervous Kissy jerks and bobs his way through an energetic, if disjointed, appraisal of classical music’s youth worthlessness, seemingly comforted by the fact his decks are just fingertips away. In opposition, Fry typically seduces a partisan audience with charisma, speaker’s eloquence and Thesaurus-like verbosity, giving a brief history of, and displaying an ardent love for, among others, Wagner, Handel and Beethoven.

In the periphery, pretty girls flash smiles and flutter eyelids in elegant evening wear; boys in tuxedos and suits modelled on ventriloquist dummies regurgitate cheese-eating smiles to anyone in their eye line as a horde of open-shirted, sweater-draped Henry’s get incredulous and red-faced at any comment not bordering on the partisan: “You’ve clearly never heard Mozart’s, Le Nozze di Figaro” one rosy faced cherub angrily shouts across the hall.

Rarely is tonight a debate about anything; it’s a confirmation of the standing and stuffy pretension that exists within these exclusive walls; a society bash for some cheque-wielding philanthropists to get a front row seat to a celebrity graduate, and a snickering opportunity for the middle class faithful to wallow in their status.

One member of the media raises their head above the parapet; “Youth culture is about going out and having a good time. If you go to most clubs, everyone’s together, everyone’s dancing and the atmosphere is just…awesome,” he ventures. “I would suggest that you’ve never been to a club sober,” comes the reply to the great guffawing mirth of the congregation – not exactly fierce, constructive, hard-hitting discussion.

It’s the moment the night crystalizes: Cambridge University is Decadent and Depraved and the fear and loathing is all mine. We didn’t come here to hear discussion and debate, just a glorified sideshow of self-aggrandising and one-eyed, deaf-eared partisanship. Trudging out to cast a yes/no “vote”, it already feels worthless. Still, it’s good to know I can pick up a live stream…

By Reef Younis

Originally published in issue 28 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. May 2011

« Previous Article
Next Article »