Now that the fuss has died down a bit, and Stephen Fry has made his extremely sincere and very genuinely unreserved apologies, it is time to think about what the actor, comedian and general knowledge buff, who – extraordinary enough – is still in his post as president of Mind, actually said.
First here’s what the organisation supporting mental health users says: “Mind’s President is Stephen Fry. He is our figurehead and our leading ambassador – promoting our causes and advocating on our behalf.”
He is clearly then entitled to represent an attitude to survivors of sexual abuse which suggest they should “Grow up!” He told the US talk show, the Rubin Report, how he felt about such people:
“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. “Get rid of it because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself… Grow up.”
This is a perfect example about why you cannot reform anything in Britain without tackling the Wounded Leader issue. I have been banging on about this for years – sorry to be a bore, but here it is – right in our faces. Years ago I wrote about Fry in The Making of Them: patched up after his breakdown by psychotherapy he later went on to condemn it utterly. I did this not in order to condemn the poor wounded man in him, but as an example of how the wound is denied. Thus the public are misled into thinking how witty and clever such men are, when in they may be bullies. It could be called the Boris Johnson Syndrome.
So we must expose these people, not out of malice, but because the public really do think they are jolly clever and funny. Please do watch the video and note the middle part of Fry’s attempt to induce intellectual hallucinations in the talk show host, before the real message – grow up and stop feeling sorry for yourself, wakes you up from your nice snooze.
Where did Fry learn such attitudes we wonder? Well, as leading psychology Professor Stephen Bentall (who went to school him) recently hinted but didn’t quite dare say, this is exactly the kind of attitude that was force-fed to the young elites at Uppingham.
Mental illness, as Bentall rightly suggests, mostly results either from things that happened to you that shouldn’t have, or from things that didn’t happen that should. Fry’s own first book makes absolutely clear how he suffered at boarding school, but neither he nor Bentall seem to want to quite join up the dots. According to President Fry it’s all in the genes.
In the meantime, boarding children go on to become adults whose personality problems are hidden by the accent of privilege and false outer confidence and deceive our public. Families are not always happy places but abuse and neglect are rife in residential institutions where parenting is missing; this affects posh kids as well as those in care.
Let us not be taken in by the President’s erudition, even if there is some truth in some of the things he says. It is not wisdom, nor is it compassion. He displays profoundly conflicted attitudes to all matters of power and vulnerability, which is where abuse strikes, as we know. There is a subtle point about self-pity, which can sometimes become narcissistic and prevent empathy for others. But this is not the same as the self-compassion that the CSA victims have to find – against all odds – to even begin their journey of recovery and to start throwing off the shame that was dumped on them.
So let’s not be naive: there is no sympathy for any victim or survivor here. The video also reveals something about Fry’s attitude to sexuality: note how he sexualised the beginning of the conversation. Fry tried to embarrass the talk-show host and get him on the back foot by pretending to hear the word ‘bonus’ as ‘boner’? In case anyone doesn’t know, ‘boner’ is American schoolboy slang for an erection!
Surviving sexual abuse is a credit to the victim; going beyond survival patterns is hard work. Symptomatic of CSA can be either fleeing from anything sexual or over-sexualising things, so it leads one to wonder, as Piers Morgan has been doing publicly on Twitter, whether something is stirring in the popular man’s psyche again. As my colleague Thurstine Basset reminded me, Fry has become a ‘National Treasure.’ But so was Jimmy Savile, he continued.
This interview demonstrates exactly the extent of the denial and re-shaming that victim/ survivors have to face. No wonder they usually don’t speak out! Fry, by the way, admitted his own problems with what he calls ‘depression’ only because he was exposed when caught acting them out.
Mind has a decision to take, I would say, before the gap widens.