I had the pleasure of going to see Stephen Fry give his “Speccie Leccie” last night. (It was The Spectator’s annual lecture and that is Fry’s pet name for the event).
After spending a lot of time watching things like The Apprentice, it was an absolute joy to sit down for an hour and listen to someone speak so eloquently.
His talk was entitled “America’s Place in the World”. Much of the speech consisted of lists which helped describe the differences between drab Britain and optimistic America. However, these were not just ‘lists’. They were the essence of his speech and consisted of rich, image-evoking, soulful language which captured the spirit of all the things we consciously know to be true about America, as well as reminding us of all those things we have noticed in the past but have always remained in our subconscious somewhere.
Overall, as someone who quite openly states that he would move to America in a heartbeat, Fry gave an extremely positive analysis of the land where anything is possible. However, there was one observation, which although not negative, did evoke the characteristic which is often what is most negatively associated with America. It was a poignant part of the lecture and one of the main observations which has stayed with me.
Fry was explaining the differences of opinions and ideals which are often apparent between Americans and Basques. He pointed out that when it comes to the classic American saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, nothing could highlight their differences of ideals more.
Basques would listen to this saying with a great degree of confusion, Fry pointed out. They would ask why on earth you would want to do something like that. Lemons are a juicy, tangy fruit, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, something that can be used to add taste and nutrition to salads and fish and paella. They see lemons as something to be revered in their own right, and to be cherished for what they can offer alone.
However, on being given a lemon, an American response would be to “add sugar and sell it!” Although Fry did not mean his observation in a particularly negative way, I think this actually manages to epitomize everything that can often annoy us about America, or the Western way of life in general.
Nothing is good enough in its basic form any more. Everything seems to need to become sweeter, more decadent, more sparkly and often more damaging for us as humans before it can be admired and sought after. Our lives seem to have become an over-processed, money-grabbing pot of greed where nothing is good enough any more in its natural from. Women need to be pruned to perfection, dogs need to be pedigreed to the point that their brains become to big for their skulls, food needs to be processed to the point where we are eating it either out of convenience or a new fad diet rather than just to enjoy it.
So for all of the positive and complimentary observations about America which I went away with last night, this small snippet from his highly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable lecture also made me sit back and realize just how obsessed we have all become with turning perfectly good things in life into something more sweet and sparkly all of the time. We’re always trying to get a promotion, a bigger house, a better car, more expensive clothes. The list is endless.
I’m not going to pretend to be a green crusader, or indeed someone who has ever attended a riot or demonstrated, but I’d like to think that I am able to appreciate the simple things in life. I’ve decided to try my best to enjoy the things in life which don’t necessarily have to cost a lot, are sometimes sour and not sweet but overall are real, genuine, authentic.
Then again, it did take a £70 ticket to see Stephen Fry for me to decide on this, so maybe in this day and age it might be harder to achieve than I think.