At risk of being ostracised by all my new university friends, I have an admission to make: I like thinking. Although this may seem bizarre as a University student to make such a claim (I imagine more conventional admissions usually go down the chlamydia route…) in our modern, progressive society, there appears to be a stigma attached to appearing ‘clever’. Conversation tends to steer towards the TOWIE end of the spectrum than the Sartre end. There is a negativity attached to being publicly intellectually engaged. For example, the question ‘have you revised?’ has never once, in the history of teenage culture, been answered with a ‘yes’ – though, perhaps this has more to do with work ethic (or lack of) than public presentation of intellect. Even so, why is it so looked down upon in a social environment appear hard working? If you drop your intellectual faculties within a social sphere, it is only a matter of time before ambition and introspection follow.
Within the media, we are bombarded with the idea that ‘clever’ equals ‘uncool’. As much as I object this obviously simplistic presentation, it’s easy to see how from a young age, an anti-intellectualist belief is cultivated. From Lisa Simpson to Velma from Scooby Doo, being an intellectual means you’re uncool. Perhaps it is the lazy characterization, but it’s a negative concept that can penetrate into our society, and install a belief that being ambitious, striving to academically better yourself is a wasteful occupation of time. Lisa is the talented, perceptive 8 year old yet Bart gets to do all the fun stuff like riding a skate board. Velma, whilst solving the large majority of the murder mysteries, is inferior to the gorgeous, cool Daphne.
Shows such as Beauty and the Geek present a despicable mutual exclusivity. The premise of the show is that a group of beautiful women and a group of academic yet socially inept men pair up to compete for some money (and for the most dignity-stripping accolade available). Firstly, the token idea that knowledge is incongruous to good looks (not to mention the gender stereotypes presented) is as ignorant as it is dull. The fact that the men teach the women to look beyond their aesthetic merit to know ‘worthwhile’ and ‘fulfilling’ ‘knowledge’ (please note my overuse of quotation marks) such as ‘who is the prime minister of England?’ is so reprehensible, (contrary to perhaps its superficial objective) intellectually defunct and anti-progressive, that I am endlessly surprised that the show managed to get commissioned. I also lose all hope for humanity, but that’s another concern.
This is an issue that is particularly endorsed by my contemporary female society, and has strong gender ties. Presenting ones self as ‘dumb’ or ‘innocent’ and ‘sweet’ wholly endorses this anti-intellectualist culture, perpetuating an ancient male ideal that women are intellectually inferior to men. Irrespective of this being unbelievably regressive, it is painfully frustrating. A gender divide is often presented within social situation as a result. The idea that being opinionated or willing to debate is seen as a masculine attribute, obviously a residue of a patriarchal society, further tying into the anti-intellectualist culture.
Being articulate is condemned as being elitist. Clarity through eloquence and placing your self in a post-1984 world is being exclusive. You mustn’t ‘big words’ in case someone doesn’t understand what one means, so as not to sound superior, and therefore must patronisingly simplify everything. I have endless been condemned for saying ‘juxtaposes’ instead of ‘contrasts’, or ‘autochthonous’ instead of ‘indigenous – not descended from migrants or colonists’ (that one comes up less often admittedly…). Just because someone doesn’t understand a word doesn’t mean they should assume that the speaker is being belittling. The expectation that one should change the way one naturally speaks because people may not understand is so intellectually defunct. Encourage them to broaden their knowledge, which is not an elitist attitude but an inclusive one. Expecting someone to purposefully speak in a less sophisticated expressive manner is pandering, ignorant and patronising.
Learn a new word. Don’t feel ashamed of talking about something a little more highbrow than return of Made in Chelsea. Have a better way of expressing yourself. Educate others without being patronizing. There of course is a thin line between being clever and trying to sound clever in order to belittle. The latter should be avoided, particularly (if for no other reason) giving knowledge a bad name. Of course, with knowledge comes and arrogance, and perhaps it is this that people fear appearing.
By Ruby Lott-Lavigna
Written October 2011 for the Leeds Student Newspaper