Meeting My Idol; Mary Beard on The Public Intellectual 

It’s been an interesting week for British politics. Apparently democracy is falling apart, but has democracy ever truly been defined? In short, no.

“UKIP are not populist, they’re just wrong” states Mary Beard,  standing at the lecturn at St. Peter’s College, Oxford, no doubt preaching to the choir. Brexit provides an interesting commentary on the public intellect, from the people that brought us the “so called experts” and the phrase “you can’t trust experts”. 

Drawing from personal experiences, Mary Beard discussed the role of democracy and what it means to have a voice, from ancient times to the present day. Interestingly, she said she only found her public voice, after she was challenged publically for her appearance after hosting her first television documentary. Several horrendous death, and sexually agressive threats later Beard found she had accidentally stumbled across a public voice. 

These threats highlighted to society the huge difference in attitude to female academics in the public spotlight. Having been persuaded into television to provide a breath of fresh air from the “grey haired, middle aged, frumpy old man” that overpower the documentary world, Mary Beard found her appearance critiqued, instead of her ability to do the job at hand. Sound familiar? It’s a scenario that faces so many women, albeit on a smaller scale, nearly every day. At last, not only did Mary Beard have a voice, but the 21st century woman also did. 

The problem facing broadcasting, and broadcast politics today, is the inferred need to dumb things down. Any Questions, News Night, and other such programs feel the need to simplify everything; this was evident in the Brexit debates. Producers seem to think that the general population are idiots. This is simply not true, most are simply ignorant (as we all are),  but not unintelligent. This thesis is central to Mary Beard’s 3 rules of documentary making; no CGI, no actors running around in togas, and certainly no dumbing it down.

This problem was particularly rife during the Brexit campaign. Broadcasters decided both sides needed to be simplified, attainable by the general population as such. Unfortunately this may have (has) backfired. We voted to leave the EU, but was this a democratic vote? No, because to be honestly nobody had any idea what they were voting for. Brexit is an unbelievably complicated situation, and we were made to believe it was cut and dry. 

75 minutes later, the talk finished, and everybody started emptying out of the chapel. Mary Beard stayed behind,  taking questions from curious fans, and I finally had an opportunity to meet my idol. Anyone who has been to see a Lisa Dillon play with me, knows just how badly I fangirl. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only person queueing up to speak to her, slightly trembling, voice gradually increasing in pitch! (Thankyou Ben for putting up with me 😅)

Finally, I got to ask Mary Beard a question; “What advice do you have for young, females who would love to do what you do?”

“Read, read, read, read! And Never let a man put you down.”

I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole way back to London!! 

Footnote

Today Donald Trump has been voted President of the United States of America. I’m aware I should probably talk about this, but it’s just too painful right now. Expect an article on 1933 Germany soon. (If you don’t understand the link, get your head outta the sand.)

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