A Scotsman article and two YouTube videos (oh, best make that one video) have raised numerous questions about the image of St Andrews this week. Now J. H. Ramsay asks: are we – the St Andrews student body – ‘elite’?
Undeniably, unquestionably, yes. We have earned elite status as a University. Our students are elitist. This town is a hive of elitism. It breeds it, it inflates its magnitude, it fosters and nurtures our collective delusion of exceptionalism. I do not personally think much of a debate can be made against this. The controversy, however, is whether ‘elite’ is ‘good’.
Two notable YouTube videos have been released in the past week by St Andrews students, drawing a comprehensive spectrum of our University’s elite pathology. The first was the music video for The Other Guys’ single “Christmas Gets Worse Every Year”.
Few would doubt this was an admirable accomplishment, a viral video that got hyped for all the right reasons: it represents the best St Andrews has to give to the world. It’s as good as we can be. This is the cream of the crop of a university that is itself (allegedly) the cream of the crop of the UK, if not the world.
I imagine many students responded to The Other Guys’ success with pride, and a uniform hope to propel their success further, to the top of the charts.
At least, I can attest that this was my initial response. The second video released this past week is “Champagning St Andrews”, a three-minute video of various well-dressed students emptying champagne over their heads in public. It has met with significantly more deploration than The Other Guys video, likely because it consists of far less talent, and the same amount of pretension. So much so the national press have reported on it.
Here we have the worst St Andrews has to offer: extravagant, even competitive, waste. This video advertised a not inaccurate stereotype of the students who attend this university. We are all, it seems, literally drowning in luxury.
But I argue that, despite its moral flaws, this video is/was no less representative of who we are as a university than that of The Other Guys. Both videos are just as honest about our identity and ontology. Both videos promote our elitism with equal fervor, and with similar volume. The difference is that one of these videos has a right to, and the other does not.
The Other Guys are fairly talented. They possess unique skill. When they put this on display, it is to general amusement and entertainment. They can be pretentious because they have something to follow it up with. The Other Guys have substance behind what they advertise. This is why we let them advertise, and indeed, help them advertise. They are justified in their volume and fervor.
This, in my view, cannot be said for those individuals who filmed, edited and participated in “Champagning St Andrews”. It takes nothing more than a debit card to a swelling bank account to purchase champagne and pour it over one’s head outside of St Salvator’s Hall, or the roundabout at the head of Market Street.
These cavalier champagne-rs are unjustified in their behavior. They advertised neither talent nor skill, but rather exceptional indecency. And I suppose that is a form of elitism that St Andrews certainly possesses.
Our friends at The Stand appear to agree with me here. Even before the video was removed, Jamie Ross wrote: “Don’t be fooled into thinking that banter is the only way. Think long and hard, and consider how you would truly enjoy expressing yourself.” Ross gets a bit angrier, and vaguer, than I’ve tried to be, but our sentiments are entirely the same.
It seems there is a good way to be elite and exceptional, and then there is a bad way. The Other Guys have chosen to display our University’s elitism in a favourable light. The creators of “Champagning St Andrews” have achieved quite the opposite: they have muddied the waters of what it means to be elite, and provoked a hostile reaction for it.
Both videos, make no mistake, are/were equally powerful advertisements of the elitism of the University of St Andrews. But they could not be more polarized in how they go about proving this.
‘Champagning St Andrews’ may no longer be online, but you’ve probably already seen it. Do you agree with J.H. Ramsay’s view, or is it a case of much ado about nothing?