Are we elite?

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?

17 thoughts on “Are we elite?

  • December 12, 2012 at 6:51 pm
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    I guess I speak on behalf of many students, at least on behalf of most of the postgrads that I got to know since I arrived here 3 months ago, that we all attend this university for its good reputation in academia and teaching. Nothing more, nothing less.

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  • December 12, 2012 at 7:10 pm
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    Good article, but two thoughts – 1. I don’t quite see how The Other Guys really represent elitism in their work: is success elitist?
    and 2. Although I largely agree with the sentiment of the reaction against the ‘Champagning’, could it not have been an innocent, if ill-judged, attempt at self-deprecation, mocking the very elitist image which it has caused people to rail against?

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  • December 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm
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    As I see it (and the feeling I get from those I have talked to today about it) it feels like a loot of noise over nothing too important. Some students were having fun with what was really cava, celebrating the end of their exams/term and were trying to one up some other universities. Seems ultimately harmless to me.

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  • December 12, 2012 at 7:44 pm
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    Aren’t you the School of English President? Have you never heard of satire? I think, as Hugo mentioned, it was a very successful exercise in self-deprecating satire aimed at the sort of ‘look-at-how-much-money-I-have’ culture that is all too prevalent in St Andrews. I think the sense of humour to writer ratio on the Saint writing staff if getting pretty low.

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    • December 13, 2012 at 10:10 am
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      I don’t know what sort of English expert Fraser thinks he is, but the video was certainly not satire. It was an attack on the “milking” students from Newcastle that tried to say “we’re richer than you, we can afford champagne”. It fits given the apparent contention a few posh kids here seem to have with Northerners. Furthermore, if it was satire, why did a more-reputable news source such as the Daily Mail not treat it as such? There is certainly a difference between actually trying to satirize something and simply being stuck-up and then applying the label of “satire” to defend yourself from negative criticism.

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      • December 13, 2012 at 11:47 am
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        There is so much idiocy in this comment that I can’t tell if you’re one of those “internet trolls” you hear people talk about. Not everything is an “attack” Logan. Why is everyone obsessed with “attacks”. An “attack” on BNOCs. An “attack” on students from Newcastle. An “attack” on Northerners. Sack up man. I’m sure the Etonians that made the milking video really aren’t too insecure about their class because some freshers from St Andrews decided to copy their idea with five pound cava. Furthermore the fact you’ve classed the Daily Mail as a “more reputable news source” is laughable. I imagine the video was indeed ‘satire’, just a shit attempt at it that no one outside St Andrews would find funny.

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        • December 14, 2012 at 10:42 am
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          I didn’t realize I was “attacking” any BNOC’s. My mistake.

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  • December 12, 2012 at 8:25 pm
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    The Other Guys are not elitist, they are raising money for student bursaries with a Christmas song and they are all from very different backgrounds. Why did you even drag them into this article, surely the Scotsman’s view/recent article should be the most pressing matter.

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  • December 12, 2012 at 11:09 pm
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    “They can be pretentious because they have something to follow it up with.”
    I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word pretentious.

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    • December 13, 2012 at 12:45 am
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      It takes one to know one

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  • December 12, 2012 at 11:10 pm
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    “Elite” is not derogatory, and I do not intend to use to as an insult. It is an amoral adjective, not an immoral one. I have the utmost respect for The Other Guys and their work. To me, it is unquestionable that they are “elite” in that they are among the best a cappella groups we have at St Andrews. I’m sorry if anyone has misinterpreted or misunderstood my use of that word.

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  • December 12, 2012 at 11:36 pm
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    So, your making an argument that The Other Guys are elite in terms that they are a great a cappella group? While I don’t disagree, what place does that argument have in an article written about elitism in St. Andrew’s?

    If you’re going to use that definition of elite, wouldn’t you also be saying that those who were champagning (with cava) were just really talented at… champagning?

    If you’re going to talk about elitism in an institution, don’t scapegoat a group of guys because they are trying to excel at what they enjoy doing. And don’t post too much blame on the champagners either. Most likely it was an innocent stunt because they saw the milkers and the porters on youtube and thought it was funny.

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    • December 13, 2012 at 12:21 am
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      Stanley, I do not mean to disagree with you outright. The issues you raise are clear and fair, and I thank you for bringing them to my attention politely.

      Perhaps my semantics are more confounding than I intended. “Elitism” and “elite” are not derogatory words. They do not condemn what they describe, as you seem to believe. I am using this definition of “Elitism”, here: “The advocacy or existence of an elite as a dominating element in a system or society.”

      The Other Guys are, in my opinion, a dominating elite element in our St Andrews society. They are some of the most talented students we’ve got, and we should be proud of that elitism.

      Please let me know if there’s anything else you’re having difficulty understanding, and I’d be more than happy to help you out.

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  • December 13, 2012 at 12:34 am
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    I think this was very well written. Ramsay did a good job pitting a solid video for a good cause (which may have been an ego boost for “The Other Guys” ) a film that basically says “look how rich I am”. There is certainly a difference between people who deserve attention and those who do not. Ramsay does a phenomenal job bringing this to light to show “good elitism” vs. “bad elitism”.

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  • December 13, 2012 at 2:44 am
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    Shame the media no longer values self-deprecating satire. A bit of hysterical political correctness and a few incensed class jibes will do the job nowadays. Something for the Daily Mail to rail against perhaps and pretend the students in the footage were pouring actual Moet over their heads, but thought the Saint might have a sense of humour for once. Pretty shoddy article.

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    • December 13, 2012 at 11:54 am
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      Yeah, wasn’t it hilarious! Guys pouring a drink over their heads! HAHAHAHAHAHA. Champagne no less! And only a month after someone else came up with the idea and a better video!!! Brilliant. What a creative bunch of jokers ey? These guys should be on ‘Have I Got News For You’ with Hislop and co. to take their rightful place at the height of British satire.

      Yes, it was ‘satirical’. No, it wasn’t funny. If you did find it funny then I put it to you that you are a simpleton of the highest order.

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      • December 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm
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        Not particularly funny no, but if it was such an insignificant gesture then why did it warrant such a self-righteous article. If the video had come out of nowhere this article might make sense, but having been made in response to another one, it doesn’t; but apologies for not having followed the chronological order of events as closely as you. And I am indeed a proud card-carrying simpleton, but can hope to be inspired by a much anticipated Youtube video in which might be exemplified your own unique brand of post-modern satire worthy of BBC standards. Look forward to it.

        Reply

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