To the freshly arrived amongst our readership, whose hopes have not yet faded and whose spirits are not yet jaded, a warm welcome to St Andrews. Here begins a chapter of your life which I encourage you to write as romantically, as powerfully, as exceptionally as your heart and mind let you. By venturing into the pages of The Saint, and, especially, of its Viewpoint section, you, the reader, are clearly on the right path already. I hope that such impeccable judgement persists, and I say that not only for the sake of Viewpoint’s readership!
St Andrews, as you shall soon notice, is a town of innumerable idiosyncrasies. There are of course the age-old traditions, the beautifully ornated buildings, the world-famous golf course. Nevertheless, certain imperfections do persist: Bops; the plethora of overpriced fashion shows, attended almost exclusively by the models themselves and the friends they bring as de facto photographers; and not to be forgotten, the pretentious student writers who dare entitle their articles ‘eulogies’, or ‘elegies’, or even ‘paeans’. Although all three are quite intolerable, in this article I would wish to argue that the third and final of these torments – the pretentious student writers – can avail of one saving grace: the mighty Viewpoint section of this very paper. Three supporting points shall buttress this argument.
Firstly, Viewpoint offers its readers – gratuitously – one of the most potent currencies that be: novel ideas. In a world becoming ever staler and more conforming, the novel ideas promulgated throughout the Viewpoint section, like the cherries through a generously plump scone, provide a rampart against the modern scourge of groupthink and non-think; oftentimes, these latter two work in catastrophic cahoots. Furthermore, Viewpoint prides itself on not being an echo chamber. Happy to publish the contributions of its readers, and employing a team of writers whose roots reach across not only the length and width of this nation, but beyond its zigzagging frontiers, Viewpoint truly is the point of convergence for the great thinkers of St Andrews. To our offices flock the students who wish to rebel against the societal confines in which (perhaps rightly) the expression of juicy opinion is permitted only in the inebriated early hours of the morning, whilst equipped with that glorious proponent of democracy: the kebab.
Nor are these novel ideas articulated by some grifter on Facebook or Twitter, both of which are the modern-day equivalent of the town square, if by town square you mean a nightmarish cesspit of hateful head-bashing and babbling abuse. These ideas are instead formulated by your classmates, by the students of this golden institution of which we should all be at least somewhat partisan. Quality of writing is the name of the game, and I implore you, even in that most rare of rarities – an edition in which you disagree with everything written – to take solace in the linguistic sanctuary built upon charming turn of phrase and voluptuous verbosity. Typically attributed to Ezra Pound is the quote “If a man isn't willing to take some risk for his opinions, either his opinions are no good or he's no good”. If we apply this idea not to a man – as our diabolical patriarchal society would demand it – but to humankind, its veracity remains unchanged. Thankfully, with regards to those who shed ink for the Viewpoint section, the closing indictment is and shall remain wholly inapplicable.
The second reason for which Viewpoint merits our appreciation is the vital public service it provides by its creation of controversy. For the uninitiated freshers amongst us, The Saint has known a scandal or two in its time, sometimes deservedly, sometimes undeservedly. Like the blister to a cardio fanatic, the scandal is but a mere risk to be run to any editor who wishes to preserve the healthy and liberating benefits of an opinion column, as I wholeheartedly do. However – and this is an important disclaimer – controversy does not always equate to scandal. The former, mellower as it is, simply describes the impulse to debate which any decent Viewpoint article should instil within its reader, for such an impulse is natural as can be. Is Peppa Pig a televised revolutionary, or on the contrary one of the mediatic establishment’s most cemented supporters? Is St Andrews a societal microcosm in which classism and financial discrimination are equally as present yet equally as covert as they are in the real world? Is my Twitter profile really that cringe? Take these as proof that it doesn’t take long to magic up questions which amongst thinking people shall ignite the fuse of conversation.
And conversation is, let us have no doubts about it, one of the most miraculous gifts bestowed upon humanity. Those who disagree are evidently doing it wrong, or are plagued by the misfortune of a bad entourage – I imagine that throughout our lives we’ve all experienced a bit of both. Some people remain affected by both in perpetuity; such people often populate the audiences of St Andrews’ overpriced fashion shows.
If we reflect upon the infamous European salons, there is a reason for which they came into being and for which so many authors and intellectuals aspired to join them; today’s counterpart is the Sunday morning paper roundup on the Beeb, also available on other respectable mainstream news sources. This reason is that we, as social animals, desire controversy to an extent, something into which to clench our judgemental teeth, and we prefer it when such controversy is sustained by interlocutors who fascinate us. On the grey and soggy Thursday mornings that shall inevitably come to populate any usual Martinmas semester, may The Saint’s Viewpoint section provide you with that fascinating and engaging controversy deemed so valuable in past epochs.
The third and ultimate triumph of the Viewpoint section is the journey that any individual article shall take you on – indeed, this point applies to The Saint as a whole. If between the moment you begin reading an article and the moment you finish reading an article, your perception of a situation, or the information you hold with regards to it have not at all changed, then it’s fair to say that the article has failed in its endeavour. On the other hand, if the article’s journey allows you to see the world – just for a moment – through a new lens, it has won an immeasurable victory. One hopes that when looking through this new lens, you may remark or notice something about the world which hadn’t previously caught your attention. For example, that St Andrews’ fashion shows – have I mentioned them already? – are dearly overpriced. If such profound effect upon your person is unattainable, a laugh – that primal humorous connection – suffices as remuneration for our journalistic efforts. I maintain in any case that the journey of each article will push you, even if marginally so, such that your knowledge is expanded, or your openness of thought challenged, resulting inevitably in a greater understanding of others, and consequently a greater understanding of yourself.
The vitality of Viewpoint is to be soon bolstered by the arrival of new thinkers, new writers, new troops, engaged in a campaign against banality on this bobbly and cratered paper battlefield, with the overarching goal of defeating homogeneity of thought. This overarching goal, as ambitious as it may be, is the truest and most serious of the University’s traditions, reaching all the way back to its conception in 1414. For those unaware, on the St Andrews coat of arms is inscribed ‘Dum spiro, spero’ (‘While I breathe, I hope’). I should like to propose the new motto of ‘Dum scribo, spero’ (‘While I write, I hope’), which shall lead me to my conclusion of relative optimism. As the future unravels, you may come to agree with me on the imperfect nature of bops, overpriced student fashion shows – remember them? – and pretentious student writers. In my total partiality and bias, I acknowledge the pretentiousness produced by, and the cringe induced by, the student writer. Yet for the greater good, I assert that the value of our work – particularly that of the Viewpoint section – goes a long way in redeeming our faults.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew