Despite recognition and wide reach, comedian and actor Stephen Fry complained at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival that social media is “dispiriting, upsetting and annoying.” His reason is that arguments for major issues like gender and politics often end up in bitter exchanges, and the points of the argument get lost in the bickering. Instead, he calls for a return to an antiquated symposium-style debate around a table.
This would be a much more convincing argument if Fry didn’t reap so much publicity from his Twitter account. To date, he has over 2 million followers on his Twitter account and has racked up over 21 thousand tweets.
At the festival, Fry said tweets and Twitter are “inconsequential and trivial” and they shouldn’t be taken as serious as they are: “All these things are ways of not taking yourself too seriously. We tend to forget the importance of a comic vision or a comic mode.” That comic vision is one of the 58-year-old author’s most prized attributes, and it’s guided his television programs, books, and work with comedy.
However, what Fry doesn’t address, is social media’s ability to allow for celebrities and politicians alike to commentate on current issues, and engage rabid followers and fans in a way unlike ever before. He uses Twitter to push for his various activist causes such as gay rights and fighting cancer and is one of the most followed celebrities in England on social media.
The simple answer to the question of social media’s role in society is not that it’s a tool for argument, but rather instead for branding. Branding through social media sells a person or idea to a larger audience impatient to hear the next commentary. Fry reaches audiences through his Twitter account because he remains true to his brand of humor; cheeky, arcane and confessional.
Another form of confessional branding can be found in Fry’s three-part autobiography: Moab Is My Washpot, The Fry Chronicles, and More Fool Me. They catalog his struggles with cocaine addiction, bipolar disorder, and his troubled childhood. At the festival, The Fry Chronicles was brought up to highlight how he likes to cast himself as both the hero and anti-hero of his own story:
“For me, writing is an act of expiation and apology to my family for having gone to prison when I was 17 years old and embarrassing them in every possible way you can embarrass parents, who were the most decent kind.”
Stephen Fry is one of the funniest and most influential actors in Britain. Early in his career, he was known for his pairing with House star Hugh Laurie as comedy duo “Fry and Laurie”, and his role in the blockbuster film V for Vendetta. He is the current host of the long-running panel show QI, although his tenure is soon coming to an end with the current season.