Why is it that mediocrity spawns more mediocrity which is seemingly supported by a swathe of the population?

A girl has been sparkling in the University Challenge programme. I haven’t seen the programme, but I have heard about the current unpleasantness that has been evoked by the girl’s outstanding general knowledge and ability to answer correctly the questions that are fielded to her team.

On Sunday, two men publicly commented that they believed that the spite and derision, (via BBC blogs and some newspapers) that were being heaped on the contestant,occurred because she was female. Had it been a male, they said, it would have been acceptable and praiseworthy to be seen to have been so clever.

We should be able to have pride in ability from whatever source it emanates, but that would not be possible to contemplate for the mediocre. Mediocrity can only be fed on mediocrity in order to stick in its own blinkered and uninspiring niche. It is self-serving. We should be able to praise where praise is due, but that would not be newsworthy at a general, mediocre level, would it?



  1. Gail Trimble has indeed sparkled from day one (I’ve watched the whole series). She is indeed outstandingly clever. But I confess, despite my admiration for her ability, she has irritated me immensely because of her ability to look unbearably smug when answering. Gender has nothing to do with it.

  2. For you, perhaps gender isn’t an issue. Could happy or showing you are pleased with having a correct answer confirmed, be muddled with ‘smug’ in a woman?

    If it is smug, from what you say, she has every right to be so. This girl was a standby, an ‘understudy’. She didn’t intend to participate in the Challenge. The team needed someone in case of a problem, which obviously happened, as Gail Trimble was substituted for an original team member. I reckon that is something also to feel really good about.

    I was in a similar position once, though not with University Challenge. My results gave my team the winning score. Was I pleased, happy, smug; you name it, I was. I won’t accept anyone telling me it was wrong to be so.

  3. you may be right that this is a gender thing.
    but there is an element of resentment against anyone who shows considerable talent. it seems we can only accept it when people seek to hide it!

  4. It is built-in to the pack culture. Any difference is hated. It doesn’t matter whether you’re smarter or dumber, if you’re not in the average middle zone, then you will be hated.

  5. I think that part of the problem can also be attributed to the aspirational culture that we live in. We are led to believe that “we can do it!” whatever that may be, provided that we work hard and are positive. When it transpires that we can’t do it as well as those with genuine, exceptional talent then we become resentful of them.

    Strange, isn’t it, that sporting achievement provokes less resentment than more intellectual pursuits?

  6. A lot of people really mistrust cleverness in any shape or form. It makes them very uneasy…:roll:

    Instead we applaud the ‘listen to me’ brigade… all hot air!

    Which probably explains why the country is in such a mess at the moment.

  7. You make a valid comment; what is the matter with us? We should be able to celebrate talent at every level, not undermine it, which is what a lot of people do.

    I should also like to know the gender breakdown of the people throwing the abuse, in essence therefore,applauding and supporting mediocrity.

  8. Interesting perspective Munzly. A pack mentality is not one I have thought through, however, what does occur to me is, who stirs up the pack to take the stance it does? It’s not a pleasant consideration is it.

    If we want to celebrate mediocrity, then that is what we shall get. Anything more will disappear. As I said to another commentator, we should be able to celebrate talent at all levels, yet we do not appear to be able to embrace the breadth of that concept. Is it, I ask, our own basic education, nurture and a large chunk of nature that leads us to be mediocre lemmings?

  9. I could go along with the ‘aspirational culture’ discussion if it were an honest and genuine one. It is what may be nurtured in a basic education environment and I see nothing wrong with that. However, the aspirational argument today, is not an honest one. It is masking what really is happening in wider society in the UK. There is not yet enough of an aspirational generation through our education systems who have the ability to celebrate a broad concept of abilities. There could be many reasons for that, including a salient one, which is,how much the people who are educating the aspirational determination project their sincerity. This in itself is a large discussion.

    What aspirational elements there might be, will become smaller in the current climate as there will be little to ‘personally’ aspire to. New aspirational icons will have to be found. We don’t have them so we cannot positively guide our people to them. The media can play on this fissure. This is a core of the problem we have, in my view. It leaves people able to support mediocrity and leads to the denigration of ability of all types, with impunity. I hate to think how far this negativity could go.

  10. I think it is very ‘odd’ especially when ascerbic Paxman, who is definitely not known to love and respect many of the competitors and teams in this game, actually speaks out in defence of this girl. On the radio yesterday, Paxman was dismissing those who were being stupid about this able young woman and saying what an unassuming pleasant person she was. Unheard of from him!

    Like you, I don’t watch much TV and it is years since I tuned in to University Challenge. I did see a couple of programmes a few years back, chaired by Jeremy Paxman, I think he was reasonably new to the chairing of it then. In one programme he was so unimpressed with the competing university teams, he commented “…Lord help us, these are meant to be our future leaders.”

  11. It’s a matter of replacing one culture with another, probably through education… not an easy task – we’ve been failing to do it for thousands of years.

  12. My guess is as good as yours – in fact yours should be better. You are not as remotely placed to obtain information as I am. I am, almost on another planet but in the same universe. Therefore, not only do we want flights to a new planet, we also have to trace a facility that can safely take us to a nicer universe too.

    As for a carrier, I’d vote for Concorde if it could be revived.

    Is this a tall order?

  13. I agree; however, as I said to another commentator, our educators need to impart true sincerity in aspiration of all kinds(another type of cultural thinking) for there to be a sea change.

    There is a need for new aspirational icons, reality based ones. I am not impressed with the American style of aspiration, it is based on hot air and kidology, leaving a generation without proper survival skills. I have no angst with developing sensibly confident children, praise where praise is due, (more often than it is given in our society) and not considered a strange and distorted norm. It should be given for a wide range of effort and excellence.

    While our educators are of the old schools of culture and thought, it will be hard to implant any meaningful change.

  14. Ooh, I didn’t know about the green comet – you’ve been swotting up for University Challenge haven’t you! 😉

    Question, how do you hitch a lift on a comet, one of any colour under the sun?

  15. Interesting…….it would have to be a ru**dy big thumb I am sure, about the size of an air sock at least.

    Coming to think of it, a comet and occupants (assuming it is staffed up) could get confused by the sight of the Gherkin in The City of London, (it’s kind of thumb shaped) and think that it is a request for a hitch. Cleopatra’s Needle might prove awkward as well. You’d have to be Herculean to wave either one of those about.

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