Monday, 9 April 2012

Losing the Anti-Elitism Message with An Act of Stupidty

To some Trenton Oldfield, the man who disrupted the University Boat Race on Saturday, is a hero speaking out against the perceived snobbery of the noble elite of Oxford and Cambridge universities. However after a very long and detailed trawl through various news sites and subsequent comments forum, as well as a blog or two seems like many people are not impressed with Oldfield's antics. It is in essence a story that really should be forgotten however the anti-establishment sentiments that ebbed to and fro across the great Twitter ocean kept the debate of Oldfield's actions afloat longer than perhaps necessary. I was particularly irked when it was implied on Twitter that those who condemned Oldfield's risky dip into the Thames were either victims of a bias media pushing elitist propaganda or themselves "card-carrying" members of the well to do.

In my eye Trenton Oldfield is neither radical nor a hero, but a disgruntled outcast of the very system he purports to oppose. Granted, as a beneficiary of private education, which he chose to discard in favour of attending public school, Oldfield has an insight into the darker side of the elite class. However his action was just plain stupid and thoughtless which could have resulted in harm to himself and possibly the rowers. To state this was an act of protest against elitism would be akin to arguing that running out into the road in front of moving vehicles is a protest against traffic congestion and climate change. If Oldfield had been injured by one of the boats I am sure the rowers involved would have been mortified in much the same way I would be if one of the many morons who dashed across the road one day ended up a gnarled mess on my car bumper. There would be much feelings of guilt, second guessing and perhaps even a decision not to climb back into a rowing boat ever again.

There is another consideration, one that is personal to a blogger who (yes me) also happens to be in training for an athletic event and has on occasion suffered similar disruption. After the incident Karl Hudspith, president of the Oxford University Boat Club, wrote on Twitter: "To Trenton Oldfiled (sic); my team went through seven months of hell, this was the culmination of our careers and you took it from us." Now perhaps the "seven months of hell" metaphor was a little over the top, however it is easily forgotten that these rowers are not just scholars but athletes. They train extremely hard for this day on which they hope to be victorious or at the very least give their absolute best in the attempt. Hudspith was right when he said that Oldfield took something away from the Oxford rowing team that day. Yet there was much disdain aimed at the rowers, as if it wasn't important. I would urge those naysayers to try to tell that to Vanderlei de Lima, the Brazilian athlete who was attacked during the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens.

Oldfield is not entirely wrong about the notion of elitism and its links to tyranny and oppression. There is certainly plenty of historical and sociological evidence to support the contention. However the message was lost in Oldfield's actions as they were simply irresponsible, with probably more sympathy for the rowers than the anti-elitist ideology. It has been argued that the outrage directed at Oldfield was orchestrated by propaganda but common sense should tell us all that his actions were misguided and idiotic attempts at  publicity seeking and it is in that regard that the stunt was a success. People now know his name and he has earned some new admirers and much infamy. Yet the most important part of his message, one that does have some validity, failed to make an impact.

There are many ways to break down the barriers of snobbery and elitism, to level the playing field so that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the best education, and live a fulfilling life based on merit and achievement, rather than on wealth and outdated notions of the importance of noble ancestry. Jumping into the Thames and disrupting an event, enjoyed by all, undoing months of training and hard work, is not one of them and Oldfield would do well to think about that.

Image Credit; Annie Mole

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