The problem with the insular university environment is that the student body provides a captive audience to many groups and services within. The Footlights are a prime example, a somewhat anachronistic comedy group who still rely on the name established by British comedy veterans who passed through here over two decades ago. There is certainly some talent to be found but all too often it is obscured by excessive self-congratulatory back-slapping (confirmed to me by a friend who used to be involved with them). This removes any need to improve, fostering results that tend towards the purely esoteric rather than nuanced comedy.
The College Balls are equally guilty of abuses against their prospective guests, with the established ones making absurd requirements that people turn up at specific locations and hand over cheques without even being confirmed a ticket. Downing, by contrast, offers impressive personal attention since it is still building its reputation. For the big guns, however, if you don’t like it they really don’t care — a dozen more willing wretches will happily take your place.
Perhaps the biggest culprits, however, are the print media. Cambridge houses some fantastic journalistic talent but judging by the student papers’ routinely unprofessional attitude you’d be hard pressed to believe it. Last year as part of the Ball Committee I was asked not to discuss the incident in which Varsity were given a customary pair of free tickets to the Ball (approx. value £150) and then failed to produce a review. In reparation they offered the seemingly generous token of a free advert for this year’s Ball. Yet they showed scant interest as I am told they mutilated the Committee’s carefully prepared image, reproducing it with awful colours and evident artefacts. Naturally they ignored any further communication. The perfect display was earlier this year when they produced a palpably perverse list of 100 students to watch in Cambridge which included their own editors — quite aside from the banal puerility, surely if one wishes to be taken even vaguely seriously excluding oneself from such fancies is mandatory. TCS overtly have been striving to improve so deserve some credit there. Since my arrival they seem to have moved forward while Varsity regresses from its previously dominant position.
Is there a solution? The internet offers some opportunity. Downing Ball has successfully been able to project a professional image to challenge the vice-like grip of the May Ball crowd and perhaps it can buck the trend. My hope is that a few targeted blogs by talented writers might challenge the hold of the papers in circulation (not this one, of course, as I am on my way out). Yet there is a depressing sense of inevitability about this all. If Downing Ball establishes itself will it too necessarily lose respect for its guests? Will a wide readership for a partisan blog necessarily result in stagnation? Possibly, but we can still hope…