Saturday, 28 April 2012

Why a Stewart Lee rant has exposed Twitter's biggest failing

Stewart Lee
In all the furore around Twitter's role in the transformation of Ryan Giggs from scoring-every-season-champion to scoring-every-family-gathering-sleazeball, one element of the social medium has gone relatively unchallenged.
Celebrity stalking. Try it. Twitter search any random celebrity - say, Dale Winton - and become mesmerised as Dale goes about his daily life in London moving from "@noseynigel mega lolz, just seen Dale Winton getting into a taxi, he has a purple umbrella #Paddington" to "@cattycaroline Spotted Dale Winton buying a copy of Moby Dick. How apt, he's looking a bit whale-ish these days #Foyles". 

Twitter has taken celebrity spots on to another level feeding a gossip hungry wider world as well as, in many cases, feeding back celeb spots and opinions to the well-known figure themselves. 

Comedian and ShadowPlay favourite Stewart Lee said in an interview with Robin Ince and Josie Long on their podcast last year that the phenomenon has really affected his behaviour in public. The acerbic 41st best comedian in the world ever followed up his thinking in his live show this year, saying Twitter stalkers has documented an entire journey on his beloved 73 bus route to Stoke Newington last year. 

While Lee's act centres on his role as cynical curmudgeon, his point is right. He said he can no longer flippantly slag-off other acts, for fear that the person may post the opinion on Twitter and spread it. Moreover, he can't be kind to middling comedians when asked his opinion in case he is quoted as an avid fan on a poster. 

As a trained journalist (well, University of Sheffield…), Lee's concerns over tweeting photos was perhaps the most interesting. All the UK's major newspapers are signed up to the slightly questionable Press Complaints Commission's Code of Practice - a document which sets out guidelines drawn up to avoid legislation. Within them, publications are commanded not to print the faces of celebrity's children without consent, therefore Lee is understandably concerned that excited fans tweeting photos of him include his children. Lee has said the experience has driven him to go to 'celebrity hang-outs' he would never have dreamed of going to to avoid people listening in to his conversations and tweeting them.

Of course the Tweeters intentions are largely positive- expressing excitement to see well-known figures they like. And celebrity-stalking is no doubt fun, seeing that an untouchable character like Brad Pitt has been spotted nipping into a Greggs in Kings Cross is undoutably chuckle able. But there's also enough misquoting and misrepresentation to get on people's goat. Ultimately Tweeters will have to try to be more responsible and think about what they're posting to avoid a clamp-down on material and possible legal action. 

Don't get me wrong, Twitter can be a great medium, quick, funny, responsive to people's interests and daft in equal measure. As Lee says, the more he interacts the more his views are twisted and tweeted and put on blogs. Oh, bollocks, add this one to the pile then. Oh and this one

Monday, 2 April 2012

Love in a Time of Planned Closures

A slightly older posh couple sat down opposite me on the tube at Euston earlier. They were fairly regular looking - having lived in London for over three years now I've got used to overhearing the quaffing laughter and obnoxious observations of the rich - and fairly innocuous. The bloke had slicked back grey hair and a salmon pink shirt, she has high quality leather boots on and an Edinburgh accent. 
They look well suited.
The first thing he said as they sat down was "when we get to Hampstead we'll go to a Pizza Express", classy fella. They chat about walking the posh shops of Hampstead, she's clutching one of those Ikea-sponsored Oyster card holders you get when you sign up. 

Then he does something unexpected. He leans across to her and says "it's great to see you", taking her hand in the process. She returns the compliment, looks awkward and, at the first opportunity, gesticulates and removes his hand. Both are wearing wedding rings.
I suspect they haven't seen each other for at least ten years. They begin talking about writing, he moans about the creative process. 

I bet they met on one of those terrible 'writers holidays'. Tens of white, middle class Brits sitting round in a worse-than-advertised hotel in Corfu talking about how to "channel James Joyce". Salmon shirt probably told his wife he needed some time to "find inspiration", he'd given up his job as an engineering lecturer at the University of East Anglia a year previous confident of writing some academic tomes that Cambridge University Press would "just lap up". But they didn't like the yawning pages which talked in impenetrable language about the workings of a sandwich toaster maker. Or the debut novel about a Cornish rambler who discovers a dinosaur egg in a bag donated to British Heart Foundation.  
She had probably always been a writer, a kept woman she had tried and failed to be published as a children's writer thinking Enid Blyton style books with a modern twist would work on a generation which either demands nostalgia or true excitement. She'd been reticent to go without her husband but he'd refused to go to "somewhere so obviously vulgar". But old leather boots liked it when she got there, the hotel was modest but comfortable and she enjoyed the time to relax on her own. 
Salmon shirt spotted her straight away. He had always had a wandering eye and he spotted an opportunity to express his ever so forthright views at her. He probably took her to a local social club, assessed the ground. Second date seafood bar. Third date her room, he 'forgets' his Aran sweater. Back at 11.30pm to reclaim the woollen wonder. First drink mini port, second mini whisky. Giant pants, back pains and adultery. 

And now here they sit, opposite me. Today the product of five years coercion by email from salmon shirt. Leather boots' husband is off visiting his mother in Surrey. After the chain meal, they'll probably walk around the posh shops of Hampstead, stroll on the heath, she'll eventually take his arm and they'll pretend that pretending to understand their own views on high philosophy is enjoyable. They'll head back to a fairly dodgy hotel he's booked in Piccadilly. The salmon shirt will end up on the bathroom floor, crumpled. They'll have awkward, crap sex and feel like their lives are empty, now without even an illicit excitement.

Or maybe they're just mates.