Saturday, 16 March 2013

Spite addicts and the haters who love them

It was comic relief last night. A great British institution, which has marked its 25th Anniversary by doing what it always does. It takes fundraising on crucial issues and it engages the country through the prism of our best-loved comedians and musicians.

It changed the landscape of collecting for crucial causes forever. Instead of well-intentioned men and women manning supermarkets entrances with a tin and a sticker roll, it commandeers the TV and radio for one day and night and tells the stories that need to be told, with immediacy and the embracing safety of humour.

It's Britain at it’s best and from its inception, it tapped into a seam of gentle social activism, which lies within most of us when we have time to remember. We laugh and cry and contribute and donate and it works beautifully. Last night from Jessie J to Peter Kay was no different. At the end of the night they had helped to raise over £75 million.

However it also gives us a chance to view Britain at it’s worst and the place to find this darker side of those of us who are “shitbrits” is in the undiluted, unedited and at times routinely unedifyingly cynical spectacle, that is social networks. 

Especially the 140 character limit of Twitter.

When it comes to free speech social networks have ensured that spite dressed up as “opinion” has become instantaneous. 

It has also proved that the capacity to spread negative opinions and gather like-minded “friends” around you is both convenient and tiresomely routine.  Free speech is vital but the rank hypocrisy of those who claim free speech whilst actually venting their loathing, promoting bullying, or blood letting their own inadequacies without justifiable reason (twattery) is tiring in the extreme.

The gathering of these “experts” is interesting. There is usually a central hub and like a massive cowpat in a British field, the acolytes of acrimony will hover and dart around the hub like flies. Occasionally they engage with the hub and then land, regurgitating their agreement and sucking up the praise for it, back through their straw like tongues. As with flies they only eat wet or decaying matter, which is the best way to describe many of these pseudo experts’ opinions. If they were as successful as the people they choose to attack they wouldn’t have time to write repeated tweets of hatred.

It’s often argued that comedy and the reaction it generates is an intellectual pursuit. I would agree, I think it’s faster to impart a message or an agenda with a joke than a dry 2-hour speech. This can be both positive and negative but it’s equally true. It’s also vital. Calling for anything to be banned is censorship and that has never gone well historically. It’s the writers and performers who are the first to be silenced when what they are saying is disquieting for those with a political plan.

The sheer repetition last night and most nights on twitter just became dull, as performer after performer was diminished by these keyboard warriors to the ranks of “shit”.  There is nothing like a well delivered carefully considered critique and the tweeters in question made sure that what they offered was indeed nothing like one at all.

The subjective nature of humour means that responses are emotional. I remember a sketch from Dave Allen when I was twelve where he had two funeral cortege’s racing to get to the same open grave. Watching it now I’d find it very funny.  Watching it at twelve years old, not long after my brother had died, not so much. In that case my response was framed by my feelings. I feel that unless the message through comedy is one which disenfranchises more widely, then our feelings must be recognised as just that.  

The offence spectrum can run from knee jerk reactions of perceived derision, like those directed at Life of Brian, through to actual discrimination in bigoted gags of the seventies, which promoted stereotypes and supported racist attitudes in mainstream scheduling. 

In these more enlightened times it's thankfully more a question how we interpret and how it’s delivered. But this can also be problematic. 

Seeing spite dressed up as jokes from top comedians slating others in their own field on twitter makes me feel sad, not least because it says more about the teller than the target but also because professional jealousy is a waste of time. The only comparison worth deliberation is the fact that they stem from the same angst ridden, fragile place of creativity. 

It also seems odd to me that they assume a standpoint of moral superiority, whilst doing what they decry as wrong.

I doubt that becoming successful makes the creative process any less tortuous it just means that many many people like what you do and it’s going to be easier to facilitate that creativity.  I can’t believe that success renders writers immune from the difficult process of creative expression or doubt or angst; it just gives a stronger reason for your former peers to become more angry that it was you, not them, who made it.

This in turn breeds exponentially on Twitter. As writers and comedians gather supporters and Twitter followers, there’s a sort of "crazy" gang warfare of comedy fans each declaring their genius of choice as the only true messiah. 
So their fans, bearded with an anonymous twitter name and with their words as tweet rocks laced with righteous comedy fury; they lob their Tweets, at the first person to mention Jehovah, through complimenting the comedians they loathe.

What all of these tweeters fails to factor in is how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of it.  
When you have been targeted by an unrelenting campaign of distortions, discrediting comments and opinions laced with venom and spite, you get pretty jumpy pretty fast. 

It comes from nowhere and for those dealing out the venom at their chosen target, it quickly becomes a habit. Once they gain safety in numbers, they lose all sense of proportion and decency.

The narcotic effects of slagging people off, seems to be like any addiction. There is soon nothing remaining but the craving itself. Reason, sense, nuance and balance are all jettisoned as the overwhelming need to dehumanise and attack pumps through the veins of the acrimony addicts. 

Spiteful comments become a comfort blanket. Finding others who share their addiction is also key because the "others" don't understand and won't enable it. So they gather and fester in groups and see nothing wrong because they justify this behaviour with terms like "voicing an opinion". 

Yet as your follower number grows the rules as laid down by haters are clear. 
Your permission to respond complain or react is revoked. According to hater lore you are deemed a bully if you do. No matter if the blogs are numerous and vicious. You can’t respond. No matter if the forums threads are lengthy and libellous. You can’t react. No matter if the fake accounts are unrelenting and abusive. You can’t reply.

Because you are famous and you have many followers.

The fact that the instigators are many and numerous and indeed anonymous and you are not, is not a factor by their way of thinking. You put yourself out there you deserve everything you get, allegedly.
This rule also extends to your family because if you didn’t want them to be upset by all the spite you shouldn’t have had a creative ambition, which made you rich. You should have remained unsuccessful and bitter and found friends on social networks who helped you slag off the famous.

Then these people spill over into the national press and before you know it The Sun does its thing and its readership ensures that the cycle is now a spiral and regurgitates on Facebook and Twitter which is endless and turns “opinions” into facts. The long tail of unforgiveness on social networks must now be visible from the moon.

No matter, famous people 'aren’t' human beings, so Jack Whitehall won’t need to worry about that, because he has money and success. Michael Macintyre needn’t worry about that because he has money and success and Miranda Hart needn’t worry about that because she’s a woman and 'shouldn’t be doing comedy anyway', let alone getting money and success.

As they all participated in Red Nose Day they got the usual pasting from the “shit brits” who patrol our neuro pathways like storm troopers, deciding for us who is funny and deserving and who isn’t. 

They let us all know, that by enjoying popular performers on Comic Relief for one day we are stupid.

This “Gland” of brothers is also there 364 other days a year with their league table of 'acceptable' comics, writers and musicians.

It’s a very short list and depends mostly on staying on the cowpat hub’s good side.

Crucially in their opinion they are there, reminding us morons just how stupid we are for straying from the herd, and liking what we choose, and failing to recognise that success in creativity as opposed to criticism, stems only from talent.