Sunday, November 01, 2009

Memo to BBC News and other media outlets: Celebrity has very mild disagreement with mildly critical fan is not a major story. However, a few people have said to me "Come now, it's not Stephen Fry's fault that the BBC has over-reacted in this way". It is, though. Fry has made such a big deal of Twitter, to the point that I would describe him as a shill if I didn't love him and his work so much. He's created the interest. A (hopefully temporarily) depressed Fry reacted badly to an observation that seems to me to be on the mild side of fair comment. However, the trouble is that a man of his intelligence can't not have known that his loyal followers would react in the way that they did, which reflects badly on him. He would also have had a fairly shrewd idea that it would be picked up by the media, if not of the undue prominence they gave it. To be fair, though, depression is the enemy of rational thought.

Still, it's all been dealt with now, with Fry admitting to feeling foolish. Well, yes. Come here you big lummox and have a cuddle. If there is a story left to report, it's the unpleasant reaction of Alan Davies. One Twitterer sent a message to Fry saying "@stephenfry Please don't be a grumpytrousers. You're much-loved - go get yourself a non-cyber hug immediately". Davies reacted to the whole business with "Anyone who thinks that @stephenfry could even fabricate a toss about anything @brumplum or any such moron says ought to stop worrying". The 'grumpytrousers' poster tackled Davies (hopefully while wearing ear protection) with "There's no need to be offensive. @brumplum said he adored @stephenfry but his tweets could be a bit dull. That's not moronic". Davies hit back with "yes it is moronic, you should know , being a moron yourself". From there, it escalated, with Davies calling everyone who dared to pass comment a 'moron', 'tosser', 'halfwit', 'dickhead', 'idiotic' or a 'prat', clearly unaware that he was confirming his own idiotic comic persona by doing so. Finally, Davies concluded that "Anyone has a pop at your mates you stick up for them.Twittr needs to be more like Essex.If you wouldn't say it to their face then do shut up". Which bit of Essex, Alan? Dedham Vale on a tranquil Sunday or Basildon on a Saturday night? Fry has apologised to brumplum for all of the abuse he's received. He should now have a quiet, schoolmasterly word with Davies, who has been one of the principal abusers.

Davies, in his ham-fisted and oafish* way, does make an interesting point. I've never said anything online I wouldn't say to someone's face, but some find it easy to hide behind a persona and be the fearless fighter that they wouldn't dare be in real life. Tools like Twitter create an artificial intimacy between fans and celebrities, and when you are intimate with someone, you feel able to say whatever you like to them. This started mildly, and ended in the same way. The next time a fan criticises their hero on a social networking site, it might not be so seemly. A celebrity might 'follow' you and might reply to your messages occasionally. However, you do not know them. They do not know you. Proceed accordingly. Celebrities too have a responsibility to make the ground rules clear.

I'm trying to think of an historical equivalent, but I can't. It's a product of the technology. In 1978, Stan Boardman didn't ring everyone up to call them a cunt when Tom O'Connor went ex-directory. Welcome to the modern world.

* EDIT - 21/2/2010 - I've substituted 'oafish' for the original, stronger description of Davies' manner, as Davies is now Twittering about "libellous blogging". The original term was, I believe, defensible as fair comment, but defending it on those grounds would take more time and effort than I'm prepared to put in. I've also removed a couple of comments, which, while true, also come under the heading of "can I really be arsed?".