I am new to Twitter; in fact, like those pathetic middle-aged MPs who slavishly tweet, U-tube and facebook, I am only doing it because everyone said I should. I can understand the point of heroic Arab spring-type tweeting: ‘Freedom from dictatorship. Death squad coming hide placards’, but not moronic mutterings like ‘having a muffin so nice’. Nor do I see the fascination in reading a fragment of an argument between two complete strangers, or inconsequential snippets from celebs (or more likely from their PA’s pre-scheduled Hoot Suite programme which is even less interesting). Is my life richer for knowing where Michael Winner is having lunch? (BTW how does he find time to eat and tweet?)
Still I decided if I am going to do this thing, I’d better get into the spirit of it. My early Tweets were thoughtfully selected quotes from Chekhov and Hemmingway: no one followed me apart from weird motivational organisations based in Santa Barbara. Then one day last week I ran out of ‘litffiti’ and wrote ‘Poor BBC Poor Upstairs Downstairs upstaged by the Downton Abbey soap when it’s so much better!’; within thirty minutes Chalk the Sun had six new followers in London. Mr. Fillyfonk was even one of my former students, bright, informed, more than literate, who tweeted ‘I used to be an Abbeyer but got too silly so Upstairs now with Keely & gang. ’ It struck me that these days our critical attention is focused almost entirely on popular culture.
I dimly recall watching crap like El Dorado decades ago and feeling enjoyably superior as we deconstructed the ludicrous plots, two dimensional characters and implausible dialogue. I gave up the pursuit when 90% of TV output degenerated into docudrama/gameshow/realityshow/talentshow/soap; as a comedian I couldn’t out-parody the reality – someone was probably putting Soho Sex Show Nazi Vet into production.
I got bored just as it became the norm for clever people to squander all their intellectual rigour on crap. (Yeah, Ok I did watch an episode of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings but only to prove that it was racist/classist and that flashing fairy lights on metres of pink tulle constitute a Health and Safety hazard). So why do we deconstruct TOWIE when previous generations did Proust? Answer: because it’s easy and it’s fun; it’s not really intellectually demanding because the object of our scrutiny is banal, but we feel that we are being demonstrably clever-clever, without the stigma of elitism – ‘I’m lazy and stream crap telly but then I show off my extensive education by taking the piss which shows that I know it’s crap, whilst simultaneously showing I’m really down to earth and not some snobby brain-box who takes themselves seriously.’
We like the relentless immediacy of social media but our grasp of history and literature depends on knowledge of the past; we could become like goldfish only remembering our last trip round the bowl. Anyway, immediacy is only fleetingly immediate as T.S. Eliot might have said, ‘Tweet present and tweet past, are both present in tweet future…’
People hide behind the post-modern irony defence but, sorry, irony has a specific meaning and the OE definition is NOT ‘being smart arse about Pop Idols’. The trend also spills over into how we analyse serious subjects and excuses all sorts of cynicism and unpleasant ‘isms’; it lets commentators and comics indulge in flippant remarks about rape or racism and allows people. who secretly find these topics funny, to laugh out loud. Perhaps it really is time we stopped being embarrassed about using our intellect or asserting proper values, and quit dumbing down ourselves. I’ll ponder that as I decorate some cupcakes and tweet about it in front of Ladettes to Ladies.