I do wish that it was the cricket season. Apart from the light, the warmth and, of course, the cricket, it would give me something pleasant to write about and lessen the temptation to get involved in current affairs.
But as it isn’t, let me have a go at expressing an opinion about what no-one at all (I hope) is calling Gatelygate. (And I do realise that, given the speed at which things move these days, I might as well be offering an opinion about the abdication crisis).
In case mine is the only blog to survive some kind of holocaust and future historians have to reconstruct the incident using only this evidence, the facts are these –
A previously obscure journalist, Jan Moir, has written a quite uncalled-far and, insofar as I am competent to judge, medically fatuous article about the untimely death of the pop star Stephen Gately. Various people, most significantly Mr. Stephen Fry (though also the Mentalists Derren Brown and Charlie Brooker) have taken very strong exception to the article and prompted an extraordinary outpouring of bile across all known media platforms.
Simply looking at the first few pages that result from a Google search for Jan Moir Gately I find the following, without even looking at the posts themselves (I have run them together to save space) –
“Nothing human bitter queen ignorance truly poisonous disowned by Irish Daily Mail hate filled hateful rant dirt horrid evil stuff vile piece of prejudice evil deplorable a lady rather than Vic Reeves Cow! sickening sick-minded rubbish nasty vicious and demeaning maybe she doesn’t get enough sex what a joke repulsive horrible and nasty infamous nasty bilious piece of shit …
(by page 19 it’s still going strong) insenstive and unpleasant sick vile I hope she loses her job disgusting nasty piece of work despicable sickening (by page 39) disgusting tripe ludicrous monstrous (and by page 50 we’re back to) astonishingly bigoted and unpleasant”.
Looking at Britblog Roundup 244 we find that Moir has been described as a “frothing baghack”, someone has expressed the wish “Let’s Hope Jan Moir Dies Fucking a Goat”, and ‘Feminazery’ thinks that she is “a vile, homophobic, horrid waste of perfectly good oxygen”.
Even on the message board of Horse and Hound the debate has become so heated that the thread has had to be removed.
There is something troubling about all this. A mob in action is an ugly thing and a hashmob seems to be little better than the physical variety. They are unpredictable, irrational and have a nasty tendency to turn on their creators.
Apart from its mode of transmission, the novelty here is that it is a (loosely) liberal lynch mob. On the face of it it has little in common with, say, the flashmobs that hounded Salman Rushdie or Oscar Wilde. But I think, if you squint at it for long enough, it would not be too hard to make out a kind of family resemblance. I fear, too, that I can see my own face somewhere in the crowd.
The other thought that originally occurred to me was that, if I were Mr. Stephen Fry, and I knew that I had 800,000 followers, many of whom, apparently, would like me to be the Prime Minister, and some of whom, apparently, regard me as some kind of living God it would make me very careful indeed about what I said. No longer would I feel able to express a strongly and sincerely held view the second it entered my head in 140 characters or less, for fear of the effect it might have on some of the more feeble-minded of my devotees. I might want to take my time, express myself at greater length and avoid saying anything that might be misconstrued. It might even make me so nervous that I gave up saying anything at all.*
But, as is the way of things in Realtime, I’ve left it too late, as not wholly dissimilar thoughts seem to have occurred to the man himself –Poles politeness and politics in the age of Twitter.
I did ask myself, in the manner of Evangelicals who ask themselves What would Jesus have done? what Oscar Wilde might have had to say about all this. (And all three of the participants in this story – Moir, Gately and Fry might, in their very different ways, find some reason to identify with Wilde in this matter).
Unfortunately all the obvious quotations – “Whenever people agree with me I always feel that I must be wrong” – for instance, are really far too obvious, as are the ironies.
(*Happily for me, I’m only usually followed by a small troupe of jockstrap fetishists, so I can be as rude as I like).