Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Twitter tenet: broken

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Today I did something that I swore to myself a while ago that I would not do: I made some negative comments about someone famous on Twitter.

I think most of us have done it - I certainly have, although more recently I have tried not to.  I've put up a tweet about someone famous - say someone on X-Factor (in this particular example I use the word famous wrongly) - because I thought that I was being funny, without stopping to think whether what I was saying was hurtful.  Recently I have tried to censor myself more and not tweet something if I thought it would cause offense to the person it was about, if they discovered it.

The problem is that Twitter is deceptively impersonal.  You can put something out there into the ether; make the inner monologue outer (and anyone who has worked with someone who talks to themselves will know how annoying this can be), and forget that it can be read by anyone on Twitter - including the person that the tweet is about.  I think it is a good rule that you shouldn't tweet something about a person on Twitter if you wouldn't feel comfortable to say it to their face.

Of course, the argument is that any famous person gets used to negative comments; that it goes with the job.  But I came to the conclusion that it doesn't make it right for me to add to that barrage of criticism and personal comments.  My personal opinion is fine - that I don't think someone is right for a part, for example - but a personal comment about something over which they have less control, such as weight, is something that I would try to avoid.  I have recently felt quite uncomfortable with some of the negative tweets about competitors on "Young Apprentice."  These are, after all, people who are very young and are trying to work out who they are and who they want to be.  Yes, some of them are quite annoying, but I doubt there are many of us that aren't a) rather ashamed of some things that we said or did when a teenager and b) don't still rankle with something critical that was said about us at the time when we were younger (no? just me then). 

This morning on Twitter I had a rant about Michael Ball being cast as Sweeney Todd (sorry, Alicia).  Actually I don't think my rant was too bad as it wasn't so much disrespect for his talents - Dad told me he was great in "Hairspray" - as the fact that it is one of my favourite musicals and I really felt that he wasn't good casting for that part.  Sweeney Todd should be powerful and threatening (I still haven't found a version that beats Len Cariou on the OBC), and I didn't believe that he is capable of that menace.    

Since my rant, I picked up a spirited defence from a Michael Ball and musical theatre fan on Twitter.  I had tweeted that I had a bad experience seeing him in "Passion," which she quite fairly pointed out was now over 10 years ago (which had also occurred to me now that I have calmed down after my initial indignation).  She also told me that Sondheim has seen and enjoyed the show, and I am sure he knows a lot better than I do what makes a good Sweeney.

I've realised that maybe my crime in this instance wasn't making a personal comment on Twitter: it was passing judgement on something before I have seen it.  I know that the great Mark Kermode says that he tries to go into a film with an open mind, even if it is the latest in a franchise he dislikes, or, even worse, a film by Michael Bay (or, worse again, a Michael Bay franchise).  This is a good tenet to observe, and I am not very good at this.  I sometimes enjoy the chance to have an unreasonable rant about something in the arts about which I have a preconceived bias.  In the past I have scared someone with one of my rants, as he seemed unable to make the distinction that he was on the receiving end of an abstract rant and I wasn't angry with him.  But when you put that rant on Twitter, you put your unreasoned bias in the public domain. 

I love "Sweeney Todd," and I have nothing to gain if I am right in believing that this is a bad piece of casting.  Apparently it has already tried out in Chichester and got great reviews, and he does look completely different and more threatening in the promotional material.  My parents have asked me if I would like to see it with them (Mark is allergic to musicals, so isn't keen), and I am thinking about it.  I like Imelda Staunton a lot, and I think she will be a great Mrs Lovett.  If I do go to see it, and he turns out to be the best Sweeney I have ever seen, I will be very happy.  And hopefully, if that happens, my Twitter rant will have been forgotten by then so I don't end up looking like an idiot.


  1. You have far more self-control than I do, Amy (as, no doubt, you've spotted!), but I do agree with you that it doesn't do to make vitriolic/judgemental comments about people where they may see them, and have unfollowed a couple of people fairly recently after reading what I felt were overly unkind personal comments about people on tv. However, it is reasonable to have an opinion about whether or not an actor/performer has been well-cast in a particular role. And, to some extent, opinion about any performer's work is (despite what 'experts' may say) subjective. Many people rate Michael Sheen very highly, but I don't care for his work at all. And you and I both believe that Jeremy Northam is one of the best actors alive today, but not everyone enjoys his work. I feel sorry for them, but there you are ...;) As to whether those people can express their opinion openly on Twitter without fear of me (or you) berating them and attempting to put them 'right', well, I think they can, but would, as you point out, include the caveat that I would prefer any comment not to be personal (I hate him because he's ugly, rather than I don't enjoy watching him).
    Michael Ball is a very experienced and successful performer, but I would venture to suggest that he has quite a strong personality and that may make him not everyone's cup of tea, and flavour their opinion of his performances. I think I'd probably say that you can agree that he is very good at what he does, but that does not mean that you will always enjoy it (or the thought of it).
    Right then, back to snarking about X Factor ...

  2. Thanks for the comment, Gill.

    I'm not sure that I'd say I have more self-control. I have sometimes fallen down in my attempts to regulate what I put on Twitter, and have put something that I thought was funny without stopping to think if it was hurtful. I would defend the right to free speech, but I have made the personal choice to try to not put something on Twitter about a person if I wouldn't say it to their face. What other people put on Twitter is also their personal choice. I don't always manage it, but I try.

    I, too think, it's reasonable to express an opinion about casting - I do think it wasn't reasonable of me though to go off the deep end without having seen him in the part. I did see him in concert when I was a teenager and on stage in "Passion" - but both were over 10 years ago now and he might have matured as an actor since then. If I see it and I decide that the part didn't suit his talents, then I will have given him a fair chance to prove whether or not he can do it. I try to follow Mark Kermode. Although he loved Ponyo, and I wasn't too keen.

    I also have the self-awareness to know that, if and when you do go back to snarking about X-Factor, I will probably find it funny...!

  3. Amy, you make several valid and well thought out observations.

    I had a similar situation recently with a show here in the states 'American Horror Story.' My personal opinion: it's an awful mess. However, several people I follow/who follow me on Twitter love it. I tweeted that it wasn't for me and left it at that. I try to focus on what I do like - not always easy.

    Oddly enough, my twitter rants tend to be about topics or rather being bombarded by the same topic over and over again. Then all bets are off. :)

  4. Thanks Monica!

    It is good advice to focus on tweeting about what you like. It's not always easy for a curmudgeonly grump like me who enjoys an occasional rant, but I might try to add that as another Twitter tenet....

  5. Hi Amy, I've left an award for you on my blog.

    I love the way you say Mark is allergic to musicals. Personally I'm allergic to Julie Andrews!