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Spinning out of control in the blogosphere

It has been a grim week in that increasingly murky place, the blogosphere. In America, the widespread practice of slipping secret payments to internet “reviewers” has caused the Federal Trade Commission to rule that all covert advertisements appearing in blogs must be declared. In Paris, the woman whose nom de blog was “La Petite Anglaise” has announced that she will no longer be sharing intimacies online. Here a story about the Prime Minister’s health has been revealed as a nasty little rumour from a small-time blogger.

It is not a particularly shocking fact that everyday unkindness, dishonesty and prurience are magnified on the internet through a combination of anonymity and speed. What is altogether more surprising is that there are still quite a few people who argue that the information and opinion provided by blogs have an integrity lacking in our compromised mainstream media. It is surely time to blow the whistle on this peculiarly idiotic idea.

I have been reminded recently of the screeching sanctimoniousness that prevails among bloggers, not to mention their double-standards, by a small incident in my own professional life. Following an article about the philosopher Alain de Botton accepting a commission to market Heathrow Airport with an instant book, I received a number of emails from readers, including one from a David Edwards. The problem, he said, was not the “branded conversations” of De Botton but a general “corporate domination of the mass media”. In my brief reply, I made a passing mention of the fact that, personally, I did not feel the heavy hand of corporatism on my shoulder.

A correspondence ensued. Hearing from readers is an interesting aspect of the job of writing a column and Edwards was making a valid, if slightly annoying, point. Corporatism had surreptitiously entered my heart, he argued. Journalism had a long filtering system through which only the most acceptable establishment apologists survive. If I wanted to find genuinely unbiased news, I should go online. He mentioned a number of news-monitoring websites.

Modestly, he failed to mention the site of which he happens to be the editor. The next day, my emails were posted in full as part of his blog. It seemed a bizarre turn of events. Someone arguing for greater honesty – his website had been created because the media’s “unwillingness, or inability, to tell the truth” – had cheerfully impersonated a disinterested reader, then lifted private correspondence without permission into the public domain, at no point declaring his own position.

For me, it was also a melancholy lesson. As it happens, there was nothing particularly revealing in what I had written but there could have been; I like to respond to personal emails in a straightforward one-to-one manner. Not any more. In a hilariously Jesuitical piece of reasoning, Edwards argued that because I wrote to him as an anonymous member of the public, he had the right to pass on my emails to other anonymous members of the public. He had spoken to lawyers whose view was that an email was fair game, “unless it was made in the context of an established confidential relationship”.

I wrote one last, brief email. Making columnists more careful when they communicate with readers was, I suggested, an odd way of campaigning for more honesty. Edwards has elected not to publish my email. There is, it seems, a limit to openness online.

Even poor Simon’s party lacked a little something

Imagine that you have £2m to spend on your 50th birthday party. The bill for wine – or rather, as it is now known, “fine wine” – will be close to a quarter of a million. The guest list for the evening will include some of the most fascinating and attractive stars that Britain has to offer in 2009 – Jordan, Gordon Ramsay, Amanda Holden, even Ant and Dec.

Yet, even with this array of brilliance, you will need a very special moment of style and excitement for the climax of the evening. If you are Simon Cowell and it was your birthday this weekend, your choice will be two life-sized models of female genitalia dancing on a stage beside two five-foot high vibrators. There have been several attempts to deconstruct Cowell’s now-legendary Dance of the Female Genitalia. Was it a playful update of the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairies? Could it have been a saucy verbal pun, relating to what has occasionally been said about the birthday boy himself? Was it an edgy satirical attack on Strictly Come Dancing?

There is something oddly satisfying about Britain’s A-list celebrities parodying their own mindless, hedonistic silliness. At first glance, it seemed as if the only thing that was missing was a moment of heart-tugging sentimentality, but it was there all right. Guests were urged to make a donation to children’s hospices. Only the appearance of a pale, dying kiddie to accept a cheque from a tearful Simon Cowell could have improved this wonderful glittering occasion.

Letterman’s black comedy

The business of public confession has become increasingly competitive over the past year or so. There was the blink-and-you-miss-it approach of Sir Fred Goodwin, the wicked banker. Jeremy Clarkson, who apologises for one thing or another every month or so, has perfected a style of brisk insincerity.

No one, until now, has gone for the comedy option but, after the triumph of American TV host David Letterman, apologising in the form of a comic routine is likely to become more popular. Having been blackmailed for a number of sexual misdemeanours, Letterman confessed before a live audience. They laughed as he spoke about the blackmail package, the trip to the police, the meeting with the blackmailer. When he owned up that he had indeed had sex with members of his staff, they laughed some more.

No doubt encouraged by this reaction, the star used a later show to apologise on-air to his wife – “Let me tell you, folks, I’ve got my work cut out,” he confided with a grin. The applause was long and heartfelt. David, it was said, had never seemed quite so human.

A bum note on pubs and pianos

The government’s campaign against the terrible scourge of live music has taken a new turn. Publicans, club owners and restaurants can play recorded music or televised football games as loudly as they like but, according to the Culture Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, even “theoretically innocuous activities such as putting a piano in a pub” can be so disruptive that they will require a licence from a local authority.

How good it is to know that, in these times of stress and noise, the Government has its eye on that previously neglected danger to public order: the piano

  • Chris Rust

    It’s not a trivial issue that the researchers here don’t seem to have any notion of irony or context. If McCartney is saying old people are unloveable how come so many oldies belt that song out at their 64th birthday parties? It’s an affectionate song about love persisting despite the inevitable effects of getting older, what could be more positive?

    But there’s something quite sinister here, the conclusions of the article say:
    “It is imagined that the negative representations of age and ageing can be dispiriting and confidence and esteem lowering for older people and that more scrutiny of these texts by censorship boards should be exercised.”

    In other words it’s a manifesto for the thought police to start telling artists what to do, based on a particularly numb piece of research. Decidedly chilling.