Hiding in the bushes

There’s an old story which concerns the Fenian, die-hard proponent of spelling reform and possessor of the beard of destiny George Bernard Shaw. At least, I think ’twas he, but if not, apologies (and no, I’m not going to google it. No more cheap faux erudition, say I). It is, naturally, concerning his wit and splendidness, and goes something like this:

[Scene – a swanky party. GBS turns to glamourpuss]

GBS: Would you sleep with me for a thousand pounds?

GP: [hesitant] Yes, I would.

GBS: Would you sleep with me for 2 and 6?

GP: [indignant] No! What kind of girl do you think I am?

GBS: We have established what kind of girl you are, now we are merely haggling about price.

If it isn’t true, it ought to be. One imagines an exchange between GBS and Churchill would have continued until both their heads exploded simultaneously.

It’s a bit of a red herring, post-wise, but it does have its relevance. I have ranted rather about the behaviour of commentators on the Guardian’s Cuntiness is Forthcoming forum, and this rather neatly follows on from it. In these hallowed times, it rather seems that we have lost touch with ourselves. We not only do not know who we are, but seem actively to seek re-indentification. Now, it’s true that has ever been thus, but the modern world seems geared up to facilitate such behaviour, even while it purports to encourage each and every one of us to accept who we are, love who we are … oh, and you can be anything you want to be.

Palpable nonsense. We can make better use of those abilities we have, or maybe squander those few precious gifts with which we were blessed, but there are limits. There are always limits. Except online. And in print.

We are our own PR machines, these days, tweeting very specific information designed to excite the mind’s eye. Internet dating, too, allows us to create the ideal us … and challenges us to live up to it.

But now we’re dispensing with the ‘us’, and and taking re-invention to whole new levels. And it’s a problem, because with ID comes responsibility: anonymity breeds contempt.

My esteemed partner, in both crime and other nocturnal activities, brought my attention to two examples of this in action, both very different, both straddling the boundary between legitimate investigation and moral degeneracy. One a newspaper column written by a burlesque performer, the other a curtain twitcher’s delight of a site.

The column is so delightfully, casually offensive that, had it been written by a man, the paper carrying it would be stormed by irate feminists. Bidisha’s head would probably explode. As it is, it’s covered by the ‘I’m re-asserting my something blah’ defence.

It’s a column in the E’ening Stannit, by a young lady who goes by the name of Millicent Binks, that you may find here:


Now. Let’s get this straight. I don’t do prudery, I don’t do moral high ground (or moral high horse, for that matter). I have that many beams in my eyes that to search for the mote in another’s would be somewhat hypocritical. Not to mention stupid.

But (and this is quite a big but), I do wonder whether this glorification of what is de facto prostitution is wise. To whit:

Peter owns a big law firm, is a member of sugardaddy.com and is desperate to sleep with Annette but no amount of gifts or “crispies” – bundles of cash he presses into her hand – seems to be enough.”

Well, ok, actually that’s his problem, but when the object of his affections and the author discuss him in these terms, one has to wonder.

Annette giggles and seems to soften. Old Peter seizes his moment and slips her the tongue before driving off.

Annette’s heels clank angrily up the stairs. From the suppressed smirk on my face she knows I saw him try to snog her.

“He bloody caught me,” she says lighting up a Vogue cigarette.”

While a man trying to buy a woman might well be considered poor form, their attitude fails even to include even the slightest hint of customer service:

How many pairs of Louboutins will make up for her inevitably having to sleep with him in the Paris hotel? We decide at least eight pairs.”

Now, I don’t write to get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of prostitution, not a bit of it. It’s a question of respect. Or something.

Do I have a point? Well, yes, actually. And it follows on from my last post. Anonymity breeds contempt. Contempt for the self, contempt for others, contempt for the usual standards of behaviour, but most of all, a strange contempt for the audience. I say strange, because this modern public/private anonymity seems to have done something strange to our sense of boundaries.

So, Millicent happily jokes about her friend’s ‘I can’t believe it’s not prostitution’ antics, for all the world like a witless and charmless Belle de Jour (and the backlash against that young lady is another matter, though equally despicable) as she discusses how many pairs of shoes it will take to fuck her.

Many may well suggest at this point that this sort of transaction is as old as sex itself, that the contract entered into is simple. Old man gets cute girl as sign of virility: cute girl gets gifts and clothes which simultaneously make her more desirable, thus starting the wheel of fortune on a turning once more. Naturally, the old man also gets someone young and flexible to help him out of his sports car, but that’s another story.

It may even be said that every relationship is a negotiation, a mercantile transaction … and I suppose that’s right.

There are several points which amaze me here. I can’t believe that the old geezer in question here won’t read the column, clock that it’s him and … hey-ho … no more shoes. So, this faux anonymity, aligned to faux whoredom and probably faux orgasms is so arrogant that it is happy to display its vulgarity even when such a display may lead to its dissipation.

It’s at once ‘I can’t believe anyone’s listening’ and ‘I can’t believe that no-one’s listening’.

And that’s without considering it’s relationship to Warhol.

Yes, Andy, you were right, in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. We just won’t know who they are.

There’s a debate regarding prostitution happening at the Daily Mail, too:


Make of it what you will.

The second, related happening is a website where one uploads pictures of men (and only men) secretly photographed on the tube. Then site visitors give them scores for Phwoar. And leave comments.


Naturally, both genders do this all the time, between themselves, but this here site is a permanent record of these idle musings. Musing which ought to stay in the moment. It is a rancid invasion of privacy, a veritable stripping of dignity, and the new creation of those chosen at random to be objectified in public.

But you’ve seen the Social Network, right? You remember the trouble Zuckerburg got into for his site where you could rate the girls … but the great difference is that there they were named, and known to all and sundry. It’s a little like Rate my Professor … the ratings can be honest, and they can be malicious (I know of at least one case where a lecturer gained something of a reputation because of a comment on RMP. It had been put up by a friend while drunk). But when the object rated is a stranger on a train, and you are hiding behind an avatar and a daft name, well, the gutter’s the limit.

The problem – or perhaps the genius – of tubecrush is that it encourages metonymy. That is, where part represents the whole. The photo is put into categories, sometimes cross-referenced, in alphabetical order: arms, beard, bulge, classically good looking, cute …

Imagine if this were done with women. Imagine a parallel site set up in which strangers are berated for being variously ugly (ok, I know both of these have probably already occurred). Imagine the first suicide.

Actually, I’m having trouble articulating my real problem with all this. I suppose it’s about the dangers of anonymity. The anonymity displayed by Miss Millicent Binks is one type, whereas the anonymity displayed by tubecrush is oddly bipolar, where at once both subject and commentators are strangely unknown by the watcher, the viewer of the website (who may then choose to become a commentator themselves, or may unwittingly discover that they have been made a subject).

It’s often said that those who place themselves in the public eye invite whatever they receive by the way of comments through their actions. This site gives the subjects no choice but to receive whatever is directed at them.

With identification comes culpability – both aggressor and victim are real.

With anonymity comes aresponsibility – without culpability, freedom of speech is wildly distorted.

The comment seems almost to have no victim, because they cannot seek redress in any way other than commenting themselves. An Iphone for an Iphone.