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Niall McArdle on Anakana Schofield and Lucy Caldwell

On a warm and sunny Tuesday evening I jogged along the quays to Smock Alley Theatre, hoping I wasn’t too late to miss the beginning of a joint reading by Lucy Caldwell and Anakana Schofield.

I arrived just in time for the authors to be introduced by Selina Guinness, and frankly, it was one of the best literary events I have ever attended, with lively, interesting discussion following two atmospheric readings.

Belfast-born, London-based Lucy Caldwell read an excerpt from her debut collection of short stories, Multitudes, a book of stories steeped in the streets of East Belfast. Caldwell’s short but lively reading – an almost theatrical reading, really – created an intimate, romantic atmosphere on the Smock Alley stage as she spoke of the litany of streets in Belfast dubbed the Holy Land:

Palestine, Damascus, Jerusalem.

Anakana Schofield’s novel Martin John has been receiving rave reviews since it was published in North America last year. The dark, disturbing tour-de- force deals with a grim topic – a child molester – told in a daring, form-challenging way and is shot through with black humour. Schofield joked that Caldwell brought a romantic side to Smock Alley, and it was up to her to now bring the darkness.

Schofield left Ireland in 1999, first to live in London, then Canada. Though she returns regularly to visit her mother in Mayo, the International Literature Festival Dublin marks the first time she has ever read in Dublin. “This may be the last time I ever read in Dublin,” she quipped, before giving a reading no less passionate than Caldwell’s.

During the discussion part of the event, both authors spoke about their relationship to Ireland. Caldwell has lived in London for eleven years; she commented that Kevin Barry mentioned to her that you need to live in a place for eleven years before you can write about it, and indeed while most of the stories in Multitudes are set in the Belfast of her youth and memrory, the final story is set in London. Caldwell also spoke of the massive influence of Van Morrison, in particular how it’s almost impossible to write about Belfast after Van Morrison.

For Schofield, the idea of place is less important. Martin John is set in London and concerns an Irishman, but as Schofield says “I’m not interested in place as a construct in fiction … I’m interested in public spaces, I suppose.” Because Martin John concerns an Irish mother who sends her troublesome adult son to London, Schofield sees it as an inversion of the usual Irish story of how the country treats women. “I was very interested in the way in which in Ireland we’ve dispatched women historically, the fallen, pregnant woman, the way in which we federal express them to England, and then they return without a tummy. So the novel is an inversion of that idea; the idea of him being dispatched by his mother.”

Both writers spoke of how sexual desire can push characters to the extremes of society, and of their shared interest in transgressive characters. For Schofield, she couldn’t ignore the history of abuse in Ireland. “There has been a plethora of clerical abuse reports, not just in Ireland. In Canada we’ve been covered in them because of the residential schools. So I thought that I couldn’t write another novel without responding to the unwelcome incursion into women’s bodies in public spaces.”

Caldwell and Schofield also spoke about the form of the short story, which Selina Guinness pointed out has become somewhat fetishised. Caldwell commented that a short story can illuminate a whole life; it doesn’t need just to cover a single epiphany or a single event, but that it must leave the reader with a sense of something. One way in which she has achieved this is by writing in the second person. “The form is the content … I wrote several of these stories in the second person. It’s funny. It’s one of those things that actually makes me bristle, if someone starts a story with ‘You are sixteen, and this is the best summer of your life.’… But I found that it works, the second person seemed to work.”

She added “I teach creative writing occasionally, and you have to fight against these false dictats that are handed down to you, “that writing should be first person, past tense, for instance,” citing Rosaund Lehman as an example of a writer who freely flips between the past and the present. “Memory is the same,” added Schofield. “We don’t remember sequentially, we don’t remember chronologically.”

As a playwright, Caldwell finds slipping into the voices of her characters easy. “I ventriloquise easily.” But writing in the third person, past tense is something she finds very difficult. “I feel exposed; I become conscious of having a style or having an opinion.” She compares the limits of the traditional authorial voice to how well you can know someone in real life. “You can meet someone on a bus or strike up conversation, or even fall in love with them, and still not know their stresses, and what battles internally they’re fighting. So I love slipping into other people and other characters.”

Caldwell also drew inspiration from the birth of her son, who was very ill and spent weeks in intensive care. She wrote a highly autobiographical story about the experience so that she could capture the emotions that she had gone through during the time her son was in hospital. She wrote the piece in short spurts with her son swaddled and asleep, a process that she initially found disruptive, but later found freeing and bizarrely transgressive.

Following the event, I spoke briefly with Anakana Schofield. Having lived in Ireland, Britain and Canada, she regards herself as “a triptych”, and is less interested in ‘Irishness’ than in simply doing the work. The so-called current renaissance in Irish writing she finds bizarre. “Writers are always writing … I just have some issues with the notion of geography. You need to look at the language. You need to look at what they are responding to. What are they doing in terms of literature, not ‘Where did you happen to be born?’”

Niall McArdle

http://www.ragingfluff.wordpress.com

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Anne Cunningham on Maeve Brennan: A Celebration

The clamour for tickets to “Maeve Brennan: A Celebration” on Friday, May 27th, was such that the venue was hastily changed last-minute. Smock Alley couldn’t contain the crowd and the event was held instead in Liberty Hall theatre. I hadn’t been in town for a while, and found myself picking my way through half-built tram tracks which seemed to be running the wrong way in Abbey Street; tracks we had lifted in the name of progress 70 years ago, tracks we are now laying again in the name of progress 70 years later. We’re funny like that.

The Stinging Fly Press has republished Maeve Brennan’s collection of short stories, The Springs of Affection, and Declan Meade of The Stinging Fly joined Brennan’s biographer Angela Bourke along with Sinead Gleeson, broadcaster and editor, to discuss Maeve Brennan the writer and the woman. Actress Caitriona Ni Mhurchu read passages from two stories in the collection, with a poise that matched the elegance of Brennan’s prose.

Maeve Brennan died in a New York hospital in 1993 and almost nobody knew. Almost nobody cared, either. Her mind had failed her by then, as it had done before in her lifetime. Bouts of mental illness and a fondness for the drink, a brief and chaotic marriage to a colleague in the New Yorker magazine, her extended separation from her parents and siblings in Ireland, all of these factors played into her descent from doyenne of New York’s literary scene to homeless bag lady. For further biographical details, you’ll have to read Angela Bourke’s very fine biography.

But rather than moan her loss – and subsequently ours – this “Celebration” event sought to bring her to an audience who might never have known her. People like me, for instance. And in doing so, it delighted a large throng (mainly of women, it has to be said. Plus ҫa change, eh?) who, after the event, circled the Gutter Bookshop counter in the lobby in their dozens, eager to drink in more of Maeve Brennan.

As I picked my way back up through the half-laid tram tracks in Abbey Street later that evening, I was struck by the agreement of all three speakers in the theatre that Maeve Brennan could not have been the writer she became, had she returned to live in Ireland.

“Just look at what happened to Edna O’Brien!” Sinead Gleeson reminded us. Indeed. And look at what happened to John McGahern, and to James Joyce. And to the old tram tracks in our capital city. We only see the value of what we’ve got in retrospect, long after we’ve disposed of it, or dispossessed it, or banished it entirely from the parish. By the time we get to fixing it, it’s invariably too late. We’re funny like that…

Anne Cunningham on Anne Enright

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Anne Enright interviewed by Niall McMonagle

Smock Alley Theatre, Saturday 23rd May

On the day that Ireland voted yes, I found myself wading through the jubilant crowds outside Dublin Castle, trying to weave a path to Smock Alley theatre. It’s tough, attempting to muscle your way through a crowd in full party mode. But I bravely resisted the urge to simply give in and party on down – I had work to do. And I’m so glad I did it.

Listening to Anne Enright wasn’t work at all, as it happened. She is as much of a joy to listen to as she is to read, and has as much presence on the stage as she has on the page. She made us laugh and smirk and remember and try to forget in a short space of time that seemed longer, somehow, as she crammed so much of herself – with rare honesty and integrity – into a mere 90 minutes.

Niall McMonagle, asking her about her new novel The Green Road, wanted to know if this is a Mother Ireland book? (The matriarch of the family in her novel is called Rosaleen.)

“No, I do it for laughs really – to annoy people!” she smiled, adding that her book is about separation and connection and the Big Separation for everyone is surely that of leaving one’s mother. “We leave our mother and return to find the human being” she said.

In that case, was it simply a modern twist on the King Lear story?

“It’s actually through the writing of two books – one on compassion and the other on a kind of female King Lear that this book came about” explained Enright.

Somewhat surprised, her interviewer asked did she not have the ending of those books in mind, how could two books end up becoming one? He quoted John Fowles’ always knowing the end of his novels before he begins (although it’s John Irving who is famous for that quote), and Anne Enright described how she “travels blind” through the writing process. She has a vague idea of shape and plot but says her books are not narrative driven, she doesn’t suffer from “narrative adrenalin” and prefers to think of them as “taking a bath”.

And then the old turkey came out – a mandatory question for women writers, I’ve heard it asked again and again and again: Had she ever considered writing in the opposite gender…yawn…? Really, you gentlemen interviewers, you should know better. Who asks male writers that question?

Ms Enright seemed to consider the question to be as tiresome as any woman would, and since most of the interview was about The Green Road, I could see her oncoming answer like a train down the track at top speed. “Two of the characters in the book are men” she replied.

“I write 3rd person in the past tense, both male and female. It’s not a question of gender at all, it’s a question of character and that character’s place in the story.”

Being a generous-spirited woman, she showed not one teeny sign of being irked, but the annoyance among the females in the audience was palpable. On the very day we voted for equality on an inherently gender-based issue, that such a question could be asked – and not of an MA writing student, but of a Man Booker prize-winning author, a woman whose prose stands alongside the finest living writers… I found it preposterous.

A question from a member of the audience during the Q & A prompted Enright to give us her frank opinion on the “preciousness” of some writers.

“I’m a professor myself”, stated the audience member, “And Virginia Woolf insisted that writers need a room to themselves – a room dedicated only to writing.”

Ms Enright was gracious as always in her response: “If you’re going to be a good writer, then you need to understand that you’ll never make much money. So you need to cut your cloth and get used to living modestly. Good writing is not about having a dedicated writing room. It’s about the page. It is always – always – about the words on the page.”

By Anne Cunningham

Alan Walsh on Paul Muldoon

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Paul Muldoon: Rara Avis.

The old story about a teenage Paul Muldoon sending his novice poems to Seamus Heaney didn’t run the way people like to tell it. The story goes he posted them to his hero, asking what, if anything, could be done to improve them and the older poet replied very simply; nothing. What Heaney had actually said was that he couldn’t tell Muldoon anything he wouldn’t find out for himself. Rara Avis, was what his teacher, Jerry Hicks, called him when first introducing him to Heaney and it was the older poet that caught him his first break, recommending him to Charles Monteith at Faber poetry and helping him right along to publication while still a student.
The poem Cuthbert and the Otters, from Muldoon’s latest collection features the line everyone hooked themselves onto at the 2013 Durham book festival only a few weeks after Heaney’s funeral:
“I cannot thole the thought of Seamus Heaney dead.”
And it’s very hard to think of Muldoon without half a mind to his fellow Ulsterman. While it might seem to many that Muldoon fell under the master’s influence early on, turning his head from the showboating of poets like Eliot, clashing high and low brow in a single line, to writing about his country and the life around him, Muldoon is more inclined to see influence as a shared thing and has suggested he might have had some impact on Heaney’s work too. It’s hardly impossible. The two are so entwined in popular perception many read Muldoon’s poem Madoc: A Mystery, which tells of Southey and Coleridge trying to set up a Pantisocracy in North America, as a metaphor for the two Ulster poets setting course for major positions in American academia. If he did turn his head it wasn’t all the way. Muldoon has always been a verbal trickster, always mixed and matched meter and tone, and copying his poems into Word has always left the white page awash in wiggly red underlines. He writes in Villanelles, the more complex double sestinas, Persian ghazals and Pantoums. He sets up a neat little acrostic in the poem Capercaillies that reads “Is this a New Yorker Poem or what.” (turned out it wasn’t, they refused it) and shifts gear from sardonic to pathos and back within a line.
Stunt Reading could be the key to it all. It’s a way of reading a poem Muldoon introduced to students during his Oxford lectures. An awareness of what he called cryptocurrents, secret meanings, in-jokes and, like jazz, the notes you don’t hear. Yeats, Tsvetaeva, Hughes, Frost and many others effectively have their poetry rewritten through gamifying the close-reading process into a free-association sport. Like the best of Muldoon’s work, it’s unserious and scholarly, fun but maddeningly intricate and at the same time revealing moments only the highest poetry can aspire to.

By Alan Walsh

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Shamim de Brún : Lost in Music

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A Timeless Playlist

So I’m hammering away at these keys in Dublin’s best smoking area. The IFI. In my opinion anyway. It’s a bit chilly but their wifi works great even out here so I can’t really complain. I punch my earphones into my compact laptop, switch to Spotify and play my “Ryan Gattis: All Involved” playlist. A playlist I’ve just spent a whole hour compiling. It’s as close to the soundtrack of Ryan Gattis’s Lost In Music event that I can get. My head bops, the playlist soothes me while I light a cigarette and think about Gattis. He spent two and a half years researching his latest novel “All Involved” and I’m trying to write about it in only two days. It’s a paralizing thought. So I … scroll through twitter. I follow Gattis. He’s an interesting guy. From REM albums to Hamlet auditions I feel like I learned a lot about him in his one hour nine minute talk in the Liquor Rooms on Saturday. There’s nothing else to tweet about except Gattis. So I do. I tell the world what I’m doing but in a vague way. It’s a tweet, no space for superfluous detail.

The Supremes “Run Run Run” is still playing when my hands get too cold to be typing. There’s only a light but crisp summer breeze to complain about but it’s enough to drive me inside. I pause Ms. Ross and co mid chorus and I rock inside in search of a warmer spot to chill with my playlist, notes and this little blog post.

I find an empty table right near the entrance to that bathrooms. It’s not ideal but hey at least it’s warm. The waiter comes over to me in my new spot and I notice my stomach trying to claw its way into my consciousness. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and it’s almost 4. The waiter, Saleem, he speaks to me over the music in my ears. I take one earphone out and I know I’m being rude but Kid Frost’s Mi Vida Loca is on and it’s almost finished. I listen as its soothing sample peters out and ask Saleem how he is getting on, in French, ‘cos why not. As the song finishes I pop the other ear bud out, slap the pause button and order myself nibbles and a coffee.

My body has warmed up after nicely as I’ve snacked and bopped away to More Than a Feeling and Rock Around the Clock and so I go back to my laptop. I can’t quite remember where I was going with my sentence so I delete it and go back to my notes from the evening. And I am so thankful for mobile phones. Smart phones, man, they make it easier. I have everything I need to write this in my pocket if I wanted. That thought makes me pensive. I think about how riots today are fueled by social media. How Twitter and Facebook get the blame for horrific events. The London Riots in 2011 are a prime example. I guess it must work the way Gattis said the media fueled the 1992 LA riots, the setting for “All Involved”. People know the places and what’s happening and they just join in. We’re all just opportunistic sheep. The image of a sheep in a riot makes me laugh. It shouldn’t but it does.

When you think realistically though…Scary thoughts. Gangs. Rioting. Civil Unrest. It’s all over my Facebook. Ferguson, New York, Baltimore. I can read about it if and when I want to, but I can also not. I can just ignore it. I’m hit in the face by my own privilege as I type this. I think about the themes in Gattis’s bestseller and know that “All Involved” is timeless. Gattis is so right. When things don’t change, when cities and inner cities in particular don’t have access to jobs, education and healthcare it’s always gonna happen. It’s inevitable. We never learn. Do we even listen? Generation to generation? We mustn’t. After all I hadn’t even heard of the LA riots and I was approaching my first birthday when they happened. I mean they happened in my lifetime and if there wasn’t an amazing fiction book written about them I think I’d still be plodding along in my ignorance and I lived in LA for six month. Smack. There’s that privilege again.

Then just to hammer that thought home 5446 comes on. I lament that I couldn’t find the live version Gattis treated us to on the night. I enjoy the remastered version anyway. And I think about him, about Gattis, about how much he enjoyed his work and his reading, how hard he worked on such a mamoth task, how into it he got, how he managed to create 17 distinct, clear voices, and how he had to clarify there were, in fact, no snails in the book. He had tripped over the word snares. It was absolutely hilarious. It makes me smile. One of those broad toothy smiles that if a someone caught it they’d think I was mad. But snails! Hilarious.

A beat of a specials song bumps into my head as I stifle a giggle and I think about how many of these songs I actually know. Considering I was only a baby at their peak popularity. I sip my coffee. Only adults get to sip coffee. A Message to you Ruddy fades out and the playlist is played through. The melody is gone. Just like the final narrator in the brave book I don’t hear anything but background noise. Cafe sounds, a lot better than the cracking fires that consumed most of LA over the course of the 6 day riots. And I rebuild the scene from the Liquor Rooms in my mind before pressing repeat. Mixtapes might have died but the playlist lives on. This playlist is perfect. I think I’ll be listening to these tunes for a while. Thanks Gattis.

By Shamim de Brún

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Stevie McDermott on Jon Ronson

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Jon Ronson

His subjects have included criminal psychopaths, prominent conspiracy theorists and intelligence agents who participated in experiments to discover psychic abilities in U.S. soldiers. But Jon Ronson has so many other interesting things to talk about, these encounters are only mentioned in passing during his International Literature Festival Dublin appearance.

Instead, he tells a capacity O’Reilly Theatre about some of the less-documented encounters throughout what he himself would call his career in ‘humorist journalism’. Like when he jokes about being “nearly killed by Tony O’Reilly” as he was chased away from a meeting of the Bilderburg Group in Portugal. Or the time he was asked to go UFO-hunting with Robbie Williams, which included a trip on Snoop Dogg’s private jet.

Ronson is so naturally charismatic that while he spends most of the event talking about his latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, it never comes across as an exercise in self-promotion. Imagine a TED talk combined with a stand-up comedy routine and you’ll probably have an idea of how he presented his research into 21st century shaming rituals.

For him, the proliferation of social media platforms like Twitter has heralded a return to eighteenth century standards of punishment. Groups of quasi-anonymous people are taking to the internet to publicly shame those whom they believe are transgressing the morals of modern society.

He tells us about the New Yorker journalist whose career was ruined after he fabricated some Bob Dylan quotes, and the PR executive who became an internet phenomenon for the wrong reasons after she sent a racially insensitive tweet to her 170 followers.

Shaming these kinds of people online is the kind of thing that most of us participate in at some point, something we believe we are doing for the right reasons. However, to Ronson it’s the modern equivalent of the stocks or public whipping. And unlike those punishments of old, it’s a process in which everyone gets to play the role of hanging judge, without the feeling of responsibility that comes with being the executioner.

“When shamings are delivered like remotely administered drone strikes,” he says, “nobody needs to think about how ferocious our collective power might be. The snowflake never needs to feel responsible for the avalanche.”

It’s made Ronson wary of the power the internet has. He talks about how the rise of social media platforms is just the latest in a series of historical events which has seen power seized by people who previously had none. Much like what occurred in the aftermath of the French Revolution, he worries that we are beginning to prioritise ideology over humans, rather than humans over ideology.

“Throughout history”, he says, “when powerless people become empowered it takes a while to work out how to use that power judiciously. I think and hope that things are going to settle down. Right now, bullies are winning.”

We learn about the ways in which the internet has exacerbated Ronson’s anxiety, a surprising revelation given his quite confident performance. In the Q&A session with Anton Savage during the second half of the event, he admits that he is not entirely comfortable by the hype that surrounded his new book.

“Something happened this book that’s never happened with my previous books,” he says. “There was a lot of noise around it, and it was discussed a lot. It wasn’t pleasant, even when the noise was positive: it was just a lot of noise.”

At one point, he even talks of the panic he felt when he recently awoke to 900 notifications on his phone. As he does several times during the event, he uses his laptop to add colour to his story, showing the audience a video by way of explanation: we see a video of Louis Tomlinson from One Direction pushing through a crowd of waiting fans, holding a copy of Ronson’s book The Psychopath Test. It turns out that fans of the boyband had identified both the book Tomlinson was holding, and subsequently tagged its author in tweets which linked the video.

Ronson also reveals that he has created of a list on Twitter dedicated to New York accident reports, which he will sometimes check in frantic bursts when he is away from his family. Both examples are given with the same humour and self-effacing nature that has made him so successful as a writer, and it’s rewarding to see these aspects of his work carry through to his personality.

What’s more, it means that the entire event doesn’t come across as either a shill for his new book, or a polemic against the dark powers of the internet. Ronson captivates his audience by simply being himself: that is, an absorbing and funny writer who seems to know a lot of things about a lot of things. Or, as Anton Savage puts it during his introduction of Ronson: “Someone who has the most extraordinary breadth of exposure, in terms of what he has written about…who is as captivating verbally as he is in text.”

By Stevie McDermott

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Caelen Dwane on Jon Ronson

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“I’m a humourist journalist out of my depth” – Jon Ronson – O’Reilly Theatre – 19th May 2015

Firstly, sincere apologies to those sitting around me yesterday evening in the O’Reilly Hall for the wild scribbling of notes that took place, as almost everything said throughout the event seemed comment worthy on this post today; and yet, I haven’t even touched on half of it in what follows. Anton Savage introduced Jon Ronson as “one of those rare finds – a very funny and captivating author, who is as captivating verbally as he is in text.” I can now wholeheartedly agree with this.

Jon Ronson walked out on stage to say how pleased he was to be standing on the stage of the theatre bequeathed by Tony O’Reilly. He had previously been chased from a Bilderberg meeting where Tony O’Reilly was in attendance, but now he was standing on his stage. Remembering his call to the British Embassy in the city as he ran to escape at the time, he explained to the woman on the end of the phone that he was a ‘humourist journalist out of his depth’. When she called him back to confirm that she had checked and that there were no reports of anyone following him, she supposed that it was good news if you knew you were being followed as they are probably just trying to intimidate you. If you were actually being followed, you wouldn’t know – Ronson’s thought on this was what if he was exactly the right kind of anxious and paranoid person to know exactly when he was being followed by the ‘henchmen of the shadowy police of the world.’

To me, this was the biggest surprise in seeing Jon Ronson for the first time, I found him to be of a somewhat nervous disposition. That is not to say that he is not a confident person by any stretch, surely confidence is a given in a person who infiltrates secret meetings of shady organisations, ventures UFO hunting with pop stars, addresses the wealthy and powerful in society as psychopaths, and beyond. However, he himself said that he is a hugely anxious person, particularly in regards to his wife and child. Yet, this anxiety in his persona, was not something I expected from what I did know of him. In saying that, I found that it added to his charm and is perhaps why he does manage to spy on secret meetings, go on bizarre adventures with pop stars, and address psychopaths without inciting their ire.

I imagine a lot of people are most familiar with Jon Ronson, as I was, from his books The Psychopath Test and The Men Who Stare at Goats, and as a journalist published in The Guardian. Ronson said that writing The Psychopath Test made him a certified ‘psychopath spotter’. In becoming so, it also made him a bit of a psychopath about shoving people into a psychopath box based on the outer most parts of them. He stated that journalism is the quest to define people by their outer most aspects, essentially labelling people. In America, children as young as 1 or 2 are being labelled as bi-polar for their unruly behaviour and being put on medication from that young age. While we all agreed that this seems absurd and a bad thing, Ronson claims that this is what we are all now doing on social media – labelling people, and attacking or shaming them accordingly. On Twitter, we are convinced that ‘some bad phraseology in a tweet is a clue to this person’s true and inherent evil’. This is the idea behind Ronson’s new book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. In the book, he explores the shaming culture on social media. We now find ourselves in a world where the ordinary people have a voice, and a powerful voice at that, and where it now appears that in the social media realm, a day without shaming has become a wasted day.

One the stories in his new book and a large part of the discussion last night, centred on a tweet by Justine Sacco. If you haven’t heard of Justine Sacco and the frenzy that ensued a tweet sent before she boarded a flight to South Africa, then I’d advise having a Google on that. I hadn’t heard of any of it, but now that I have, I will be forever aware of the potential of Twitter to ruin lives. In his own words, Jon Ronson said he saw that tweet that night and thought with delight ‘Great. Someone is f***ed!’ We all agreed with him that on a visceral level, what she tweeted is abhorrent; however, even then, he thought it was clearly someone mocking privilege by highlighting privilege – which turned out to be the case. Yet, with only 170 Twitter followers, Justine Sacco became the worldwide number one trending item on twitter and a victim of attack on all kinds of fronts. Justine had, in the eyes of the Twittersphere, misused her privilege – but, in truth, she was just a small PR person tweeting in the hope of amusing people that she couldn’t see. It snowballed from there, and everyone jumped on her misfortune. Not just the trolls, and there were lots of trolls, but nice normal people – people like us. The Gawker writer who picked up her tweet and started the attack against her said the way it all unfolded was “delicious”; asked how he thought she was after, he said he thought she was fine. The reality for her was that she lost a job she loved, suffered anxiety, depression, and was left afraid and ashamed. Plenty of other examples of similar and worse situations were covered last night and are detailed in the book. Ronson said of his new book, ‘it is not a polemic, it’s more like a horror story of getting to feel what these people felt.’

Savage posed a great question in comparing it to a modern day witch hunt in a new medium. Ronson agreed that it wasn’t unlike a witch hunt, in that it is impossible to defend yourself. Anything you could say in your defence is just more evidence to their case against you. It has been highlighted as ‘performance piety’, where people surround themselves on social media with people who are in line with their views or the views they want to be seen as theirs, and if something steps outside of that remit then we scream them down. Ronson quite sharply pointed out that this is the opposite of democracy. Savage highlighted that the book ends on an inadvertently capitalist note. That money is being made by this public shaming. Ronson laughed saying that Google has the corporate motto ‘Don’t be evil’, yet, every time something is searched, Google makes 38 cent. Justine Sacco was Googled a handful of times in one day prior to the infamous tweet – afterwards, during the period that followed, she was Googled over 1,220,000 times. It was “us” that did the shaming, Ronson determined that we were just like unpaid Google interns.

On the flip side, for all the bad Twitter stories, he did have a very touching story to share about his former bandmate Frank Sidebottom. Ronson co-wrote the screenplay of the film ‘Frank’ starring Michael Fassbender; and it was loosely based on his time in Frank’s band from 1987-1990. Frank was known for wearing a big fake head. About 15 years later Frank called to say he was staging a comeback and would Ronson write it up. However, Chris “Frank” Sievey died penniless and was going to be buried in a pauper’s grave. Ronson sent out a single tweet and following that one tweet over £20,000 was raised, which Ronson noted was more than enough to ‘bury him, exhume him and bury him again.’ So, surely the world of social media is not inherently evil.

The questions from the audience were some interesting takes on this. On being asked if he thought there was an era of anarchy in the internet – cybercrime, social media shaming and the like; and whether he thought government regulation would be a good thing? Ronson replied that the only people that could be regulated against really were the trolls, and not us “normal people”. Human beings are dimensional and complicated, and this isn’t always demonstrated, or may not even be demonstrable, through social media. Ronson explained that throughout history whenever powerless people become empowered it takes a while to figure out how to use the power judiciously. He favours humans over ideology every time, and while the latter may currently be winning out, he believes in human beings.

By Caelen Dwane

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