How To Irritate People
Some musings from the archives about a couple of occasions on which I managed to really, really annoy people by writing something throwaway, inconsequential and trivial that you'd never have predicted that anyone would possibly take exception to, whilst deliberate attempts to provoke and rabble-rouse usually went by without any reaction at all. And this was all before THAT Stewart Lee review as well... incidentally I won't be re-running the 'Diana and IT Crowd pieces' mentioned below, because they were both rubbish.
"I wish to protest most strongly about everything" - Henry Root, Park Walk, West Brompton
If you're going to write stuff then sometimes - as recent less-than overjoyed reactions to the Diana and IT Crowd pieces on here have testified - you're going to upset people. Whether you mean to or not. Over the years I have accidentally managed to enrage TV's Dave Gorman, a mad American who owns the supposed 'literary rights' to Graham Chapman, some jerk out of an early nineties pop duo who lasted for about five minutes and had literally half a hit, any number of ruralist pluralists, and countless 'man in the street' readers besides.
There was, for example, the person who took bile-spitting objection to a few throwaway observations about amusingly shoddy lyrics, fuming "have you never heard of POETRY or METAPHOR?". Or the cheerful and obviously well-balanced individual who took exception to some slightly frivolous (and, erm, patently appreciative) stuff about the glam-rocking likes of Flintlock and Sailor and sent in the following charming missive:
"You are a bitchy frilly little venting sod aren't you? Your site is more a rubbish bin with a used tampon in it than a paintbox. Angry at everyone because you've never achieved anything in life? Besides all the femme hysteria you get your facts all wrong, and that's the most disturbing and misleading aspect of your website. Don't write about the seventies without consulting facts. Disgusted with you"
What's more, the piece that instigated such ire appeared on a site that once provoked someone to send a terse email reading simply "more paragraphs, less green". Disgusted with myself.
So disgusted in fact that as an act of atonement, I will now outline a five-point plan of how to avoid recieving furious and badly-punctuated borderline threats in response to absolutely nothing from the sort of people who shouldn't even be trusted with the ability to read, let alone to hand out the scissors:
1. Don't Say Anything Less Than Complimentary About Silent Cinema
Lord alone knows why, but claiming nothing more provocative than a complete lack of interest in the soundless antics of Charlie Chaplin and his slow-laugh chums always provokes a flood of extremely long and irritated emails; striking back in their hundreds, albeit very slowly. You have to feel sorry for these people though - after all, it's no wonder they're angry when they're so regularly whacked on the head by unwittingly-rotated planks of shoulder-mounted wood that they've seen being carried towards them five minutes in advance of the impact.
2. Don't Play Devil's Advocate About Doctor Who
The majority of fans of Doctor Who are sensitive souls, and don't particularly appreciate any boat-rocking over widely-held majority opinions on the series. Suggest that The Underwater Menace is good and not rubbish like you thought, speak up for the Sylvester McCoy era, or point out that Tom Baker was occasionally phoning in his performance, and they'll come down on you like a ton of falling bits of scenery from a Colin Baker story. Worse still, the days when fans would have to spend several months typing out their own fanzine in order to argue back are long gone, and The Great Disgruntled can be online and calling you a 'congenital idiot' within minutes.
3. Don't Make Any Criticisms Of Chris Morris
To dispense with the witticisms for a second (much like Chris Morris has done himself for the past decade, ho ho), there are too many people out there who see Chris Morris not as a rather funny bloke who has made plenty of worthwhile 'points' with his humour and a couple of meandering and on occasion dangerous and stupid ones besides, but as some kind of religious visionary whose every utterance must be accepted as law. So if you're out to argue that you didn't enjoy one of his works, you're on to a loser from the outset. Considered expressions of genuine dismay at the hateful and poorly-focused Brass Eye Special, for example, were brushed aside with comments like "it was the satire that had to be made!", "you just didn't get it!", "what are you, a Daily Mail reader?", and, of course, "Morris is a godlike genius, I think you'll find, and essentially what he was trying to do was...". Similarly, lukewarm reviews of My Wrongs #Ohwhogivesaflyingfuck found themselves dismissed 'invalid' on account of containing a sentence calling the Brass Eye Special 'poor', or worse still, getting two numbers in the title the wrong way round. Pointing out that Nathan Barley was relevant to about three people in London and had no sodding jokes in anyway met with cries of "too close to home eh? ;) u just dont like it because u ARE nathan barley!! :)" and what have you. That said, when the same review causes perrennial indie no-hoper Momus to sneer at you for mentioning The Housemartins, you're clearly doing something right.
4. Don't Mention Britpop
Do you remember Britpop? That period between roughly 1992-1996 when Blur, Suede, Pulp and Elastica made some genuinely thrilling records, Paul Weller made some records, and just for the tiniest fraction of a second, it really did feel like so-called 'alternative' culture was about to take on the mainstream and win? Well, whatever you do, never mention this anywhere. Because if you do, you will be inundated by communications from angry shouting individuals pointing out how there were other people making records too you know, how it was all a load of media hype and never actually happened, and how grunge remained really really really popular despite what the weedy girly indie kid geeks might try to tell you with their short washed hair and (spit) trainers. This goes beyond mere expressions of personal distaste for the bands themselves (despite the fact that an expression of distaste for Elastica is pretty much a scientific paradox), and into a risible insistence that because someone didn't experience an era or subculture a certain way, nobody else in the world could possibly have done so, almost like some kind of Stalinist attempt to rewrite history to ensure that Eddie Vedder was victorious. In other words it's like, erm, Britpop never happened!
5. Don't Say You Liked Doctor Who And The Idiot's Lantern
Because you'll never hear the end of it.