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Home > Culture and Society

The Internet: What Do *You* Think?

1 September 2006

One of the nicest touches in Truffaut's books-are-banned-in-a-future-dystopia movie 'Fahrenheit 451' is the way that reading has been replaced by ultra-bland interactive TV. At one point Julie Christie's pilled-up character is avidly watching an inconsequential discussion between soap opera characters about which of the spare bedrooms their houseguests should be given. Suddenly one of the characters turns to the camera and asks 'What do *you* think?' She panics and gives a garbled response, but it doesn't matter. The point is that her intellectual needs have become completely stunted; she, like the rest of the population, has become enslaved by mindless distractions.

Rather worryingly, 'What do you think?' is a question that features heavily on the Internet. We're not for a moment suggesting there's an Internet conspiracy to keep the general population in a state of glassy-eyed docility ('The One Show' is there to do that), but the invitation reveals that a fuck of a lot of people think very strange things indeed - to the point of making you wonder if they actually perceive the world in the same way as the rest of us. Take this user review on the Internet Movie Database:

'The Smoking Room has it all. the jokes come thick and fast. Well done BBC!!!'

What parallel universe is this, where forgettable characters making lame quips about nothing is good? Amazingly, the vast majority of posts about 'The Smoking Room' are highly favourable, with only one pointing out that it's an unfunny waste of half-an-hour.

The trend to invite readers' opinions is also starting to get out of hand on news sites, with almost every article inviting a response. Recently The Daily Mail online ran an article in response to a piece in Forbes magazine asking 'Are men mad to marry a career woman?' Sure enough, the inevitable 'Add a comment' section gave fevered Mail readers an opportunity to grind their off-topic axes. 'Robin' writes:

'Work is not fun - work is work. Ask any man who has to slog up the City every day. Men die 5 years earlier than women - talk about that if want any man to listen to you. If women want to regress into a hard working life let them do it. You talk of evolution - is it really? Where is the evidence that a woman doing a mans jobs IS evolution? Most jobs are a burden, very few jobs is really rewarding after 40 years. If a women (or man) can't fullfill herself creatively whilst the kids are at school I doubt they are going to be able to do it at work. Hard work - more divorce. Evolution is about having more off spring not less.'

What, precisely, is the point of airing this sort of incoherent, embittered nonsense? If the guy has spent 40 years in a job he hates, that's his lookout. It certainly has little to do with the article in question, which in itself is just a terrible generalisation about successful women being too demanding. It's rubbish piled on rubbish piled on rubbish - an endless landfill of lazy opinions.

It's almost as though if it wasn't for the Internet, we wouldn't ever have realised how stupid, uncritical or possibly unhinged many people are. The archive of (near identical) columns by our favourite columnist Richard 'Cunt' Littlejohn invites reader responses, naturellement. Here's a typical chunk of Littlejohn, followed by a response:

'My wife put some money in a cancer charity collection box on Saturday. The old lady rattling the tin said she couldn't put the sticker on to my wife's lapel herself because she had been told by her bosses that it could constitute an assault. You couldn't make it up.'

'Brilliant writing. It is about time other people woke up to your thinking Mr Littlejohn - Asif, Luton.'

For fuck's sake, Asif, it's *not* a brilliant piece of writing. It's a trivial anecdote designed to mock the nanny state, followed by Littlejohn's overused catchphrase. (We think it's about time Littlejohn's catchphrase became 'Actually you *could* make it up! I just did!')

But perhaps most strange are the experiences that people think it would be good to share with others. Wonderful though b3ta.com is, some of the stories that people post are bizarre, because someone, somewhere thinks their awful tale is normal, if not *admirable* behaviour. Take this charming tale from 'Legless I'. 'Legless I' and his mate 'Denty' were competing for the attentions of 'a lovely brunette' (yeah, right) in a pub.

'After a while Denty pulled me aside and said: "Fuck this mate - life's too short to argue over a tart. Let's forget her and have a grab-a-grot night instead. Bet you a pint that I can pull a bigger horror than you can. Meet you back here at 1 o'clock - may the best man win." At 1am I headed back to meet Denty with my prize. I'd picked up a fat, wall-eyed spastic (one leg shorter than the other) with a squint. I got to our meeting place and, as I lay back against a wall with this grunter clawing at my knackers, Denty turned up with his arm around gorgeous brunette from earlier and handed me a pint. "Looks like you won mate," he grinned. I hit him. Still banged the monster in the car-park though. Waste not want not.'

Well, what woman could resist the charming Legless I? The tale is supposed to be hilarious, but actually it's deeply nihilistic. Having fallen for his mate's ruse, Legless I decides to have sex with a woman (sorry, 'fat, wall-eyed spastic') that he despises. Legless I, we could conclude, is like an animal, mindlessly fucking and fighting in his own shit. And like so many of the anecdotes on b3ta, the tale sounds suspiciously as though it's made up, a fanciful retelling, or a joke posing as an anecdote: it's all a bit too neat. Did he really hit his mate? Did he give
him a proper smack in the face? If so, did his mate hit back? Do they do this regularly? If so, they're in a co-dependent relationship based on violence and misogyny. Urgent counselling is needed for all parties. And if it's made up, why the fuck bother to put it on a 'true experiences' board?

This and all the other responses suggest there's a world of deluded weirdoes out there in cyberspace, endlessly posting as if what they think matters two fucks to the rest of the world. In the case of many b3ta posters, it's obvious that there's a desire to make your own life sound more interesting than it really is. ('We were all the heroes of our own stories,' as a Martin Amis character pithily puts it.)

All of this is just Internet junk at the end of the day, but it's still a bit worrying. The person you're harmlessly chatting to in the pub could be a weirdo like Robin, Asif or, worst of all, Legless I. Just watch out for anyone with a mate called 'Denty', is all we can say.



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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