Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don't Treat Me Like A Lab Rat, Dom Joly.

That picture above is of Dominic John Romulus Joly, popularly known as “Dom” Joly. On his Wikipedia page, Dom Joly is described as a comedian, columnist and broadcaster. It must be true; it is on Wikipedia (See Note 1).

My regular voracious yeomen, may have been expecting me to share with you the next thrilling instalment of “A Couple of Tenors Short”. Sadly, thanks to Mr Joly there, I have found that work needed to be set aside today. You see, the erudite and urbane Mr Joly has made me feel cheap, hoodwinked and abused. Such hurt cannot be resolved by a swift half of Nightswerve’s Velvet Cudgel, nor can it be chemically subdued by simply increasing the dosage on my dried frog pills. Such feelings require an outlet, here in the quiet interweb backwater of my blog.

The vehicle that Mr Joly utilised to inflict pain upon me was Twitter. I have a Twitter account. The medium is fun, informative, allows me to keep in touch with friends, play Fallen London and publicise my blog posts. Like so many other Twitter users, I follow a few celebrities and people of interest. I enjoy their posts and occasionally reply. As a result I have ended up in long debates (all in fewer than 140 characters) on politics, religion and salad dressings.

I’ve always considered that celebrities on Twitter have a right to set the boundaries of their relationship with their followers. Just because I consider that I have given a witty or informative response to a celebrity post, I have no right to expect a reply, let alone a discussion (See Note 2).

Yet in following a celebrity, I believe that I have the right to be treated with respect and above all honesty. I do not expect to be treated like an inconsequential lab rat or an unpaid research assistant. Today, Mr Joly made me feel like both.

I’m not really sure how the situation started, but suspect that it had something to do with Dom Joly discovering that Belgian TV had ‘lifted’ his award winning TV show, Trigger Happy TV, and had remade it virtually shot for shot without giving him credit (See Note 3). Dom Joly complained loudly about the incident on Twitter and in his column for The Independent (See Note 4). At that point, I was quite sympathetic and very much on his side.

Unfortunately for Mr Joly, the Internet and Twitter can become a touch tribal. It is very easy to set off flame wars. Whether it was the mention in the article or something he said in his many tweets on the topic, he managed to upset the followers of Keith Chegwin.

The followers of Keith Chegwin rounded on Dom Joly and started to send tweets of complaint. After all, Keith Chegwin hadn’t ripped off Mr Joly’s fine artistic portfolio. His only ‘crime’ was to have a passing resemblance to the host of the Belgian TV show. Just why Mr Joly chose to make an issue of this passing resemblance is beyond me.

A war of tweets began. Mr Joly responded to the ire of the many for whom Keith Chegwin holds cherished memories of childhood by correcting their grammar and generally insulting their intelligence (See Note 5). The result? The flame war escalated. Mr Joly’s response was to start re-tweeting stranger’s post with the single intention of ridiculing them – something that is both childish and petty.

Yet, I was prepared to forgive that. After all, I can look at posts and replies that I’ve made on the internet and with the benefit of hindsight, regret them. When you post something on Twitter, it easy to forget how that it immediately becomes very public and that posts can get re-tweeted in such a way as to fall in front of millions of pairs of eyes.

The problem for me were the posts that Mr Joly made this morning, after discovering that overnight others had joined into the new game of ‘goading Joly’.

The first post was this-

morning all, been up in London, think my nine year old was on my account last night...anything interesting happen?

The post jarred with me because I wasn’t sure if Mr Joly was trying to distance himself from the flame war he started or it was just another barbed insult against those who sprung to the defence of Keith Chegwin. Still, I was prepared to let it pass.

Then this post appeared-

I have "lost" precisely 100 followers last will I cope?

That post annoyed me. It made me feel that Dom Joly has little regard for his Twitter followers. To me, it seemed arrogant and dismissive of all of his followers – not just the ones that were responding on behalf of Keith Chegwin (See Note 6).

Dom Joly then compounded all my frustration and growing anger by posting this-

OK- show's over everyone- was just doing an article about trolls and abuse on Twitter- I now have the material- thanks.....

It appears that Dom Joly wants the world to believe that he wasn’t taking out his frustrations on seeing his work reworked on Belgian TV on Keith Chegwin after all. Keith Chegwin was just a convenient dupe to allow him to write another article for which he will probably be well paid. The feelings of Keith Chegwin seem to have been ignored. The feelings of those he upset along the way have been ignored. Dom Joly has got what he needs from Twitter, nothing else matters.

I have news for Dom Joly. It DOES matter. Your followers and those of Keith Chegwin are real people. These are ordinary people with feelings, aspirations and self-esteem. They are the people you rely on to keep your name in the public eye, buy your books, and watch your films and broadcasts. The very people you rely on to make the living that allows you to live a comfortable, middleclass lifestyle (See Note 7).

A public apology is very much in order here. The apology should include all those who follow you on Twitter and all those who follow Keith Chegwin. Plus, if you really do intend to profit from this poorly conceived, lazy research, you should make sure that your article provides the appropriate credit to all those who did the research on your behalf.

It is in the vain hope that I will see this apology that will see me keep following you on Twitter for a little while longer. I doubt that it will be forthcoming. I’m beginning to believe that you seeking to rival your school’s other famous alumni for infamy (See Note 1) and don’t give a second thought to the impact you have on others.

Once I have confirmed to my satisfaction that you are not man enough to say sorry I will unfollow you and switch allegiance to Keith Chegwin. You may feel he is somehow unworthy, but he does still maintain an air of integrity.

Note 1: Which also imparts the little nugget that Dom Joly went to school with Osama bin Laden.

Note 2: In truth, I would think that with my level of wit, the celebrity concerned would have already received hundreds of sharper and funnier responses than my offering. Yet, I like to delude myself that it was read and caused a brief smile to play across their face before they moved on to more pressing matters.

Note 3: Trigger Happy TV was sold to over 70 countries. While it easy to see why Dom Joly was upset over the incident, it is equally easy to see that broadcasters who bought the series may well believe they have the contractual right to remake it.

Note 4: Dom Joly is a very good columnist and broadcaster. His columns are always worth a read and I found his work with the BBC on the Beijing Olympics both entertaining and informative. I just fell into the trap of believing that somebody’s public persona was their actual persona. Perhaps that is why I feel so hurt.

Note 5: And should the eloquent Mr Joly choose to do so, he could have an absolute field day with my writing. Yet there is a subtle difference here. He is paid to write, the vast majority of the people on Twitter are not. The needs for the formal frameworks are much reduced when communicating by text or Twitter. Such is the power of the human brain; it can work out the message without it having to conform to all the rules of language. In these mediums it is the message that is important – not its form.

Note 6: I should point out that I didn’t fire off any tweets to Dom Joly offering an opinion one way or another on his war of words with Chegwin supporters. However, I did respond to this post by replying “Losing 100 followers is nothing to a gentleman with your humility. I consider you the Uriah Heap of 20th Century comedy.” I didn’t get a reply.

Note 7: Although this isn’t a lifestyle he is particularly comfortable with. It appears as well as fans of Keith Chegwin, he is willing to upset everyone around his Cotswold home with the post –“off to Cirencester to wander around aimlessly and wish I lived somewhere else



Anonymous said...

Dom Joly was making a joke about Chegwin's habit of stealing comedians jokes and then tweeting them as his own, something he has repeatedly denied despite being caught red handed (and even, in a "News of the World" interview last year telling aspiring comics that it was all right to "nick a joke", something that I can tell you, as a regular circuit comic, is most definitely not the case).

I'm not a supporter of either party in this dispute but to say that Chegwin has "integrity" seems a bit mistaken.

L. Guard said...

Please reflect on how you spend your time. You're a grown man, getting upset enough to write lengthy, unstructured inanities about a row between two minor celebrities whom you don't know and will never meet. Why not try doing something else?

Simon said...

Anon - I know there is a code amongst comedians about the stealing / recycling of material. Chegwin may well be guilty of this, but he is not unique. I'm sure that like me, you can point to segments in a number of acts that pay homage to other acts and material.

My complaint was not about the original joke, or was it intended as a defence of the target - it was about the attitude Dom Joly took towards his followers.

L.Guard might be right, maybe I shouldn't be quite so sensitive about these things. Yet, I found there was something distasteful about the attitude he took and the way he chose to ridicule those who took a view counter to his own.

I am guilty of applying a relative morality in this instance - something I really shouldn't have done. However, I do feel that the posts from Dom Joly were disrespectful and did not show him in a positive light.

L.Guard. Thank you for your critique. It is good to know there are people out there prepared to spare the time to read a lengthy and unstructured blog then provide advice.