One of the dubious freedoms that the profit-making prophets of social media have always defended is the liberty to say anything anonymously. Some argue that “right” protects the vulnerable and marginalised. Overwhelmingly, however, experience suggests anonymity more often acts as a shield for misogyny, racism and threats of violence – such as those which continue to flood the accounts of black footballers.
In the never-ending calls for Twitter to better police its platform, the words of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer from 170 years ago remain relevant: “Every article, even in a newspaper, should be accompanied by the name of its author… so that when a man publicly proclaims through the far-sounding trumpet of the newspaper, he should be answerable for it, at any rate with his honour, if he has any; and if he has none, let his name neutralise the effect of his words… the result of such a measure would be to put an end to two-thirds of the newspaper lies, and to restrain the audacity of many a poisonous tongue.”
The trill has gone
The sight of the ring-necked parakeets that flock in London parks was always guaranteed to trigger a smile from me, not least because the legends of their presence – were the first pair released by Jimi Hendrix or did they escape from the film set of The African Queen? – were so seductive. It’s a measure of repetitive daily lockdown trudges, however, that the green flashes of the birds now seem so screechingly familiar. Enough with the bloody parakeets, I hear myself thinking.
The eight mesmerising hours of Adam Curtis’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head are a reminder of the unique storehouse of collective memory that is the BBC archive. This is just one of the roles that the corporation plays in our national life, which the ever-more strident calls for “defunding” overlook. Curtis begins to justify the licence fee on his own, not least because he has become a heroic one-man depository of that memory. With the help of a former BBC cameraman, Phil Goodwin, Curtis has for many years been digitising the unedited material in BBC storerooms worldwide; all the unused hours of rushes that got clipped to a 20-second news report, from which he now splices his inspired alternative histories. At the time of his last film, HyperNormalisation, Curtis explained to me how Goodwin had just brought back in Tupperware boxes “everything the BBC has ever shot for 60 years in Russia, on 58 terabytes of drives”. The plan was to do China next, then Africa. “With the last 50 years of unedited material, I could do an emotional history of the world,” he said. Can’t Get You Out of My Head is the first, unmissable, instalment of that project.
I spent a masochistic hour of the coldest day of the past 25 years hacking away at the concrete roots of the ivy that is determined to turn our neighbour’s back wall into Angkor Wat. Not for the first time, I was reminded of something that Michael Heseltine said to me in an interview, when talking about his own gardening feats. “At my age there is no such thing as a good winter. But there is a wonderful day in mid-March when you feel the sun on your back, and for the first time in months, it straightens you up.” Crouched in the undergrowth, with a hacksaw frozen to my hand, I thought: bring it on.