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Poppy Dinsey interview

June 3, 2011

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I thought I would revive my ill-conceived attempt to interview people from the Internet who I find interesting.

I started following Poppy Dinsey on Twitter a few years ago (drawn to her attractive avatar) and it turned out she was funny and interesting and made me temporarily interested in fashion. So we met up in London and ate burritos and it turned out she was just as lovely in real life.

Poppy runs a site called What I Wore Today, in which she takes a photo of herself every day and shows the world what she’s wearing.  

Armed with a hangover, I decided to interview Poppy on Skype chat. This meant a lot of typing and that odd overlapping thing where you’re both typing at the same time and nothing quite makes sense.  

Poppy Dinsey

Greg Stekelman: I’ve been following you on Twitter for a couple of years. How did the WIWT blog start? (that is a boring question, but necessary) 

Poppy Dinsey: It’s quite a nice story. I was sat on a beach (Newport or Huntington or Laguna, I should probably try and remember which one it was exactly so that I don’t tell the story differently every time I say it) and was thinking about New Year’s resolutions as it was a few days before NYE. And I just decided to see if I could photograph every outfit I wore every day for a year. 

There was also a side reason, a more sinister reason, but that’s the PR friendly version and 90% true. 

GS: Ok. We all have sinister reasons. Very few of us decide to splurge our lives all over the Internet simply to make the world a better place. 

PD:  It’s one of my most self-indulgent projects to date. 

GS: If I did what you do, I would run out of outfits after about a week. How do you manage to not wear the same clothes over and over? That is a terrible question. The answer is probably that you have loads more clothes than me. 

PD: By owning lots. I have wardrobes, drawers, external rails, suitcases… There are cases in my bedroom, office and bathroom. I also wear a lot of the same stuff repeatedly, but ‘in different ways’. 

GS: Yes. I do that as well. Sometimes I put my shoes on my head. 

PD: Do you ever wear high heels? 

GS: No. I quite like the idea of spending a few days dressed as a woman, but I have a beard and I find that beards and high heels don’t really mix. 

PD: I have always wanted a beard. And a penis, if I’m honest. 

GS: There’s still time. Technology is moving at an alarming rate. 

PD: Yes, I am wondering if I will choose the sex of my baby. And make it blue eyed and brown haired…

GS: Right. I was thinking about how exposed you are on your site. I post occasional photos of myself on Twitter but ultimately I quite like hiding behind anonymity. How does it feel having so many photos of yourself on the net? 

PD: I hate it in some respects. 

It can feel hugely unbalanced, people know a lot about me (or think they know a lot about me) and that’s not true the other way around. It can be weird when people tweet that they just saw me somewhere and I have no idea who they are, but they can recognise me because I constantly bombard them with pictures of myself. So I was asking for it really. I’ve ended up on a porn site (although I haven’t appeared on porn star facts). And I have some weird stalker people. It scares my Mother. 

GS: Oh dear. That’s quite unpleasant. I know what you mean about being spotted in public. I’ve had that, and in theory it should be flattering but in reality it’s quite alarming. It’s also odd because it’s like being famous without having any of the advantages of fame and fortune. I’m still mostly unemployed and skint. 

And I sometimes feel like without thinking I put a lot of myself on the Internet and then wonder if there’s anything left for my private life. 

PD: Yes it’s a bit weird. But generally people are awesome, I’ve been moved to tears by lovely emails from some people. (Cue sob story music) 

GS: I generally don’t get lovely emails from people, but I suspect I project a less approachable image than you do. 

PD: Well I like that people have decided I’m a bit short tempered (my FAQ/general rants imply that) and now start emails with huge apologies about being sorry to bother me. It’s quite nice. 

GS: Yes. Your FAQ is excellent. More people should write similarly comprehensive guides. Back to the questions. High fashion tends to be all about size zero women. You’re not size zero and you don’t look like you want to be, which pleases me. I hate the idea of women feeling constantly pressured into being stick thin. 

I realise that’s a statement, not a question. 

PD: I don’t know, I’m beginning to get a bit paranoid about that for the first time ever. I’m nowhere bloody near size zero and at certain fashion things I feel really self-conscious. I know fashion quite well, but that doesn’t mean I can always wear it well. I could style someone else to look amazing, but my options are more limited. 

I am spending more and more time wanting plastic surgery and wanting to stop eating though. I was never like that before.

GS: That’s my fear. Almost every single woman I know has some kind of fairly serious body image issues. Whereas as a man there are loads of things about my body I dislike, but I’m fairly accepting of it. 

PD: I’m extremely self-conscious about the fact I have braces. To the point where I decided before they were put on that I wouldn’t date anyone for the next two years. 

GS: I think women think about their bodies in the same way that men think about their cocks. In that a woman wants to be thin even if her bloke likes someone curvy, because it’s important for her to show other women that she’s thin. And men want to have big cocks, even if their girlfriend hates big cocks, because they want to show other men they have big cocks. 

That last statement reads like a load of sexual gibberish. 

PD: But it’s true. 

GS: I think it must be quite difficult for a woman operating in the fashion world and maintaining some semblance of mental health. 

PD: You can get disillusioned, when you’re around models a lot you can feel like shit. Then you can go to Sainsbury’s and realise most people are normal. And normal is fine. Most people aren’t that hot. Most fashion people aren’t ‘hot’ anyway, they’re beautiful. Classy. Untouchable. Scary. 

GS: Do you feel like you’re a role model for teenage girls who are into fashion? 

PD: I wouldn’t say I feel like a role model but I get more of a kick from emails/tweets from younger girls. That sounds fucking dodgy. 

GS: No. It sounds sweet. If it was me getting emails from young girls it would sound dodgy. 

PD: If I could speak at a school every week then I would. My cousins are my favourite girls in the world to hang out with and they are 13/14. Shopping with them is still exciting and fun. 

GS: Are you more interested in catwalk fashion or high-street fashion? Or both? 

PD: Nothing compares to the fun of watching live catwalks, I absolutely love it. It gets me very excited. But I can’t afford high end (generally), so high street fashion is where it’s at for me realistically. 

It’s always interesting to see which trends actually make it off the catwalk, because we’ll watch the shows and make assumptions but not every trend gets picked up

GS: I used to be quite interested in fashion. Not catwalk stuff. Just clothes because I was a teenage indie kid, and every musical genre had its own tribal uniform. Indie kids/rudeboys/goths/metallers/grebos etc. That seems to be disappearing. Everyone shops at Top Shop.

You can see someone in tight trousers, a leather jacket and a Stooges t-shirt and they’re actually a JLS fan, but Top Shop/Primark sells these looks to everyone. 

PD: Has it changed? Or are we older? I’m not sure. But part of me really hates how strong the trends are on the high street now. You can’t get simple clothes. 

And I don’t like people who purposely dress dishevelled when they’re rich. That probably sounds awful, but this faux-punk idea of privileged kids makes me gag. People that make an extra effort to look shit, ya know? 

GS: It feels like the high street incorporates underground fashion so quickly now that within a month of some weird trend, Primark are selling a copy for a tenner and everyone is wearing it. 

PD: Yep, definitely. It’s very, very fast. 

GS: But as you say, it’s also about getting older. I’d like to dress cooler, but that would probably involve me having the figure of a skinny 21-year old. And that isn’t me. 

PD: I have no idea why men wear skinny jeans. It makes me feel ill. 

GS: I think it’s so that people can admire the shape of their mobile phones in the jean pockets. 

GS: How many proposals/sexual overtures do you get per week? 

PD: Many a day. Some are becoming police matters. 

GS: Your FAQ mentions people offering to pay you for sex. Does that really happen? 

PD: It comes back to what we were talking about earlier though, if someone emails me asking to take me out why would I *EVER* say yes? They know so much about me (supposedly) and I know nothing about them. 

And yes, I get emails from married men and men offering to pay. Again, why someone would email from their work email address with their real name is beyond me. I could phone their boss. Or their wife. 

GS: Wow. That’s weird. Also, I’ve been on the Internet for about 15 years and no-one has EVER offered to pay me for sex. 

PD: How much would you charge? 

GS: That depends what people would want. I would offer a sliding scale, to take into account people on lower incomes who might want to sleep with me. 

I worry enough about what to charge people for my books, let alone for sex. 

PD: I’d worry someone might ask for their money back. 

GS: So, tell me about your obsession with Dustin Hoffman. 

PD: It’s pretty bad. I don’t watch Dustin movies because it upsets me too much. I haven’t seen most of them. It started with Straw Dogs, which is one of my all time favourite films.

GS: As a short Jewish man, your obsession with Dustin Hoffman comforts me greatly. 

PD: Do you like his voice? 

GS: I find it a bit nasal. To be honest, I haven’t thought about his voice very much. I like him. I love The Graduate and Tootsie but he’s been in so many rubbish films recently that some of the shine wears off. 

He’s an odd actor for you to obsess over though. In the sense that he’s not a conventionally handsome man. 

PD: I recently dated someone who was conventionally handsome, it was strange. I like older men generally, 40 plus. Although I am trying to be a bit more sensible about that… 

GS: You’re now going to be inundated by offers from older men. 

PD: …As older men generally come with a bit more hassle 

GS: Yes. Incontinence and prostate problems. 

PD: Well that’s another problem isn’t it? When I’m 50 they’ll be 70. But 70 years olds can be fun. (I haven’t slept with one) 

GS: When I meet someone who is flawless and conventionally beautiful, I struggle to envisage myself going out with them. I assume they are in a different league to me. I like beautiful people but they have to have a flaw, like a glass eye or a terrible skin condition, for me to consider going out with them. 

I think it’s interesting how we can have a veneer of confidence but underneath it’s just a mass of flawed assumptions. 

PD: My main pre-requisite is the ability to work hard and to not be bamboozled by menus in restaurants. 

GS: That rules me out. I do not work hard. My brain never stops working, but that rarely translates into physical activity. When I complete an 8 hour day in an office I genuinely believe I deserve a medal. 

PD: I have dated people who work less than me and it doesn’t work. 

GS: Before being a fashion blogger, you worked in tech. How was that? 

PD: It was amazing. And I still consider myself to work in tech really. I’m working on a new site and an iPhone app, things that I wouldn’t be confident to do if my background wasn’t in tech. 

I like working in start-ups and like working with developers, there’s a lot less fucking around. You just do stuff. 

Well you do piss around but it’s not like being with artsy types. 

GS: Careful. I may be an artsy type. 

PD: I like artsy types, but I wouldn’t go into business with them.

GS: My experience with tech people was that they were full of energy and ideas but were often sociopaths. 

PD: Yes but that can be quite nice, just getting on with things in silence. A lot of that is a stereotype, but if we’re going to go down the stereotype route then I prefer working with cold/direct/socially awkward people to OTT/fake/loud people. 

GS: Yes. I like a bit of both. To be honest, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to work with other people. Most of my work is done from a small room, with only woodlice and memories for company. 

PD: I keep my blinds down because I don’t want to be reminded of the outside world. 

GS: I find the sunshine outside my window a constant torment. 

PD: People who think you and I tweet a lot forget how much we are just “in a room”, to quote yourself. 

GS: Yes, indeed. 

PD: We’re devoid of human contact.

GS: It’s true. Sometimes I talk to people at bus stops, just to feel alive. 

PD: The postman can’t figure me out. 

GS: Let’s talk about something else. What books are you reading at the moment? 

PD: I’m reading The Upgrade by Paul Carr, Anger Management by Giles Coren andMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. 

And I feel like I’m always reading The Saturday Times and Sunday Times, they last me all week. 

GS: Ok. Hmmm. Paul Carr. I remember Paul. He set up The Friday Project, who published my book. He also brought down The Friday Project, although he did have some help with that. 

PD: He signed my breasts recently. I love his writing. 

GS: I think he’s very good at being Paul Carr. I quite like him but I wouldn’t work with him again. He gets things done, but he leaves a lot of corpses behind. 

PD: Is it bad to love Giles Coren? Because I do love his wordmanship.

GS: No. I never know what to think of Giles Coren. On one hand I think he’s a smarmy, smug journo who only got the job because of his dad. On the other hand, I think he writes well, is provocative and doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think I’m a better writer than him, but that’s based on ego not evidence. 

PD: I adore him. And Victoria. I fucking love The Times full stop. Is that weird? I’m a bit paranoid that I love it too much. 

GS: No. Not at all, before it went behind the Paywall, I would read The Guardian and The Times online in an attempt to get a reasonably balanced view. I couldn’t exclusively read either of them. The Times offers a very comforting vision of a forgotten England, but it feels a bit detached. And right-wing. 

PD: Is Caitlin (Moran) a friend of yours? 

GS: Not really. We both used to post on Popbitch many years ago, and I’ve met her once or twice in the pub but that’s it. I think she’s a really good writer. I like her sense of humour and how irreverent she is. And the fact that she does it in The Times, so she’s not playing to her natural audience. 

PD: Yes I love her. I love them all. 

GS: I was about to write a long thing about ME and the media and then remembered that this is about you, not me. 

PD: Hah. Yes, it’s me today. 

GS: Do you have any secret plans to conquer the world through TV, etc? 

PD: Not through TV…well, maybe TV, but those aren’t what the plans are. I am building a new site and app and they are my focus for the next couple of years. They’ll be launched in July (I hope). And I would like to finish writing a children’s book that I have started. 

GS: Hooray. Do you have any final plugs or statements you want to make? 

PD: Please visit http://wiwt.com/ and tell your friends and email me if we can collaborate in any way and please help me meet Dustin Hoffman. Thank you x 

GS: Thank you.

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Twupdate

December 15, 2010

It’s been nearly a month since I last posted on Twitter and I’ve found the break very enjoyable and surprisingly easy. I thought I would struggle but apart from a couple of bored evenings Twitter hasn’t really crossed my mind. I check every few days for replies in case I’ve been sexually propositioned, but I’m not reading other people’s tweets (not much change there then!)

One of the reasons I wanted a break from Twitter was to regain some of the many hours I lose every day to pointless social media stuff. Twitter is great when you’re stuck in a boring situation (on a bus or in a meeting) but it had gotten to the point where I would wake up at 9am, think to myself: “Oh, I’ll just check Twitter” and still find myself glued to my PC for the rest of the day. And that would be fine if I had a job and was tweeting in the background, but my situation wasn’t like that. It was just a mostly unemployed man writing a series of one-liners to a load of strangers all day, whilst they polited applauded or replied or pointed and jeered. Which isn’t quite how I want to spend my life. It’s all very well killing time if you’re stuck in a 9-5, but when the 9-5 is your life then killing time just means wasting your life. And whilst wasting my life is sorely tempting, I do want something more.

So, what have I been doing with that glorious time I’ve recaptured from Twitter? Some of it has just been wasted on Facebook. Pornography has also picked up some of the slack. I’ve also read more books and watched more films. But mostly I’ve been fairly productive, on a social level, if not always creatively.

One of the oddly compulsive things about Twitter is that you always want more. When you have 5 replies you want 10 replies. When you have 500 followers you want 1000 followers and when you have 9000 followers you want 10,000 followers, as though that is going to make a material difference to the quality of your life. And it occurred to me that rather than desperately trying to get new followers, I should spend more time getting to know the people I’ve befriended over the last year or so. And so that’s what I’ve done. I tend to avoid big Twitter meet-ups because it inevitably means you spend loads of time chatting to people you don’t really know or like and not getting the chance to speak to people who actually interest you. I’ve just been having coffee or lunch or booze with people, talking about shit and seeing where it goes. I absolutely love Twitter but it’s quite nice being a human being for a while.

On the occasions when I do check Twitter, I find it slightly bewildering. When you are tweeting non-stop you don’t recognise how quickly everything happens on Twitter, and what an insular, self-referential bubble it is. If you consider a political issue (wikileaks or student riots) then in the world outside Twitter you have the time to weigh up the pros and cons, change your mind, remain uncommitted and ambivalent. On Twitter (at least within the particular Twitter bubble I’ve inhabited) within 5 hours of something happening, battle lines have been clearly drawn. People have immediate, concrete opinions and villify those who disagree. An “awareness-raising” hashtag is developed. Someone creates a satirical twitter account in the name of one of the main protagonists. An article by Johan Hari or Graham Linehan is endlessly retweeted as though it were the Holy Grail. A Daily Mail article is retweeted as though it were Mein Kampf. A backlash starts in which a few contrary tweeters pick fights. And you start really hating or loathing Twitter people based solely on bursts of propoganda. All of this before 2pm. One of the nicest things about my break has been allowing my brain to gently expand to the point where it can entertain concepts beyond 140 characters, where there is room for a hundred indecisions and a hundred visions and revisions. Where I don’t feel the need to have an object to hate or resent. It feels like stepping off a merry-go-round and finding my bearings. Obviously, after a while it gets boring in the real world because merry-go-rounds are  fun.

When I was about 14 or 15 years old I was very unhappy at school. And I hung around a group of friends who weren’t really friends. I assumed they were friends because I saw them every day, but actually they treated me like shit. But it took me years to work out the simple fact that I didn’t have to spend time with them; that I could walk away and hang out with other people who weren’t evil twats. And my recent time of Twitter reminds me of that – not in the sense that anyone on Twitter was treating me badly, but just in the sense that sometimes you forget that you can take a deep breath and walk away; that the world will not crumble if you change friends or stop tweeting for a bit. And of course, whereas I grew to hate the “friends” at school, I really like most of the people I know on Twitter, and I love the sense of endless possibilities that Twitter offers. And yes, I will be back.

But when I return I want to be a little wiser in how I use it. I’m 35, am single, live in a room in a friend’s flat, and have no discernible career. Because I’m quite high-profile on Twitter people assume that I’ve well-connected and have some kind of media career. I don’t. I know almost no-one in the media and my job prospects are no better than they were 10 years ago. I see writers 10 years younger than me getting Guardian columns and sitcom offers – not because they are more or less talented than me, but because they make things happen. Meanwhile, I get by on odd bits of freelance work from the same old sources. But I wake up some mornings terrified that I’m on the scraphead, that whilst my peers have £60,000-a-year jobs, and homes they own, and wives and kids and cars, I haven’t acheived anything of note (aside from publishing a book 5 years ago that made me no money and was mostly ignored). And I suspect that if I want that to change; if I want to make something of my life, to feel that I have some sense of direction and purpose (even if I never make much money) then I can’t just kill the days on Twitter. I can’t just tweet endlessly in the hope that some Hollywood sugar-daddy is going to pluck me from obscurity and shower me with opportunities and riches. I have to make things happen. I’m not really sure how, but thats’ another story.

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Busy

November 21, 2010

I haven’t wasted my time off Twitter. Oh no. Never. I’ve sent various emails and also updated my CV. I’m available for work if anyone fancies hiring me to do things. I’m a social media guru. I’m followed on Twitter by Charlie Brooker. That’s got to be worth 5o grand a year.

But I’ve mainly spent time being Greg as opposed to being themanwhofellasleep, which is time well spent. I also met Ricky Villa. I’ll write about that properly some other time.

I’ve done some stuff that involves words and pictures. It was, like most things, an accident. I will continue to add pictures when I feel like it:  http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/londontales.html

Oh, and for those who missed my last book quiz at the Big Green Bookshop and want to have a go at home, here are the questions: http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/questions_nov.doc and here are the answers: http://www.themanwhofellasleep.com/answers_nov.doc

I may return to Twitter soon. I’ve quite enjoyed my break. It’s odd because yesterday I had a quick peek from behind the curtains and it looked ridiculous. Like a load of grown men dressed as worms having an argument about X Factor. I felt a twinge.

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Hearts

November 10, 2010

Some people think their heart has been broken. Maybe they are right. My heart has never been broken. Nothing so melodramatic.

The heart is a stone. And life is the ocean. And over the course of thousands of mornings and afternoons and nights, the tide of life, the ebb and flow of disappointment and expectation erodes the heart, until it hardly resembles a heart at all. It’s a smooth, flat stone; a lozenge of indifference. It remains whole, intact, a miniature version of its former self, a poetic afterthought.

It happens so softy, so slowly, that we hardly notice. There is no moment of truth; no epiphany. There is no fracture, just the inevitable dimming of hope. The featureless surrender to the everyday. It is a small thing; a bored afternoon, a misplaced laugh, an anonymous evening. It is a small thing lost in an ocean.

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Stephen Fry’s opinions are not important

November 3, 2010

I’ve never been a particular fan of Stephen Fry. I think he’s a moderately talented man, but I can’t for the life of me work out why he’s considered a genius or a national treasure.

He’s clearly an intelligent, sensitive man. I admire his openness about mental illness. He champions many good causes. But he doesn’t seem like a genius to me. About ten years ago I read a couple of his novels. They were passable but nothing amazing. I could list many contemporary British novelists who write far better than he does but don’t get half as much exposure. He’s a good but not great comic actor. He’s a decent but undistinguished director. His documentaries tend to be crowd-pleasing middle-brow exercises (“I’ll drive around America. Me! Stephen Fry! With rednecks! And gangsta rappers!”). His journalism is solid but no more than that. He’s a good quiz show host. It’s not that he’s terrible at any of the things he does, it’s just that I don’t think he’s particularly great at them either – were he not already an established television star I can’t think that his novels would have garnered anything more than a small but loyal following.

Perhaps his real talent lies in the crafting of his own persona: that of an eccentric English boffin, reassuringly upper-class but never snootily posh, a loveable professor: the type who wanders Oxford in tweed and corderoy, undisturbed by the modern world. He’s a comforting image of an England many believe has passed away. We can listen to him on Radio 4, sipping our tea and murmuring, “Oh, Stephen is so terribly clever,” as we think of a more pleasant, civilized time, when David Niven and Roger Livesey strolled through Michael Powell fields.

I should state that there’s nothing wrong with this. As I’ve mentioned, I think he’s a bright, fairly talented man. The fact that many people seem to think he’s a genius is hardly his fault. If people were calling me a genius I wouldn’t be in a hurry to correct them.

Anyway, I’m not naturally predisposed towards Stephen Fry. We’ve established that. Which brings us up to the events of this week, when The Guardian published an article criticising him for an interview in Attitude magazine in which he waffled on for a couple of paragraphs about the fact that he didn’t think women enjoyed sex as much as men did.

I found myself sympathising with him, at least initially.

The whole furore has been ridiculous. Mostly because it doesn’t fucking matter. It’s just his opinion. He’s just some bloke. He’s not The Pope or an elected official. He’s one man and it’s his opinion on female and male sexuality. It’s not as though he’s demanding women be stoned to death or have their right to vote rescinded. From the outcry in some papers, you’d think he was a leading Feminist Gender Theorist who had suddenly gone mad and claimed women must be circumcised. This being Broadsheetland, rather than a muted shrug of indifference, there’s been countless articles about just how much women love sex and what a terrible man Stephen Fry is, as though the women of Britain were unable to have sexual fun without a waspish columnist in The Independent telling them that nasty Mr Fry was wrong, and that ladies really do love orgasms. I think Stephen Fry’s comments were a bit stupid, but I don’t think he’s suddenly some mysognistic monster, sneering down at women from a massive cock-shaped altar. To repeat: He’s a man voicing his opinion. You do not have to agree with him. You can ignore him.

The whole reaction depresses me because it seems emblematic of a climate in which the perameters for debate are so narrow that anything outside the stifling consensus is seen as a heretical attack that deserves at least one stern slapdown from Rosie Boycott. The tone of some of the newspaper pieces has made it sound like he’s commited a crime, rather than make an observation. It makes me want to write an article claiming that women do not enjoy fisting puppies, just so someone can sternly counter with “ALL women enjoy fisting puppies, you patriarchal monster!”

However, the newspapers’ reactions have not been as annoying as those of Fry himself. He claimed to be misquoted and then flounced off Twitter, saying that he’d been treated like the Antichrist. Generally speaking, when someone has been misquoted, they tell the public what they actually said. Stephen Fry hasn’t done this, which leads me to believe he wasn’t misquoted; he just wasn’t expecting The Spanish Inquisition. As for the reaction from the press, well of course it’s over-the-top, but he should expect that. He’s not some naive 17-year-old X Factor finalist – he’s a fiftysomething man who has worked as a journalist and has decades of experience in the public eye. He seems to think that giving an interview to Attitude – a gay magazine – doesn’t count as a public statement and that he doesn’t have to stand by his words. It’s almost as though he’s saying: “Oh, I was talking to the gays. I didn’t realise the straights were also going to read it.” If you do an interview with a magazine (in which you are the cover star) you can’t act surprised when the quotes are picked up in the mainstream press. And since he’s spent the last decade riding a wave of relentless self-promotion (I can’t help but think that a book of Oscar Wilde stories should have Oscar Wilde on the cover, rather than Stephen Fry) he can hardly be surprised when national newspapers follow stories about him. And since he himself hasn’t been averse to giving celebrities or journalists a metaphorical kicking when they have said things he’s disagreed with, he can’t grumble too much.

Quitting Twitter seemed like the action of a child taking home his bat and ball because not everyone loves him. No doubt he will return at some point. He did last time. If I were him, rather than saying I’d been misquoted or treated like the Antichrist, I would explain that it was just opinion. That actually, Stephen Fry’s opinion on female sexuality doesn’t matter; that actually, Stephen Fry’s opinions on most things don’t matter. That women will continue enjoying or hating sex whatever Stephen Fry or Rosie Boycott or anyone else says. That Stephen Fry is not God or Jesus, the Antichrist or a genius. He’s just a normal, flawed human being, the same as the rest of us.

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Invisibilia

October 30, 2010

A few days ago I was having an argument with Rhodri Marsden on Twitter about how the mainstream press rips content off the internet without crediting or paying the original creators. I was arguing that the mainstream press treats the Internet as a treasure trove of material it can “borrow” without payment. I was mostly refering to text. Anyway, I forgot about the argument until tonight…

Back in 2004 I was playing around with a technique in Photoshop that involved tracing people. I’d always enjoyed drawing/tracing and generally fucking around with photos. This time I decided to trace a person but leave the background intact. It looked good. The figures had an odd, slightly spectral quality. I assumed loads of other people would have already used the same technique, but I couldn’t actually find any examples. There were lots of traced or rotoscoped images, but none in which the background had been left untraced. Similarly, there were lots of instances where cartoon characters had been drawn on photographic backgrounds, but none where a real photographed figure had been “removed” through drawing. Hooray.

I did about 10 or 12 of these images, either using family snapshots or photos I’d found on the internet.

I gathered them together and made a gallery for them on my website. I called them: Invisibilia. Boosted by an unashamedly pretentious piece of introductory prose (I’ve since toned it down) the pictures turned out to be really successful, with loads of linkblogs (this was the days before Facebook and Twitter) pointing traffic towards my website.

People really liked the pictures. I did get quite a few comments saying that the pictures were reminiscent of the classic A-HA video for Take On Me. In fact, the Take On Me video is more like rotoscoping. There’s lots of tracing and there’s merging of live-action and animation but the visual style is very different – a loose, sketchy pencil style – and a lot of the video is just old-fashioned animation with no photography involved.

I kept getting emails asking me how to recreate the style, so In 2005 I created a simple photoshop tutorial explaining how I did it. Over time, the Invisibilia series has been linked to thousands of times, and thanks to the tutorial, lots of people have tried their own versions of Invisibilia pics, as this Flickr search demonstrates.

Since then I’ve continued to do the Invisibilia pictures – because I enjoy it. Even when I’m sick of writing, I rarely get sick of drawing.  I stopped using photos from the Internet and started using only my own source photos. And the pictures continue to be very successful, as these links suggest.

This afternoon I was at my mother’s house and happened to see the back cover of this week’s Time Out London magazine. The back cover was an advert for Madrid, courtesy of The Spanish Tourist Board. It looks like this:

In terms of style and overall effect, it is very, very similar to my Invisibilia pictures. And the odd thing is that the advert doesn’t really explain itself – it’s not really apparent what the point of the ad is. It’s almost as though a designer has just said: “Hey, this is a good visual gimmick, let’s use it on an advert” and the client has agreed.

Now, I am not saying that whoever designed the advert ripped me off. It’s entirely possible that they developed the style independently. More importantly, is it even possible to “rip off” someone’s style? All artists borrow techniques and styles from one another. One artist will paint lines inspired by Picasso, another will use brushstrokes taken from Cezanne. There’s always been a lot of debate in the world of comics as to when a tribute becomes a blatant steal. And it’s not like I was the first person to trace someone in Photoshop. Still, the overall effect of the advert is oddly similar to that of the Invisibilia pics. And the advertising industry has a very bad reputation when it comes to borrowing ideas from artists and writers. There are whole blogs dedicated to pointing out the similarities between original work and copycat adverts.

I don’t know if I have a leg to stand on or not. Maybe the designer just saw the Invisibilia pictures and decided to do some of their own. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Anyway, I am curious to investigate, so on Monday I’m going to try to find out which agency commissioned the ad. We shall see where it leads…

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10 Twitter rules

October 28, 2010

I don’t want to turn this blog into endless reflections on Twitter, but it’s something I feel comfortable writing about, as opposed to the millions of things I currently feel uncomfortable writing about. I’ll save those for another time.

So I thought I’d write a few rules for Twitter. Of course, aside from the obvious legal terms and conditions, there are no rules for Twitter. Everyone uses Twitter in different ways, and what one person considers acceptable another person will consider taboo. But despite this, a set a accepted/acceptable behaviours has evolved, at least with the people I interact with on Twitter. Anyway, I wouldn’t really be so pompous as to say these are rules. They are just suggestions. Ok, in no particular order of importance…

Rule #1: Do not ask people to follow you

I get this quite a lot. I tweet something. Someone replies (let’s call them @MrZingPopper) and I reply. This happens a few times over a few days. Then one evening @MrZingPopper tweets: “Hey, dude! Will you follow me?” And it gets awkward. Either I ignore the tweet or I politely decline. Sometimes I explain the following: Be yourself. It helps if you are naturally clever, original or stunningly attractive. Be yourself and maybe I’ll follow you. Maybe I won’t. If someone is consistently clever, funny or interesting when they reply to me, then I’ll probably follow them, at least for a while. The vast majority of people I follow on Twitter are people who interacted with me: I liked what they said, so I followed them. You cannot force someone to follow you and emotional blackmail always fails.

Similarly, do not say: “We’ve met in real life. You have to follow me.” or “You follow all my friends. Why don’t you follow me?” Twitter is not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship of the individual.

Rule#2: Do not be offended if someone unfollows you

There are services that tell you who unfollows you. I don’t use these services. I never would. I don’t blame anyone for unfollowing me. I know I tweet a lot and I know it’s not always to everyone’s taste. No-one is obliged to follow me. I know friends who I get on with brilliantly in real life but they don’t follow me on Twitter because I fill up their timeline with junk.

If someone stops following you, it’s their choice. You can be offended if you want, but I’d recommend keeping it to yourself or looking like a tit.

Rule #3: If you are going to unfollow someone, just do it

Every so often I get a tweet along the lines of “So pleased I’ve unfollowed @themanwhofell” or “@themanwhofell – I was told you’re really funny. You aren’t! Bye”. It’s just rude. We all find people on Twitter who are disappointing or whose tweets we get sick of. So we unfollow them. But in the vast majority of cases, these people haven’t begged you to follow then. You have followed them freely and of your own will, so if you don’t enjoy their tweets it’s not their fault. Twitter isn’t a contract whereby someone is obliged to entertain you – if you don’t like their tweets, quietly disappear and follow someone else.

Rule #4: Be discreet

If you want to slag off a public figure on Twitter, there are two ways you can do it. You can say: “Stephen Fry is boring.” or you could say: “I think @stephenfry is boring.”  The first is addressed to your followers. The second is an insulted hurled directly at Stephen Fry. Which is rude, even if you do think Stephen Fry is boring (which I do). Some people would argue that the latter is better, because it’s more upfront. But Twitter isn’t about being upfront. It’s about millions of concurrent conversations. One of the unhappy byproducts of Big Brother and other forms of reality TV is that being honest and upfront is valued more than being discreet, which is seen as being sneaky or  “talking behind someone’s back”. All insults are permissable as long as they are hurled directly into someone’s face with a side bowl of spittle. But Twitter isn’t Big Brother and whereas on Big Brother if you discreetly tell someone you think Stephen Fry is boring it will be broadcast to millions and your attempt at discretion will backfire, on Twitter it will normally just disappear into the ether. So be discreet. Which brings us on to…

Rule #5: Beware who is watching

We often fall into the trap of thinking that Twitter is a private conversation. It’s not. Unless you protect your tweets, then anyone with an internet connection can read what you are writing. So be careful what you write, especially when it comes to public figures. Many celebrities have automated searches set up so that they can see every mention of their name. This is a particularly stupid thing to do, but it goes on. It’s stupid because if you are public figures people will tweet about you a great deal and often what is written isn’t very complimentary. My feeling is that negative tweets will either be insulting: “I think Duncan Bannatyne is a twat.” or slanderous: “Duncan Bannatyne steals from pensioners”. And whereas the first is fair comment, the second is potentially very problematic. We are free to form our own opinions on public figures, but we cannot spread lies about them.

The real problem is the question of context. Most things on Twitter are offensive when taken out of context. The vast amount of people on Twitter are young people (I use the word “young” loosely), bored at work, making jokes and passing the time. If a group of people were sitting in an office, or a pub, making bad puns or cracking jokes about Richard Madeley, the chances of Richard Madeley hiding in the corner of the pub and overhearing one of these jokes out of context would be very low. On Twitter this isn’t the case. There are ears everywhere.

We all view Twitter through our own prism. I may be tweeting with @iamjamesward, @wowser, @wh1sks and @debsa on a Friday night and we may be drunkenly conjuring up a fictional sitcom in which Richard Madeley and Duncan Bannatyne run an undertakers in Grimsby. Someone will tweet: “Richard likes to finger the recently deceased corpses.” and I might reply with: “After a few drinks Duncan Bannatyne angrily punches pensioners.” It’s just a ridiculous comedy conceit and that is clear to anyone who follows us. But what if Duncan Bannatyne doesn’t follow us? What if he just has an automated search set up for his name? All he will see is an isolated tweet in which I’ve said that he punches pensioners and may have a drink problem. And he’ll probably get irate. And then it gets nasty.

As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, Twitter isn’t lots of little closed rooms. It’s one massive room with everyone gathered in tiny circles, thinking that they are chatting among themselves. And in one circle it’ll be a group of pissed-up students, and in another circle it’ll be a group of earnest political journalists, and in another group it’ll be a group of social media gurus wanking each other off. And everyone is having fun. But at any given point anything anyone tweets can be seen in isolation, separate from its context. And it can look very bad. So be careful what you say. If someone takes offence, try to explain the context in which it was tweeted. And remember that saying: “It’s just Twitter” isn’t a defence. You have made a statement about someone. Be prepared to back it up, explain it, or apologise.

Rule #6: Do not snitch

Let’s imagine that I am taking the piss out of Gregg Wallace from Masterchef. It’s unlikely, I know. Imagine that I have drawn a stupid picture of Gregg Wallace, which I then tweet. I do not tweet Gregg Wallace himself because a) I do not want to offend him and b) it’s none of his business. The picture is retweeted and eventually some bright spark (lets call him @BemGood) decides to retweet the picture, including Gregg Wallace’s username into the tweet so he can see it. If this were done because @BemGoo thought that the picture was a dreadful insult and Gregg Wallace should be able to defend himself, then fair enough. But normally that’s not the case. It turns out that @BemGood assumes that I didn’t know that Gregg Wallace was on Twitter and that I will be extraordinarily pleased that not only has he found Gregg Wallace, but he’s directed my tweet straight to him! Brilliant! Except I already knew Gregg Wallace was on Twitter and deliberately decided not to tweet him.  And @BemGood is a dick.

Rule #7: Do your own dirty work

If you are a celebrity, or even if you’re just a bloke who sits in a room all day and has 8000 followers, you have a certain degree of influence. And that means that a lot of your followers will be slavish, brain-dead idiots who are desperate to ingratiate themselves with you. And this means that if the celebrity gets into an argument with @TheGasManBimbo12 and tweets “@TheGasManBimbo12 is a troublemaker who called me an arse!” then a certain proportion of your followers, being slavish, brain-dead idiots, will then decide to make life a misery for @TheGasManBimbo12, tweeting them all sorts of insults and death-threats and the like. It happens. I once got into an argument on Twitter with a mentally unstable woman on Twitter who was spreading lies that I was a BNP supporter. I repeatedly had to explain to my followers that it was my battle to fight and I didn’t want them causing trouble on my behalf. Because I’m not a bully. But also because I wanted to win the argument by being right, as opposed to winning because I had more followers than her. Anyone can win an argument on Twitter by having more followers than someone else and hounding them into submission. What I dislike most about this tactic is that it is underhand. The celebrity can wash their hands of it and say “I never told my followers to do anything.” They never have to.

Rule #8: Ignore the obvious joke

Being occasionally funny on Twitter, I get a lot of people trying to impress me by being funny. It normally manifests itself by me asking a sensible questions and getting 200 wacky “comedy” answers. At a recent event, I wanted to show Twitter in action so I asked a banal question: “What is your favourite crisp?” Lots of people gave their answers and it was interesting (depending on your level of interest in crisps). But about 40 people all answered Quentin Crisp. And the irony is that the people who were serious all gave different answers, whereas the people who all wanted to be different ended up all giving the same answer. So please, avoid the obvious joke.

Rule #9: Avoid rubbish hashtag campaigns

This is a controversial one. Some people think Twitter is an amazing way of bringing injustice to light and creating new forms of social activism. Maybe. But a lot of the time it’s a cheap way to sling about slogans without any reasonable debate. Because Twitter is great for many things, but it’s not an amazing place for in-depth debate. More than that, these hashtags tend to be promoted by the same smug, self-righteous idiots and they simply preach to the converted. A year or so ago, there were people using #smashtheBNP on their tweets. A noble aim, but there’s very few things more pointless than a load of liberal, middle-class Guardian readers tweeting each other to say that the BNP are nasty. They hardly represent the core demographic of the BNP. Some would argue that if these hashtags don’t do any good, at least they don’t do any harm. I would disagree, in that they lull people into a false sense of security, first of all that their views are shared by a wider population, and second of all that they don’t have to actually get out on the streets and protest, because they have added a hashtag to their tweets. We all tweet within our own little bubble, and these bubbles often have little relationship with wider reality. If you were to judge politics by the people I follow on Twitter, you would have thought that Labour had won the last general election by 97%, with the Lib Dem and Conservatives sharing 3%. In real life it didn’t work out like that.

Rule #10: Avoid hashtag games

Ah, once again, the dreaded hashtag. When I first joined Twitter I followed someone (A British comedian. I can’t remember who it was.) and was horrified to find their entire timeline was a massive list of weak puns. And then I realised that after each pun was a hashtag (it could have been anything: UnderwaterBeatles, ITVporn, BaconLyrics, invent your own…) Lost of people see the hashtag as a license to remove all quality control filters. If the news that the BBC budget has been slashed, I can see the point of one quality pun about a budget TV show (No Cash In The Attic, etc) but people don’t do just one pun. They feel that because there’s hashtags attached to their tweet, they can churn out 40 weak puns. It’s like being next to an idiot at a party who makes no attempt at conversation and stands there listing every possible combination of budget BBC show. Eventually you just want to kill them.

(Rule #11: Make up your own rules

I can’t do all the work.)