Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Twitter blows its own lungs out over AA Gill

with 8 comments

I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about AA Gill’s revelation that he shot a monkey on holiday for the sheer hell of it.

Included in Gill’s restaurant review for the Sunday Times was a sizeable chunk of the text given over to how he ‘blew its lungs out’ in an effort to see what it would be like to kill something, or kill ‘a close relative’.

I’m uncertain as to what Gill thought he would learn from this experience, though to wind back a bit I do think his first principle is an interesting one.

A charitable reading of his column might suggest that Gill is dubious about how we’re inured to violence both real and fictionalised these days, through the news and shoot-em-up films.

The way that modern life shields us from the reality of death is a common theme in newspaper columns these days too – and I think it’s an issue worth exploring.

But to go from this to shooting a baboon is like worrying what we can do about sexual crimes and then raping someone in an attempt to acquire a greater understanding of the issue.

Anyway, I suspect all the predictable attention on Twitter will only serve to provide Gill a satisfied feeling of validation. Rather like Clarkson he’s a superbly entertaining writer who frames his various chunterings on the world in a column ostensibly concerning cars in Jezza’s case and food in AA’s case.

But both marry their talent to a tiresome iconoclasm that rails against civil society and accepted mores, serving to provide a thrill of the taboo for conservative readers and an object of anger for others.

Media and public alike lap up this kind of mould-breaking, which often skirts taste, decency and – for want of a better word – political correctness. It’s a well-established routine, and well-practicsed by the likes of Clarkson, Gill and Julie Burchill.

Some might say that Gill has misjudged his act this time. I don’t think he’ll see it that way, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if he went and shot a primate in the knowledge that he would attract exactly this sort of response.

I’ve indicated before that I believe newspapers, with an online audience in mind, are deliberately courting this sort of controversy and I don’t expect this will be the last outrage of its kind.

Twitter AA Gill

Twitter has duly gone into attack mode, but I think to raise Gill’s idiocy to the ranks of Jan Moir’s nasty Gately column is a mistake.

This latest episode also raises the prospect of a semi-regular apoplexy of the week on Twitter, where the right-on fraternity go bonkers over any perceived slight, act of stupidity or ideological movement that captures the imagination of Twitter’s lefty groupmind.

It’s not an attractive prospect because I’m not sure the Twitter fraternity, acting as one, can really discern between what’s worth mobilising over and what’s worth writing off as an attention-seeking publicity stunt.

I was with the Twitterati over the NHS, Trafigura, the Mail’s gypsy poll and Jan Moir. But Twitter’s wrong over Gill, and I don’t think it will be the last time.

• UPDATE: Jon Henley has written an article over at The Grauniad that follows on from some of the stuff in this post and uses some quotes from me. See The power of tweets

Written by Robin Brown

October 27th, 2009 at 6:35 pm

8 Responses to 'Twitter blows its own lungs out over AA Gill'

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  1. I actually think Gill’s column is more offensive than Moir’s on the basis that Moir didn’t kill an animal “for fun” in order to write it. Speculating about what it feels like to kill someone, like Gill does, is one thing but to then go out and kill a baboon is plainly a bit weird.

    In the old days, columnists used to write stuff to titillate usually sympathetic readers of their own paper. Now they’re writing much more outrageous stuff to titillate the whole of the internet-using world. I agree, there’ll be more of this sort of thing.

    http://bit.ly/WFPvd

    David Quinn

    27 Oct 09 at 8:02 pm

  2. Apropos of nothing at all, I read Gill’s debut novel. Can’t remember its name now. It’s about a bloke who wanks over his plants in order to make them grow.

    It’s absolute shite.

    Robin Brown

    27 Oct 09 at 9:09 pm

  3. There’s no denying there’s a lefty groupthink on Twitter, but in my view the only reason it’s noticeable in the UK is because the public consensus on most issues (and in most outlets) is so normatively right-wing.

    Viz. the Moir column. Yes, the Twitterati were outraged. But messageboards up and down the land – ranging from military forums to sports boards (to name but two I visit) were screaming that she was right, there was no smoke without fire, and suchlike. Twitter gets more attention, naturally, and the 20K+ complaints it sponsored had a real impact, but that doesn’t address the latent, silent agreement many would have felt with the thrust of Moir’s piece.

    I have to say, I find it difficult to be massively arsed about Gill, possibly because animal rights aren’t high up my personal agenda – although I do think the column is in bad taste and the anecdote says a lot about him as a person. The point he makes that he wanted to know what it was like to kill a person – so he shot a monkey – seems particularly infantile.

    As regards Clarkson, I don’t really think he’s that gifted a writer (though I think he’s a good broadcaster). His writings essentially play up to his image as an arch-defender of middle-class prejudices which, surprisingly enough, his middle-class (and wannabe middle-class) readers agree with. I don’t think he rails against civil society and its accepted mores. I think he defends it and espouses them.

    But the beautiful irony of Top Gear (which I absolutely love) is that it’s a giant public school in-joke on its own viewers. ‘Hamster’, ‘Jezza’ and ‘James’ enjoying some public school high-jinks whilst despising chavs with crappy Peugeots and body kits who seek to emulate them. Aceness.

    The real irony of ‘political correctness’ is that in the UK it is – and always has been to some extent – politically correct to be politically incorrect. Otherwise the Mail and the Sun wouldn’t exist and thus the Government wouldn’t feel compelled listen to them. I don’t think Twitter has really changed much, notwithstanding Moir. Prior to Twitter it was Facebook campaigns, prior to that it was the nine days wonder that was the PM’s petition site.

    Apologies for such a long-winded comment!

    Mike Finn

    28 Oct 09 at 1:08 am

  4. Indeed, I’ve commented a few time on how Twitter seems to be populated by either muesli-eating Guardian readers or urban US kids. It’s an interesting mix.

    I think Clarkson is a good writer when he can be arsed for what it’s worth. And, actually I agree with you on Clarkson railing against society. He doesn’t, but he gives the appearance that he does.

    The Clarkson defence will always be that everything gets a withering put-down, regardless of politics, class or outlook. While this may not be true he gives enough of an impression that is that everyone believes it. He recently called TG fans ‘oafs’!

    As for Twitter, it’s in danger of being seen as a kind of left-wing rent-a-mob. I can’t really get worked up about Gill, but the fact that the balloon went up so quickly leads me to worry that this will be a regular occurrence – lessening the seriousness of other issues that users have confronted and sapping its ability to make a difference gong forward.

    Robin Brown

    28 Oct 09 at 10:02 am

  5. I still maintain he’s a shit shot. The chap I met in a bar on Lewis said he ghillied the twat through the hills of perthshire, and the only stag he ensnared was, in excellent Fawlty style, the one hanging in the lobby of his tweedy hunting lodge. The man’s a fantastic writer, and a bit of a fantasist to boot, I reckon. He also spent half the week falling down glens and ripping the arse out of his Saville Row hunting attire. But if it’s game on as to who can write the apoplexy of the week on Twitter, I’m in. What a spiffing idea. Oh shit, hasn’t Jimmy Carr got a running start. Er…

    skriftuk

    28 Oct 09 at 9:33 pm

  6. I tried to fit in your tweet about the ghillie into the article, but it didn’t seem to slot in anywhere.

    It’s the sheer affectation of people like Gill that irritate me. Of course he earns a fortune while I sit in judgement and, more to the point, earnest penury. Ho hum.

    Robin Brown

    28 Oct 09 at 10:05 pm

  7. […] leave a comment » Some of my words ended up in a Guardian article by Jon Henley today on the ‘power of tweets’ – a balanced piece that sums up a lot of the debate over the nature and power of Twitter have had been batted about the internet recently, not least on this blog, concerning Trafigura, Jan Moir and now AA Gill. […]

  8. […] Yet the die was cast. Wells was not only making racial comments, he was a misogynist too! Complaints would be made; blowhards apologised to Johnson on behalf of Brits everywhere; the Twitter frenzy was upon us once again. […]

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