Encore Theatre Magazine
:: Friday, January 12, 2007 ::
Anonymity or Cowardice?
David Eldridge (pictured, with Marla Rubin) has recently been the subject of a bruising encounter on the blogosphere. Not his own very wonderful blog but on Fin Kennedy’s (also very wonderful) site. An anonymous contributor made some very aggressive and personal remarks which David responded to in a characteristically forthright and pugnacious tone. This escalated until Fin was forced to suspend comments on the site. For a while, it seems, David contemplated giving up his blog.
This set us thinking at Encore because anonymity is part of the problem. Most people are ruder about others behind their backs than they would be to their faces. If they are sure it won’t get back to them, they are ruder still. Internet comment-posting allows complete anonymity and some people have taken the opportunity it affords to be very rude to people, like David, who stick their neck out and write about themselves online.
Of course, so do we. Encore has been very rude about certain people in the past. We doubt that Sheridan Morley or Toby Young or Sir David Hare are fans of our site. In a couple of weeks we think it likely that Quentin Letts will go right off us. We are also anonymous and this latest flare-up has made us ask again about the value of anonymity and examine our motives.
We have always maintained anonymity because we want to be able to criticise institutions we may work in and people we may work with. We also want to praise these institutions and people without it looking like social climbing. If the objects of our praise don’t know who we are, we can’t benefit, which is important. Our independence is important to us. Theatre companies have written to us wondering if we could write about some show of theirs. We always say we might do but we won’t ever promise a puff-piece. Anonymity allows us to maintain that independence without consequence.
Glyn Cannon, or someone pretending to be Glyn Cannon, once argued, very interestingly, that without authorship, comments have no authority. As we said at the time:
It depends on the judgment; if I announce that Michael Frayn has a headache, theWe also feel passionately that ideas and debates don’t always have to be dragged down into interpersonal rivalry. As David Eldridge has put on his blog recently, responding to us,
value of that claim is devalued unless I am Michael Frayn. But if I announce
that Michael Frayn earned £2m last year and draw your attention to his public
accounts, does it matter to the judgement who I am? You might start wondering
why someone would want to reveal Frayn's financial situation. But you might also
wonder that if I named myself.
I thoroughly loathe the inane modern certainties [...] that any action must beWe hope ideas can be appreciated in themselves and we don’t hope to gain personally from any of this. In fact, writing for this blog takes up time that probably should be spent on other things.
motivated by reasons of ego, selfishness, emotional-indulgence or materialistic
gain and perceive them as such.
What ‘Anonymous’ said about David on Fin’s blog was personal and irrelevant to artistic judgment and that's the difference. Maybe we’ve stepped over the line once or twice. We did mock Sheridan Morley’s beard a couple of times, which is probably not really at the heart of what is so objectionable about the old buffoon. But looking back over the various things we've written, we feel fairly happy that what we've written may have been written very savagely (and, no, we wouldn't enjoy reading such things about ourselves) but they are also usually argued.
Also - and does this need saying? - this is all the product of love. In the theatre, we ironclad ourselves against disappointment and failure, and from the horror and sadness that these rich and intense and joyful experiences pass and are over, the cast scattering to other shows, the sets dismantled, the attention dwindling, the show fading into the monchrome of distant memory. We harden our hearts and talk about making work, having a job, getting a gig, to disguise from ourselves the terrible joy of all this. If we didn't care about this work and - whisper it softly - deep down genuinely believe that the experiences that we make and witness are among the most important and profound experiences in our lives, we would not express our criticisms with such passion. So we are inclined to maintain our anonymity, risk crossing the line, and continue to honour and denounce with all the force at our disposal.
Fortunately for the blogosphere, David Eldridge seems to have been persuaded to continue with his blog. So we can continue to follow the fortunes of his writing career, West Ham, and, of course, his dog. And hopefully soon we will find out what was in the letter he received before Christmas that made him weep tears of joy.
Labels: anonymity, criticism, david eldridge, encore