The next post will be on or before Thursday October 11th
FACEBOOK, ARSEBOOK, FART’S MOAN
I have now been on Facebook for 5 months and it has been a hell of an education. Like all of the recent significant and decidedly positive changes in my life, it was not my own initiative, but that of my daughter Ione aged 29, an automation test engineer currently living in Leeds, UK. It was her intelligent inspiration that put me on a dating site 4 years ago, in order to sort out my widower’s serendipity love life; she who in 2014 got me to start writing again after a 5-year block, by urging me to start up the blog you’re currently reading; she who got me a smartphone which came some 4 months after my hesitant appearance on Facebook. For it is a fact that at first I obstinately resisted every one of Ione’s ground-breaking suggestions, while now I am infinitely grateful she pushed me in the radically convergent directions that she did…
Put your hands up if you know what single thing is the lifeblood and ineffable heartbeat of fb? Yes, that’s right, the photograph, invariably taken by that other indispensable accessory and smirking twin sibling of fb, the smartphone. Take away all the photographs from every fb post that have ever existed and you have absolutely nothing left, literally nothing to write home or abroad about. These photos range from tenderly captured evening sunsets in e.g. the UK Lake District, Montenegro, Ulan Bator, Ipswich, Ramsbottom, the Haugh of Urr, or in my case, Kythnos, which inevitably receive umpteen loyal Likes, to that charming phenomenon of the Updated Profile Photo of conscientious fb aficionados, some of whom change their profile at least once a week. I note to my surprise that both genders in their late 60s and older, who you think in their latter years might have learnt a few salutary lessons when it comes to personal modesty, often take very seriously this presentation of themselves, and see it as virtually a matter of life and death. Almost every day in the Newsfeeds you will see a smiling woman of say 69, with a new and stylish haircut and possibly her old black cat Walter on her shoulder or half obscuring her handsome face, as the new and vital and regenerated avatar of Liz or Sall or Ros. A more comical variant is when some of the Kythnos Albanian lads in their early 20s, friends of mine who work as waiters in the cafes here, regularly put up posts that are exclusively new and flattering mugshots of themselves, and absolutely nothing else. Fb for them is a vehicle for showing themselves as dazzlingly handsome heroes, new Skanderbegs or in the Greek context pallikaris (noble warriors) and I can’t imagine any one of these young men even vaguely feeling that what they are doing is just possibly an unedited expression of personal vanity. They are more like 6-year-old kids saying, Aren’t I beautiful Mummy? and no mother nor indeed anyone else, is likely to tick them off for their artless boasting.
Because photos and instant visual impressions prevail, that means the written word is always subsidiary to the visual and invariably trailing far behind, often half embarrassed. Much of the time people are putting up what used to be called family photo albums and a great many mothers stick up pics of their adorable toddlers, guaranteed to generate an avalanche of likes from all and sundry. Equally you get young couples showing themselves in tanned and sunny happiness on foreign holidays, the only problem being that possibly a few months later they will not be couples and their status ‘Ginnie White is in a relationship with Tommy Brown’ has had to have the latter erased in favour of Dickie Black. There is always an alternative to just Liking any post, which is to add a Comment and it surprised me at first how rare any considered comments are compared to Likes or Smiley Face emojis. When people do comment they are often patently unsure of themselves and write a la pub shorthand conversation on the lines of ‘lovely darling’, ‘so fab’, or the textspeak of ‘you luk great luv’ etc. I would very much emphasise that none of this process is to be despised, for the simple reason that fb is not about highlighting the exceptional and the exclusive among us, those who have had all the spotlight and the lavish blandishments hitherto. Where fb excels and I am not being cynical but wholly approving here, is that it gives a new and radical dignity to ordinary folk who are not particularly literate nor well read nor opinionated nor even moderately confident about their ideas, but just ordinary people who want to show you a friendly photo of their lovably barmy husband or their crazy dog or their gorgeous baby or the hideous flood outside their house after all the pissing rain.
What it amounts to is that fb does not as a rule celebrate the exceptional and the fascinating, but it makes everyone equal and everyone on the same level and it celebrates the very ordinariness and universality of the fb community. One radical, and wholly admirable consequence of this is that for the first time in human history pre and post the internet, arguably dull people living predictable and mundane lives and with nothing much to brag about, suddenly do have something to brag about. As long as they have a smartphone and a fb account they can slap up an amusing pic of some disastrous upside-down cake they made last night, or of their doughty, wizened and moustachioed aunty who is 92 today and has most of her own teeth, or their Alsatian dog licking their tabby cat or the tabby licking the German shepherd and as like as not they will be torrentially flooded with Likes and so can walk around with a spring in their step, whereas 30 years ago isolated and afraid they might well have been on Valium or Librium for their nerves and afraid to step outside the house.
One wholly admirable exception to this celebration of the ordinary is the regular fb posting, usually by angry women of all ages and generations, of polemical or satirical matter aimed at the predictable beyond parody targets and necessarily structured as a striking photo plus cogent bullet points. The targets range from the buffoonish (e.g. UK politician Boris Johnson) to the virtuoso odious in the form of Harvey Weinstein or his long lost cousin Donald Trump. Oddly and unlike Twitter very few of these posts give any links to a longer and more rounded elaboration of the polemic, and I still have no idea why that is.
One thing Ione wisely advised me about early on was never to write too much on fb. As she put it concisely, if with any post you write more than 3 sentences, people simply won’t read it, whether or not it is accompanied by a haunting photo. For a writer like me who pens a blog like this which par excellence believes in discursive prose trying to expound at length my honest and precise musings about people, places, ideas emotions, politics, film, books, TV, the spiritual life, stage ventriloquists (yes, there is an archive post about that) to be obliged to write no more than 3 sentences is a severe and at times surreal discipline. Meanwhile for reasons I don’t understand, even though Ione has explained it several times, I actually have two fb pages, one John Murray Author and one just John Murray. The latter is where I get into gear and tend to put a photo series with brief accompanying text every day, successively me plus a Kythnos character, later Hideaway Greek Islands (including tiny places you’ve never heard of like Arki in the Dodecanese or Othoni in the Dhiapondia isles) and currently Kythnos characters conspicuously minus me. The first and the last are well liked by a variety of Kythnos Greeks, Albanians, Bulgarians and Rumanians. Alas the Hideaway Greek islands which I think more interesting than anything else, get only specialist interest, mostly from my British friends. I think the truth is that ordinary Greeks despite their fetish for eesikhia = ineffable rustic serenity peculiar to Greek islands, aren’t especially fascinated by somewhere with a population of 40 and only 2 tavernas cum shops with a very limited supply of goods and foodstuffs, and dammit on top of all that no bloody wifi = no bloody Facebook.
Finally to explain the genially scatological title of the present post. Ione as I recall went on fb in 2009 when she was in her last year as a politics student at Leeds University. I knew very little about Facebook then and true to form took the jovial paternal piss and immediately dubbed it Arsebook, something which my daughter found most hilarious. Ever since she regularly calls it that herself, and apropos her own tolerant ridicule of the universal monolith that is fb, has often stated that she wastes too much time on it. Meanwhile as I do not have wifi in my house but only in the Kythnos café where I work each day from 8.00 to 16.00, up until recently I was spared 24/7 addiction to Facebook (and while we are at it to Gmail). Then my loving daughter, always alert and alive to my deficiencies, bought me a smartphone and brought it with her when she came here with her partner and 2 friends last month. It is a smartphone that has roaming data, meaning I can now if I wish inspect fb and my emails at my hysterical, indeed disbelieving leisure, at 1.20 and 3.25am. The result is I am like everyone else now, checking my phone like a lunatic, as if in search of the Elixir of Life whereas really all I want to know is if I have any more Likes. As for the sarcastic inversion of smartphone to fart’s moan, Ione found this equally hilarious. We both after discussion decided that a human fart could sometimes sound like a plaintive sort of moan, especially if it were that of a polite and embarrassed young woman.