Last Saturday saw me in Hailsham for their annual Bonfire Night. "But James," you protest, "Bonfire Night is on the fifth of November. Don't you remember, remember?"
While that was a very witty thing of you to say, you are in fact wrong here. For reasons best known to the people who live there, Sussex is absolutely mad on Bonfire. So much so that the county's 30 different Bonfire Societies try and have their 'celebrations' on different nights so as to be able to all go to each others'.
They're also very fond of things like this:
It's a giant burning banner, roughly the size of a bus. In case you can't read the letter, they say "lest we forget". Also, there are large wooden doves on either side, and yes that one looks like it's on fire. And of course, this was in the context of screaming, cheering crowds, a parade of thousands of torchbearers dressed as victorians, cowboys, punk rockers etc - and all finished off by a beautiful firework display. Bakhtin called this sort of thing the carnivalesque; social situations where we can collectively run wild and relieve social pressure.
What's interesting about all this stuff is that with the collective sorrow comes a strong sense of triumphalism - hence the fireworks.
In the last six months, twitter has been hailed as the champion, the emblem of, the facilitator of collective action to create social justice. In certain high profile cases, rightly so - god knows the people of, say, Iran don't get enough chance to speak on an unfiltered channel, and giving people an easy way to echo has to be a good thing. However, we're not considering is what the individual might be getting out of the echo. With the agony of a Trafigura comes the ecstasy of collective rage - and with that, the glory of collective victory. But when the pursuit of this same carnivalesque triumphalism overtakes a realistic sense of appropriate justice being done, you get problems. In fact, you get what's often referred to as a mob mentality. A mob, fuelled by relative anonymity.
Now don't get me wrong: Jan Moir has written an extremely distasteful article, Trafigura are very naughty indeed, that TfL staff member was thoroughly nasty to an old man. But it's worrying that both of the linked instances have led to sackings within a day. It's as though the twittering classes are looking to right all that's wrong with the world, one head on a pike at a time. There are many that deserve this treatment. But as communication gets faster and faster, it might take a simple misunderstanding to teach us when it can be too fast:
It can happen. And just like an American with "NO PUBLIC OPTION" scrawled on a placard is trying to communicate a slew of legitimate and intense personal fears that need addressing, every scandal - especially the ones that involve sackings and changing the law - can't have its subtleties expressed in 140 characters.
RT means Me Too.