Is my name a real laugh? Question Time feedback.
I was on BBC's Question Time yesterday. Let me say first of all that it IS quite fun, but a huge amount of work. I've done this three times in three years or so, and found that the only way to proceed was to devote a good 15+ hours or so to mugging up (like exam revision). I dont mean just reading the papers, but going behind the papers to the "real documents", which are always a revelation (never believe the summary you see in the press!) This time it was in Lincoln, and the day before I had read inter alia the Boston "Task and Finish" report (on immigration to Boston) and the full European Court of Human Rights judgement on Christian symbols etc.
The Christian symbols' issue was the subject of the warm up question before recording.. so at least I shared my basic conclusion on this one. Thanks to the exceedingly careful Euro ruling, it's clear enough that, principle or not, each one of these cases also represents a breakdown in workplace relations. There must be thousands of instances where issues of principle clash (religion versus sexuality, for example) and they are resolved in a common-sensical way. It only reaches any sort of court -- let alone ECHR -- when something terrible has gone wrong.
But the big issue on Thursday.. partly because of the panel (inc Nigel Farage) was the EU and immigration. In retrospect I am not sure how well the issues was served by the adversarial format; it doesnt help the kind of nuanced negotiation that is most needed in this debate. But, cripes, I've learned something about socal media.
Let me say straight away that I think that social media have revolutionised this kind of chat show, and in fact having a sense of the reaction of people watching (even if that is "Beard is rubbish" or a hell of a lot worse) makes the experience much more worthwhile. And I try to get back to as many people who contact me by tweet or email as I can (I reckon that on QT I'm there as the academic who argues.. and if people bother to contact me, I owe them a reply, whether we agree or not).
It's what some people choose to say that gobsmacks me.
Again .. a concession. I am a bit of an avid tweeter, sometimes without thinking. I have tweeted rudely and inadvertently and late at night and regretted it. In the last 24 hours I've had very happy contact with new friends who shall remain nameless who have apologised for just the kind of tweets I could have made myself in other circs. They fire off that I am a half wit (or worse.. c-word comes in a bit). I reply & say.. "err hang on" and they make contact to say.. oh whoops... and we agree to differ as friends. In some ways it is the best use of twitter that you could imagine, and we all come out ahead.
But it's the layer below that which is odder.I'm not just talking about the comments on sartorial style. I have chosen to be this way and must live with it, for better or worse. Still you'd be amazed at the kind of casual jibes: "Sort your hair out love" as one more or less suppportive tweet said (thinks and rejects, "I'm a fucking professor of classics, not your love!"). Less cute was "the only thing more boring than your chat is your appearance".
But it's other aspects that really puzzle me. I know that I have had a lot gentler treatment from Twitter than other women, who have been really aggressively harrassed by tweets. So I'm lucky in a way. But why is it that people think that having a jibe at my surname is actually very interesting: she "is in fact the twin sister of Tree Beard", "..I do not know whom Mary Beard is but wyth a name lyke that she surely hath a thyrd teat and a hairy clopper"; "Am sure Mary Beard has a beard", :"A beardless wonder"; "why does Mary Beard lack facial hair?". And on and on. Would they do that to my face (no, because too boring).
And it's even more the people that dont get back to me when I reply that irritate me. As I have already hinted, when someone tweets "silly geriatric cow with silly ideas" my usual response is to get back and ask which ideas are sily. An obvious and annoying trick, but it has led to some positive encounters and good friendships. But over the last 24 hours I have received several lengthy emails from people telling me I'm stupid, that Poles come into this country and claim child benefit for childen they've never had, etc etc. I have taken some trouble to reply, briefly -- but at roughly 15 mins a throw. Not a single reply so far, not even "Thank you for getting back to me"".
And there is the heart of the debate problem, and especially the European immigration debate: that we don't even share data, or views beyond a parade.Several people have emailed me to say the Boston report was rubbish. When I asked if they had read it the answer was always no... and no, they wouldnt have time.
Not good prognosis for a Euro-referendum.