Just over a year ago, I wrote about a TV review site called Mouthbox. The short version of that piece: I noticed a rather odd practice where the same reviews were simply being republished with a new date, rather than new reviews being written. Not the journalistic scandal of the century, it must be said, but it amused me at the time.
Over the past year I’ve given the site an occasional visit, and noted that no more reviews have been posted. (Or, indeed, re-dated.) Still, a blog not updating for a year is hardly worth a follow-up article. However, recently something has changed on the site. No, I’m afraid it’s not a brand new TV review. Instead, rather awkwardly, a link to “Panto Scripts” has been added to the top navbar – so awkwardly, in fact, that the navbar splits onto two lines now when the site is viewed at full width. If we trust The Wayback Machine, the link was added between February and March of this year.
So, let’s take a look at what this new link is actually about.
“In association with Mouthbox, Pantoscripts.biz have three new pantomime scripts available to licence for next Christmas. There’s a brand new version of Jack & the Beanstalk and putting a fresh spin on an old favourite Cinderella Superstar. We also recommend Aladdin & the Pirates which was produced last year. These three traditional family pantomime scripts all contain completely new comedy routines. Plus, updated topical references and of course all the traditional trimmings. So plenty of dames, principal boys, animal costumes, villains to boo and fairies & genies.
Brian Luff’s pantomime scripts are both lovingly traditional and fresh, original and modern. Some of Brian’s scripts are offered to licence directly from Pantoscripts.biz. Other scripts are published by Spotlight Publications including the newly wrtten “Cinderella & the Crystal Slipper”.”
So, here’s my question, with admittedly a spectacularly obvious answer. What the bloody hell do pantomime scripts have to do with a TV reviews blog?
The answer, of course, is nothing: this is merely self-promotion from the site owner. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of self-promotion. I do it every time I write something and then post the link to Twitter. But the crucial difference there is that is self-promotion which is meaningful and straightforward. It’s all very simple: I have a site, I write about stuff, and then I let people who might be interested in that stuff know about it. There’s no more to it than that. With Mouthbox, we have a site which is supposedly about TV reviews, doesn’t post any for nearly a year, and then adds a random link to the navbar which is nothing to do with the site’s supposed actual content.
And this ties right back in with my complaints about the site in my original article: that this is a supposedly outspoken TV reviewer, who seems to want to do anything but actually write TV reviews. Before, it was all about updating old reviews to make them look new; now, he’s just using the site as a way of pimping his new business venture.
Now, this is hardly scandal of the year. In fact, let’s be absolutely clear: there is no scandal here whatsoever. Of all the things I could write about, this may seem a strange choice. With crimes against journalism happening daily – or at least every time The Guardian publishes a TV review – why write about this complete piece of irrelevancy? And, y’know, fair enough. Writing a whole blog post about it does feel a bit like a sledgehammer crashing down onto a cashew.
But I do think there’s a subtle point to be made here about the way people present themselves online. The word “authenticity” is rightly regarded with suspicion by some, and certainly by me: it’s a label which is badly misused by many people. (Just because you don’t like something, or it’s not done the way you would do it, it doesn’t mean it’s inauthentic.) But I do think there is something inauthentic going on here. Mouthbox is a site that purports to post TV reviews and analysis. The author’s pantomime scripts have nothing to do with that. Moreover – and I quote from the site’s About page:
“As TV bloggers go, Mouthbox is probably one of the more outspoken – his time working in the corridors of some of the best known production companies and broadcasters in the UK giving him marginally more insight into how telly is made than yer average sofa-bound wannabe.”
If you’re really that outspoken, and have so much insight to give about how telly works, it might be worth actually doing some speaking every now and again rather than just adding a random link to your latest business enterprise instead. It’s a site which is presenting itself as one thing, not doing it, and then doing something else entirely with a business motive. That is inauthentic. And just generally icky. And most crucially of all: undermines your credibility, both of the sites involved, and yourself. The site has ceased to be itself any more; instead, it’s being bent to the will of something entirely different, and worst of all isn’t even admitting it.1
So, what would I have done in these circumstances? Simple: been completely honest. There’s easily a way you can still link to your stuff and let people know about it – you just have to do it in a more straightforward way.
Firstly, I wouldn’t have added a link to Pantoscripts.biz into the navbar; it’s irrelevant and doesn’t belong. Secondly, I wouldn’t have started the piece on the pantomime scripts by saying “In association with Mouthbox”; the two ventures clearly aren’t linked beyond being run by the same person. Don’t pretend it’s relevant when it isn’t.
Thirdly, I would speak in a more conversational tone, and acknowledge the site hasn’t been updated recently. This isn’t a press release site. Speak to your audience. “Hey, sorry I haven’t updated for ages – I’ve been busy. What have I been busy doing? Well, what you might not know is that I grew up with pantomime…”
It’s honest, it’s more personable, and it is thoroughly less icky. And it absolutely isn’t pretending that the site is doing anything else than what it says it’s doing. Currently, the seeming desire to make everything look professional ends up making it look irrelevant and slightly creepy. Let yourself poke through onto the page. You’re not writing for the Associated Press. And you’re talking to real people.
Still, perhaps I shouldn’t be too harsh. Back to Mouthbox’s about page:
“He also loves to write about himself in the third person and is adept at cynically cramming keywords into web copy, purely for the purpose of search engine optimisation.”
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all this is authentic after all.
Incidentally, there’s a fun game to be had here. Helpfully, the author has provided a link to all their other sites right at the bottom of the Pantoscripts.biz site. So, we can see that apparently, Pantomime Scripts are relevant to the puppet sitcom Pets, some weird news syndication site thing with a Twitter feed which hasn’t updated since 2012, some site which is apparently about anything, and a proposed television format. ↩