Currently, I’m going through a load of old Dirty Feed articles, for preparation for the site’s 10th anniversary in January.1 And this particular piece about the now-dormant Dirty Feed Tumblr caught my eye.
There is no polite way of saying this. The most popular post I ever made on Tumblr was a collection of pulp book covers featuring women about to have sex with dogs.
Now, you may not be particularly keen on my bestiality material. You may prefer my in-depth articles about sitcom edits instead. But it was definitely the most popular post I ever made on Tumblr, by an order of magnitude. I mention over 200 likes/reblogs in that previous piece; it had over 400 before it was removed.
Removed? Ah, yes. Sadly, that post is no longer available, due to Tumblr’s porn ban in December 2018. As soon as that ban was announced, I stopped using the site. I never really clicked with Tumblr anyway; the porn ban was the final straw.
But the fact remains: by far the most thing I ever posted on the site was deleted by Tumblr. That’s a mildly annoying state of affairs, even if I’m not using the site any more, and even if the post did feature an illustration of an Alsatian with a particularly lascivious look on his face.
* * *
OK, fine. If you want an article on sitcom edits, let’s talk about some sitcom edits.2
Back in 2012, I wrote a series of articles on pre-watershed edits made to Red Dwarf on Dave. One recurring motif presented itself: time and time again, some of the funniest moments in an episode were cut.3 Kryten sticking up his finger and saying “Swivel on it, punk!”; “Rimmer Directive 271 states just as clearly: No chance you metal bastard”; “Santa Claus – what a bastard! He’s just a big fat git who sneaks down chimneys and steals all the kid’s favorite toys…”; “No officer with false teeth should attempt oral sex in zero gravity”; “Men! They’re all bastards!”; and by the funniest moment in Red Dwarf VIII:
CASSANDRA: I already told you: Rimmer dies of a heart attack, and then you and all the other Canaries die too; all except Lister, Kryten, Kochanski and the Cat. I’ve seen it.
RIMMER: That’s as well as maybe, but have you seen this?
RIMMER flips his middle finger to CASSANDRA, then turns and storms out.
CASSANDRA: Yes, I’m afraid I have.
My analysis of pre-watershed I’m Alan Partridge edits brought up similar points: “Don’t rub your fanny on me!” and “He means his cock!” were gone. And if I ever get round to writing something about pre-watershed Porridge edits on Gold, I’ll be sure to mention that the climax to the episode where Fletch sticks two fingers up to the camera is pixellated, destroying the joke entirely.
* * *
This isn’t really an anti-censorship screed, at least not per se. My point is simply this: when things are deleted from the internet, or cuts are made to programmes, it’s worth remembering that the effect of such things isn’t random. It’s not arbitrary chunks that disappear: it’s the outliers that go. The rudest joke in a sitcom episode; a blog post which takes a left turn into filth. And those outliers are often one of the most popular parts of a piece of work.
And slowly but surely, the corners of things get knocked off. Censorship is often talked about – sometimes correctly, sometimes not – in terms of how dangerous it can be. But often, the enemy is the sheer blandification of pop culture. It’s not that anybody dies. It’s not about suppressing important conversations. It’s about which bits of our culture survive in the popular memory, and which don’t. Which is both very important, and not important at all.
And that leads to one of the joys of owning your own little part of the internet. Away from social media giants changing their policies on a whim, and away from UKTV’s bizarre editing policies, you can quietly sit and document things. And documenting these things shifts the power dynamic back towards the integrity of the text, however slightly, rather than companies just doing things because it’s easier. I find it immensely rewarding.
Especially when – just occasionally – you get to stand up for an author’s original intention, when it never managed to make it to the screen properly in the first place.
Though that’s not as important as dog cock, obviously.
There are some things I will never understand.
Take, for instance, this Amazon review of Soupy Twists!, Jem Roberts’ excellent look at Fry & Laurie:
“As seems to be the norm now, about a third of the book is padded out with unused snippets of sketches (although I recognised some so that might be quite a loose definition).”
Or how about this SFX review of The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age?
“Generally, though, this is an unspectacular volume. It’s full of doodles and drawings which reveal their artists’ technique and imagination without being very eye-catching; many are for toons that were never made. For example, several pages are devoted to the abandoned “Mickey’s Sea Monster”, with loads of design ideas for a Disney sea serpent (the best monsters are cute but also a bit scary). There are glimpses of an unmade Fantasia-like cartoon called Japanese Symphony, with parasol-wielding geishas and dancing butterflies.”
Or how about the review I distinctly remember of a Red Dwarf DVD, which called the deleted scenes “filler”? (Sadly, I can’t find that particular review, or the police might have to investigate a sudden nasty spate of poison pen letters.)
Regardless: I will never understand it. I will never understand somebody lifting up the lid on the creative process, to see a glimpse of what could have been… only to be greeted with calls that it’s padding, unspectacular, or filler. Of course, sometimes such work can be worthwhile in its own right; for what it’s worth, I was hooting with laughter at the unused Fry & Laurie stuff. “Split beaver pornography slipped through the net.”
But sometimes, it’s not about whether the work itself is entertaining. The path not taken is one of the biggest insights you can have into how something was made. If you ever thought the end of the Red Dwarf episode “Dimension Jump” was anti-climactic… just look at the deleted scenes, and see just how much worse it could have been, and how they arrived at the ending they did.
I know people engage with work in different ways. There are many who just don’t care about going behind-the-scenes at all. And that’s fine. But if you’re reading a book about Fry & Laurie rather than just watching the programmes again; if you’re reviewing a book specifically about Disney’s “Hidden Art” rather than just watching the cartoons; if you’ve wandered away from watching the episodes on a Red Dwarf release and into the extras menu… then I have to assume that you care about more than just watching the finished products themselves, and you want to go deeper.
So to shrug your shoulders at this stuff is frankly baffling. The chance to see brand new unseen work from people you love… or the chance to understand why you love them in the first place. Both approaches are valid for unseen material.
But indifference, or even boredom? That’s just weird.
This is very, very silly. Here is what awaited me when I popped over to Twitter last Wednesday evening:
Just to be clear: “locked” means I can no longer post any new tweets. All my existing tweets can still be read by others, but currently I can’t do anything with my account. I can’t even browse Twitter in read-only mode – all I get is the above locked screen.
A few points:
a) I do not think calling a friend a cunt as an obvious joke counts as “hateful conduct”, regardless of whether you like the word or not. Nor does the person I sent the tweet to, incidentally.
b) The tweet apparently causing all the trouble is nine and a half years old. If Twitter had a problem with this tweet, the correct time to deal with it would have been… nine and a half years ago. Asking for this to be deleted is not a reasonable request from Twitter.
c) If Twitter wants to deal with hateful conduct properly, they should ban more Nazis instead.
For what it’s worth, I have lodged an appeal, pointing out these facts. I could get my account reinstated immediately by deleting the tweet, but – currently, at least – I am disinclined to do so.
I have had no reply as of yet. Four days and counting.
As for what inspired Twitter to drag out a nine and a half year old tweet, who knows? Either somebody stupid reported it, or Twitter are doing some kind of bizarre search for pointless stuff. I very much suspect the former. You’d think Twitter’s algorithms would automatically discard reports for ridiculously old tweets, but that would assume Twitter know what the hell they’re doing, and I think we all know the answer to that by now.
I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, I’m afraid you’ll all have to do without my hateful conduct for the time being. Many apologies.
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A fairly large percentage of my time online is still spent hanging around forums. Admittedly, not as much as I did in 2002, where my time on a Knightmare forum directly contributed to me failing to get a degree. But still enough to notice a rather unfortunate pattern from some posters, across many different topics of conversation.
Let’s take an example, from a TV presentation forum I frequent, perhaps despite my better judgement.1
“Anyone else often wonder what planet certain posters are living on? Very few people care about TV presentation outside this forum.”
And I get it, I really do. Some posters are utterly tiresome with their statements that the entire general public cares deeply about the current set of BBC One idents. Sometimes, you just want to let everyone know that at least you’re aware that there’s a wider world out there. One where people don’t tut or cheer depending on what’s bunged in front of EastEnders.
* * *
There I was, sitting in the TX suite of a popular television channel a few years back. Let’s take a look at the programmes on in the afternoon. Ooh, hang on, that show was made in back in the 80s, was it? I’m sure we have an era-appropriate ident we can stick in front of that.
So I make the change in the schedule – checking with all the right people before doing so, in case anybody relevant is reading this – and then did the junction, live announcer and all. Everything went fine, and I sat back, pleased I’d added something fun to the nation’s viewing that afternoon.
A few weeks later, the announcer collared me, and said her mum had been watching, and she loved the ident. It brought back so many memories for her from decades ago, and got all excited when it appeared. And not just because her daughter was talking over it.
* * *
If TV presentation fans are near the bottom of the fandom pile2, then there’s one kind of fan even they are allowed to look down on: jingle anoraks.3 It seems that in real life, most people just aren’t interested in discussing the intricacies of WPLJ jingle packages.4 Which is frankly outrageous.
Still, when Radio 1 Vintage aired in 2017, celebrating 50 years of Radio 1, a curious thing happened in my Twitter feed. “Oh yeah, I remember that jingle…” People who I’d never managed to get into a conversation about jingles were suddenly enthusing about all those silly six second songs.
It was great.
* * *
Red Dwarf fandom was in quite a miserable state in 2008. It’s no secret that morale was on the floor. We’d lost all trace of Red Dwarf, tempers were strained, and supplies were… wait, sorry, this isn’t Ganymede & Titan, I’ve really got to stop throwing in these stupid quotes.
Anyway, the site was quieter than it had been in years. Certainly, we had less reader engagement than ever before. Then, suddenly, new episodes were announced.
And achieved record ratings.
* * *
My point, of course: this stuff isn’t binary. People aren’t either interested enough in TV presentation to post on forums, or not interested whatsoever. Same goes for jingles, same goes for Red Dwarf, same goes for anything.
Sure, a general audience doesn’t tend to spend every evening pondering unused BBC Two idents, listening to some of the worst radio jingles ever made, or comparing episodes of Red Dwarf and Hancock’s Half Hour. But to presume that somebody doesn’t have an interest in a subject just because they don’t hang around on a forum risks being hugely patronising. Where did all those people interested in Red Dwarf magically appear from and give Dave those record ratings?
Answer: they were always there. They just didn’t spend much time reading a website about it, that’s all. But it doesn’t mean they didn’t care.
* * *
And yes, I used the “For ‘Em” joke back on Ganymede & Titan in 2004, on Noise to Signal in 2006, and here on Dirty Feed in 2010.
I am a complete twat.
A shade over six years ago, I launched a companion Dirty Feed Tumblr. It was really meant as a scratchpad; a place to post various odd things, with the idea that some of the ideas over there might turn into proper articles over here on the main site.
And for a fair while, I kept it updated with all kinds of stuff. A glance through the archives is like a peek into a cross-section of my brain, albeit slightly more pleasant than that sounds. Endless pictures of my obsessions.
But slowly, I drifted away from Tumblr. I never managed to find much of a community over there like I did on Twitter, and I never figured out why that was. Were there less people into the stuff I’m into over there? Are they actually there, but I just didn’t find them? Did I not make enough of an effort to hunt like-minded people down and reblog their stuff? I still don’t really know the answer: all I know is that Twitter clicked with me, and Tumblr never quite did.
In October last year, I quietly said goodbye to the site, and that was the end of it. Well, nearly. Tumblr then announced their ridiculous ban on porn1, so I passive-aggressively updated my last post to make it clear I really was never coming back.
Not that anybody really cared. Which was kinda the problem in the first place.
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You know the kind of person I mean.
The kind of person who wanders into a conversation, sees that the obvious point hasn’t been made yet… and so goes ahead and makes it. The reason the obvious point hasn’t been made is because it’s already been made endlessly, and people are trying to talk about something from a different angle. You do not need to fill in the “gap”.
And don’t be the kind of person who sees somebody dancing around a point… and just blunders in and outright states the point instead. Missing the fact that it was the dance itself which was entertaining. Reading between the lines can sometimes be half the joy.
Conversations – on Twitter, or indeed anywhere – are not an exam paper. You do not need to prove your knowledge to get points, nor does a conversation have to cover EVERY SINGLE THING about a topic in order to be worthwhile. And for the love of all that is good in the world, please allow people to approach a topic with a little playfulness sometimes.
Fun, interesting stuff happens in the shadows. Dragging every conversation back to “the main point”, or stamping down on anything slightly whimsical at every turn in favour of the bald facts straightforwardly presented, is really, really tedious.
Please don’t be That Person. We don’t build a better world by being boring.
WordPress – the publishing software used as the backend for this very website – is undergoing a few growing pains at the moment. Either that, or – depending on who you believe – it’s blowing itself apart, much as Movable Type managed to do back in 2004.
Not that the outcry about WordPress is to do with pricing – it remains free. No, the outcry about the upcoming release of WordPress 5.0 is to do with Gutenberg – a brand new Editor, which entirely changes the way you write your posts. To say it has been controversial is putting it mildly. Just check the ratings on the current plugin version.
I’m not making any judgement on Gutenberg – at least, not yet. I’ll have a play with it when WordPress 5.0 is released, and see if I like it or not. If I do, great. If I don’t, I’ll go back to the classic Editor (available as a plugin), and think about my options. No, my issue is with how it’s being sold to us.
Take a look at this testimonial, on the official page on Gutenberg:
The editor is just the beginning
“This will make running your own blog a viable alternative again.”
— Adrian Zumbrunnen
Question: what do they think people have been doing with WordPress for years? Feeding the cat with it?
Gutenberg is a serious change to the very heart of the WordPress experience. This is a tricky proposition at the best of times: and it needs selling to people who already love using WordPress. WordPress’s answer to that? By quoting someone who says that using WordPress isn’t currently viable.
It’s literally one of the most tone-deaf pieces of advertising I have ever seen. People use WordPress because they love using WordPress. It’s one thing to tell someone what what they’re currently using is going to be improved. It’s quite another to tell your own users that what they’re currently using is shit, and not a viable choice.
Or, as one reply has it:
I try not to patronise you too much on here.1 I write the literal opposite of clickbait. While it’s lovely when something I write gets a few clicks, chasing that leads to utter madness. Writing Dirty Feed is supposed to be fun.2 However, I have to confess that sometimes an element of… calculation comes into the timing of what I publish. So it was with my collection of April Fools jokes played out in the pages of old BBC Micro magazines, published on the 1st April, because… of course that’s when you publish it. And I thought it was something that might gain some traction and find a little bit of an audience.
So I sent it out there, back in 2015. And it did… fine. Not spectacular numbers, even for this site – I thought it’d do more – but fine. I linked to it a few times on Twitter in subsequent years, updated it a little in 2017, and job done.
Until something interesting happened over this last weekend, that is. The piece got linked to in the latest b3ta newsletter. And just take a quick look at my stats for the April Fools article, especially the number for this month:
More people have just read (or at least clicked on) the piece than at any time previously. In fact, over twice as many people have read it this month than back in April 2015, when it was originally published. This was a piece designed to be linked to on April Fools Day to get a bit of interest. b3ta get hold of it just now, nowhere near April Fools and… bang.
You can never tell how stuff will end up being read. All my careful planning meant nothing.
And all this is exactly why I keep bleating on about keeping the archives of what you make online. If I’d yanked that piece offline after a year, for whatever reason, it would have lost the majority of people who ended up reading it. As it was, it was just sitting there… waiting to be discovered, and to have a little moment in the spotlight. Just a little moment – it’s not like it racked up thousands of hits. But that’s fine. I don’t need a piece to get thousands of hits.
Because I love people reading my old articles full stop. I think of Dirty Feed as an archive. What’s on the front page isn’t the most important thing about the site. It’s what’s buried in the archives which makes me happy.3 And my favourite thing is when someone tells me they’ve just spent ages in the archives, clicking around on things which looked interesting to them. I think of the site as a complete entity: the last ten posts are a tiny part of the whole.
There’s far too many things competing for people’s attention these days. Even if it’s a piece I’m really proud of, there’s no guarantee people will react to it straight away. But that doesn’t matter. It can just sit there… waiting. Some of them will be found eventually. And that’s enough.
If you found this piece and enjoyed it in 2028: hey there. I love you.
When Season 1 of Serial started near the end of 20141, it inspired many serious pieces of analysis. Whether it was taking on the subject matter itself and probing further, or discussions about whether the podcast was even a moral thing to produce in the first place, the world was not exactly short of Serial thinkpieces.
I’m not here to talk about any of that. What I want to talk to is altogether sillier, so by all means click away if you’re expecting anything about the main topic of the podcast itself, about which I can offer no insight. We’re nowhere near any of that territory.
What I want to talk about is: Mail…kimp?
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Andy Baio, “Middling”, 16th October 2014:
“Twitter’s for 140-character short-form writing1 and Medium’s for long-form. Weirdly, there really isn’t a great platform for everything in the middle — what previously would’ve just been called “blogging.” Mid-length blogging. Middling.
I think that’s partly why seeing Matt Haughey, Paul Ford, and Michael Sippey restart regular blogging on Paul’s delightfully retro tilde.club is so refreshing to me. I miss seeing people I admire post stuff longer than a tweet.
So I think I’ll try doing the same thing here. In the early days of Waxy.org, before I launched the linkblog, I used to blog short posts constantly. Multiple times a day. Twitter and Waxy Links cannibalized all the smaller posts, and as my reach grew, I started reserving blogging for more “serious” stuff — mostly longer-form research and investigative writing.
Well, fuck that. I miss the casual spontaneity of it all, and since I’m pretty sure hardly anybody’s reading my site again after the death of Google Reader, the pressure’s off.
What do I have to lose?
Update: Nice, Gina Trapani’s in too.”
Four years on, how did all this work for Andy? Since he posted the above – and forgetting about his linkblog – he’s done 38 posts on waxy.org. An average of nearly 10 a year, although in fact the rate has really slowed – he’s only posted two so far in 2018.
Sadly, all three tilde.club sites he mentioned stopped updating by the end of 2015. As for Gina Trapani, whose post also contained lots of great ideas? She also stopped updating at the tail end of 2015, and her blog isn’t even online any more: it redirects to her professional site instead.
In contrast, since 16th October 2014, Dirty Feed has done 137 posts, including this one, with 23 posted this year. And I don’t even update this site nearly as much as I would like. Moreover, although the posts range from deep investigations to “hey, look at this”, there isn’t a single one which doesn’t have at least some kind of analysis of sorts.
* * *
OK, OK, I know. This looks like some kind of pathetic macho pissing contest. So yes, I fully admit: “how often you update your website” isn’t exactly the most useful metric when it comes to judging how your life is going.
I bring up the above just to point out: when it comes to keeping a blog updated, I have at least proved I know how to do it. And it’s very easy to blame social media when it comes to people finding this difficult. Hell, Andy Baio does it in the post above: he says Twitter “cannibalized all the smaller posts”. This seems to be a common thread: I’ve heard endless people talk about how the more they used Twitter, the less they blogged.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think this should be an either/or situation. Twitter is extremely good for coming up with ideas, thinking things though, and getting feedback… and then you can use all of that to write something a little more permanent on your own site. (And perhaps most importantly: under your control.)
A good example is my short post yesterday on why all television deserves a little theatrical sparkle; it all comes from this Twitter thread I posted a few days ago. I didn’t mean to come up with an outline for an article – I was just thinking aloud – but huge chunks of the language in those tweets actually ended up verbatim in the resulting post. Moreover, the post didn’t even take very long to write, because I’d already done a lot of the thinking behind it when writing that set of tweets.
And to me, the above seems obvious: obvious to the point that it seems weird even writing and publishing this post. But it always seems that Twitter and blogs are put into opposition: that Twitter is taking up all the time people used to spend writing on their own site. That might be true: but it doesn’t have to be the case.
You can have the best of both worlds: the ease and immediacy of Twitter, and the more thoughtful and permanent record of your own blog. It just involves you getting round to actually writing up that post, once you’ve done your thinking on Twitter. If you don’t want to do that, then fine – nobody is obligated. But blaming Twitter for it probably isn’t the best idea.
Personal sites will only die if we let them. Of all the many, many things we can currently blame Jack Dorsey for, this isn’t one of them.