The Couch Surfer: 'I'm not proud of any of this, but I hope it doesn't make me a weirdo...'
‘I once looked up a beautiful girl on a dating show, and briefly contemplated asking her out’
I did it again. I swore I wouldn't. But I did it again. This time, it happened when I was watching Spiderman, as a crowd of New Yorkers hurled detritus at the Green Goblin from the Brooklyn Bridge. "You mess with Spidey, you mess with New York!" one of them cried, showing real pluck for someone who had just wanged a plank of wood at a grenade-toting lunatic squatting on a hoverboard.
Anyway, as the heroic everyman shook his fist, I realized who it was. It was that guy Herc off The Wire, years before he became semi-famous! Good old Herc, I thought. How nice that he's gone on to big things. And I had done it. I had reacted to someone I don't know appearing on the television with the same affection that normal people reserve for their blood relatives. My response could hardly have been more effusive had my brother popped up on the X-Factor.
It's terrible behaviour, this. I know it is. There are two mental habits at the root of it, each harmless in itself, but fatal in combination. One is the unexamined conviction that I am a fascinating person, and that everyone would agree I deserved a Nobel prize for fun, if they only got to know me. The other is the thoroughly modern sense that television and reality are part of the same seamless fabric, that the gogglebox is really just a little theatre in your living room, and somewhere just off stage, possibly behind the Xbox, Simon Cowell and Tobey Maguire are having a cup of tea.
Even if they were, of course, it is unlikely that they would ask me to join them, which only makes it more humiliating. (Probably, Tobey would just fire webs in my eyes, and Simon would sneer at my agonised screams.)
I am not proud of any of this, but I hope it doesn't make me a weirdo. We're all stalkers these days, aren't we? And perhaps it isn't even our fault. In a hostage situation, after all, no-one blames the prisoners for falling a little bit in love with their kidnappers. My captor might not be holding a gun to my head, but at this point my submission is only slightly less involuntary. Perhaps I can pass the whole thing off as an unfortunate case of Stockholm syndrome.
Possibly because of a dim sense that this is the case, and also because reality TV is no less bright a star in the broadcasting firmament these days, that creepy fanboy enthusiasm also crosses over to people so marginally famous that you are hardly any more likely to see them on television than you are in your local Costcutter. In fact, that only makes it worse: the chances of ever bumping into A-listers are, after all, infinitesimal, and even if you did, greeting them warmly would only confirm that you were a toerag. (That crisis has only been heightened by Twitter's @reply function.) Saying hello to the barely recognisable, on the other hand, might cheer them up.
As a rationalisation, that's not terrible; but it's probably inadequate to explain some of my behaviour. It all gets particularly weird when I watch TV with my laptop in hand, since that only adds a third complicating strand of mental oddity: my endless fascination with our near-universal capacity for online overshare, thanks to which you can gather vast quantities of personal information in no time at all. Fifteen minutes turns out to be a massive overstatement of the necessary allotment of fame: I can scavenge everything I need in about two.
Like Edmund Hillary, I rise to the challenge Because It's There. I Facebook University Challenge contestants to see if they've written anything rude about Paxman on their walls; I google the spurious journos-cum-experts on nostalgia shows, to see if they've ever worked at The Independent, and might be friends with anyone I know; once, I even looked up a hapless but beautiful girl on a dating show, accidentally (honestly) came across her email address on her employers' website, and briefly contemplated asking her out. That I didn't has more to do with the realisation that she would view me as a nutter than it does with any keen sense that it would be wrong.
All this is, I know, only a short step from breaking into the neighbours' house and peeking at their diaries. So I'm going to try to give it up again. Even as I climb reluctantly back on the wagon, though, I maintain that society must take a portion of the blame.
There's a hint of it in every director's commentary you've ever listened to, and every outtakes show you've ever watched; it's inherent in the way television teases us with hints of access, and yet treats the idea of being (or, at least, remaining) an ordinary person with utter disdain. If television really was a theatre, there would certainly be bodyguards at the stage door.
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