Harriet Walker: Beware the scorn of the Twitterati



Half the time, when you click a link on Twitter, you don't know what cyber-horrors you'll face. So when Lily Cooper, née Allen, simply posted the word "vomit" yesterday, the accompanying picture could have been anything. Mrs Cooper is pregnant, as she keeps reminding us, so she could have just been tweeting very literally. As it was, she shared with the world a brilliant picture of the Prime Minister, resplendent with little Florence in a BabyBjörn strapped to his front, chatting with Messrs Jeremy Clarkson and Alex James at an event in a field. Vomit indeed.

Twitter has been held up as many things – a voice for the masses, a weapon of insurrection – but its greatest strength lies in its exponential capacity for quotidian, workaday scorn and the undermining of those in authority. Rallying calls to gather in Tahrir Square are one way of forcing political change, but the constant drip of contempt and ridicule supplied from office desks, bus journeys and idle hands proves just as corrosive. Witness John Prescott's sustained attacks on Louise Mensch and the ensuing rush to join in, or even the widely vocalised (twocalised?) outrage when ex-Big Brother contestant Kenneth Tong began tweeting pro-anorexic jibes as part of what he subsequently protested was a "social experiment".

You see, opprobrium on Twitter is as limitless as the cyberspace in which it exists – partly because saying hateful things to somebody whose tearful reaction you will never see is always easier, and partly because Twitter's often sociopathic users are enthusiastic about piling into a fight and kicking a man when he's down.

But the more constructive lesson to take from the 37,190 views (and counting) of Lily Cooper's "vomit" photo is not "here is a forum for outpouring hate and bile – even for organising riots", but rather "here is a forum where people can share their views in ever greater and more effective numbers". Here is the tool the last Tory government's forgotten generation did not have. Here is the new Spitting Image for cynical youths. And Lily Cooper is – despite an interview last week in which she said she had always wanted to be a housewife – one of its most positive enforcers, with her regular and iconoclastic outbursts.

Her casual "vomit" is worth a hundred anti-cuts marches, depressing as that may be, because more people will pay attention, more people will understand. And they won't be put off by anything as overtly boring or apathy-inducing as a label of "politics". Sad but true.

No, this terribly, but wonderfully, succinct tweet says all you need to know: that the sight of our Prime Minister jollying his poor innocent child as he talks to misogynist and cultural chasm of a person Jeremy Clarkson and a rock star who now makes cheese at some sort of rural gathering as the country stands at the brink of financial collapse and the Chancellor is accused of collaborating with phone hackers should make you bring up your breakfast, rather than think "my goodness, what safe hands we're in".

There's an entire demographic of victims under the current regime – from the fully qualified but unemployed to those £27,000 in debt before they've even grown into adulthood – who haven't had a voice or a chance. Baby boomers have their houses, they have their retirement and their second homes, they will strike for their pensions and then take the money and run. The rest of us are stuck with whatever's left – but at least we have Twitter to publicise our disgruntlement.

So keep everyday scorn coming – it's no Tahrir Square, but it adds up to regime change eventually. I'm off to retweet Lily's comment. Vomit.

A portrait that doesn't live up to its subject

Speculation is always rife at this time of year as to whether the formidable Anna Wintour will come to London Fashion Week. The answer is, my sources tell me, categorically yes but she won't be wearing her sunglasses. You see, British-born Wintour's portrait by the pop artist Alex Katz has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery for a mere £125,000, in order that her icy gaze might stare down on us for all time, like those of the centuries-old despots and decapitated queens that already grace the institution's corridors. Katz first noticed Wintour's "lovely eyes" when he saw her in the documentary The September Issue; what a shame then that he chose to render them only as two sapphire-blue dots. In the flesh, those eyes have the power to make or break a person, to flash steel like the Snow Queen or turn to molten chocolate like E.T.'s according to the whim of La Wintour.

And it's not only the eyes that fail to live up to the woman herself. The hair – that hair – the latter-day helmet that looks more suited to being carved out of stone than blow-dried, has been almost entirely flattened beneath the painter's brush, to the point where it more resembles a walnut toilet seat framing the Great One's head.

It's always the way when you see portraits of people who have so expertly and successfully cultivated their own image: they never match up. Perhaps Wintour should try again with a different artist, one who truly understands her. If only Francis Bacon were still around.

Forget the stork – this baby arrived on a bike

Enormous respect to the Copenhagen woman who cycled to hospital to have her baby last week, stopping only to rest her head in her basket when the contractions got too strong.

Fewer than 30 per cent of Copenhagenites own cars, so pedalling to the delivery room is fairly common – despite a current ad campaign in Germany that ridicules the Greens for suggesting such a thing.

I have a few questions to ask: do lorry drivers still shout lewd and sexually suggestive comments at female cyclists who are quite clearly in labour? Do taxi drivers still try to mow them down? And didn't the parents worry about the child being born with a saddle-shaped dent in its head? Still, more power to her: any woman attempting such a thing in London would be more likely to have kittens than produce a baby.

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