Do we really need to to talk about Paxman's beard?

Plus, why John Cleese still has some growing up to do

Share
Related Topics

Opinions are like ****holes. Everyone's got one. I first heard this coarse piece of homespun philosophy many years ago from a hardened news editor who cursed the proliferation of columnists and commentators in the pages of his newspaper.

What would he make of today's media landscape, where opinions multiply, then feed on themselves, and finally break out like a contagion? Sometimes, it's hard to work out what is regarded as newsworthy. Is it what someone does? Or is it what someone thinks of what someone else does? Let's take, for instance, the story du jour, and the apotheosis of silly season “news”: Jeremy Paxman grows a beard. Heaven help us! Not a beard! Whatever next? Eddie Mair has a haircut! John Humphrys buys a new pair of trousers!

Think about it for a minute. A news presenter decided, over the course of his summer holiday, to have a tonsorial rethink. He then appears on screen in his new unshaven state. Cue a gushing tidal wave of opinion, coming at us from every corner of the media universe. It's not as if  Paxman's work has suffered, and the beard, reminding him of summer days of languorous inattention to serious matters, has transformed him into relaxed, carefree soul. No, he seems to be every bit as irascible, forensic and fearsome as ever.

Of course, no one believes this to be an event of any import, and it certainly makes for a welcome diversion from the tragic situation in Egypt. Yet if anyone seeks the apotheosis of our 140-character culture, an example of how, in these infantilised times, the trivial can seem important, and how social media can, without discrimination or mediation, spread opinion like a forest fire, the summer of Paxman's Beard is definitely it.

 ****

For someone who's the other side of three-score-years-and ten, John Cleese hasn't learned very much. Like, for instance, how not to sound like a grumpy old man, or even a silly old fool. He seems at ease with his cultivated persona: Disgusted of Santa Barbara.

He's been in town, promoting Planes, the new Disney film in which he is the voice of a veteran British aeroplane called Bulldog, and he chose this opportunity to sound off about the failings of 21st Century culture. “The world we live in today has deteriorated a great deal,” said Fawlty...sorry, Cleese, “and a lot of it can be put down to social media.”

Cleese speaks like a man who knows there's a party going on somewhere, but he hasn't been invited, and he tries to make like he doesn't care. That's at odds, however, with his Twitter profile, which reveals that he has 2.7 million followers, and has been responsible for 768 tweets. He said he does “Twitter”, largely on the advice of Stephen Fry, who told him that it's an effective medium for self-promotion.

Not only that, it means he can bypass the British newspapers, which according to Cleese, are populated, with a few exceptions, by “the most appalling, depraved, disgusting, amoral creatures you could find anywhere outside of prison”. And then, just to show he's not lost his comic timing, he adds: “And of course many of them are going to be inside a prison soon.” Morning, Major!

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice