Life's a bitch: We need to be nasty – just keep it hidden

A bit of bad-mouthing behind closed doors never did anyone any harm, but we made a mistake when we thought an email password would protect our privacy
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The Independent Online

Like most people, I gave up watching Big Brother shortly after the 2004-6 golden age, but one catchphrase does stick in the brain: "If I've got something to say, I'll say it to your face, yeah?" Variations on that sentiment became a sort of mantra for reality TV contestants. In a show where every action was subject to 24-hour surveillance, the most celebrated quality was not kindness or tact but blunt honesty, regardless of what trouble it might cause.

In confidential contexts (or at least contexts we believe to be confidential), the code of behaviour is quite different, as demonstrated by the Sony hacking scandal. Leaked email threads from the accounts of Sony employees offered several examples of the nasty things people will write about a colleague but never dare to say to their face. Angelina Jolie was branded a "minimally talented spoiled brat"; comedian Kevin Hart was called a "whore" for requesting more money; and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin claimed haughtily that he'd never heard of Oscar-nominated actor Michael Fassbender. Don't feel too sorry for Fassbender, mind. Any ego wounds will have been soothed by another email in which Sony exec Michael De Luca said that the Shame star "just makes you feel bad to have normal-sized male genitalia".

The language might be more colourful and the names more famous, but such communications are hardly exclusive to Hollywood. Lots of people have written or said things in private that they wouldn't want made public. That's because talking smack behind people's backs has its uses – especially in a professional setting. It allows people to vent their momentary frustrations without wasting time on pointless confrontation. It helps foster solidarity among colleagues, through the creation of a shared enemy. Most importantly, it allows space for people to be people – at their nasty, petty worst – without unnecessarily hurting the feelings of others.

A bit of bad-mouthing behind closed doors never did anyone any harm, but we made a mistake when we thought that an email password would protect our privacy. So maybe just nip out for a coffee instead?

Another kind of honesty

Ghostwriters don't do it for the riches and they certainly don't do it for the fame; Siobhan Curham, the novelist widely supposed to have ghostwritten vlogger Zoella's smash-hit debut Girl Online, was reluctantly outed last week, but insisted that she "did not invite any of this attention". So let's speak instead of a different celebrity ghostwriter, Rebecca Farnworth, who died of cancer last month, aged just 49.

Farnworth is the woman who really deserves credit for Penguin's payday. In 2004, she worked on Being Jordan, the first instalment of Katie Price's autobiography, which surprised the sceptical publishing industry by selling in excess of a million copies. Four more autobiographies and nine novels followed – all bearing Price's name and all successful, but it was Farnworth's words that paved the way for the celebrity memoir money-spinner. Price would then do her bit by turning up to book signings dressed as paparazzi bait. Good old Pricey.

Price was also always fairly open about Farnworth's contribution, telling a Radio 4 interviewer in 2012, "She's just amazing". Novelist Martin Amis was another fan, declaring himself "impressed" by the volumes of Price's memoirs he'd read "as research": "They have the merits of candour and I would say a sort of honesty."

Honesty of that sort now belongs to a bygone age, so it's fitting that this was the week in which Katie Price revealed the dramatic results of breast-reduction surgery. It's the end of an era for bold, brash and brassy teen role models and the start of a new one – the anodyne Age of Zoella.

I believe in Father Christmas

How's your pre-Christmas panic coming along? Mine's reached a steady simmer, following the announcement from Yodel, the UK's leading delivery company, that it is unable to collect new online orders while it struggles to clear a backlog. This isn't just a matter of me not getting my Christmas presents on time. As a demonstration of the inadequacy of current methods, it's also a harbinger of deliveries to come.

Here's the optimistic outlook: inefficient, slow deliveries will succeed where tax-justice campaigners have failed, persuading people to shun the behemoth online retailer Amazon. Independent high-street retailers will undergo a thrilling resurgence and everybody will live happily ever after. Now, here's the dystopian nightmare: drones, drones everywhere, as far as the eye can see.

Unmanned aircrafts are currently being tested by Amazon at a lab in Cambridge, while camera drones are already available to buy as Christmas presents for less than £40 (via Amazon, naturally). By the end of the year, Britons will own an estimated 30,000.

There have been several recent near misses between drones and passenger planes and experts have warned of their use in terrorist attacks and the potential for privacy invasion. Clearly, then, only one person should be licensed to drop off packages at millions of homes. And his name is Father Christmas.

Bieber decoded

Pop star Justin Bieber's new platinum blond hair has been discussed ad nauseam on Twitter, but the Beliebers are yet to hit on the only plausible explanations. Allow me. 1) By sporting a look favoured by white hip-hop artists, Bieber is signalling a worrying change of musical direction. 2) Like part-time punks before him Billy Idol and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he's feeling rebellious, but not too rebellious. The record label would never sanction a full-on multicoloured mohican. 3) The most likely: it's a subtle shout-out to his Slytherin brother Draco Malfoy, from one evil boy-wizard to another.

Tripping with Titchmarsh

There's no need to enter an altered state to enjoy Christmas Day television this year. It's weird enough already, thanks to Alan Titchmarsh's ITV special The Queen's Garden. When Titchmarsh discovered the fungi Amanita muscaria growing in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, his companion, Professor Mick Crawley, had this consciousness-expanding suggestion: "The old-fashioned thing to do was feed it to the village idiot, then drink his urine because you get all the high without any of the sickness." Titchmarsh was not tempted: "I think I'll forego that and stick to some normal mushrooms."

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