Stephen Fry giving up Twitter? The tones of the modern martyr

Clearly stung by the lukewarm reception of his Bafta spiel, Fry broke the bad news to his eight million followers on Saturday

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The Independent Online

When I want to punish one of my children, I take straightforward and ruthless steps. I remove one of their electronic devices. Last week my elder son Gabriel created an email purporting to be from my husband, informing the school that as the entire family had suddenly decided to go to Leeds, he would sadly have to miss a forthcoming detention. This plan was only scotched when the school emailed my husband saying that would be fine. My discovery of these antics resulted in two penalties. The school doubled the duration of the detention. I removed my son’s Playstation. 

It is the red card de nos jours. When I was a naughty teenager, I would be punished by being sent to my room. To a girl for whom life began and ended at Youth Club, this was like a death sentence. Well, that won’t wash with my young miscreants, since much of teen socialisation is done via Facebook in their bedrooms anyway. Removal of pocket money was another option, but this holds no menace now either, thanks to online accounts, contactless payment cards and so on.

I suppose you could remove all plastic cards and cancel all online banking, but that requires too much fiddling around with passwords. Far simpler to just remove the beloved Playstation. Or take away the tablet. Or banish the mobile phone. For these devices have wormed their way so insidiously and fundamentally into our lives that when we are without them - adult or young person - we feel their loss keenly. Indeed, we almost find it impossible to be ourselves without them, since they are an extension of our self.

Hence when Stephen Fry wants to wear the hair shirt of penance, he does it in the only meaningful way you can these days. He gives up Twitter. Clearly stung by the lukewarm reception of his Bafta spiel, Fry broke the bad news to his eight million followers on Saturday, writing “Just a quick note to say that I’m going to be away until May … well, off I go. Have a wonderful time without me. I know you will.”  Oh, the tones of the modern martyr.


The Channel Four newscaster Cathy Newman did much the same thing last week, sensing that a big gesture was the order of the day after crossly announcing she had been ejected from a Muslim mosque when all that had actually happened was a nice chap had helpfully pointed out she was in the wrong place. Mea culpa! announced Newman.

What was the only thing to do, the only right thing, the only thing which could reveal how ashamed and sorrowful she was? Give some money to charity? Do some community work? Nah. The gesture had to be to give up Twitter. Not that the move will drastically affect anyone other than Newman herself, but that is the point. Renouncing social media is the sackcloth and ashes that we all relate to.

I remember when Diana, Princess of Wales made a similar announcement about retreating from society. She hadn’t done anything particularly terrible, like swearing on television or accusing someone of throwing her out of a temple. She was just fed up. This was only about 18 years ago, yet the manner of it feels utterly outdated, from an era before the octopus tendrils of social media had snaked so comprehensively around our brains. She waved adieu to the paparazzi. On a boat. In a swimsuit. Her stricture was that she would not do anything public, or be seen in the flesh. It was a physical adieu.

Fry’s stricture is quite different. It is that we will no longer have a keyhole to peer into his brain, know his thoughts, his intimate conjectures when he is lying in bed, on the sofa, in the bath. (I have no idea whether Stephen Fry tweets when he is in the bath, but I confess I do). How long will he hold out, I wonder.

You can do what you want with a Shakespeare play

It’s fine to take liberties with Shakespeare, says Simon Russell Beale, who should know a bit about the Bard since he has performed so many of his colossal roles. “I see absolutely no problem in throwing Shakespeare around. The texts will, hopefully, always be there.” He is of course absolutely correct. The plays are not cast in aspic, but were written to be used by other creative minds – directors, designers and actors.

David Tennant, in his recent Just A Minute meditation on the stage direction “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” summed it up perfectly. You can do it with a child in a bear suit. You can do it with a film of a bear. You can do it with the idea of a bear. The most terrible thing you can do to Shakespeare? Not to produce the plays at all.