When the 11-year Big Brother phenomenon finally limps to an end this summer, it will have left us with several abiding legacies. Some of these are positive, such as the knowledge that we can always vote for the underdog/outsider/weirdo and really wind up the Daily Mail.
Others are not so great, and include images that we wish we could wipe from our minds. But one of the nastier hangovers for a post-Big Brother society is the philosophy that if you've got something to say, you should say it to someone's face.
Now, in an ideal world (aka Big Brother 4), obviously everyone would get along famously and never rub anyone up the wrong way. Failing that, if you can maintain your composure while all around you are screeching harridans, then you will be Rachel Rice (series nine), my son. Sadly, most people are not so patient. And so we face a choice: bite our tongues until we can let off steam in private, or let rip with an immediate character assassination of anyone who gets on our wrong side.
Before we go any further, I'd like it on record that if you've got anything mean to say about me, I'd much rather you said it behind my back. If I've wronged you so unforgivably that you can't bear to see me again, I'll figure it out soon enough. But in the conceivable scenario that I've been a bit annoying, please get it off your chest with someone you trust and then we can all be friends. And if a TV news crew happens to record all your bitching, please tell them not to fill me in on what you said.
To me, Gordon Brown's crime in Bigoted Ladygate is not what he said about his interlocutor, Gillian Duffy. It is the sarcastic and hectoring way in which he spoke to his junior member of staff.
Mrs Duffy, who, let's face it, was a very annoying person who buttonholed the Prime Minister about immigrants while he was trying to go about his business, was left feeling charmed and uplifted by their encounter, and very much better about herself. Her hurt little pensioner's face when Brown's remarks were reported to her later was not his fault; it was down to the person who told tales.
Finding oneself on the receiving end of a mistargeted or overheard piece of abuse is actually an enviable opportunity to steal a march on the moral high ground and be the bigger person. My friend who bitched about the boss in the gents' at an office Christmas party, only for the boss to appear from a cubicle, gained huge respect for him for the way he magnanimously brushed it all off. (If he'd been really magnanimous, the boss would have stayed in the cubicle, but it's no fun occupying a moral high ground that's hidden away in a toilet.) It's not attractive to complain about hypocrisy: sometimes hypocrisy is better known as the little white lie of kindness.
Anyone with empathy knows that nothing is to be gained from insulting a person to her face. Nothing, that is, in almost all cases. If, however, you are ever in a position to bitch about me in a way that enables me to sell the story of how upset I am for an awful lot of money, that's quite different. Bitch away, sisters. Make the cheque payable to the stupid, bigoted, ridiculous, ginger (rich) cow at this address.
Gingerism: A thin red line between comedy and common assault
The latest news from the bowels of YouTube poses a dilemma for libertarians such as me. Why is Lady Gaga's video for "Telephone", in which she and Beyoncé poison lots of men in an American diner, the most viewed ever on the website, while the video for MIA's "Born Free", in which ginger-haired people are rounded up and shot, has just been banned? What makes the former musical murder spree witty, and the latter offensive?
The "Born Free" video is graphic stuff. Perhaps the ultraviolence is there to pull up short those who laughed at the idea of a ginger genocide at the start of the film. See where "acceptable" prejudices lead, it could be saying. Or perhaps the director, Romain Gavras, just thinks that it's funny.
Not long ago, I was half-heartedly attacked as I walked down the street. Two men threw a fistful of coins at my head and called me stupid, ginger, and a word that you don't want to read in a family newspaper. This was officially an assault, I was told. But was it a ginger-aggravated crime? And does that make it sound a little bit comic, to you? What if they'd yelled similar abuse at a "stupid Paki" woman further down the road? Would that be funny, too?
When Doctor Who last regenerated from David Tennant into Matt Smith, he provoked complaints when he noted that he was "still not ginger". In fact, as fans know, the Doctor wants to be ginger. His lucky sidekick, left, is. Gingerism there is done with cleverness and humour.
And here is the difference between the two videos on YouTube. Gaga's is funny, as Richard Pryor is funny; MIA's is not, as Roy Chubby Brown is not. One is provocative, therefore; the other is just offensive.
Marry me, whoever you are
I knew a girl as a teenager who was obsessed with Robbie from Take That (later Robbie Williams, the slightly foxed, sulky old bloke with the mean mouth). Eventually, she found a boyfriend whom she loved because he looked just like Robbie. It turned out that he loved her because she looked just like Robbie, too, and I was reminded of this serendipitous couple when I read about the new Twilight engagement ring last week. At £1,300, the diamond and 14-carat gold ring is a replica of the one with which Edward proposed to Bella in the teen vampire series. The question is not, "what kind of woman would want to be propositioned by a man masquerading as Robert Pattison?", but "what kind of man would consent to pretend to be a boy vampire for the rest of his married life?" Perhaps the answer is that secretly he wants to marry Robert Pattinson, too.
Get your brains out for the girls
Is it on a Monday or a Tuesday, in your workplace – that first sunny morning in spring when all the women apparently turn up half dressed? There is a name for this day, and it is Tit Tuesday, my male colleagues inform me. Or Tit Monday, in those industries which have altogether less alliteration.
I can't claim to be hugely offended, and I'm sure I'm preaching to the converted here, but guys, please will you try to keep the excitement to a minimum? In the summer, you see, it is going to be hot. Women will wear fewer clothes, and some of those clothes are bound to have tits in them.
Breasts are a part of life and we're pleased if they make you happy, but there's no need to beep at strangers to draw attention to them; we know that they're there. So let's all be grown-ups about this and try to keep our tits, and our opinions, to ourselves.