YAY! Finally, I have made it to an age when the young call me pompous. My adult rehabilitation is complete.
Having joined two journalism “support” (Ha!) sites on Facebook and been nothing other than kind, generous and helpful in my suggestions, stories and advice, the tide has turned. It had been a while coming, and I had already been surprised by the levels of aggression when people asked for advice, I took the time to give it, and then others joined in the thread to disagree aggressively with what I said (including one man who got very heated in the “learned” vs “learnt” debate (that was half an hour I’ll never get back). Caring and sharing it sometimes ain’t.
The swearing and blaspheming was so rife on one day, I thought it might be construed by some to be offensive. I deigned to suggest that, in the marketplace where potential employers are operating, people should refrain from using the F word or blaspheming, as some people might be sensitive to such things.
The worst abuse, however, came from women, and I came under attack both from people I know and complete strangers. When I added fuel to the fire by suggesting that their language and attitude might be the reason some of them were struggling to find work (the Groundhog Day of complaints out there), the sound of self-combustion – emotional and verbal - was laughable. If, in my opinion, they were scuppering their chances of getting work through swearing, they were now on a suicide mission to linguistic wasteland.
I decided to leave both sites, as the “debate” (I use the word loosely) escalated and turned nasty. Life really is too short and I genuinely do not have the time or energy to deal with people whose only form of defence is another form of attack. Besides, I had articles to write. And money to earn.
I have nothing against swearing per se; I have been known to drop the odd expletive myself - as, indeed, have many of my colleagues and editors, who do so in the workplace (although personally, I would avoid it there, too); but it’s different when you are presenting yourself to others and looking to be employed; I’m sorry, but different rules apply.
Much as you may like wearing a T-shirt and jeans around the house, you wouldn’t dress like that for an interview. If I am looking for a front of house receptionist for a five star hotel, I wouldn’t choose someone with facial piercings. If I am employing a construction worker, I wouldn’t choose someone who wants to turn up to work in a three piece suit and tie. If I am employing a wordsmith, I choose someone who uses language to the best of their ability, not a lazy person with a shallow word box who resorts to expletives when the going gets tough.
For me, social networking is the same: you are in the public sphere, so you act accordingly. Fine, if you don’t want to do that, but if you are on sites where you are trying to get work, surely you put your best wares on display.
Just in case I was out of touch with modern thought, I’ve asked a lot of people (writers, editors, sub-editors) for their opinion, including many of the women on these sites. Privately, without exception, they all agreed with me, but didn’t want to be seen commenting on the page – which reinforces my main point: that one behaves differently on social networking from how one does in private.
The language/swearing issue is an interesting one. If it is so socially acceptable, everyone would be doing it - in print, on TV, in every social situation; but they’re not. It certainly has its place. A Paul Abbott drama without swearing would be laughable; a newscaster telling us that there’s another effing war in the Middle East would land them the sack.
Keith Waterhouse was a good friend of mine, and one of the greatest and most successful writers of his generation. Privately, Keith swore regularly and it never offended me. There was also what some would call “colourful” language in his plays – all of it justified in its context. But there was never, ever a swear word in his journalism - for one simple reason: he knew his marketplace, and you cut your cloth accordingly.
One response on Facebook pointed out to me that “We are all adults”; my response would be “Well, stop acting like children.” Yes, it’s true, you can say what you like and how you choose to say it, as it’s a free country and you are, officially an adult, despite evidence to the contrary; but this is still missing the point.
On pages/sites/anywhere where you are looking to be employed and presenting yourself to people who can potentially give you work, it is detrimental, as a writer, to advertise your linguistic retardation. If you can’t at least try to understand that, you are missing not only one of the fundamentals of good journalism, but of life.
If that makes me pompous, I embrace my new status with alacrity.
And anyone who doesn’t like it can simply Go . . . F . . . Find themselves someone who gives a damn.