The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

Royal Academy of Arts, London W1, David Hockey RA: A Bigger Picture 21 January - 8 April
Hockney's landscape works on display at the Royal Academy are exquisite, ranging from LA scenes to Yorkshire from the Nineties to now. In addition to the giant multi-panel paintings created specifically for the galleries, Hockey has also enlarged 50 iridescent iPad drawings for the occasion and experimented with film documentation using 18 cameras, which are displayed on multiple screens. Advance booking is strongly recommended. (This exhibition will be reviewed in next week's New Statesman.)

Comedy

Soho Theatre, London W1, Chris Ramsey: Offermation 25 January - 28 January
Chris Ramsey is bringing his acclaimed Fosters' Edinburgh Comedy Awards nominated show to Soho. It explores the nature of communication and how to bring down the barriers people put up between themselves. Ramsey is an exciting young comic, having previously supported Russell Kane and Al Murray on tour and appeared on Comedy Rocks, Never Mind The Buzzcocks, 8 Out of 10 Cats and Russell Howard's Good News.

Theatre

Apollo Shaftesbury, London W1, The Madness of George III 18 January - 31 March
Alan Bennett's comedy about the Hanoverian monarch's brushes with lunacy originally premiered at the National Theatre in 1991 and has since become an international theatrical sensation. David Haig performs in the title role alongside an excellent cast, including Clive Francis, Beatie Edney and Madhav Sharma.

Dance

Aldwych Theatre, London WC2, Midnight Tango 20 January - 31 March
The stars of BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace, get their own West End show, produced by Arlene Philips and directed by Olivier Award-winning choreographer Karen Bruce. The show explores the magic of the tango, and is set in a late-night bar in downtown Buenos Aires, and features ten of the finest tango dancers in the world.

Music

Royal Opera House, London WC2, Don Giovanni 21 January - 29 February
Mozart's Don Giovanni is one of the most fiery and flamboyant operas in the canon. Gerald Finley and Erwin Schrott share the title role under the musical direction of conductor Constantinos Carydis.

This article first appeared in the 23 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Has the Arab Spring been hijacked?

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Do the abusive messages sent to One Direction members reveal a darker side to fandom?

Incidents like this are often used to characterise all young female fans, but this isn’t about fandom. It’s harassment. 

One Direction’s Niall Horan is the internet’s favourite innocent blond goofball. He spends his days tweeting platitudes about golf and the weather, Snapchatting his reactions to whatever is on his TV, and thanking his fans for everything they’ve done for him. His social media presence is generally one of cheerful bemusement.

So, last night, the web went into maternal #ProtectNiall mode when he took to Twitter to highlight the darker side to fame.

A group of “fans” got hold of Niall’s number, and started frantically texting, WhatsApping and calling him. After two weeks of constant abusive messaging, despite requests to stop, Niall tries to use his platform to get them to stop.

Around the same time, screenshots of the supposed messages started to circle online. (I certainly can’t prove whether they’re real or not, but they first surfaced before Niall’s tweets and feel genuine.) The pattern that emerges seems to be one of frantic, attention-seeking messaging, extreme shock and surprise when he writes back, and, when Niall only requests that they stop messaging him and respect his privacy, the really nasty stuff starts. Messages range from “You invented cancer” to “If [your nephew] was my kid I’d sell it”; from “You’re so stupid and r*tarded” to “I hope your house blows up”.

Niall’s responses are extremely Niall in their politeness. “Why do I deserve to have a bad day?” he asks one. “You guys are bullies,” he tells them. “Go away please.”

As soon as the screenshots emerged, so did suspicions about the identity of the individuals in question. A set of five or six Twitter handles were circled by fan accounts, encouraging people to block and report the usernames to Twitter. Some of the owners of these accounts themselves claim to have been part of the conversations in question, to varying degrees. These account owners are seemingly women, under the age of 18, who have supposedly been involved in other recent One Direction harassment incidents.

One of those incidents came just days before Niall’s tweets. A person suspected to be a member of this group of “fans” got hold of another band member’s phone number: Louis Tomlinson’s. You can listen to a recording of the phone conversation between them that leaked online. After telling him her Twitter handle, Tomlinson asks the caller how she got his number. “You’re a fucking bitch and I hope your baby dies,” she says. Louis responds with a variation on the ancient proverb, “Lawyer up, asshole.” He seemingly tweeted about the incident later that day – and Niall retweeted him.

Fan accounts insist that the same Twitter users were also involved in hacking the iCloud of Anne Twist, Harry Styles’s mother, and leaking hundreds of photos of her son online.

The whole situation is a complicated mess. Parts of the messages feel as though they have been influenced by the style of accounts desperately trying to get the attention of celebrities on Twitter. If you look at the top reply to any tweet from a celebrity with millions of Twitter followers, the responses are calculated to shock the most in an attempt to get noticed. Maybe it’s a weird combination of sexual and violent imagery, or a sexist or racist slur. This is harassment itself, but its ubiquitousness can make it seem less offensive or extreme. Perhaps this kind of behaviour is easier to ignore on Twitter or Instagram – if you have millions of followers, you presumably can’t be notified every time one of them interacts with you online. When it moves into your private sphere, I can image it becomes more terrifying than annoying. Maybe these girls were simply swept up in the cultural moment, and failed to grasp the consquences of their behaviour.

Is it a damning indictment of the hysteria of teenage girls? The scary state of twenty-first century fandom? The problems of anonymity offered by the internet? It’s true that the internet has offered new ways for fans and celebrities to have a more direct connection with one another: for the most part, a mutually beneficial arrangement.

But the revelation of the internet has also been that it is a tool through which fundamentally human behaviours are expressed. Over the last few decades, we have learned that aggressive behaviour online is not limited to largely non-existent stereotypes of spotty virgins in their mothers’ basements, or teenage girls developing “dangerous” sexuality. Grown men and women, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons all do it. It’s also not a behaviour that is inherently connected to online spaces: children and teenagers might experiment with moral boundaries through cyberbullying, but they also might do it via anonymous notes in lockers or whispers in school corridors. People of all ages, professions and genders harass others.

The real problem is not celebrity culture or the concept of teenage fandom or social media. As Louis Tomlinson rightly identifies, it’s that our laws have failed to catch up. If we continue to treat harassment as harassment, in all spaces and by all perpetrators, we’ll have a better chance of minimising it.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.