There's a sobering moment in Werner Herzog's documentary film Grizzly Man which is still one of the most haunting things I've seen on film. The director is listening to audio tape of environmentalist Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard being mauled to death by a bear. He is in a room with Treadwell's mother. Visibly shaken by what he has heard, Herzog simply says: "You must never listen to this tape. You must destroy it, and never listen to it."
We can only hope she did what he said. But in less serious matters it's hard to get across a message like that without piquing people's curiosity. How do you say, for example, "Don't look at the comments on anything on the internet ever" without making someone peep through their fingers to see what's so bad? How do you intensify the warning to a seasoned reader of internet stuff, to say "I know it's a cliche to say 'Don't look at the comments on anything on the internet ever' but I really mean it, especially when it's on a Comment is Free article about feminism"?
It's not easy. I tried with my own father when I first showed him a blogpost on his computer.
"What's this bit here?"
"Oh, those are the comments, don't worry about them, don't read them, you know, haha."
And he started reading them, of course. I had to leave the room as I saw the colour draining from his face. Short of pulling the plug out of the computer or frisbeeing his laptop into the back garden, I didn't know what to do. It was like watching someone you love be dragged through a steaming midden by a team of shire horses. It was awful. And this wasn't even one of the bad bloggers - one of those ones (you know the ones) who attracts a team of needle-dicked women-hating scumbag bastards who drool about how female writers "need a good seeing to" and other such delights; this was just an ordinary blogpost.
It's impossible not to look. You can try not to look, but you just end up looking, and giving yourself a sadface. It's the same when people haven't heard of the rum coves I sometimes mention on Twitter - happy-go-lucky Americans, for example, who have lived their lives without ever having to find out about Andy Coulson; or people who are fortunate enough to tweet me with "Who is this Nadine Dorries anyway?"; or, poignantly, those folk who say "Richard Littlejohn, who?"
Oh, the lucky, lucky, jammy bastards. How I wish I didn't know. And I always try to say the same thing to them. I try to be like Herzog in that poignant moment. Don't find out, I tell them. Don't Google them. Don't take a peep around the curtain. Don't look them up and don't read anything about them; and your life will continue as it is now, without a noticeable decline in happiness.
But they do, they always do. And then Pandora's Box is open. Just like your first exposure to the goatse man, you can't undo what's been done. Sure, you can carry on and pretend it never happened, but it happened, you know it happened, and you'll always be left with that mental image burnt onto your mind's eye. I feel so guilty sometimes, about being the first person to pop someone else's Nadine Dorries cherry, or bring them their first ever Littlejohn column. But what can I do? I'm curious too. And it always ends up getting the better of me.
You must never look, I say. But we always do.
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