Dear Ralph Fiennes,
Obviously, in the rarified world bubble in which you regularly live, a world of theater, scripts and those who concoct bon mots as their bread and butter, everyone speaks with elegance, wit and panache. Everyone uses a big vocabulary and spends a good chunk of their days celebrating language. But out in the big rest of the world, much of an average day’s language is taken up with sentences like: “Do you know where the stapler is?” Or “Mom, I need you to make two hundred cupcakes tonight for the bake sale at school.” Or “did you watch that episode of Big Bang Theory last night?” In other words, Ralph, most of the language we exchange with each other is inane, or logistical or both.
This is what Twitter is, a good deal of the time. It’s a place for people to say short inane and/or logistical things, especially for marketing purposes. We do the same thing on Facebook, where we can write longer things, putting statements up on our “Walls” like: George Smith …is hoping it rains today so he doesn’t have to mow the lawn. This is what George would say in his regular life if he ran into his friend at the grocery store: “How are you, George?” “Terrific, but I’m hoping it will rain today so I don’t have to mow the lawn.”
But the reality is that George is probably unlikely to run into his friend in the grocery store and exchange the chit-chat that keeps them connected as friends and lubricates the wheels and gears of society. George’s friend is probably living in another state, perhaps another country. And so George shouts out on Twitter or Facebook or his blog or wherever on the Web that his friend might see, to say I’m here, I’m okay, how are you doing, respond. Inane, logistical and also a little beam of light in a big world where we often don’t get to talk that much to people we enjoy or at least enjoy talking with about inane and logistical things. It’s a connection, if not a highly rich or poetic one. A spreading of in-jokes, can you believe its, and dude, do you have a good cupcake recipe because it’s ten p.m. and I need to make two hundred of them for Ellie’s school. Or rather, to make it faster, dude, cupcake recipe? 200 fr sckol tomrrw. Ack! 😦
Sometimes this does shape bits of the language. Sometimes we get new words. Sometimes the words that have been used for 500 years stop being used on a regular basis. Sometimes you can reintroduce those words via the Internet. But the youth won’t be doing so on Twitter because the young by and large aren’t on Twitter — the demographics skew older. The young drama students who find Shakespeare’s texts dense — as drama students have always done — are not having their sense of language eroded by Twitter. They just don’t coordinate where to meet up tonight by speaking in iambic pentameter.
Ralph, it’s commendable that you politely didn’t just come out and say, “I find many of the things people say inane and ugly in its construction,” but it would have been a lot more honest than speculating as to whether Twitter is destroying English, however idly, which, because you are a respected actor who played Lord Voldemont doing marketing at the London Film Festival, gets quoted in the press and spread via Twitter. It’s a text messaging service, Ralph, not a manifesto. And it’s understandable, especially when you perform Shakespeare on a regular basis, to talk about how wonderful his language is (and Wodehouse too, a favorite of mine,) and wonder how relevant Shakespeare remains in modern culture. (My answer: very. He’s even got his own conspiracy movie out now. And he will be all the rage for millions at comic cons for the next year because Joss Whedon made a Much Ado About Nothing movie.) And to wonder if lovely words can still reach people’s souls. And luckily, we can explore this topic on Twitter:
One day, every lauding of older culture will not require the denouncement of advertising and our daily lives as signs of the degrading apocalypse into barbarianism. At that point, the sun will finally die. In the meantime, Ralph, as the Internet squawks at you, we will be awaiting news of your new films: Great Expectations, Clash of the Titans 2 and the next James Bond film. Probably via Twitter.