For all the clicking that Black Mirror’s ‘Bandersnatch’ has us frantically doing in trying to choose the right choice from a series of scenarios, one choice that I definitely know is the right one is Will Poulter’s in quitting Twitter for the foreseeable future, in order to to focus on his mental health. He played a starring role as Colin Ritman the game creator, but after Bandersnatch’s release, he found himself flooded with negative comments and the occasional abuse, which has lead him to rethink his relationship with social media.
Those with a more hardline view of his public reaction to what ensued on Twitter may suggest that criticism is part and parcel in any facet of life, and that an alternative and creative piece, such as what Black Mirror had crafted, was always going to attract those who loved it, as well as those who found it wanting at times. I loved the concept and really feel that this new format could go far, but the choice mechanism has seen varying degrees of success when we’ve seen it in previously in video games, such as the Mass Effect series. The shift of power from the creators controlling where the story goes to the viewers opens up many possibilities, and creates a new sense of engagement with the story by placing you firmly in the centre of the narrative. But as is the case with the first of any kind of technology, some leeway should be given for the inevitable teething problems, and therefore, should of course be open to criticism.
Most would agree that being exposed to criticism is perfectly fine and also necessary, and I’m sure that most celebrities, actors and people in general are happy to read and participate in a discussion where you’re critically analysed for something. Solid, constructive criticism allows for growth and it’s an important trait needed in a time where every action, career move or artistic decision that you make can be out there to be scrutinised by the masses. But what Poulter probably didn’t expect, and certainly didn’t deserve, was the barrage of vitriol spewed not about his acting or his involvement with Black Mirror, but his looks. The first time I encountered him, as many probably have, was his exceptional role in We’re The Millers, and from that mainstream introduction, he’s been fairly ubiquitously known as ‘The Eyebrows Kid.’ That being said, it’s still a stretch to call him out publicly as an ugly individual, especially if you see him outside any acting context where he’s really not as repulsive as he was made out to be.
This may seem petty and the ilk of these largely throwaway, meaningless comments could be deemed to be water off a duck’s back for a successful actor. I mean, why would he care about what some random people on Twitter have to say about him, given that most of them pale in comparison with the accolades that he’s achieved in his career so far? The comments although harsh, don’t mean anything and can be easily put into the box of those fired from the keyboards of jealous haters who haven’t got much else to do other than to bring down someone in a position of success. But his withdrawal from the platform is not a protest over the types of comments that were coming his way – it’s about what social media has become entangled in and what it has undeniably strayed from since its inception.
I don’t think he really took much offence to what was being said about him, but took more offence at why he had to put up with the negativity in the first place. And simply put, no one has to. Twitter was once (and still is in places) a great structure for connection, and for celebrities in particular, it was an unrivalled platform for fan interaction and self-promotion. But now, and rightly pointed out by Poulter, the potential for spreading positivity just doesn’t outweigh the needless negativity that you are automatically met with by means of simply existing on the platform. This is a man who spends his time supporting anti-bullying and Syrian crisis organisations out of his own good will, and if he’s being slated and targeted, then what really is the point of continuing to be subjected to hatred that is ill-founded? He, and no one else, needs this in their lives. And it’s not like celebrities can just lock themselves in and choose not to read the papers anymore. The price of a global level of connectivity means that everything follows you, both the constructive and the cynical. So if you can get on with your daily life without having to listen to a barrage of cynical drivel, which let’s be honest, dominates social media far more than genuine constructive criticism, then it’s a very easy decision to make. Much easier than choosing whether to throw Stefan or Colin off the building at a seemingly pivotal point of the story.
With the anonymity and mob mentality that has corrupted more and more of the platform and others similar to it, I wouldn’t be surprised if more and more high profile figures decide that it’s simply not worth it at its current stage. With the topic of mental health consolidating itself at the forefront of many societal discussions and considerations, it makes it even more understandable why people would want to remove themselves from a space that breeds hate and negativity at the expense of trying to get along and be positive in a wider community.
You wouldn’t choose to surround yourself with family, friends or a general environment that projects negativity onto you, so why should Twitter be any different? Good choice, Colin.
What if you’re right, and they’re wrong?