For actors there are no downsides to leaving Instagram and the like. A star should radiate mystique, not false bonhomie and complaints about queues for the toilet
By Ryan Gilbey
Daisy Ridley is a smart cookie who has grasped at a young age that some people take the biscuit. She is 25 and doing the customary round of interviews to promote her new film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? She spoke to the Radio Times this week about her decision to quit Instagram after receiving abuse pertaining to her views on gun control.
In any other sphere, expressing a wish for gun violence to cease might be recognised as admirable. Not on social media, where controversy can be whipped up from nothing more than a poo emoji. In the ensuing furore, Ridley deactivated her account, and has now voiced concern that social media is “highly unhealthy for people’s mental health … It’s such a weird thing for young people to look at distorted images of things they should be.”
It’s refreshing to hear this. (How Disney will feel about it, in the middle of encouraging fans to tweet about their anticipation for #TheLastJedi, is another matter.) Ridley is not the first actor to leave a social media platform in response to treatment received there. Leslie Jones, one of the stars of the unfairly maligned Ghostbusters reboot, briefly quit Twitter last year after that film’s release was met with a campaign of abuse, much of it racist, directed against her.
The Call Me By Your Name actor Armie Hammer left last month, though his departure had more of the whiff of the hissy-fit about it, prompted as it was by criticism rather than abuse. Buzzfeed published an article comparing his privileged status to his tally of flops, entitled “Ten Long Years of Trying to Make Armie Hammer Happen”. Hammer responded by tweeting that the article was “bitter AF” and then absenting himself from Twitter.
Answering your critics is rarely a good look, and this was no exception, but at least the incident made the world understand that it isn’t only African-American women like Jones who face obstacles. Stories of the hardships suffered by white upper-class males must not go untold.
In the midst of acknowledging the dangers posed by social media to young people, Ridley shouldn’t overlook the negative effect it can have on another group of which she is a member: actors. They flock to social media to engage in some harmless round-the-clock self-promotion. They soak up the waves of adulation from fans hoping for a meagre reciprocating “like” or even a “hi”. But departing at the earliest opportunity, or never joining in the first place, is one of the best things any actor can do. Alongside being brilliantly talented. Nothing quite beats that.
The less the public knows about you, what you had for brunch and how much leg room you have in first class (see Hammer’s Instagram for further details), the more effectively you can disappear into a role. For an actor, there is no downside to leaving social media. It can only safeguard your mystique. You’ll have more time to work and think and read and research. Your feed won’t be clogged up with audience members messaging you to say that the drinks at the theatre where you gave your full-pelt Electra or your Othello last night were massively overpriced, and as for the queues in the toilets, well … which actor needs that? You go on stage or on film or television and you give your performance. It isn’t a debate; you’re not asking for questions or feedback or below-the-line comments.
he presence of actors on social media is damaging, too, from the audience’s point of view. It makes us think that they are our friends and that they want to hear from us. But they’re not and they don’t. If social media had been with us since the early days of cinema, we would have had a strikingly different relationship with our icons. Imagine squealing excitedly and fanning your clavicle because Bette Davis had “liked” the Instagram snap of your birthday barbecue (filter: Perpetua).
Robert Mitchum’s brooding, taciturn appeal would have been greatly diminished if he had tweeted from the set of The Night of the Hunter: “Chilling with my man Charlie L. Which side are you on? #Love #Hate.” How would it have affected your respect for Marlon Brando if you’d known he was only a tweet away and available for RT requests? (I can take all the outlandish Brando stories you’ve got – I love knowing that he suggested playing Superman’s father in the style of a suitcase or a green bagel – but please don’t ever suggest he was approachable.) And how different Greta Garbo’s “I want to be alone” would have sounded expressed as a tweet.
Ryan Gilbey is film critic of the New Statesman and writes on film for the Guardian, Sunday Times and Sight & Sound