At about 3am yesterday morning I was preparing to shut down my laptop, but thought I’d check Twitter one last time. As I did so, I noticed that a couple of people I follow had altered their avatars to display with a green overlay. They looked as if they’d been physically removed from the screen and had their pixels dipped in some kind of luminous toxic waste fondue. So with my curiosity aroused, I sifted through my friend’s timeline to look for an explanation.
I discovered that the green overlay was a way of showing solidarity with the Iranians currently protesting the outcome of their country’s election. In fact, inattentive as I am, flashes of green have apparently been appearing on blogs, websites and social networks all week, with people across the world eager to visually acknowledge the Iranians’ struggle. So, in an effort to show my support I turned my avatar green (it was like looking at myself through the night-vision sight of a sniper rifle).
When I turned my avatar green, I did so in the hope that vast swathes of the Twitter community would also turn a greenish hue. Sure, it would be little more than a symbolic act, but it would represent a powerful statement nonetheless.
However, by the time I’d woken from my slumber later in the morning, there wasn’t quite the sea of green I’d been anticipating. People either hadn’t bothered to change the colour of their avatar or were openly questioning the usefulness of doing so. Graham Linehan (@Glinner) tweeted:
Some people replied that the colour green had transcended one particular party and now represented an entire movement (and democracy), which is how I see it. However, with thanks to those who had replied to him, Linehan later tweeted that he would only change his avatar “if it seems like the right thing to do”.
For some reason, Graham Linehan deciding not to change his avatar made me question whether my ‘going green’ had been something of a rash decision. Furthermore, I had a creeping sense of discomfort that my green-hued avatar singled me out from all the other kids. That shouldn’t really have made any difference. But annoyingly, it did.
It reminded me of the time when I moved to a new school (slightly rougher than I was used to) and my grandparents, with the best intentions, bought me a sports bag that I’d really wanted. Well, actually, I’d wanted a grey-coloured bag with ‘Sport pour Homme’ written on the side, but instead they bought me the pink and grey bag with ‘Sport pour la Femme’ emblazoned across it.
I kept that bag hidden and buried beneath plastic bags at school for a whole year, so as not to get beaten to death by my classmates wielding tennis balls inside football socks (the junior version of a snooker ball inside a sock). I didn’t want to be different (with my feminine bag), I wanted to fit in and show everyone what a good footballer I was, and not have my year overshadowed by schoolyard whispers that I was gay…and possibly French.
Anyway, I digress…
I hated the fact that I was starting to get twitchy about my decision to go green with my avatar, and I was positively appalled with myself for becoming so ensconced in the celebrity-saturated world of Twitter that I needed a celebrity endorsement to feel confident about making a simple statement of solidarity. But it seems I did.
Neither Jon Ronson, Charlie Brooker, Peter Serafinowicz, Richard Herring, Armando Iannucci, Jonathan Ross, or arch Twitterer Stephen Fry – champion of a vast number of Twitter causes and fads that pass through his busy fingers on a daily basis – had bothered to partake in the greening of their avatars. I don’t think any less of them for not doing it. I’m just disappointed with myself for feeling that I needed them to endorse it at all.
Still, the niggling worry that I’d jumped on a bandwagon that none of the cool kids had bothered to touch was further compounded when my friend @editorialgirl (who scoffs at the fact that I call her inspirational) decided to remove the green hue from her avatar. This occurred after a tweet from someone who suggested that, rather than everyone changing the colour of their avatars, it might be better to support democracy in Iran by making a donation to Amnesty International.
Donating to AI is, of course, a fantastic thing to do. After all, Amnesty do some phenomenal work. But the tweet somewhat belittled those of us who had innocently tried to show solidarity with the green avatar. There’s always someone who bloody knows better!
I was quite surprised that that tweet wasn’t followed by someone else, saying: “What good is a few measly quid to Amnesty? A more effective contribution would be to take an accelerated learning language course in Farsi. You could then fly over to Tehran and stand shoulder to shoulder with ordinary Iranians, while getting beaten around the head by baton-wielding anti-riot police, whizzing past you on motorbikes as if competing in some hideously violent episode of Kick Start. Don’t just sit on your arse and play around with colours!”
With @editorialgirl returning her avatar to its normal colour (with a promise to donate to Amnesty instead), I started to waver. In fact, I experienced a ridiculous double whammy of self-doubt and self-consciousness, which collided like subatomic particles to create the following tweet:
I do somewhat regret being so worried about what people think of me, that I managed to equate my displaying a colour that represents both struggle and hope…with shitting myself in fancy dress costume at a black tie event. Still, it clearly underlined a substantial character flaw: I’m too preoccupied with how others see me. I care about what people think of me, because I want to be liked and respected…and right. And the fact that one of my most trusted friends had abandoned the green avatar – and some of my favourite celebrities hadn’t even bothered in the first place – made me think that I was perhaps wrong.
But why did I think that? Am I so bereft of self-determination that I’m unable to make my own decisions and stick to them? Why should I care what the crowd are doing? And why should I care about what they may or may not be thinking about what I’m doing? So, you see, this post isn’t really anything to do with the green avatar. It’s about what I learned (or, at the very least, confirmed) about my character, which is that I’m lacking in confidence and care far too much about what people think.
The good news, however, is that I overcame my ridiculous doubts, quashed my follow-the-crowd mentality, and decided to stick with the green avatar. Not only that, but I also changed my location and time-zone settings on Twitter, as per instruction number four in the Cyberwar guide for Iran elections. And I also wrote a letter (via Amnesty) to Mr Rasoul Movahedian, the Iranian ambassador in the UK, calling for restraint in the way forthcoming demonstrations in Iran are policed. This was a way of putting some flesh on the bones of my gesture of solidarity.
I’ve since changed my Twitter avatar, but not as a result of any lingering self-doubt about whether it was the right thing to do. To the contrary, I’ve now replaced it with the picture that accompanies this blog post, which I feel more accurately represents my efforts at expressing my solidarity with the Iranians. It depicts me as an immaculately turned out activist wearing the green adopted by Iranian election protestors (very important). But it also shows me as a man constantly seeking approval and reassurance from his peers. Pathetic, really. But given yesterday’s performance, apparently true.
Anyway, I shall begin ironing out these character flaws immediately…if that’s OK? I mean, I don’t really know? Whaddya think?
UPDATE: I logged onto Twitter this morning and saw that Jonathan Ross (@Wossy) has since ‘gone green’ on his avatar. And thanks to @PeteRayUK, Graham Linehan’s Twitter avatar is now displaying a subtle change: he’s wearing a green jacket instead of a brown one! I also forgot to mention that Alexander Armstrong (@Xanneroo) was the only celebrity (in my follow list) that had already gone green by yesterday afternoon. I wish they’d give him the Have I Got News For You gig full-time. He’s such a nice bloke!