Monday, May 05, 2008

Hiding behind the Wall

The Klu Klux Klan is the name given to a secret organisation in the southern United States, who, while hiding behind conic masks and white robes, used terrorism, violence and lynching to intimidate and oppress African Americans. The robes and masks were used to hide the true identities, and to provide anonymity as well as adding drama to their activities.

There are many reasons why a person may want to chose to hide their identity and become anonymous. Several of these are legitimate, such as gifts to charity or tipping off the police about a crime.

Anonymity in literature has a long history – before the advent of the printing press the namelessness of works was not unusual. Beowulf and Sir Gewain and the Green Knight, like most medieval literature, were anonymous. However, with the advent of print, it became an expectation of authorship.

Authors hide behind the mantle of anonymity for a myriad of reasons: diffidence, fear of consequences, or shame. Some authors wrote works, where, if their true identity were known, could have lead to personal attack or accusations of sedition, punishable by torture and death. To me this is a justifiable use of the nom de plume Anonymous.

In the age of the internet, most people hide behind a handle, which may or may not reveal part of their true identity; but at least with this handle you should be able to put an identity, true or perceived, to a message. To the person who uses the handle ‘Anonymous’, this is not possible. Of course, it is possible to find out part of someone’s IP address, etc. Having an IP address in Hong Kong, using a Mac and PCCW as an internet provider, tells me a little bit more, but I like the idea of a handle rather than an IP address. As Patrick McGoohan claimed in The Prisoner “I am not a number – I am a free man!”

The zeitgeist of blogging is that we like to have an impression of the author, however, misleading or wrong that impression is. Readers use their knowledge of the author as a kind of short cut to interpretation.

In 1968 Andy Warhol proclaimed that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” It seems, today, that people who hide behind the tag ‘Anonymous’ are deliberately eschewing this view.

One reason for this is that its easy to say the most scurrilous and unsubstantiated nonsense when hiding behind a non-name. In the same way that the kluxers wear hoods, to protect their identity and reputation, while they do their dirty deeds; on the internet too many people feel free to sling slander and lies while hiding behind the handle of ‘Anonymous’.