EVERYTHING this week seemed designed to make a 40-something feel out of touch. It was not so much the content — rather, it was the constant invocation of media platforms where celebrities appear and disappear with the rapidity of a subatomic particle in a Large Hadron Collider.
Let us start at the more recognisable end of the broadcasting revolution: podcasts; and a Radio 4 Extra show that provides some guidance to what is out there. We all need a curator, and Podcast Radio Hour (Fridays) has at its helm a different one each week to talk us through what is good in the wild world beyond the schedules. We are given chunks of the featured shows; and, so long as you don’t mind your sound-space inhabited by unscripted wittering, then you may find last week’s content at least companionable, if not exactly diverting.
Podcasts, like Twitter feeds, Instagram accounts, and YouTube channels, rely on groups of followers, and, in The Followership Game (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), the entrepreneur Natalie Campbell tried to get behind the psychology of the follower. Much has been written on the art and psychology of leadership, but we do not have similarly sophisticated categories for the led.
Nor, it transpired, could Campbell and her guest experts shed any light on the subject. Instead, we were introduced to the concept of “micro-leadership”, which describes the modern phenomenon of YouTube sensations and Facebook celebrity. We met the model Munroe Bergdorf, whose sacking by L’Oréal got many people tapping enthusiastically on portable smart devices. “I would feel extremely lonely without my followers,” she admitted. And therein lies the truth of the matter.
As the first black transgender model to have worked on a leading brand, Bergdorf has potent status and influence among her followers. As The Trans Revolution (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) made clear, it is in this modern era — when micro-leaders offer alternative role-models on media platforms that lie outside the usual constraints of the social, cultural, and financial marketplace — that young people, in particular, have found a space to discover alternative forms of identity. As the presenter Maria Margaronis put it, the internet has increased the rate of change in gender politics to “warp speed”.
If you want stats, they can be found in the numbers of admissions to the NHS Gender Development Centre. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, you could count the number of referrals for gender-identity issues on one hand. There was an exponential leap in 2015-16: the year the pop singer Miley Cyrus declared that she was “gender fluid”. In 2017, 2000 cases were referred. But, here, the motivations of followership might be better investigated; for the overwhelming majority of these 2000 cases involve girls wishing to self-identify as boys.
The implicit questions were left hanging, not least because asking them makes you vulnerable to a world of social-media abuse. Another good reason not to do Twitter.