Anonymity, revisited

My post on blogging anonymously was surprisingly popular, so I thought I would mention this news tidbit: A British policeman was recently outed as the author of the blog Night Jack, a 2009 Orwell Prize award winner for writing excellence in political science.

The Night Jack blog was also hosted here at WordPress, and has now been completely deleted.  The cop author was also recently reprimanded, although he will probably not loose his job:

“The 45-year-old detective constable with the Lancashire constabulary has been spoken to and received a written warning but will not be disciplined further “unless anything else was to come out”, a spokeswoman for Lancashire police said.

“We have conducted a full internal investigation and the officer accepts that parts of his public commentary have fallen short of the standards of professional behaviour we expect of our police officers,” she said.”

Sadly, even the posts chosen by the Orwell Prize Award Committee now link to deleted pages.  You can still read several of his posts at the Guardian.  (For who knows how long?)

The irony of all this that I haven’t seen mentioned yet is….
‘George Orwell’ was a pseudonym
.

Eric Blair did not write under his real name.  In fact, Orwell also worked as a policeman, which lead to the essays in Shooting an Elephant.  Orwell/Blair was a teacher at a public school, part of the home guard, and worked for the BBC.  In fact, memos exist discussing whether it mattered that Blair was Orwell.

I think it’s safe to say that if he could have, Orwell would have blogged, he would have used a name different than his own, and that he would definitely have upset some people and risked his job.  In a commentary on the Night Jack case, it was suggested that:

“the best strategy, for those bloggers hoping to remain anonymous, is to be dull, trivial and inarticulate. Had Night not stirred his readers, to the point that he won the Orwell Prize, the Times would not have bothered with him.”

This is, unfortunately, accurate advice. You can write badly online and no one will care; if it’s truly awful and silly some people may occasionally link to you (“OMG look at this!”) but for the most part, no one will care who you are.

Is is better to be an outstanding writer, and risk being unmasked? At what price does art come, now that we are all on stage and digitally documented, 24/7?  Go read Shooting an Elephant. What would have happened if Orwell had put this on a blog, for all to see?

5 thoughts on “Anonymity, revisited

  1. I hope that he still has copies of all his work so that maybe at some point he can publish it as a book or series of articles.

  2. Me too! I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, but his stories were really fascinating. (and heartbreaking–teens were a large proportion of the victims. “I LURVE HIM” seemed to excuse a whole lot of abusive behavior)

  3. I don’t know about Night Jack, but Orwell certainly could write. Thanks for the link.

    Pen names can take on a life of their own, of course, and I wonder just how anonymous Eric Blair actually was? Did he become too well known as Orwell to write under his own name even after his real identity became known? I wish I had thought about this before I chose my own pseudonyms. I’m not sure I want to become known as ‘HomeBug’ (but no worries, with the way I write, I should be safe under Bug Girl’s hypothesis).

    Avoiding political flack isn’t the only reason for a pseudonym. Some people just like their privacy. Others use pen names to deliberately deceive their readers when they want to try a new style or are worried that the market for works under their real name/ first pseudonym is saturated.

  4. He was pretty widely known as Orwell, which is what makes that BBC letter I linked to so fascinating. They wondered if it was a good idea to employ him in a country where many of his books were banned.

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