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The Sherlock fandom, at least my corner of it, is all abuzz over some death threats Amanda Abbington received after defending Steven Moffat against some Twitter abuse. I usually research these things better before passing them along, but this time for some reason I just assumed it was a recent thing or even working out what the cause of the ruckus was. I think because there was some suggestion it had been started by some Johnlock fans who went way overboard, for reasons that are spoilerish but you could probably piece it together if you look at iMDB's cast list and know your Doyle canon. Or, you know, if you use Google.

Anyway, this whole thing got me thinking about the way different people interpret language. Americans tend to say really violent things against people we disagree with or are angry with, but that doesn't usually mean we literally want them dead, let alone plan to do anything about it. (Several good examples of this trend here, re: the recent government shutdown.) This isn't okay, it's dangerous and certainly not a good way to promote respectful dialogue with people we disagree with. But I wonder if this isn't a uniquely American fault? So someone not from America might be excused for reading tweets along the lines of "I can't believe you said that, someone should just shoot you dead" or whatever was actually said as being more aggressive than it might be meant by an American who said it?

To be clear -

1) I adore Amanda Abbington. She's a dear, has a wonderful sense of humor, and is great at engaging with Sherlock fans. I hate that anyone would get lashed at by fans, but her particularly.
2) Even if she wasn't, there's a line between disliking a certain character that upsets your interpretation and being a bit vicious to the actress hired to play her. Or getting bound up in an idea that Moffat writes LGBT characters, or women, or people of color, etc. badly --an idea that is at least arguable-- and lashing out at someone defending a coworker who's facing a bit of a pile-on. That crosses the line in a major way.
3) I am not excusing this violent language. As a pacifist, I hate it quite intensely. I'm not trying to say the fact that this is increasingly common stateside doesn't make it okay.

Still, I find myself wondering: how common are violent threats not meant to really threaten violence in other places? Brits, I'm particularly interested in your experience, if you have any (since both Amanda and Moffat are British), but anyone with an opinion, I'd be interested.

On a related note: Amanda and Martin Freeman are longterm romantic partners. They live together and have kids together. But to my knowledge they're not actually married. I think you got the same thing with Peter Jackson and Philippa Boyens in New Zealand, and even Johnny Depp and that model (sorry, I'm blanking on the name) in France. To an American this seems wonderfully hippie-ish, an intentional slam against the institution of marriage or maybe people who just lack a certain degree of commitment. But I get the impression this is actually accepted around the world, at least more accepted than it is in America. Is that true?

Any thoughts on any of this would be appreciated.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 6th, 2013 07:00 am (UTC)
Living together long term outside marriage is very widely accepted here and not at all unusual. Only the very religious and the elderly would as much as bat an eyelid.

On the whole, Americans are way more polite than the British in Internet Forums, at least in my experience. You could get into deep trouble with the law though if you posted anything that could be construed as threatening rather than simply rude and abusive.
Dec. 6th, 2013 07:59 am (UTC)
That's exactly the kind of information I was looking for, Linda. On both points, but the second part in particular. Here the First Amendment (which gives us freedom of speech guarantees) means you can't get in legal trouble for what you say, even direct threats, except in specific situations. If you're planning an attack on a specific person, or if it's reasonable that someone would take your words as a call to action, or if you're trying to intimidate a specific person, that's not allowed. (Here's one overview of when a threat is illegal, if you're interested.) But if you're just venting criticism and you don't actually intend for the person to get hurt, you're just using violent metaphors - I think that's allowed.

What I'm trying to work out here is if an American fan might get very angry and tweet something that seemed... impolite, certainly, but not meant as a threat, the kind of thing we Americans would consider a legitimate and protected expression of an opinion, but to a British person would come across as the kind of threat you might go to the authorities about. I was poking around online and I found the place where she discussed receiving death threats, but I can't find the actual threats. If I got absolutely furious at you and emailed to you "I can't believe you said that, and if we ever meet in person I'm going to wring shoot you dead," to an American ear that might seem extreme but certainly not criminal. But if a British person would hear direct threats of this sort as a criminal threat, I can see the potential for disagreement. I might be letting off some steam, telling you how upset I was without meaning it to come across as a genuine death threat, and you might hear it very differently.

(That's a hypothetical, m'dear; I'm not actually angry at all, of course.)

Not saying that's what happened here, of course. Or even that it's okay to lash out at an actor because you don't like a snide comment they made. It's frustrating not being able to find the threats themselves. But I can see it happening along those lines, maybe.
Dec. 6th, 2013 12:48 pm (UTC)
Second Linda's comment re marriage/not. The word "partner" is used without any sense of judgementalism at all.

(Many people in the UK remain unaware that there is no such thing as "common-law marriage", ie legal rights conferred by living together over a long period, and are shocked on eg separating to discover that they are legally in exactly the same position as two strangers on the street.)

Also, increasingly, many women over here (like myself) who do marry don't change their surnames on doing so (and in some European countries, including interestingly the once-conservative Spain, it has never been the norm to do so) so you can't tell, if someone uses Ms, whether they are married or not.

Conversely, there is I think often mild chortling at the apparent tendency of (celebrity, at least) Americans to get serially married/divorced at the drop of a hat, which is perhaps seen as at least as devaluing of marriage as not doing it in the first place!
Dec. 6th, 2013 12:58 pm (UTC)
Re the threatening language thing: this has been covered in British law for years, but I believe (though I'm no expert) the police have become more willing to take it seriously recently; partly in response to a number of cases where violent would-be or ex-partners were stalking women, verbal/txt/online threats were ignored, and the partners in question did go on to harm or even murder those who'd been in receipt of the threats.

Here's an extract I found online from the Public Order Act 1986:

"Section 4 � Fear or Provocation of Violence

A person is guilty if he either

a) uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or
b) distributes to another person any writing or sign which is threatening, abusive or insulting

and either

i) he intends to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person or to provoke such immediate violence, or
ii) it is likely that the person will believe that such violence will be used against him, or it is likely that such violence will be provoked."

[my emphasis]

Very recently, there's been a lot of controversy about such threats being made to prominent people (particularly women) through social media (Google Mary Beard or Caroline Criado Perez) - and in some cases people have been cautioned and even arrested.

OTOH, a young man who got very frustrated by snow delays at Glasgow airport a winter or two ago, and tweeted about blowing up the airport, had his case thrown out (though it did come to court) because the judge decided that it should have been obvious to any reasonable person that it was a joke and not a serious threat. (The "reasonable person" test seems to come up quite a lot in British case law, though again I am no expert.)
Dec. 6th, 2013 01:43 pm (UTC)
Still, I find myself wondering: how common are violent threats not meant to really threaten violence in other places?

This is taken very very seriously in my country, if you issue such a threat on Twitter, the cops will find you and take you down to the police station. We had schools shut down, malls shut down ect simply because of one joker and they will be brought in front of judge (without a jury, mind you). We have strict gun laws, but we had our shocks of a shooting, a man planning to kill the royal family and assinations over the years to take this very seriously.

But I get the impression this is actually accepted around the world, at least more accepted than it is in America. Is that true?

Yes, very muchly.
Dec. 6th, 2013 02:03 pm (UTC)
Even here in the US the response to exaggerated language is getting to be more serious. I mean Americans are used to people saying "My mom will kill me if I do that!" or "If my husband doesn't call me when he's going to be late, I'll strangle him!" and nobody thinks they mean it.

One of my husband's favorite sayings when someone annoys him is "I think I'll just kill him and tell God he died." My DH wouldn't hurt anything, and no reasonable person would ever think he meant that.

But the other day in OKC they reported on the news about a substitute teacher who was suspended over making "death threats" against a high school class:

"If you don't behave, I'll shoot you and tell your parents you died."

Not a smart thing to say, but to me quite obvious that he was using hyperbole! But in today's fear of gun-toting maniacs such language is getting much less acceptable than it used to be!

Dec. 6th, 2013 02:27 pm (UTC)
I think over here it's much more acceptable to make such comments in a jokey private setting (where the person concerned knows perfectly well you're joking - like you and your DH). Hearing "Oh no, so-and-so will kill me!" is perfectly normal and no-one thinks anything of it.

However, with the increasing reach of social media and the concomitant ease with which prejudiced trolls can spread really vile abusive language, I think there is a growing social movement in the UK - which I very much support - to call the trolls on their abuse and say "You know what? That really isn't funny. There is no universe in which saying that a prominent woman you disagree with needs to be raped/slapped around a bit/murdered is 'just a joke' and is OK. Stop. It."

For an example of the sort of thing that goes on in the UK, and the blogosphere turning round and saying "You know what? No.", see prominent Cambridge academic Mary Beard turning the tables this July.

(I particularly loved, in the story above, the fact that the idiot in question "was later forced to apologise to Beard after another Twitter user threatened to send the tweet to his mother." Middle-aged women rule, so there.)
Dec. 6th, 2013 06:03 pm (UTC)
I have an American LJ buddy currently in prison for sending abusive e mails to an ex lover.(She was furious to learn he had a wife).I have not heard of anything like that happening here.We have no constitutional right to free speech.
I think in the case of celebraties a lot would depend on whether they reported abuse online or not.

I would indeed be scared if you e mailed me and said you planned to shoot me,especially as you know where I live LOL
Dec. 6th, 2013 06:29 pm (UTC)
You'd have every right to be scared for other reasons, too: that's not the kind of thing I'd ever in a million years do! And if I received an email like that I'd probably be scared, too. The point is that in America, it's much more rare (though, as dreamflower02 pointed out, that's changing with all the mass shootings recently) for such language to be treated as a genuine threat that the police should get involved with. Which means, as scary and offensive as it can be for the person receiving it, the person making it may not think of it as a serious death threat. Not that it's okay in any case, it's clearly crossing a line, but I do wonder if there's a bit of cross-cultural miscommunication going on here as well.
Dec. 7th, 2013 03:26 am (UTC)
I know you wouldn't. I've only received 2 disturbing e mails in all my time on line, one from a dear friend sadly suffering a mental breakdown and the other from the notorious Lady Roisin under one of her varied guises. Neither threatened me, but both left me shellshocked.

I think context matters a lot, but you have to be careful what you say in public, especially regarding guns or bombs.It is illegal here to have a gun, never mind threaten to use it!

I just don't understand why people get so heated over what stars do. People should be careful to separate them from their characters such as "Moriaty should be shot" as distict from the actor playing him.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )



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