The Ellie Effect: What I learned from meeting the world’s most trolled artist

lokinewOn Wednesday night I took part in a panel discussion at the Glad Café in Glasgow about the controversial project The Glasgow Effect undertaken by artist and provocateur, Ellie Harrison. It was a polite and, at times, frank affair and reminded me of the importance of face to face discussion when attempting to establish the truth of something.

When I arrived at the venue I immediately noticed Ellie at the front door wearing what looked like a lollipop lady’s jacket. My heart-rate quickened as I had been anticipating the moment we would first speak and now I suddenly found myself thrust into her path unexpectedly. No time to write out what I want to say and edit it before posting and then deleting it because it’s shit.

Fortunately, she was besieged by attendees keen to hear about her experience so I used this as an opportunity to head into Glad and compose myself.

Not two seconds in the door and I literally ran into my other sparring partner for the evening, Katie Gallolallayloghly Swan – or Katie as I like to call her. The surreal thing about this is the fact Katie and I are friends.

Katie published a response piece on Bella which attempted to hold my class-shaming generalisations about the Glasgow Effect to rigorous account. In my opinion she did a pretty good job. In terms of pointing out logical fallacy and hypocrisy in someone else, it was extremely perceptive. I made a point of sharing it widely as soon as I’d finished reading it.

I suspect her piece was also cathartic for a great number of people too. In particular those who may have been feeling that I needed to be challenged in some way or taken down a peg. Katie handed them a nice big stick to beat me with for a couple of hours. It’s nice to get a look at my mind from another person’s perspective and for that reason and many others I found Katie’s article immensely useful.

Ellie joined Katie and I not long after. I struggled to make conversation as it was my intention to begin by apologising for any upset I may have incited or exacerbated but the venue was crowded and something so personal didn’t seem appropriate.

It was also the first time I was able to get a sense of the immense strain Ellie had clearly been under since the shit hit the fan in early January; something a social media post could never really convey no matter how vivid. I made a joke about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which didn’t carry very well. Unfortunately I couldn’t slyly erase it from the record as this attempt at conversation was taking place in real-life.

In my head I was thinking: “I should have brought her a gift as a goodwill gesture. Perhaps a nice handmade card and a box of organic strawberries.”

Thankfully, the waitress arrived with my falafel, giving me with something to do with my massive mouth for 10 minutes.

As I decimated my dinner Katie consoled me about the fact one of my heroes, Frankie Boyle, had unfollowed me on Twitter – something I chose to share on Facebook. To anyone unfamiliar with Twitter, the unfollow is the ultimate insult. It’s someone’s way of saying they can’t even bear you at a distance.

When I noticed Frankie was following me it was a nice feeling. Then one day I landed on his page only to find that we were no longer ‘following each other’. Given he has over 2 million followers I couldn’t even unfollow him out of spite as it would be like spitting at the ocean. From that fateful day to this I have been forced to consider what I could possibly have said that would have been too much for the UK’s most offensive human being.

Then it dawns on me I am discussing how upset an unfollow from someone I don’t even know has made me while sitting next to someone who was trolled on Facebook by half the world over an arts project that wouldn’t hurt a fly. Not long after this epiphany a friend of Ellie’s arrives.

They embrace beside me a little longer than normal for a simple hello. Have they been re-united after a long spell apart? Or is this the first time they’ve crossed paths since Ellie’s world was turned upside down?

Then I hear gentle sobbing.

It’s obvious to me now that this experience pushed Ellie to her emotional and psychological limits and that her attendance at the Glad Café, to face the proverbial music, is an act of immense courage. I tried to imagine how I would have coped had it been me at the eye of a social media storm.

Given my faux-breakdown and narcissistic sensitivity to an unfollow from a comedian I’ve never met, I can only laugh out loud at the prospect of maintaining anything near the level of composure, perspective and humility Harrison has demonstrated since this fiasco started just over a month ago.

The discussion was robust once it got started and audience contributions teased out the deeper issues around culture and class. The entire evening was respectful, if a little thorny at points, and benefitted greatly from individuals being able to read one another’s body language.

All in all the debate was less combative than some may have anticipated and for this reason, extremely helpful for all of us. I got the impression many people left with a greater understanding of the affair – and a greater appreciation of Ellie’s experience. I wrote my piece criticising the Glasgow Effect as an attempt to articulate a feeling that was out there – right or wrong – and that was my aim when I set about writing it. Too often I watch the thoughts and opinions of people from communities like mine get lost in translation or discarded altogether.

But ultimately, my writing comes from an irrational place, deep down in the pit of my gut and could never bear any serious academic scrutiny.

My piece was designed primarily for people angry about the Glasgow Effect to hold up and say: ‘’this is how I feel and this is what I am trying to say but have no words.’’

“This represents me.”

But I can also see how my actions were part of a gathering snowball of nonsense too. The social media frenzy in which we’re all bored of the outrage and the witch-hunts…until we’re leading them into polemical oblivion.

From this fiasco I learned a simple lesson. Social media and I have something quite profound in common: we are basically just tools.

Comments (37)

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  1. Jac Gallacher says:

    I love your honesty.

    1. Jojo says:

      Are you being sarcastic?

  2. Kenny says:

    Well said Darren. I listened to the recording of the Glad Cafe event and was very interested to hear the different perspectives that were aired. It does seem like Ms. Harrison’s goals were not quite as some were portraying them and that the (perhaps deliberately) opaque and impenetrable language of official artdom obscured the ideas that she’s trying to explore.

    I think the problem with any of these weird “wars” that erupt on social media is something you allude to in your piece – the lack of context. To most people, Ellie Harrison (or even Loki) are not real people. They’re words on a screen. Social media is intrinsically onanistic. You read the words without tone, without body language, without any real context and then think that YOUR words and YOUR opinions will count for so much more because, well, it’s YOU. Outside of YOUR Twitter timeline is just random internet folk, not real people with friends and families and emotions and vulnerabilities and frustrations. At the same time, internet discussions inevitably mean you have to shout LOUDER AND LOUDER to make your point heard, not realising that within days or hours or even minutes, your words will just be another comment that no-one ever scrolls down far enough to read.

    I still think it’s fair that we scrutinise Ms. Harrison and her funders. I still think Loki was right to ask the big questions about class and power and money and art. Now, though, I think she deserved the right to tell him to fuck off to his face. At least that way, everyone understands what each other means and, after an appropriate amount of discussion and debate and argument and everything else, everyone can still physically shake hands. That basic level of human contact changes everything about how we interact

  3. Jim Bennett says:

    What a lovely article. Thank you, Loki.

  4. tickle says:

    can’t wait to see what katie has to say about this article.

  5. Kay Mckellar says:

    So you didn’t apologise because the setting was too public?

    1. Jim Monaghan says:

      He apologised publicly at the very start of his contribution on the night. He probably meant a personal apology, when surrounded by people and sitting on a stage, didnt feel right at the time.

  6. Neil Ross says:

    Lesson: if you seize the levers of power of the system you profess to fight against, and jump in both feet first to an argument you don’t understand…you’re going to come badly unstuck. You play with fire, you deserve to get burnt.

    An actual straight out apology would be appropriate, instead of a brief mea culpa, before crying crocodile tears.

  7. David says:

    Seriously, Bella Caledonia, what’s the point of this article? It typifies how much this site has gone downhill since the referendum. Instead of political analysis (which still happens occasionally) or articles that make you think, Bella is increasingly focused on individualised naval gazing such as this – where the author is the story not the content, or Twitter and Social gossip media blown out of all proportion, see the article by Kimberly Cadden someone whose writing is normally incisive but is now writing polemics along the lines of ‘misogynistic arsehole tweets misogynistic arsehole tweets’. Social media is at it’s best when critiquing the real world and at it’s worst when talking only about itself.

    C’mon Bella I know you can do better than this?

    1. Do you mean you are more interests in party politics / constitutional affairs?

      I take your point about social media – and this can be an exclusive and narrow field if you don’t look beyond the superficial. That’s fair enough, we’ll take that into account.

      But I think the debate around the Glasgow Effect has been pretty good and Loki’s reflecting on his role is significant. The ‘personal is political’ and all that?

      We will continue to mix cultural and political analysis, we always have.

    2. RabMac says:

      I think it’s a bit unfair to label Kimberley’s article a polemic. She raises some very good points on a subject that needs to be addressed, namely misogyny & the MSM circling the wagons to protect Spanner’s identity at all costs, and sets out her case very well.

      Before anyone says “who cares who he is”, he made a vain attempt to traduce my (reasonably) good name last week, so I would very much like to know who’s behind it.

    3. Punklin says:

      Is naval gazing looking at ships? Navel.

  8. Niall says:

    I do feel sorry for her, but I can’t accept the headline. As far as I’m concerned, the trolling started withHarrison’s choice of title. I note that “the Glasgow Effect” was not on the proposal approved by Creative Scotland, and I hope that it would have been turned down had it been. The Glasgow effect is about a tragically short life expectancy in the most heavily populated area in Scotland — it’s hardly a tasteful title for a piece of art, even setting aside class issues.

    Consider this: if she had chosen to spend a year with a shaven head and called it “my battle with cancer”, it would have been an insult to cancer sufferers and she would have been pilloried for it, as it would be distasteful to cancer sufferers. I don’t see The Glasgow Effect any differently.

    Would “my battle with cancer” be less distasteful if she herself was at high risk of cancer? If your honest answer to this is yes, then it is fair to include class in the tastelessness equation for The Glasgow Effect too. But if your honest answer is no, then it would suggest that motivation is not relevant in art, which would then make a mockery of this piece of art in its entirety.

    1. Jim Monaghan says:

      The Glasgow Effect isnt a class thing, what is remarkable about the figures is that a poor person in Glasgow will likely die younger than a poor person in Manchester, but is the same for wealthy people too. Rich Glasgow people die earlier than rich people in other cities. That is partly why nobody has found the solution to it yet.

      1. tickle says:

        i think it’s caused by proximity to Edinburgh. We need a cull of the Edinburgh population. It’s the only way.

  9. lyn says:

    I’ve no idea what “the Glasgow effect” is and I’m quite intrigued to find out now that I’ve read this article. Couldn’t miss a few folk on fb sharing some post but didn’t delve into it. No idea why I read this link, maybe just a few spare minutes while I down this tea.

    A great read well written. Even though I’ve no idea what’s going on I kinda get the gist. … but apology? …why does one feel the need to apologise, and having read the comments of others telling you to man up.

    Get a grip!

    Publicity is great right? I’m thinking some obscure artist should be thanking you.

    Eternally oblivious in my apathetic bubble 🙂

    Off to give Ellie Harrison some attention now.

    1. tickle says:

      once you’ve look at ellie’s stuff you should have a look at the phenomenon her project was named after as it’s very interesting too.

  10. Roddy says:

    So there’s a difference in how we communicate face to face from how we communicate in writing: who knew?

  11. Youboreme says:

    Another article by Loki, where he manages to make all about him and not what the headline suggests.

    1. Youboreme says:

      Edit: Meant to say all about poor him. Still not sure what he learned.

      1. tickle says:

        He has more of interest to say than you seem to. 😀

  12. Ian Kirkwood says:

    According to Wikipedia, ‘Research led by David Walsh of the Glasgow Centre for Population Health in 2010 concluded that the deprivation profiles of Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester are almost identical, but premature deaths in Glasgow are over 30 percent higher, and all deaths around 15 percent higher, across almost the entire population.’ This is The Glasgow Effect.
    Wikipedia continues, ‘The city’s mortality rates are the highest in the UK and among the highest in Europe. With a population of 1.2 million in greater Glasgow, life expectancy at birth is 71.6 years for men, nearly seven years below the national average of 78.2 years, and 78 years for women, over four years below the national average of 82.3.[4] According to the World Health Organization in 2008, the life expectancy for men in the Calton area of Glasgow was 54 years.’
    The increasing fruits of deprivation were discovered by the economist David Ricardo, to increase in proportion to distance from the economic centre. Ricardo’s discovery is described in detail in Fred Harrison’s book ‘Ricardo’s Law’. Glasgow’s premature death stats are worse than those for Manchester. This is exactly what Ricardo said would be seen UNDER OUR CURRENT TAX REGIME. In this book the epidemiologists will find their missing explanation. And the solution: a change back to ground rent as revenue which would see the deaths equalise across the country. Simple really.

    1. Kenny says:

      Gerry McCartney and Chik Collins identified the widening of the gap that happened in 1980 as inexplicable by conventional epidemiological approaches. Their conclusion was that the Thatcherite de-industrialisation – they called it “political attack” – had hit Glasgow harder than Liverpool or Manchester because Liverpool and Manchester had much more radical Labour councils while Glasgow’s council was pretty passive and accepting (or even supportive) of those moves.

      Someone else (I think it was Professor Sir Harry Burns, but don’t quote me) reckoned that the widening gap in 1980 followed by a narrowing from 2000 onwards was related to the idea that Scots felt that they had no control over their own lives under the 18 years of Tory rule that Scots by and large didn’t vote for, leading to chronic low level stress. Then when the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999, a feeling of control started to return and so life expectancies started to improve a little more in Scotland.

      Both theories deserve more study. They seem very plausible and, if true, are the best argument possible for independence. The Union may be literally killing Scots.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Allowing ourselves to be ruled over by a single solitary Tory MP (who hates us) seems totally bizarre. How long can that continue?

        ‘Post referendum stress’ sounds like a good title for another study into the Scots psyche as a consequence of (devolved) powerlessness.

        Scotland is a nation in limbo – not really part of the so-called union, nor independent. A nation neither one thing nor another. Purgatory might be a good description of where we are. If we don’t get independence soon they will drag us with them to hell in a handcart.

      2. Ian Kirkwood says:

        In ‘As Evil Does’ Harrison discusses the impaired ‘limbic’ brain function and reduced life expectancy effected during stressed gestations, describing the fate of the affected population sectors as the construct of a ‘killing cult’. The peaks and troughs of such stresses may be measured by epidemiologists in the death stats at the end of the lives of populations subjected to such stresses in the womb.
        Without AGR fiscal reform this will continue.

  13. Empiresanddance says:

    Having heard Ellie on the recording quite clearly say, “I did it to keep my job, I just ticked a box” it is clear why the brief was so vague and under researched. What is not clear however is how it received funding with such a shoddy proposal. I never read the articles in the press, I went straight to the proposal she personality gave to her own Facebook page. I am an Artist, and I want to see more funding for art, especially which might action social change, It is not my want to stop Ellie’s work. I own a 100% self funded not for profit art gallery that aims to promote emerging, forward thinking artists, to give them an exhibition that may help establish them without the issue or impediment of financial penalisation. I am daunted by the Creative Scotland form we are yet to apply (to them), I have never applied to them because of this form. I don’t know what she is talking about, tick a box and send in the pages later… she copied and pasted from past work and she states it reads as jarring. This is the problem Ellie its not THAT easy for the majority, and that isn’t fair. As for keeping her job, why isn’t the University able to pay for her, why do other projects have to go unfunded in favour of subsidising a profitable institution. I am sure the work will be of some merit, however it has been entered into for the wrong reasons, in seems.

  14. howauldzyergranny says:

    The outside perception that artists are no longer surfing on the proletarian art wave down Sauchiehall st is absolutely fucking deadly for Glasgow.

  15. Olderthanyours says:

    Why does this leave me with the feeling that Loki is probably more sorry that frankie unfollowed him than he is for his role in creating the ‘world’s most trolled artist’?

  16. Lucy says:

    I think it’s incredibly fucking rude of Loki to get Katie Gallogly-Swan’s name wrong. Is he trying to be funny and show what an injoke her criticisms of him were, or is he just too lazy to spell it correctly?

    1. tickle says:

      I think they’re pals from well before this stramash and so i reckon it could easily be an in joke between the two of them or a gentle ripping of the sort i’d happily give my mates in public.

  17. Naomi says:

    Well that was dull. Still no sympathy for Ellie, she knowingly insulted a lot of people.

  18. Lin says:

    What’s interesting from listening to this is that she is STILL negotiating with DJCAD (her employer) and Creative Scotland over how the funds are to be used?! This to me confirms that the whole thing was a scam to pay her wages and they are all desperately trying to resolve/fudge over without being caught out. This will not be resolved until someone admits they were wrong. Harrison should resign from her lecturing post if she is now saying the whole project was a protest about lecturers having to find funding. The world of employment has changed for us all. Harrison personifies ‘having your cake and eating it’

    1. oliver says:

      I know this whole stooshie highlights how unethical contemporary artists can actually be – even though they believe they are all about ethics. I bet she’s re-writing emails to her employer over and over and over again trying to justify this mess. Waste of her time and theirs. She got caught out an a grand scale with her fingers in the cookie jar. She needs to just come clean and admit defeat. This reflects so badly on Scottish Artists who submit legitimate application with clear intentions – intentions they stick to! I have no sympathy for her, she changed the title (to get some cheap reactionary headlines) and then morph the whole idea to get some half baked political scheme like Radical Renewable Art and Activism Fund off the ground.
      I mean using wind turbines is all well and good but the funding panel which I assume Harrison will sit right in the middle of will exclude any art project that isn’t classified as ‘activist’ enough. Where’s the diversity in that? This is why Creative Scotland was set up in the first place so that ALL creative voices were funded not just a select few with a specific political remit. I actually feel sorry for Creative Scotland as they seem to have been duped by this schemer Ellie Harrison.

      1. McFeeFee says:

        The controversial funding technicallites highlighted here were suspiciously ignored too:

  19. Hector Campbell says:

    What a load of cobblers! I’m surely not alone in wondering why we should be subjected to this kind of crap. I’ve been around for a fairly – long time.It may be that I’ve been around for too long and am not keeping abreast of what passes for intellect these days. I really must get back to The Dandy and the Beano to keep up with understanding what passes for Current Afairs these days…

  20. Chris Leslie says:

    This article restores my high opinion of you. I heard you speak to youngsters about the power of speaking in their own voice to create authentic art once, and I was bowled over by how well you were able to communicate with them. I was disappointed by your article on the Glasgow Effect, but I don’t want to labour on the reasons why: it seems you’ve learned a lot from the experience and I applaud any article which talks about the virtue of reflection and admitting mistakes, which we see far too little of amongst political and cultural figures.

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