I’ve giggled a lot in my life. I’ve indulged in some big laughs and enjoyed some sweet, sweet titters. But perhaps the funniest thing I have ever seen in my adult life happened on 22nd April last year, when Sir Anthony Hopkins decided to tweet this video:
“Tell me, and tell me immediately, what the fuck is happening here,” a reasonable person would say after watching this. I have watched the clip dozens of times. Do I have any idea? No. I’m of no help to you.
But what I can tell you is that Sir Anthony Hopkins has a better Twitter account than you and everyone else on the planet. I have just had a daughter but I love this video more.
Please watch the clip again. Obviously every single one of the 32 seconds ought to be preserved for future generations in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault but there are several features that particularly excite me.
0:01: This is the moment that Hopkins commits to the conceit of the video (whatever that is). The conceit, he decides, must involve him wrinkling his nose and baring his teeth as soon as the camera starts rolling and the nightmare music kicks in.
0:11: Here, wary that his audience might be getting bored, Hopkins retains their attention by swinging his phone back and forward in what I can only describe as a manic frenzy. In this moment he seems to have transitioned from “friendly but harmless goblin” to “goblin intent on committing a crime”. The camera is moving so wildly that, initially, you worry you’re watching him fall down the stairs. But no – he’s still rooted to the spot.
0:31: Still wide-eyed and open-mouthed, Hopkins manages to stop the video in a surprisingly fluent motion, almost as though it has happened by accident.
Hopkins is enormously popular on Twitter, tweeting to an audience of 408,000. Recently, he’s even been picked up some good press for his maverick command of the platform. It’s a command that must inspire a kind of horror in social media managers the world over, waking them cold-sweated in the night, wondering if their client should go balls-out weird and dance like a gremlin for numbers. If it worked for Hopkins, will it work for them?
His early Twitter presence was relatively predictable. In 2016 and 2017 you could have been forgiven for unfollowing him. He was a diligent Westworld plugger, and regularly posted videos and photos of his paintings. It wasn’t until 2018 that he truly sailed into the super league. This was when I became fascinated. On February 5th 2018 he tweeted: “Enjoying my solitude” alongside a photo of himself standing intensely with his hand on a piano.
Everything about the tweet – the white space either side of the picture, the vacant stare, the inherent paradox – was ludicrously batty. I realised we were witnessing a higher standard of celebrity tweet than we had previously thought possible, and kept a keen eye out for his work. Then, on 24th December 2018, saying “Happy Holidays”, he posted a slow-motion video of him jiggling one of his cats up and down, set to haunting choral music.
Exactly a month after Christmas Eve came a slice of vintage Hopkins: a photo of the great man with his eyes shut, nuzzling the massive head of a horse.
No mention of the horse in the tweet. Does he own the horse? Not clear. Has he met the horse before? Again, unclear.
There are two seemingly contradictory truths to Hopkins: he doesn’t understand how Twitter works and yet he is incredibly good at Twitter. You could pay thousands for an influencer to lecture you over two days on how to gain followers and boost engagement, and there Hopkins would be, sly old Hopkins, pulling in 76,000 retweets by appearing to fall angrily down a flight of stairs.
If I had to guess why Hopkins is so popular on Twitter I’d say it is because his tweets seem devoid of artifice. Unconstrained by any formulae, they fly free into the ether, bereft of expectation. In recent years, “authenticity” became a highly-prized commodity on social media. Many influencers and celebrities – increasingly homogenous – started to post “authentic” shots and “giving it to you straight” captions, partly in order to cling to their engagement levels. Perhaps one problem with this trend was that it was too on-the-nose, too forced. We do value authenticity. But we respond to it most when it is natural, not orchestrated. We value it most when it doesn’t come packaged with the hashtag #authenticity or #truth. We value it most when it seems as though we have caught it unawares.
Hopkins proves that we can do without the hashtags. He reminds us that perhaps true authenticity lies in acting as though no one is watching; as though one is dreaming. His success underlines the ultimate #authentic truth, one many of us might rather shy away from: that Twitter is meaningless. Its patterns random and its purpose unclear just like life itself.
Who but Hopkins would decide that, to accompany the sentiment “Beautiful day here in London”, they would post a slow-motion video of themselves walking towards the camera, underscored by some sultry music?
Who but Hopkins would sit by a piano, clad in a technicolour t-shirt, and tinkle the ivories before, without any irony, saying “Ah – hello” to camera, despite already having registered the camera before this?
Hopkins is a prism through which to understand our ever-shifting relationship with social media. Clickbait had its time in the sun, “#authenticity” was deemed suspect, now we want the real thing, and we know it when we see it. Hopkins doesn’t feel like he’s selling anything. Being given a glimpse into his world is nice. Weird. Definitely weird. But, still, nice. It’s a party you want to be invited to, on a platform that increasingly resembles a party you’d rather leave.