In the modern cyber age of Social Media and utterly overflowing over-abundance of unhesitant personal opinion, it really is so much easier to find yourself hating complete strangers and also genuinely understanding (1) how stupid people are, and (2) how much utter garbage spews out of people’s social media loudspeakers.
Just spend fifteen minutes on Facebook or looking at comments sections anywhere and your desire to retreat from civilisation and become a Cat Lady will increase; or a Cat Gentleman – but there doesn’t seem to be a male equivalent in that cliche.
And this is usually most evident when there is a major news story or event occurring, where everyone, including those with no meaningful knowledge of a situation, are licensed to express themselves without editorial filter; and mostly in a way they would certainly never do in public. Celebrities do it all the time and are frequently held up to ridicule; or they’ll alienate a whole portion of their fans or even say something so stupid or so polarising that it damages their careers. I’m not sure Joan Rivers can damage her career anymore anyway, not even by appearing to revel in “dead Palestinians”, though someone like Gal Gadot (the new Wonder Woman) could conceivably harm her career before it even properly begins by posting over-emotional pro-Israel Defense Forces poetry on her Facebook page.
But it’s not the celebrities that are the worst culprits anyway (as they are self-policed with the consequences to their own reputations and careers), rather it’s the general commenting public, generally people hiding behind the digital balaclava of anonymity and spewing rivers of bile or nonsense like they’re an authority on everything under the sun.
The funny thing is that this culture of compulsive, frantic commenting (and in many cases trolling) is just the standard background noise of the web now anyway; so much so that simply reading the comments sections of You Tube videos or of article posts is itself a past-time for some. A comedian like Adam Buxton can even make whole shows around the phenomenon of hyper-active, low-intellect, low quality comment posting. Some of this is exactly that: low intellect, lack of social grace, lack of meaningful knowledge, etc. But some of it of course crosses into the area of deliberate spite and verbal abuse and reveals a remarkable absence of human empathy; hence all the stories of ‘cyber bullying’ and the like, particularly among teenagers and in many instances leading to suicide, such as in the case of the teenager Natasha MacBride (who amazingly continued being trolled after she had already died).
A really classic example of this low-intellect commenting that always comes to mind is the way the English historian Mary Beard was treated when she made a TV appearance on the BBC a year or so ago; Beard, who I know primarily for her BBC documentaries on the Romans, was subjected to a flood of nasty abuse on social media purely for her looks.
The foul-language and wholly sexist abuse included comments about her clothes, her teeth, her face, and in general centered around the opinion that someone “like her” shouldn’t be on television.
Despite the fact that Mary Beard is a professional historian – an expert in her field – and NOT a glamour model (not to mention the fact that she is an elderly woman), everyone felt it was perfectly legitimate to comment solely about her aesthetic appearance and in highly insulting ways. That’s the level we’re at: a professional historian goes on an adult political/current affairs programme and gets subjected to hundreds of scathing comments about her looks, being called an “ugly bitch” among many other (worse) things. I remember recently a female tennis player (cant’ remember which one) being subjected to something similar after a match; no one was commenting on her talent or sporting ability, just on her looks.
The above-mentioned example also crosses into issues of sexism and misogyny, but then those too are part of the proliferation of low-IQ ‘personal opinion’ diarrhea being shat out of every corner of the web. This is the general ‘background noise’ of the Internet; when you’re fully accustomed to the digital landscape you tend to drown it out and not really even notice it anymore, so much so that you begin to forget just how nasty, how cancerous and how much a symptom of a decaying collective social mindset it represents.
But when a major current-affairs situation is unfolding, particularly something as polarising as the Israel/Gaza situation, questionable statements and highly questionable behaviour flourishes like never before, in some cases revealing things about people’s true nature and sensitivities, both in the realm of media and celebrity and in the broader realm of social media. Most people already have seen Joan Rivers’s highly insensitive diatribes, but another example was Russell Brand’s recent treatment by a high-profile Fox News anchor.
Brand critcised Fox News for its treatment of a Director of The Palestine Center in Washington DC during a debate at the outset of the Israeli bombardent of Gaza. In the news programme Fox host Sean Hannity called Yousef Munayyer “thick in the head” for failing to answer whether or not Hamas was a terrorist organisation and continuously shouted over him as he tried to speak, eventually cutting him off entirely, saying “you had your chance”.
Russell Brand criticised Fox’s biased, unreasonable coverage of the Israel/Gaza crisis, accusing them of bullying and of behaving “like a terrorist” on air. Hannity retorted by calling Brand “a D-list actor known for his failed marraige to Katy Perry”.
Not that Fox News is any shining example of balanced, informative news broadcasting, but even by its low standards, if this is the level and tone of coverage on a major news network then it’s no wonder the general level of discourse, debate and language in comments sections and social media streams all over the web is so low quality and neanderthal.
A classic case-in-point: a pro Israeli Defense Forces Facebook page named ‘Standing By IDF’, a vomit-inducing crime against taste and decency that has had over 30,000 likes since it was created on the 23rd July this year. It invites Israeli girls to send in messages of support for the IDF soldiers by posting images of themselves in their underwear with “<3 IDF” written on their bodies in paint or ink. As the death toll was rising in Gaza, with well over 1200 Palestinians, including many under the age of 16, having lost their lives in this prolongued assault by an immensely superior military force armed to the back teeth with state-of-the-art offensive capabilities, it was nice to know that a tasteless, self-indulgent, “selfie” generation is taking the chance to strip for war.
Meanwhile a photo picked up by the Israel-Gaza news site Mondoweiss (its source being the aforementioned Facebook forum) shows an Israeli mortar shell inscribed with the message ‘That’s for cancelling the Backstreet Boys, you scum!’ in Hebrew. The deed’s doer, allegedly a member of the IDF and a fan of the Backstreet Boys, was referring to the recent cancellation of the extraordinarily awful boyband’s first ever concerts in Israel, which were cancelled due to the Israeli army’s continuing assault on Gaza. Wonder how many Palestinian children were injured by that one.
Aside from the boy-band, other high-profile concerts in Israel have been cancelled too, including Neil Young, who has subsequently stated he’ll only play in Israel once both Israel and Palestine are free. And a long-running campaign by Israeli fans to bring Pearl Jam to perform in the country has ended after Israeli fans turned against the Seattle band following Eddie Vedder’s perceived ‘anti-Israel diatribe’ at Milton Keynes in England last month. Vedder, for the record, didn’t mention Israel but spoke generally about bombs being “dropped on children” and the “borders” being violated. Either way I’m sure Pearl Jam can manage just fine without fans of that fairweather type.
To be fair to these Israeli examples, there were plenty of instances (much worse, in fact) of utterly tasteless, even unsavory, behaviour by US soldiers going into Iraq in the 2003 invasion and beyond, and don’t even get me started on Islamic extremists and particularly ISIS and the kinds of statements, pictures and videos they and their ilk put out on social platforms (beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions), which go far beyond distasteful and well into the depraved. I’m ignoring the on-line activity or social media presence of Islamic extremists at this point because they are by their very nature socially and intellectually retarded; whereas institutions like the Israeli Army or the US Armed Forces are – in theory – supposed to be respectable institutions of civilised and sophisticated societies, but are often in actual fact nothing of the sort. But this post in any case isn’t talking about the insensitivities and dehumanising dimensions of war, soldiers and terrorists – that’s a whole separate subject; what I’m referring to here are normal people in the normal circumstances of their everyday on-line chatter.
We are in an era of increasing social insensitivity, lack of empathy or sympathy, and an erosion of the boundaries of taste; maybe that isn’t new, maybe people have been that way since the days of taunting criminals in the gallows or cheering at slain gladiators in the arena, but the difference now is in people’s ability and willingness to broadcast their distasteful, ill-spirited or inappropriate views and actions out into the public domain.
It’s depressing to think how many young kids are growing up wholly exposed to the kind of ill or polarising language, insidious ideas and views, vile images or videos, and unhindered indoctrination that infests so much of the web; and one wonders how much of it will influence their psychology as they grow up.
Never before in human history has such an unlimited number of people with no idea what they’re talking about had such an enormous loudspeaker held to their mouths and projecting out into the world. Does this result in lots and lots of really intelligent, thought-out observations, intriguing perspectives or fascinating reactions and arguments?
Not really, no. I mean sure, occasionally, depending on what website you’re on; but the overriding impression is of a ceaseless barrage of foul-mouthed bile, matter-of-course racism, extraordinary levels of sexism and misogyny, hatred of Jews, ‘selfies’, hatred of Muslims, pictures of people’s dinner, homophobia, banal descriptions of banal people’s banal daily activity, insidious dissemination of highly questionable socio-political ideas, endless spamming, mind-numbingly unrealistic conspiracy theories that utterly undermine legitimate conspiracy theories, cyber bullying, trolling of even dead people, and half naked girls baring their flesh in support of missiles being fired into civilian areas. And so on.
Not that this post is claiming it’s an exclusively negative thing that the web affords everyone the freedom of (mostly) uncensored expression; the web is the ultimate freedom of expression and should stay that way. The point is just that (mostly) everyone is fucking stupid.