After last month’s car crash of a blog, I’ve decided to adopt a different approach. My poor wife has to take the brunt of my almost constant moaning and complaining; it seems utterly selfish to expect readers of the blog to do the same. After all, this was supposed to be a blog about writing and all things creative. Audience and Purpose. One of the most basic rules of writing. You are my audience and my purpose is to not piss you all off. So, with that in mind…
This is about writing. So, bear with…
Avoiding the obviously poor, damp weather that we’re currently enduring (early May), there has been a story circulating in the press regarding one of the Dr Who actors and his (alleged) unwanted sexual advances on and off set. Now, I don’t agree with the naming of people who are accused, although I do understand that it can help others to come forward with similar stories. So, that makes this a difficult question. But if it turns out that he is innocent, then nothing he or anyone else can say or do will rid him of the stigma that those accusations carry. However, alongside this story are the (apparently well-known) anecdotes of another male actor who would regularly expose himself to the cast and crew. It’s claimed that there was nothing sexual about his behaviour and that it was just tomfoolery taken to an unfortunate and somewhat distasteful level. It was laughed about by the rest of the cast and crew and was even referred to in a song that was made at the end of the series. What strikes me is that getting your tackle out and putting it on someone’s arm or shoulder seems far worse than creepy sexual innuendoes or advances, and yet, in this case, it isn’t seen like that. I think it illustrates something that most of us have experienced in one way or another:
It is quite possible to make explicit comments to another person if that person is completely aware that the comments are humorous and not to be taken seriously. We can say things to our partners and receive nothing more than a slap on the arm or a raising of an eyebrow. The same extends to certain friends or even work colleagues. It depends completely on the perception of the person making the remarks and the relationship of the two parties. But if those things that are said in jest are written down then they can seem appalling. The indecent exposure and sexual assault expressed in the second account could lead to criminal proceedings. But no-one saw it that way. I think what I’m getting at here is that there is no black and white in these areas. Although, some people would argue that there is no grey area either and that making remarks or displaying sexual behaviour of any kind is unacceptable regardless of the situation. I guess that’s how innocent people sometimes end up in bother. I used to work with a bloke who would make women in the office squirm and recoil just by standing next to them. There was something of the slime about him. A darkness. Whereas I could suggest five minutes in the stock room and it would be taken as the joke that it was. Usually followed by some comment about what we would do for the other four and a half minutes. Still, it doesn’t look so good written down, does it?
That was a bit of a ramble. I’m not sure that I’ve been as clear as I intended but I hope the gist is there. I guess it’s like telling one of your kids that you’ll murder them, or saying a baby is so beautiful that you could eat it up. Standing at the bar in the pub, it would be fine to say to a mate that a certain politician would benefit from being run over by a bus or that someone should be hanged for what they have done. But now we have social media. Stick it on Faceache or Twatter and you are looking at a ban and, possibly, even legal proceedings. The reason this has come about is that it is very, very difficult to express irony or satire within a social media post. Person to person, there is body language, context, the relationship between the people in the conversation and the tone of voice in which it’s delivered. Once written down, it takes on a whole new meaning. Or rather, a whole new literal meaning. Emojis go someway to alleviate this but are by no means foolproof or even a defence. Inciting hatred or violence or even murder is difficult to defend with a yellow face with wobbly eyes. And it’s because of this that social media is becoming such an unpleasant place. Emotions ride high and comments are misunderstood. A throwaway remark can result in a complete battering from keyboard warriors. People have been arrested. And there is good reason for this: because writing it down is publishing. Slurring it between sips of strong beer is not publishing. It might be being a bit of a dick but it is not punishable unless someone records it.
Despite the social media sites insisting that they have no responsibility for what is said on their platforms, I think this is exactly why they should be held responsible. No-one knew that those sites would become the equivalent of writing a letter to The Times or The Guardian, but that’s what they have become. They’ve become that and more because they can be replied to instantly. It is a two-way (or, more often, multi-way) process. When you type something on yours or someone else’s timeline, unless you are a particularly careful person and restrict all comment to only close friends, then you are likely to be telling the entire world what your own particular view is. And if you have just read something that has made you angry then you are quite likely to clatter about on the keyboard and then press enter before you’ve given a second thought to what you have just committed to history. I’m sure I’m not the only person who, upon waking, thinks, ‘Oh, Christ! What the hell was it that I posted last night before I went to sleep!’ You can always delete what you’ve written, but nothing goes away for ever.
I hope some of that makes sense. Because there’s something bigger behind all this:
Yeah, I’m thinking of Ken Dodd as well now.
Seriously though. The ability to attack people from the keyboard is a direct extension from behaviour that is all too common from behind the steering wheel. Most of us will have flashed our lights or beeped our horns in anger. Some will have added creative hand signals or even screamed obscenities through the window. It’s not big and it’s not clever but it is very common. And the reason we feel comfortable doing this? The separation from reality. It’s all going on behind screens and aimed at, mostly, strangers who have no means of replying. There are plenty of stories about this behaviour extending beyond the car and into the street and they usually end in violence and a prison sentence or even worse. Well, our computer screens and phone screens give us an even greater margin of separation than the car. So much so that we will question the mental health of others, their parental status or sexual orientation. Death threats are not uncommon though, thankfully, taken seriously by the authorities now. No-one holds back anymore. What went wrong? If you bump into someone’s trolley in the supermarket you don’t immediately harangue and insult the other person and threaten to do them personal harm. You usually say, ‘Sorry.’ Even if it’s their fault. Especially if it’s their fault. That’s the English way, the British way. If someone started sticking two fingers up at you in the fresh produce aisle you would think them to be unhinged and hope that someone arrives soon to deal with what might be a medical emergency. But, once behind the wheel, that changes. And, once behind the computer screen, there are no more rules. This is how we have deteriorated from one of the most polite nations on earth (Don’t check our history much before 1960) to one of the rudest, racist, mysogynistic and generally bigoted (with obvious exceptions that I will keep to myself). What is rarely considered, is the effect that these comments have on a living human being with hopes and dreams and feelings who is on the receiving end of this bile. And this is making everyone, mentally, quite ill. It is a part of our society that we should be deeply ashamed. Somehow, we have to get this behaviour to emulate the normal behaviour that we exercise in face-to-face situations. Only then will we all start to heal and think better of each other. We are all different and we all have different views for different reasons. But the level of hate that is out there will destroy us. I don’t think I’m being over dramatic.
I don’t have any answers to all this. All I’ve really done is highlight the problem and try to put it all into context. If the actor, that is accused of making unpleasant and upsetting advances to people that he doesn’t really know, is guilty, then he is the person sticking two fingers up and shouting abuse at you while you’re trying to pick carrots and broccoli. And the actor that has been flashing his bits here there and everywhere might just be the well-adjusted, thoughtful human being that we should all strive to be. Because he knows his audience.
Not that I’m suggesting we all start exposing ourselves in public.
If I’ve dug myself into a big hole, then forgive me. I’m just trying to make sense of behaviour that upsets and frightens me. And I know, wagging your Johnson (pun intended as he’s a prick as well) in people’s faces is difficult to condone. But maybe that’s what we’re in danger of losing here: a sense of humour that is being slowly replaced by intolerance and anger. I’ve tried and I’ve done it, hopefully, ‘in the best possible taste.’
Leaving that aside, there has been an event in our garden over the last week or two: we have a weeping willow tree which I try to keep in check. It’s growth rate almost matches my alcohol intake so it’s an ongoing struggle. I was up a ladder, saw in hand, having removed one two-inch thick branch and half-way through another when, suddenly, my face was full of pigeon. I was only six feet or so off the ground but it was alarming nonetheless. I regained my balance and my nerves and looked to my left where there sat a pure-white, pigeon egg. I immediately felt guilty. I cut through the rest of the branch (it was virtually hanging off) and got myself and the ladder away. I sat for a while and the pigeon returned. I managed to get a (poor) photo of her and kept vigil over the days. She sat there in the worst May weather we’ve had in years but never left her station. She must have been bored out of her skull as she didn’t even have a mobile phone to distract her. I knew that it takes about eighteen days for a pigeon egg to hatch so was looking forward to our little patch of England becoming a proper part of nature this summer. Then, yesterday, I saw a Magpie fly across the lawn from the direction of the tree. I knew it wouldn’t be good news so I ran out into the cold drizzle. There, on the lawn, were two broken white eggs. A smear of yoke still visible. I glanced up into the tree and there was no pigeon. I put my ladder up and the nest (not a very good nest I have to say) was empty apart from a few downy feathers.
I wanted to murder that magpie.
Is that irrational? I mean, I’ve found pigeon eggs on the lawn before so it’s a regular occurrence. I just hadn’t been so personally attached before. And the fact that I could see yolk: does that mean they weren’t fertilised? It had been a week.
It’s not a happy story but I’ve seen the pigeons today going about their normal business. I doubt the hen is in mourning but it seemed to reinforce the absolute futility of life.
I’ll end on that happy thought.
Meanwhile, why not check out my Website where there are many pigeon-free stories.
See you all in June.