Wednesday, October 29, 2014 

I didn't know.

Art critics say porno's easily obscene / Late Show retards, Dice Clay's true poetry

At times, as anyone who really knows me is all too well aware, I give in to my worst instincts.  I've never been shall we say convinced by some of the motives behind the Everyday Sexism project, which to me has at times come alarmingly close to suggesting there are no circumstances in which it is ever OK to give someone a compliment, at least without it being misconstrued or taken as evidence of that person's latent misogyny.  Reading Lindy West's column in the Graun last week, in which she related how twice women sitting near to her in a coffee shop were approached by creepy older men trying desperately if obliquely to get into their pants, I felt the bile rising.  I had never experienced anything like she was describing happen.  It's true I've also never patronised a Starbucks in my life, but I would have noticed if it went on in similar places and situations.

So I asked an American guy I've talked to on IRC for over a decade now whether it could be this is more of an American thing.  Yeah, it's a real problem, he said.  His girlfriend worried about going out alone as some men were so creepy, and he linked me to this piece on Jezebel, written by a woman told to her face by the man harassing her it was her fault for being pretty.  Her fault for having the nerve to be attractive in a public place.  A man, who, for whatever reason (perhaps he'd had a terrible day; perhaps he'd tried the same "what are you reading" approach before and it had either worked or rather, had never worked and so released all his pent-up anger and self-pity in this almost empty train against this woman who dared to tell him to leave her alone; or perhaps, and this is the most likely explanation, he was just an entitled prick of the highest order used to getting what he wants), took it upon himself to terrify someone he had just met simply because she wanted to read her book in peace.

Except it obviously isn't just an American problem.  When someone captures over 100 examples of harassment, from sustained, aggressive following and invasion of personal space to less troubling but still unwanted remarks in just 10 hours of filming, as Shoshana B Roberts did just walking around New York, somehow resisting the urge to tell these man children exactly what they could do, it touches a nerve.  It touched mine.  I honestly didn't know.  I really didn't.  No, I don't suppose it's this bad universally; on a couple of occasions I have seen women being harassed in a similar fashion, and once I did check if the victim was OK, telling her how those who'd catcalled and then insulted her were arseholes, as if she didn't know.

It poses a whole number of questions.  Do these men really not know any better? Are some of them, while undoubtedly frightening, otherwise harmless, as the guy asking whether he's "too ugly" might be, apparently oblivious to how it's what he's doing rather than his looks that make him unattractive?  Moreover, is it really so difficult to look, as men (and women) always will, without passing comment or going out of their way to make that person feel uncomfortable?  I don't doubt some long-term relationships have begun due to chance encounters, an especially flattering compliment or just chatting someone they meet on the street up on the off chance; there's a way of going about it though, and let's not pretend the vast majority want any more out of it than the (extremely remote) possibility of a quick fuck.

Just as pertinent is how it puts or should put silliness like this into sharp relief.  We are once again in the season of gesture poppytics, when almost everyone put in front of a TV camera has to be wearing one, regardless of whether they want to or not.  Little things like how this completely dilutes the meaning of remembrance are cast aside, lest the Daily Mail start whining again or what used to be the red ink brigade start complaining about lack of respect.  Perhaps both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband really are feminists, but is David Cameron, despite what he's said in the past?  I'm not a feminist and wouldn't pretend to be, regardless of how my politics overlap with most of those who identify as such, mainly down to how modern identity politics seems more concerned with arguments over privilege and who's the most oppressed than with doing something about it.  This kind of hashtag style activism is at best false and at worst encourages further cynicism about people's motives, and also seems meant to catch those already deemed to be the enemy out, as the Sun has previously with Ed Miliband failing to pose with a Help for Heroes wristband.

As couldn't be made clearer by Hollaback's video, we really do need feminism.  We also need men, and yes women, who know friends who've acted similarly to those in New York to make clear just how upsetting such behaviour can be.  By contrast, what we could really do without are the sweeping generalisations of some of those who really ought to know better.

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Monday, October 20, 2014 

Poisoning national life? That'll be two years.

Gosh, was it really but two weeks ago some of the internet world was up in arms over the apparent suicide of Brenda Leyland, aka Sweepyface, aka one of those meanies still obsessed with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and still insisting her parents might have had something to do with it, or at least bear some responsibility?  Unpopular opinions certainly, but not illegal, and probably not really deserving of a doorstepping from a Sky reporter.

How fast things move these days.  Just as we saw in the aftermath of the riots, when some judges took it upon themselves to hand down harsher sentences to those who didn't riot but suggested they might than to some of those who did, so now Chris Grayling promises the maximum sentence for "trolls" will be lengthened from the current six months to 2 years.  Anyone would have thought we don't have a prison system in crisis, one where the debate over whether Ched Evans should be allowed to play football again ought to have been delayed until he'd served the full 5 years he was given after being found guilty of rape, but no, space can always be found for those who "poison our national life".

Apparently Chloe Madeley was last week subjected to "online terrorism".  I say apparently as I really, truly, don't care enough to look any deeper.  One suspects the rape threats she received amounted to what they usually do, a handful of people, sometimes not even that, reaching for the most obvious weapon in their verbal arsenal, either sexual assault and/or death.  Back in the day, we called the people whose first response to getting bested in argument was to say the equivalent of "I'd beat u up m8" internet tough guys.  Because in the majority of examples, that's all they are: cocky and arrogant online but likely to shit themselves if someone took them up on the offer and arrived on their doorstep.

This isn't always the case, as #gamergate has (somewhat) demonstrated.  Madeley doesn't seem to have had her personal information posted online, as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian have.  #Gamergate has also now been going for two months, an incredibly long time by internet standards for a drama to still be developing.  For those who've missed the whole farrago up to now, in microcosm #gamergate is either one of two things: a crusade against corrupt videogame journalism, or a dying, backwards community trying desperately to keep its domain in aspic, without politics, especially left-wing politics and feminism, gaining a foothold.

As you might expect, in reality it's neither.  Both sides doth protest too much: despite how gaming journalists have tried to argue there was no truth behind the claims of corruption from Quinn's ex-boyfriend, who detailed how she had slept with journalists and others in the wider industry while still in a relationship with him, there has long been a problem with cronyism at best and outright corruption at worst in gaming media.  Rather than face up to the initial outcry following the spreading of Eron Gjoni's allegations, one of the first responses came in the shape of multiple news and review sites declaring the "gamer" label itself dead, all on the same day.  You know, exactly the sort of collusion and refusing to listen the old media used to indulge in and still does, albeit on a smaller scale than before.

Then again, you can't exactly blame them considering some of the abuse directed their way.  Think the trolling of Caroline Criado-Perez et al except multiplied many times over.  Nearly everyone with even a passing role has been "doxed", items really have been sent through the post, and so on.  It has also been to a certain extent orchestrated, one internet subculture organising for all out war on another.  Their enemy is "SJWs", social justice warriors, imposing their values and standards on others whether they like it or not, and anonymous most certainly does not like it.

You'd think being something of a left-winger, believing wholeheartedly in equality and so on I would be in alliance with those criticising games and gamers for their continued Neanderthal ways.  And I would be, if that first response hadn't been so woefully constructed, the backlash against the mere asking of questions so vehement.  The reason this has gone on so long without burning itself it out is precisely because those on the side of Quinn and Saarkesian have risen to the bait over and over and over, just as Criado-Perez and those supporting her did.  Moreover, just as the coverage of the banknote campaign and its aftermath made clear how journalists themselves ramped it up due to how they knew those involved, or indeed, how they were being targeted themselves, so any semblance of objectivity went almost immediately.  It's shone a light on the vulnerabilities and insecurities of both sides, highlighting groupthink and the way narratives are constructed in this extremely new media landscape.

There is of course no defence for threats, for "doxing" people, for scaring them to the extent they feel compelled to leave their homes.  Concerted, sustained trolling has to be tackled in some way, and if that means involving the authorities, so be it.  You don't have to be a cynic however to note it's only some victims the media cares for, and there are plenty of journalists who have never taken to their writing becoming so open to criticism.  We've already seen people imprisoned for making tasteless jokes, or given community service for daring to make angry political statements. Handing judges the power to impose longer sentences for going beyond what we consider the bounds of free speech, will, as it always does, encourage them to use it, just as publicity also makes them believe they have to set an example the next time a spotty herbert with a miserable life and a hateful online alter ego appears before them.  The only people who ever truly poison national life are those in positions of power, and the vast majority of keyboard denizens have none.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014 

They say life is beautiful.

This might come across as a statement of the obvious, but I don't know what it's like to be a woman.  Being born with a penis does this to most men.  Not all, undoubtedly, just the majority of us.  I can't say I have ever experienced sexism, been discriminated against on the basis of my looks, objectified, or sexually harassed.  I don't know what it's like to have a menstrual cycle, to know that society will make far more judgements on my life choices than it will those of the average man, or how once over a certain age, it's almost as though you don't exist except as one of a handful of stereotypes.  I can empathise, sure, or at least hope to, but understand properly?  Probably not.

One thing I do know about is being a loser.  I've been a loser for a long time, going back to way before I realised I was a loser.  It comes as a shock, let me tell you.  Being a loser and not being a nice person aren't the same thing, although they are often connected.  I'd like to think I stopped being generally unpleasant once the realisation truly sunk in that I was a loser, although as one of the other associated symptoms of being a loser is low self-esteem and self-confidence, it's difficult to know for certain.

Which brings us to Elliot Rodger.  Elliot Rodger was a loser.  He wanted desperately to be an "alpha", a term used by those who ascribe somewhat to the "pick-up artist" way of thinking, describing men who are jerks but whom nonetheless seem able to have almost any woman they want.  If he was anything he was in fact an alpha loser, and this in spite of everything seeming to be in his favour.  Born into a well-off family in dear old Blighty, he moved to the richest country on the planet at a young age. Seduced by the life depicted in the film Alpha Dog, he went to college in Santa Barbara, convinced he would be entering into a world of casual sex and corresponding happiness. Instead he remained an "involuntary celibate", unable to form relationships. Rather than look inwards as to why he couldn't achieve such a lifestyle, he developed a pathological hatred of all women, convinced that in a more just world such a delightful, intelligent human being as himself would be rewarded merely for existing with sex and companionship.

Calling Rodger a misogynist doesn't really cover it. If we're to take his 140 page manifesto seriously, and having delved deeper than advisable into the similar if very different work of Anders Breivik I'd suggest treating it with caution, he seems likely to have had a severe personality disorder, quite possibly what once would have been called psychopathy, now usually referred to as antisocial personality disorder.  Some reports have suggested he may have had Asperger's syndrome, which could account for his wholesale lack of empathy, but not necessarily his off the scale narcissism.  Like other spree killers, he wanted his actions to be remembered as something more than seemingly inexplicable violence: he didn't just want revenge for the love he felt denied, he wanted women to be afraid, to fear retribution for daring to be anything other than subservient.  Whether he achieved his aim or not, he fits the description of a terrorist just as much if not more so than some of those prosecuted, as others have pointed out.

Understandably, there's been much debate about what may have influenced Rodger beyond mental ill-health.  Jessica Valenti writes he was "like most young American men, ... taught that he was entitled to sex and female attention".  Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen in turn have responded in mock outrage to being indirectly linked by the Washington Post's film critic, their films having repeatedly shown sex obsessed young men sometimes achieving their dream of landing the beautiful, smart woman, regardless of their otherwise lack of charm.  Violent films don't make people violent, but it really is the exception for a movie focusing on American college life (or the last year(s) of high school for that matter) not to depict it as at least something approaching one long party.  It's also difficult to argue with Valenti's point: you don't have to buy all the anti-porn rhetoric of campaigners as I certainly don't to worry that the easy availability of hardcore porn can encourage exactly the sort of beliefs as Rodger had.  His quite astounding sense of entitlement also seems to be key. He knew that he deserved someone equivalent to those he was denouncing seconds later as sluts.  As for the Pickup Artist scene, it might very well be a minority one, floating as much on self-loathing as it is does depicting women as objects to be conquered, but some sections of it are faintly terrifying, and I say that as someone it takes a lot to scare.

You can't therefore strip culture entirely out of the equation, just as you can't the laws which made it a formality for Rodgers to get the weaponry he used.  Laurie Penny writes movingly of the times when she could write without being trolled in the comments sections, of how she won't now be able to completely dismiss the idea of being raped and killed by those who tell her that's precisely what they intend to do.

I don't know what it's like to deal with those kind of threats.  I don't know what it's like to fear being raped, even killed.  What I do know is the vast majority of us losers, us inadequates, are a danger only to ourselves.  I don't feel entitled to sex, relationships, friendships or to anything other than the modest safety net our democracies increasingly fail to provide.  We might lapse into self-pity, just not the kind of angry, bewildered, egomaniacal self-pity Rodger felt and led him to believe the only answer was to strike out.  The world owes us nothing, and almost always the only person to blame for your predicament is yourself.  Some of us might manage to stop being losers and some of us won't.  Life isn't fair, but we can try, have to try and make it as fair as we possibly can. 

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Thursday, January 09, 2014 

Revisiting the Twitter hate machine.

There has been, shall we say, an interesting response to the convictions this week of two of those who abused Caroline Criado-Perez on Twitter following her campaign for a woman to appear on a banknote.  At the time we were told repeatedly this was proof positive of how many women are treated when they dare to raise their voices in public for such causes, of the most vile misogyny, and how there needed to be a change in attitude by both social networks and the police to such incidents.  Some of us cautioned that the first two views especially seemed to ignore how trolling had developed, as well as how those who had previously been exposed as trolls tended to be rather pathetic individuals. Unlike political bloggers. Ahem.

Without saying the guilty pleas of John Nimmo and Isabella Sorley vindicate that stance, as it's evident that some of those behind the over 80 accounts who attacked Criado-Perez were motivated by little more than outright sexism, it doesn't exactly stand up the misogyny explanation either, something most of those commentating have curiously omitted from their write-ups. We shouldn't of course take the mitigating statements made by their solicitors completely at face value, but it doesn't surprise Nimmo was described as a pathetic friendless failure, whose only interaction with the outside world was to abuse public figures in an attempt to get online kudos.  Sorley meanwhile blamed her behaviour on both boredom and being drunk, the latter at least backed up by a string of convictions for being drunk and disorderly.

While you certainly can be a woman and a misogynist, Criado-Perez's explanation that our society is "so steeped in misogyny" that women joining in shouldn't be a surprise doesn't really cut it. Just as any ideology can blind you to far more prosaic explanations of behaviour, Criado-Perez's feminism seems to have stopped her from considering whether it might just be that Sorley is an immature person who's made some extremely bad decisions.  Going back through her tweets over the past six months, that certainly seems the more reasonable conclusion to draw.

Helen Lewis writes that the debate has been held back by how the abuse directed against Criado-Perez was so awful that it can't be quoted pre-watershed.  This seems a red herring: was the debate really held back?  I don't think it was; if anything, the response last July/August from the media was ridiculously over-the-top and misinformed precisely because those reporting on it were too closely linked to the people being abused.  I can more than empathise with Criado-Perez being deeply upset and changed by the nature of the worst of the abuse; a long, long time ago (we're talking over a decade ago) someone managed to find my address and threatened to come and beat me up, which even if extremely unlikely did cause me some worry.  No one deserves to be threatened in such an obscene way, yet they are just words, words delivered through a computer screen, and which are constructed precisely to garner such a reaction.  Feminists being threatened with rape or worse isn't instantly misogyny; it's pure trolling, the troll knowing that bringing rape into it is bound to result in a reaction.

Which is where I think so many have got it so wrong.  As Isabella Sorley tweeted, and I think we can take her word for it, "these people don't hate her, they are after a reaction and she is giving them one!"  The abuse went on and got worse precisely because it was bitten back against over and over, receiving such wide media attention.  Ignoring it completely obviously isn't an answer, but it's a better one than expecting either the police or Twitter to be capable of tracking down every individual who wrote something beyond the pale.  Wanting the police to investigate every instance as Criado-Perez seems to isn't just impossible, it would mean them also having to track down those who threaten racists, feminists who attack feminists, as well as those who tweet their disgust at the construct they've just witnessed on their TV screens.

Fundamentally, it does come back to the other point, the confusing of the internet you would like there to be with the one there actually is.  Some of those who took part in last summer's boycott were deeply shocked when they found that the part of the internet they occupied could be infiltrated by those from outside it.  Fact is that some users out there don't care for who you are, and are more than prepared to tell you about it.  Helen Lewis says we can't ignore what's happening and asks whether it will be enough to make us act, yet she doesn't suggest what we should do.  If that's because there is no real answer, and most of the suggestions as to how to deal with it either wouldn't work or would destroy fundamental online freedoms, as restricting anonymity would, then good.  If not, we either haven't learned anything, or simply don't want to.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013 

Where are the Voltaires of yesteryear?

James Bloodworth, via Chris, wonders where today's equivalents to Voltaire are, especially in the social networking age when tabloids and users compete as to who can be the most outraged about what someone else has either said or done.  The obvious answer is they mostly died out not long after Voltaire himself; we might have had Thomas Paine, and more recently produced George Orwell, but believing in the American model of freedom of speech and expression has never been a popular pursuit in this country.  You could blame the press principally for this, and the countless campaigns down the years for the public to be protected from themselves over the latest moral panic, yet it's surely more that we never got round to having a proper written constitution, the closest thing we do have being the European Convention on Human Rights, which naturally is loathed by the tabloids and right-wing politicians for "favouring" criminals and terrorists over the public.

For instance, despite how we pride ourselves on being a tolerant democracy, with our politicians occasionally going into raptures about our parliament being the mother of them all, even if it wasn't until the 19th century that the common man was able to vote (women had to wait another 60 years), there's been relatively little criticism when people have been jailed for making either off colour jokes or wearing t-shirts with offensive slogans.  It was a protest by a tiny band of Luton based Islamists against the homecoming of the Royal Anglian regiment that prompted the forming of the English Defence League, as though the country needed the protection services of a bunch of wannabe football hooligans against such horror.  Most seriously, two young men were sentenced to four years in prison for setting up phony event pages during the riots of August 2011, terms longer than many of those who did take part in the disorder received.  Unlike Paul Chambers, neither Jordan Blackshaw or Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan received the sympathy or financial backing of celebrities in an effort to get their convictions quashed.

The thing I find really strange about the campaigns against page 3 and lads' mags is they're ran by people who consider themselves liberal who, whether they realise it or not, are echoing the exact same arguments made by the censors of the past.  Just as the likes of the Mail and Mary Whitehouse claimed at the dawn of mass ownership of video recorders that horror films could deprave and corrupt the naive and innocent, so now we hear the likes of Zoo and Nuts objectify women, help to sustain a sexist culture and at their most malignant even have the potential to turn their readers into rapists.  While there's no doubt they're often tasteless, and on occasion have veered off into the truly vile, the idea that simply seeing a cover of one can constitute harassment is ludicrous, and if LTLM's interpretation of the Equality Act is correct, then it quite apparently needs to be redrafted (it's worth noting the entire Caroline Criado-Perez Twitter stupidity began after she invoked the Equality Act as demanding there must be a woman on a bank note). Moreover, the idea that removing lads' mags from the shelves will achieve anything in age where sexting and revenge porn are the new cause for concern seems the equivalent of generals always fighting the last war.

The same could be said for the stalemate over press regulation.  As much as it is specious nonsense to claim the royal charter would be the end of 300 years of press freedom, such have been the attacks of the past week anyone still saying we shouldn't worry about the potential for a change to the regulator via a two-thirds majority in parliament ought to think again.  Self-regulation has manifestly failed and a reconstitution of a slightly beefed up PCC needs to be resisted, yet the alternative now appears worse.  Ofcom can't be trusted as far as they can be thrown, which should rule out their involvement, which leaves us with just about nothing.  Perhaps the answer will be that newspapers in their current form are dying, some faster than others.  With the shift towards online publishing, it could be possible to better hold the press to account such will be the reliance on advertising rather than the shifting of newsprint.

Of courser, it might just be that rather than having Voltaires, we now have contrarians, or those paid to go against the consensus view on every subject.  And let's face it: no one wants to be Brendan O'Neill.

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Monday, August 05, 2013 

The epitome of modern self-absorption.

Right, can we cut the crap now?  This Twitter nonsense has gone on for far, far, too longThe trolling of Caroline Criado-Perez et al has almost nothing to do with feminism, or misogyny. What it does have to do with is a internet subculture that has been there for years, and has become most known thanks to the exploits of Anonymous, but most certainly did not originate with 4chan, or even the Something Awful forums.  Once upon a time, websites and their forums got "raided". Sometimes this happened justifiably, more often on a whim or on the basis of a deemed insult.  In essence, what would happen is that message boards would be flooded, goatse and plenty of other gross pictures would be posted, and a bad time would be had by members of the specific community.  As time has gone by, the targets have switched from being just forums to online games, and yes, social networking profiles.

From here, it's easy to understand how Anonymous broke through, although it's always surprised me that for the most part the main Anonymous grouping has had broadly left-wing political aims, as it always seemed to be the libertarians that shouted the loudest on the sites where its support sprung from.  Nonetheless, the potential has always been there for a similar grouping to emerge that while holding similar views on internet freedom to Anonymous eschews politics and instead just goes after whoever takes their fancy today.  I'm not saying this is what has happened in this instance, as it doesn't look as though the trolling is fully co-ordinated, but in the main the abuse is so obvious as to be laughable.  Some of it is plain misogyny, such as that coming from those using their own names and talking about "smashing up the arse", while talk of "all aboard the rape train" or anyone putting "lololol" or the like in their message pretty much gives the game away.

The real problem we have here then is that the likes of Caitlin Moran and all those that "boycotted" Twitter yesterday just don't understand the way the internet used to work and still does work outside of their own personal bubbles.  The only way to deal with being "raided" is to pull up the drawbridge, or ignore it.  Instead, we've had a media frenzy and surprise surprise, the abuse and rape threats keep coming.  Twitter itself has gotten the blame for something that has happened on every previous messaging platform and which they have all had difficulty dealing with.  Much of the trolling is coming from "one use" accounts, making it difficult for Twitter to do anything even if there was an easier way of reporting abuse, which itself would be a nightmare to administrate however many staff Twitter took on to do so.

It's understandable that those who have been subject to the abuse have taken it as being about men trying to silence women, about centuries of misogyny etc, but there isn't the same excuse for those who ought to know more about the wider internet.  The vast majority of those trolling won't be chauvinists but rather those who've taken exception, for whatever reason, to someone who ends up in the public eye, usually as a result of conducting themselves arrogantly.  They use insults or threats that they know will get a response, hence the emphasis on rape or death.  I might be blasé as in the past I've done my fair share of trolling and have in turned also been trolled, and threatened with getting beaten up etc, but I would have just laughed at most of the messages that have been sent. Reporting them to the police is the equivalent of a red rag to a bull, while treating it as though it's the most pressing issue for women in general is to lose all sense of proportion.

If anything, the whole debacle has just illustrated both how up themselves a hell of a lot of people are, and how they don't like it when the boot is on the other foot.  Anyone with a decent amount of followers can swiftly get anyone who criticises them, unfairly or not, an online mullering, as some have pointed out Moran and the likes of Suzanne Moore aren't above doing.  That number at the top of a profile only encourages the belief that they are an internet big shot; I have 30,000 people hanging on my every word, how can Twitter possibly cope if I simply stop enthralling every single one of those individuals?  The answer, it ought to be obvious, is that Twitter couldn't care less about political and media luvvies. It might have done a few years back before the site was embraced by celebrities, but it doesn't now when there are millions of 12-year-olds who use it only to declare their undying love for Justin Bieber or One Direction and who are the ones paying for the servers.  The idea of boycotting a free service in itself is only marginally less stupid than going on hunger strike in solidarity with those at Guantanamo, but going about it as some did just emphasised how out of touch with reality they've become.

None of this is to condone the nasty and malicious trolling Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy amongst others have been subject to. It has however revealed just how self-regarding and self-obsessed the modern media has become, and just how quickly it can find itself outside of its comfort zone. It might also highlight how little regard there is for some of them at the same time as they think they've mastered the new environment. One suspects though that this will go completely over their heads as they carry on #shoutingback.

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Sunday, August 04, 2013 

Internet!

A number of Twitter users say they are boycotting the website for 24 hours.

Yeah.  You know when something starts off stupid and just keeps dafter until it finally explodes due to the sheer fuckwittedness of all involved?  This is the ne plus ultra.  It's like Clockwise but without the laughs.

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Monday, July 29, 2013 

The Twitter hate machine.

I've come to the conclusion that Twitter is the new arsehole of the internet.  There have been many sites that have combined both the best and the worst of the internet previously, but for the most part the media ignored them.  Twitter you can't ignore: there is almost always one story on the Graun's front page about something that's happened on there, regardless of importance, precisely because it's been so adopted by the media, even more so than Facebook has.  These self-same people are in the main the ones that are so shocked that, horror of horrors, there are some really rather nasty people on the internet who enjoy making empty threats against those in the public eye.  Trolling goes back to the earliest days of BBSes; it's only really moved on in that some people are now so confident they troll or flame using their real names.

Stewart Lee couldn't have been more right when he described Twitter as "a government surveillance operation run by gullible volunteers, a Stasi for the Angry Birds generation".  Twitter both monitors and reports, and if you're one of those caught up in a periodic furore when it's decided someone completely lovely has been unfairly traduced, then watch out.  Enter Caroline Criado-Perez, who just so happens to be a freelance hack.  Following her campaign to get true feminist icon Jane Austen on the £10 note, she was subjected to some pretty par for the course abuse on Twitter.  Regardless of who you are, if you become even briefly notable, you will get flamed and trolled, however unwarranted such treatment is.  It's how the internet has always worked.  Where once we just swore at the TV, now some people swear in public via Twitter.  It isn't pleasant, but a lot of people have found there's little to do other than put up with it.  Hell, just a fraction of the criticism and abuse Lee has received makes up part of his last show, Carpet Remnant World.  Turn it to your advantage; ignore it; block people; let them get on with it; or, and this is a really scary one, try and do without the stupid thing.  You might just be able to.

Don't though claim this is a unique problem for women online, because it isn't.  Yes, it's true that women tend to be abused in a far more degrading and sexual way than men are, as just some of the tweets directed at Criado-Perez suggest.  This is mainly due to how, again surprise surprise, the vast majority of trolls are men (or often boys), and usually men whose lack of social skills has made them especially embittered towards women.  As another report currently on the Graun's front page makes clear however, men can and have received almost identical treatment.  Stan Collymore has previously highlighted the racist tweets that were being sent about Patrice Evra in the aftermath of the Suarez affair, while even the slightest digging will find people being unbelievably stupid on the site, such as those complaining about the royal baby being assigned a "gender role".

This is the problem with bringing the police into the equation.  Not only would they never be able to cope if every potentially lawbreaking tweet was reported to them, it raises fundamental questions about fairness and just how abuse in response to abuse should be treated.  As Anorak points out, plenty of people said that Emma West, the woman convicted of a racially aggravated public order offence on Croydon tram, should be raped or killed yet no one it seems was arrested for saying so.  Nor were those who called for Azhar Ahmed to be killed prosecuted, despite the fact that they went further than he did.  The courts have also so far failed to take into consideration the "disinhibition" effect the internet has when sentencing those who have been convicted of going beyond the limits of free speech online: the two Facebook "rioters" were jailed for a staggering four years, longer than many of those who actually did riot, while Matthew Woods was given a three-month sentence for posting a bad taste "joke" about April Jones.  Those who want certain kinds of trolling to be treated as criminal or online threats as equivalent to those made in public or over the phone have to be comfortable in the knowledge that similar punishments will inevitably follow.

The most obvious reason as to why Twitter doesn't have an easy report feature is that it would be endlessly abused.  Moreover, if you are being subjected to an orchestrated campaign of abuse as Criado-Perez says she was, then the police probably are the right people to turn to rather than Twitter itself.  There's trolling and flaming, and then there's bullying.  To repeat a point, there's also an off switch.  Until relatively recently we managed to go without constantly bombarding each other with messages of 140 characters or fewer.  Yes, some people on the internet probably hate you.  More importantly, some people in real life probably like you.

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Wednesday, June 05, 2013 

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Oh, the fun there clearly is to be had on Twitter if you're a member of the squabbling classes.  Somehow, I'd managed to avoid knowing about this whole "check your privilege" thing, which has apparently become err, quite the thing.  On the surface, it's a perfectly reasonable concept and is closely related to thinking before you speak, only for those who spout on about politics. Do you have personal experience of the subject you're talking about? If you don't, do you think that if you had it might change your perspective?

Only, as is the way of the internet, it's gone beyond this and turned instead into a way to shut down debate and maintain the walls between self-identifying groups, some of whom are incredibly quick to take offence at the slightest perceived insult. Think the row that blew up after Suzanne Moore's throwaway remark that women were meant to aspire to the body image of a Brazilian transsexual, which quite incredibly led to someone trying to claim that she might have further incited hatred against the already under threat transsexual community there.

Enter both Louise Mensch and Dan Hodges, neither of whom are impressed with how this phrase seems to have become popularised. Not that Hodges actually argues against it, he just mocks it, which is pretty much how he approaches everything he disagrees with.  As for Mensch commenting on privilege, wouldn't it be lovely if all of us could abandon those we'd pledged to represent for 5 years to move to the US? Her wider point, that feminists in the US organise while those over here argue on the internet, is also easily disproved.

There are though obvious problems with approaching subjects from this perspective, and these haven't been adequately answered by those defending the practice. First, that it is utterly ridiculous to expect a work of fiction to address how you specifically identify yourself. As a twenty-something white British male, I literally couldn't give a shit about a bunch of twenty-something white American upper middle class females, which is why I haven't watched Girls. When Caitlin Moran tweeted she literally couldn't give a shit about how Girls doesn't include people of colour, despite being set in Brooklyn, she wasn't being racist, just pointing out that it's incredibly difficult to write about something you have very little knowledge of.  Lena Dunham might have plenty of black friends and acquaintances, or she may not, but clearly what she knows best and can both portray and satirise in equal measure is the world that she has lived in and experienced.  Write about what you know.  It's one thing to expect a soap opera to reasonably represent the wider world we live in, since it's at least somewhat attempting to be realistic, it's another to demand it of a comedy set in a contained world, however much it purports to be commenting on how we live now.

Second is the dead end of intersectionality.  I would say this as something of an old socialist, but there is nothing that divides and also unites us as much as class.  This isn't to deny that gender, race and sexual orientation don't also have a major impact on prejudice, or that at times they don't all interrelate, it's that this compartmentalising of everything is getting us nowhere.  The emphasis on identity politics has achieved many things, but it hasn't succeeded in having an impact on overall inequality.  Nor does it help when Laurie Penny comes across as condescending of anyone who doesn't understand the theory, saying that schoolchildren have been using the term on the internet for years.  Have they? Are all schoolchildren now studying sociology at an advanced level?

Third, and most importantly, asking someone you disagree with to check their privilege doesn't work when those they're actually talking about act in ways that don't fit their own prejudices.  Consider the extremely sad case of Emma West, the woman whose rant on a tram in Croydon went viral after someone filmed it and put it on YouTube.  To say that she was demonised wouldn't be putting it too strongly; here was the reality of casual racism in modern Britain, in all its uneducated, drunken glory, or so went the majority of the responses.  Only today did we learn of West's background when she pleaded guilty to the charge of a racially aggravated public order offence: she's suffered from depression since she was 18, and had only been released from a psychiatric ward two months previously.  On the day itself she had taken a double dose of her medication, explaining why she seemed inebriated.  Since the video was posted online the hearing itself has been repeatedly postponed due to her mental health, something not helped by the fascists and racists of both the National Front and BNP wanting to befriend her.  Thankfully, the judge has indicated he will be imposing a community rather than a custodial sentence.

Whatever the original worthy intention was, the "check your privilege" meme has turned into just another example of social networks reinforcing our original views rather than challenging them.  Despite Penny writing of bloggers changing their perspective when challenged with better information, my experience is overwhelmingly of the opposite, and as Twitter is a supercharged version of a personal blog, it only exacerbates this further.  Nothing gets solved, and unnecessary antagonism and mockery are the end result. Some of which, quite frankly, is downright deserved.

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Monday, February 11, 2013 

Page 3 and pornification.

It really doesn't take much these days to get a news story running. Rupert Murdoch responds positively to a tweet saying "page 3 is so last century", and almost instantly there's about half a dozen reports up on the Graun website debating exactly what it means.

If we really must go into this, first off, I'll believe the end of page 3 when I see it.  Second, it continues to amaze me why some are still so determined to see the end of a daily topless woman on the third page of a daily newspaper.  The main argument in my mind against it has always been that you're either a newspaper or you're not; however you dress it up (ho ho), putting a half-naked woman in your paper unconnected to any story makes your publication just ever so slightly sleazy, which is what the Sun since the Murdoch takeover has always been, and yet has managed to remain respectable.


Third, those against it really can't have it both ways.  Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, editor of the "Vagenda" blog, writes that her problem with page 3 is not the nudity but the commodification and objectification of the female body.  That's fine and is also my secondary objection, yet if the issue isn't the nudity then why are there not such long running campaigns against the Daily Mail's Femail pages, and the "sidebar of shame"?  Page 3 exists because of the cooperation of women, not all of whom are either brainless or in it purely for the money.  By comparison, the tabloids as a whole rely on the paparazzi effectively stalking celebrities and the almost famous to fill their pages where there is no such permission or exchange of money, except between the paper and the photo agency.  If anything these stories are often far more leery than page 3 now is, or indeed, if the celeb is not deemed to be looking their best, far more likely to have an effect on those who worry about their own body image.  True, page 3 is unique in that it has such a cachet in the public imagination, and can be used by giggling adolescents to particularly revolting effect, but let's not go into such ridiculous exaggeration as "lascivious drool", as though some men go into Pavlovian reveries at the mere sight of a printed boob, at least in public at any rate.


If anything, as Karen Mason's original tweet can also be read, page 3 is last century in that really the whole debate about objectification and the pornification of culture has moved on.  A few years back we were worrying about the rise of Nuts and Zoo, and the often disgustingly sexist content of lads' mags, whereas now even that seems old hat when "revenge porn" sites have entered the news.  Where once it was hip-hop videos that had an abundance of flesh on display, now the utterly mainstream likes of Rihanna and Nicki Minaj perform in costumes which can't really be described in any real sense as clothing.  At the same time, porn might be going through a transition period where it's unclear what its end business model will be, yet the material itself has never been so easily available, with all that entails, the possible effects unknown.


Cosslett is right in saying it's fundamentally "about a demeaning and disrespectful attitude to women", yet the fact is as, she admits, both "men and women ... cynically manipulate young women's bodies for commercial profit".  If page 3 were to disappear tomorrow then its effect would barely be measurable.  The problem modern feminism has to face is that it's women as much as men who are behind the shift in culture, and at the moment it doesn't have a proper answer as to what this means and how it can be fought against.

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Monday, January 14, 2013 

Oh, for goodness sake.

Of all the things I don't understand about this world, the Twitter flounce out only to return 24 hours or so later is one of the things that perplexes me most.  It's the kind of thing I used to do on games forums when I was 15; when you're 55 you really ought to be over it.

This said, you can't help but sympathise with Suzanne Moore, if not with those who decided to come to her defence.  Short story is Moore contributed an angry, excellent essay to a Waterstones anthology in which, in a throwaway exaggeration, she suggested women are meant to aspire to the body image of a Brazilian transsexual.  Rather than take this in the good humour it was clearly meant, Moore was lambasted on Twitter for her crime of "transphobia", the chief complaint being that Brazil has a terrible record when it comes to hate crime against trans women and Moore's comments were therefore unhelpful and offensive.  It didn't seem to matter that I doubt the New Statesman (which reprinted Moore's piece) is among the foremost media outlets in Brazil, or indeed that there are far worse slurs in common usage (shemale, for instance), such is the nature of Twitter and its echo chamber effect that the entire issue was soon making waves.

Moore herself wrote a reply piece in the Graun, which again is fine, although she does enter into hyperbole again when she says this government makes Thatcher look like Shirley Williams.  Her point, that she doesn't care whether you were born a woman or not and that she meant no real offense, even if she also states that some "trans people appeared to reinforce every gender stereotype going".  Which again, is in my eyes a fair enough comment.  Controversial, not necessarily correct, but not offensive.

Enter stage left Julie Burchill, who has dedicated her entire journalistic career to being a contrarian.  You could call her insincere, except she appears to genuinely believes everything she writes, regardless of how it's intended to challenge, or more usually, offend, or at least seems to at the time.  She has therefore variously slandered John Lennon (someone's got to do it), supported the Iraq war so vociferously that with her partner she wrote an entire book about the hypocrisy of those who opposed it, and gone from finding God and becoming a Lutheran to apparently contemplating converting to Judaism, mainly down to her love for Israel as a country.

With friends like Burchill, Moore clearly doesn't need enemies.  Burchill's piece for the Observer, since removed from Comment is Free, was essentially one long tirade against transsexuals in general, rather than those who took offence in the first place.  If it had been posted as a blog on Burchill's personal site then there clearly wouldn't have been an issue: you can rant on about "dicks in chicks' clothing" and how transgender people telling Moore how to write "looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black and White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look" to your hearts content there, not least as that's what they'll expect from you.  The Observer giving it a home suggests no one at the paper actually read it, which wouldn't be surprising considering the fact it's now put together by two interns and a three-legged pussycat.

Honestly though, it's difficult to be offended by anything Burchill writes as it's just so obvious, and more pertinently, boring.  It's fine that she enjoys low culture; I really like certain aspects of what's considered low culture, such as exploitation films.  It's that she completely ignores how the same people she champions, the "chavs", the working class and celebrities are exploited by those she claims to loathe for the very things she defends, such as Big Brother.  The reason why she's found it so difficult to find a regular home for her columns in recent years is down to how she's become predictable, with the people who used to snap back against her having realised that she's a prime example of the commentator as troll, in the same way as all the other Glenda Slaggs.

For Lynne Featherstone to call for both Burchill and the Observer editor John Mulholland to be sacked is just grist to the mill.  That Featherstone happens to be a minister in the coalition that Moore so denounced may have influenced her decision, but it's also that Featherstone is one of those politicians who thinks nothing of calling for people to resign when the full facts are not yet known, as she did during the uproar over the Baby Peter case.  Interestingly, I can't find any indication that she made a similar call over Jan Moir's article on the death of Stephen Gately, although once she became equalities minister she did mention it in a speech to LGBT conference on Gay Pride.

Quite obviously, no one should lose their jobs over Burchill's column (as a freelancer, Burchill can't exactly be sacked in any case).  After all, the PCC didn't so much as chastise the Mail when it printed Moir's article, as she'd been careful not to use any pejorative term for homosexuals, which is key when it comes to breaching the PCC's clause on discrimination.  Whether or not Burchill's piece breaches the code isn't quite as clear cut: her riffs on "dicks in chicks' clothing" and "screaming mimis" certainly come very close to the line.  The PCC also tends to be harsher on the ex-broadsheets than it is the tabloids, so it wouldn't be wholly surprising if it did act.

All of this nonetheless rathers prove Moore's original point: that rather than organise opposition and resistance to the coalition's attacks on the most vulnerable in society, we're all too busy focusing on ephemera.  Austerity hasn't worked, yet there's very little anger, or when there is, it's directed at politicians in general rather than those who are imposing it.  Solidarity has partially broken down precisely because class is no longer the identity it once was.  Ours is an age where we label ourselves and gather in ever smaller cliques, often without seeing the wider picture.  It's one where anger's fine, as long as it isn't directed at anything that actually matters.  This sorry saga has ended up saying far more about the left in general than just about any newspaper think piece, and it's a deeply depressing picture.

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