Aug 10, 2013

Ignore this post if you're not on Twitter; seriously, for your own mental health

To nobody's surprise as much as my own, I have some thoughts on the whole Graham Linehan / Sam Ambreen. I think.

I kind of stayed away from the sitch on Twitter so I'll be the first to admit that I might be getting the wrong end of the stick here, but what I think happened is that Sam asked Graham to tweet out and acknowledge threats that she has been receiving, and when he refused it lead a lot of people to accuse him of favoritism and racism.

Anyway, even if this isn't what happened exactly, there's been this vibe of "why does online misogynist abuse only matter when it happens to white famous women" for a few weeks now, and I think that there's a common thread or underlying dynamic here.

There is certainly justice in demanding the same recognition of humanity as anyone famous, anyone white, anyone rich. "I am a person, and an attack on me matters as much as an attack on you". This is right. But to then  make the leap to demanding that all people take the same action as a result of an attack on you as they would if the attack was on anyone else is unfair and unrealistic. Indignation (or, be generous, sympathy) is cheap, but action - even the tiny amount of action that goes in to that is termed "clicktivism" - is not. It takes something out of our resources and we save it for those instances where we care the most.

Someone ran an experiment on Twitter yesterday: she tweeted out a campaign to lobby the government against cuts to services for women, serious stuff to do with DVA shelters and rape crisis funding. Crickets. Everyone was so busy being mad at Graham Linehan that the campaign went pretty much unnoticed. Why? Not, I would submit, because people are narcissistic hypocrites who say that they want campaigns about VAWG but actually only care about Twitter drama. But because even Twitter resources are limited, and people were putting their attention where it mattered to them, where it hurt. And that's OK.

There are people who've been reading and enjoying Caitlin Moran since they were 16. They'd spent countless little intervals of pleasure, humour or irritation, so to speak in her company. They feel a certain kind of intimacy, a relationship of sorts has developed, and they are committed to seeing this person as someone who is on the credit side of an interpersonal relationship - someone who has given them some fun, some interest, a joke or to to laugh at, and frankly, has never asked for anything in return. Entertainers are the best friends, in some ways.

It's fashionable to dismiss writers, journalists and entertainers as "slebs", and say that as such, their brand recognition is all they have to distinguish them from you or I. But that derogatory term was invented for a reason: it's supposed to apply to people who came out of nowhere and are famous for nothing - people who stake a claim to the public's interest and love without having first put in the hard work of giving something to people.

No, you (generic, not specific, you) really don't matter to a lot of people. Bit it's wrongheaded to say "I only don't matter because I'm not a celebrity". You don't matter to a lot of people because they don't know you, and they have no reason to feel a commitment to you. You haven't given them anything.

 And you (generic you) do matter to a lot of other people because they do know you, through your blogs and through Twitter, and they have the same pleasure/intimacy relationship with you, and they have been raising hell on your behalf. Otherwise we wouldn't be here, because of course I'd never have heard of this controversy in the first place. You, too, have a "platform". It's just that your platform has, so far, earned you fewer loyal defenders than those of Suzanne Moore or Helen Lewis.


A separate note on racism. All the named people in the above text are white. They are white because it's easier to break into the media in this country while being white. They've had a lot of unfair advantages. And that is monumentally unjust, wasteful of human talent, and wrong.

But individual people don't love them because they're white. People love them because they wrote Father Ted, or organised a huge all-female panel debate in London, or written lots of pieces over the years that made people feel like someone understands them, someone shares their concerns, someone is on their side. So now they're on those white people's side in return.

My point s that there is racism in this situation, but it is institutional and not personal racism. And to confuse the two isn't just counterproductive, it's unjust - because it takes the best of human nature, our capacity to develop loyalty and affection, and turns it inside out to look like a capacity for exclusions and discrimination. Granted, those really are the two sides of that particular coin, and they both exist in all of us; but which side of the coin you're looking at at any given moment is not trivial or irrelevant.


  1. You're suggesting that people who aren't famous must strive to be worthy of justice.

    Which is ridiculous.

    No one should have to earn the right to be treated fairly.

  2. I really liked this. It keeps the "personal" and the "political" separate which, I believe, is the only way we can engage with politics without losing our marbles.

    That said I have absolutely no idea who either Graham or Sam are :S

    I did click on the campaign to lobby the government, and I have this to say: I'm a committed feminist, and it still takes a lot of insistence and reminders for me to take part in a campaign.
    The main reason why this campaign wasn't "picked up" I believe is because it listed a whole lot of "ways you can take action", but none of them were "just click on this petition here".

    Perhaps the nature of the campaign means that starting a petition wouldn't be "good enough". That said, it's usually what works best in a medium like Twitter.

    1. I think from my point of view it wasn't so much the campaign not being 'picked up' - I know that something quick and 'easy' like signing a petition is what works best on social media but around the time that there was so much dissatisfaction with a couple of other campaigns, some people actually criticised petition-type campaigns and there were so many mentions of the fact that people wanted campaigns that addressed VAW, the cuts, etc. I think the nature of the campaign means that a petition wouldn't be the best way to go about it. It's such a huge issue. But a few weeks ago, people wanted a campaign that was 'for the greater good'. It was pointed out that this would not be easy. Writing a letter and contacting authorities does take a bit more effort, it's true. But the stuff that has been going on over the past few days, weeks even, serves to underline that whatever some people say, it's their personal dramas and vendettas that seem to be more important.