Wednesday, 3 October 2018

A bit of a rant about social media, its power, and the increasing meanness of society

A young friend of mine, a former student to be exact (all my former students are getting older, the youngest of them pushing towards 30 - how did that happen?), dedicated a post on Facebook this morning to “To the man on the motorbike in full leathers, sitting in front of me at the lights: your dance moves to what was quite obviously Baby Shark made my day. 😂”

Our two year old granddaughter does a mean version of the Baby Shark song. It’s a great song for little kids. I wonder if Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star or The Wheels on the Bus would have had a grown-up motorcyclist singing along and doing the actions if social media had been around when those songs were first introduced.

Social media has a powerful influence on our lives. I have said this before and now I am saying it again.

I came across this report today:-

 “One of the world’s most popular beaches, made famous by the 2000 film The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is to be closed indefinitely to allow it to recover from the damage caused by millions of tourists.

The golden sands and crystal blue water of Maya Bay, ringed by cliffs on Ko Phi Phi Leh island, has become one of Thailand’s most-visited tourist destinations since it shot to fame as the movie’s location. The small beach has sustained extensive environmental damage in recent years, receiving up to 5,000 tourists and 200 boats a day.

Thai authorities announced they would be temporarily closing the bay from 1 June, but have now extended the planned four-month closure to at least a year, due to the extent of the destruction caused by the thousands of day-trippers.
Thanks to pollution from litter, boats and sun cream, it is estimated that more than 80% of the coral around Maya Bay has been destroyed”

Will Chesil Beach in Dorset have the same kind of influx of tourists? It’s always happened to some extent. I can remember my mother telling me, years ago, about going to Lyme Regis in Dorset, where parts of the fils The French Lieutenant’s Woman were filmed. Goodness, we have even done it ourselves, going on a trip to Sicily based around the locations used in the Italian detective series Montalbano. 

George Monbiot writes in this article about how social media has contributed to the cult of the personality. He comments on the fact that some of the world’s problems do not become recognised “issues” until an actor or some other media personality, not at all an expert on the matter, has been interviewed about it. Politicians’ media appearances and photo shoots become more important than their policies.

“There is a particular species of politics that is built entirely around personalities. It is a politics in which substance, evidence and analysis are replaced by symbols, slogans and sensation. It is called fascism. If you construct political narratives around the psychodramas of politicians, even when they don’t invite it, you open the way for those who can play this game more effectively.

Already this reporting style has led to the rise of people who, though they are not fascists, have demagogic tendencies. Johnson, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg are all, like Donald Trump, reality TV stars. The reality TV on which they feature is not The Apprentice, but Question Time and other news and current affairs programmes. In the media circus, the clowns have the starring roles. And clowns in politics are dangerous.

The spotlight effect allows the favoured few to set the agenda. Almost all the most critical issues remain in the darkness beyond the circle of light. Every day, thousands of pages are published and thousands of hours broadcast by the media. But scarcely any of this space and time is made available for the matters that really count: environmental breakdown, inequality, exclusion, the subversion of democracy by money. In a world of impersonation, we obsess about trivia. A story carried by BBC News last week was headlined “Meghan closes a car door”.”

He points out that neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn appear comfortable with the media spotlight, although personally I feel that Jeremy Corbyn has relaxed into it a little. Once, however, it would not have mattered that they did not enjoy being media personalities. They would have got on with the job in hand anyway. Now it is necessary to make a fool of yourself dancing and you get criticised for refusing to be interviewed. My goodness! I am beginning to feel sorry for Theresa May. That will never do!

And here’s another thing that has shocked me.

Donald Trump addressed supporters in Mississippi, last night I think it was, and mocked Dr Christina Blasey Ford about her testimony against Brett Havanaugh, mimicking her answers to questions.

A splendid example of presidential impartiality regarding an ongoing investigation!

It’s the kind of thing that gives licence to people to be less kind and tolerant and understanding of others. People who once felt reluctant to express their intolerance, their racism, their meanness in general, for fear of others’ general disapproval, have been given carte blanche to say what they like. Trump has contributed to it. brexit has contributed to. Twitter has contributed to it.

The world has become a meaner place as a result.


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