Monday, May 8, 2017

Something Thoughtful

Nicholas Reid reflects in essay form on general matters and ideas related to literature, history, popular culture and the arts, or just life in general. You are free to agree or disagree with him. 


All media are a mixed blessing.

Of course they are.

Invent moveable type printing and you can print and distribute great works of literature, the Bible, philosophical discourses, scientific theses and interesting controversial pamphlets. But you can also print and distribute propaganda, pornography, misinformation and literary trash.

Invent newspapers or radio or television, and you can disseminate real news, publish informative articles and reviews, broadcast real drama, play real music. But you will spend most of your time delivering trivia to a mass audience, celebrity gossip and tittle-tattle, bias and propaganda posing as editorials, ignorant letters to the editor and music not worth listening to.

A medium is only a conduit for communication, after all, and the intelligent viewer, listener or reader has the task of winnowing out what is worthwhile and what is not.

So if I launch into another tirade against Facebook, Youtube and social media in general, it is not these media themselves that I am damning, but the foolish uses to which they are put.

My target this week is Youtube, to which I frequently resort when I want to watch an old movie or a new documentary. There is much good stuff on Youtube – a fact that I would never deny.

But Youtube is also one of the stamping (and ranting) grounds of extreme statements. Just as I would never attempt to have an intelligent and sustained discussion on Facebook (the home of harmless socialisation – and of glib sloganeering among those who think wisdom consists of slogans and catch-phrases); so would I never attempt to add to comments on Youtube clips that are not purely in the nature of harmless entertainment.

There is one Youtube staple that I find reprehensible. These are the selected clips from longer debates or discussions, which are presented as if they are the whole discussion. Let us say that an interviewer and interviewee spend half an hour or so discussing an issue back and forth. Each might make points worth heeding. But a common habit among people who post things on Youtube is to produce a brief clip from the speaker they favour as if this is a clinching and definitive argument.

Added to this is the way such clips are often given headings that use jeering or insulting words. We are in the land of politics, ideologies and controversy here, and the insult words and terms pile up. “Remoaners” (in Britain), for “Remainers” who opposed Brexit and are now accused by their enemies of moaning about it. “SJWs” (mainly in the USA), short for “Social Justice Warriors” and used by right-wing polemicists for anyone who opposes their world view. “Religious Fanatics” or “Morons” for any religious person (no matter how temperate and reasonable) who opposes antitheist arguments.

So we get such hysterical headings to Youtube clips (all authentic) as:

 “Labour Scum Summed Up in Ten Seconds”

“You Lost. Get Over It. Stark Message to Remainer”

 “Useless UKIP Chairman Shows Why UKIP is Failing”

One particular trend which disturbs me, however, is the frequency with which the word “destroys” is used. The assumption behind this word is that somebody’s ideas or arguments have been refuted so completely that there is nothing further to say on the matter at hand. Consider the following Youtube headlines (all authentic):

“Andrew Neil Destroys Labour’s Emily Thornberry”

“Black Woman Destroys White Privilege Myth”

“Adam Corolla Destroys SJW Morons”

“Ben Shapiro Destroys Black Lives Matter”

“Marine Le Pen Destroys Angela Merkel and Hollande”

“Ann Coulter Destroys Fat SJW in Epic Debate”

“Brexit Guy Destroys Lefty Arguments”

“Milo Yiannopoulos Destroys Emotional Liberal on Donald Trump”

I have neither the space nor the patience to explain what controversy was involved in each of these cases. But if you are savvy about current ideological debates, you will be aware that the above headlines with “destroys” in them are all from more-or-less conservative or right-wing positions. Lest you get too partisan about this, however, please note that the following (all authentic) come from the other side of the aisle and are all from more-or-less liberal or left-wing positions:

“Noam Chomsky Destroys Ezra Levant”

“Neil deGrasse Tyson Destroys Bill O’Reilly”

“Bill Maher Destroys Bill O’Reilly”

 “Richard Dawkins Destroys Arguments of Crazy, Potentially Retarded Religious Fanatics”

“Atheist Destroys Muslim”

“Sam Harris Simply Destroys Christianity”

“Hitchens Destroys Religion”

“Anderson Cooper Destroys Donald Trump”

“John Oliver Destroys Trump”

I know it is metaphorical, but there is so much “destroying” and destruction going on here that it suggests a violent state of mind – as if the people who write such headlines really do want to destroy physically the people they are opposing.

Here is the polarity of unreasoning Youtube posters. Some of the debates and discussions from which they extract snippets were in fact measured and reasoned discussions. (Not all of them, of course. Many, seen in full, are vituperative shouting matches.) But the posters who extract and make headlines are so partisan that they unwittingly reveal closed minds and the sort of fanaticism that they are all too ready to attribute to others.

No comments:

Post a Comment