Here is a confession.
I haven’t seen that racist woman spouting nonsense on a tram and I haven’t watched Jeremy Clarkson’s rant on The One Show. Given how much I’ve heard about both of them, I have a fairly good idea of what was said. But frankly, I couldn’t care less.
Jeremy Clarkson makes his money out of being an odious television personality. In fact, more than a personality, he is a brand identity, an image to be marketed to a demographic. That demographic is wannabe alpha males, men who feel they are down to earth, simple minded but sensible and prone to speaking their mind.
I’m not sure exactly what it was that triggered the Twitter storm about his outburst, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out it was his agent. Taking pleasure in ‘accidentally’ offending the oversensitive liberals, lefties, women, Mexicans, disabled or gays just endears him to his demographic. And that sells DVDs.
As far as I’m concerned that’s pretty much where the scandal should end. I was on the TUC march last week. If Jeremy Clarkson actually does want to shoot me, then I only find it worrying if he’s within range and holding a firearm. Otherwise, I’m not actually concerned.
What I am worried about is public sector pensions, cuts, job losses and the continually peddled rhetoric that there is no other option than to make these cutbacks.
I’m also worried about the people who want to shoot protestors, and have the means to do it. In other words, the Met Police who now have the power to open fire on a crowd of demonstrators. It may be with rubber bullets, but they are more than capable of killing or severely wounding, and they have done so in the past.
As to the woman on the bus, the situation is different. I can understand why hearing what she said inflamed people’s passion. It was ignorant, offensive and exactly the kind of thing that makes you want to respond with a rant of your own.
But if you stop and think for a little while, what is the point? Ultimately she is just a woman shouting on public transport. She has no power and no influence (except over her unfortunate child) and thankfully her opinions are well out of date and out of fashion. If you were on the tram, the best response would be to ignore her and let her wind down, not to pour petrol on her fire by starting the conflict she was so obviously seeking. In my opinion, nothing changes if you watch the clip on the internet.
If you want to engage with racism, pick the people in society that actually have an influence. Rant away against the EDL, who are infiltrating football terraces and disconsolate workplaces with their fascist rhetoric, rant against judges who hand out harsher sentences to ethnic minorities, or employers who don’t trust them. Leave the woman on the tram alone, she isn’t worth the energy.
The problem here is social media. This year it has been widely celebrated for its role in political uprising. Certainly, it has the power to bring people together, to unite them over an issue and to provide a place to release information when the normal sources of media are too biased or too afraid to cover it.
But it also opens a door to short sighted, reactionary repetition of views that people might not agree with if they thought for longer than the few seconds it takes to press the re-tweet button. And when things catch on they can snowball across the web wildly.
This generation of Twitter-ers do hold a certain amount of political power. It is a way to clearly and quickly express a popular voice, for campaigns to take hold and very quickly build popular support.
But is this really a good thing? When the opinions are so often rash judgements, based on a mere 140 characters worth of reading? Popular opinion can be lazy, ill informed and manipulated by those with an interest: not just politicians, but PR executives and lobbyists. And with Twitter, these bad opinions gain momentum and a belligerent power that can influence policy makers, even stir the Met Police and the CPS into making what has to be called an unnecessary arrest and prosecution.
In giving a voice to the majority, social media could change not only politics but also the world. In some ways it already has. It gives people a voice. But if all the time this voice is ignorant and reactionary, we would probably do better without it.by