Thanks To Everyone I Ever Knew

“Thanks to my mother and father, <name> and <name>, and my sister <name>; it’s the continued love and support of family that made this possible. Thanks to all the brilliant people at <organisation>—especially <name>, <name>, <name>, <name>, <name> and <name>—for the long hours, and the many days and nights of dedication they put into this project. Believe me, I wouldn’t be up here if it wasn’t for you—tonight is as much for you as for me. So many thanks to my best friends in the world—<name>, <name> and <name>—for sticking by me through this whole thing and giving me all the support and love I could need—I love you guys. If I missed anyone, apologies…you know who you are. Thank you all.”

So what was that, then? Must be an Oscar’s acceptance speech, right? Guess again. But surely whoever said it must’ve just won something—a Grammy or an Emmy? Nup, try again. A Logie or an ARIA or a Brit Award? Nope, it’s none of those.

Regular imbibers of this (sometimes) humble opine-fest will know by now that, despite occasionally dabbling in it myself, I don’t really hold social media in the highest esteem (yes, I know—oh the irony!). Why? My reasons are many and varied—most, I daresay, not of the slightest interest to avid users—but I won’t bang on about them here.

Whatever my misgivings about the individual and societal impacts of social media, there’s one thing, in particular, that’s really struck me about the way that so many users of this ubiquitous all-pervading beast have come to engage with fellow users.

No, I’m not about to launch into that tired old accusation of narcissism, so often leveled at social media users.

Actually, I’m not often lost for words, but it’s proving difficult to find a single word that accurately reflects what I’m trying to say—’altruism’, maybe? Whatever the word, the action I’m trying to describe seems somehow less calculated than the really narcissistic stuff; that is, the actions themselves are clearly intentional, but the result possibly isn’t. Or, at least, not consciously. Maybe. I think…

The selfies, the check-ins, the constant updates about our every thought and move, and don’t even get me started on all the photos of food and drink! All of that stuff falls into the narcissism bucket. We make almost unconscious assumptions that everyone who can see what we post wants to know everything about what we’re doing, where we’re going and how we look, whether at the time or after the fact; they want to know exactly what we’re thinking and to hear all about the fiddle-faddle and frippery of our day-to-day. But there’s something else going on here too—perhaps a variant of altruism, if not true altruism.

It’s that “everyone” thing. “Can everyone please copy and paste this to their own status?”… “Thanks everyone for all the <insert topic> messages”… who is this “everyone”? Does “everyone” only apply if we generate a 100% response rate from our list of social media comrades? Or, in the event of a less-than-100% hit rate, do we actually use it to make those who didn’t react feel guilty?

Or has “everyone” just morphed into another of those catch-all words, like “guys” before it, that’s now used to address any proportion of a total number of people? For example, if I had 479 Facebook friends and 42 of them posted birthday wishes, is an 8.7% hit rate sufficient for me to use “everybody” when thanking them? Or would I only say it if I wanted to have a go at the 91.3% of so-called Friends who made no online reference to my birthday at all?

And as if all the variations of friends and “everyone” wasn’t confusing enough, Twitter users (whether celebrity or pleb) also have “followers”, which is quite similar to “fans”. But there’s something almost sinister about “followers”. Charles Manson had followers. David Koresh had followers. L. Ron Hubbard had followers. Do the likes of us ordinary folk really want “followers”?

Or maybe that’s the answer? Or even the question? Despite the disturbing lack of clarity that’s permeated this post thus far, maybe I just found the answer to the question I’ve been trying but largely failing to pose?

Coz whether or not we consciously set out to achieve a response rate, there’s a reassuring sense of popularity that comes with the number of Retweets and Likes that our social media posts receive, isn’t there? We like “everyone” looking at what we’re saying. We’re being noticed. We’re being agreed with. We’re being envied. Why else would we post in the first place? It’s ego-inflating.

YouTubers have long had “fans”; maybe it’s become so much a part of the new normal that the rest of us now think of our own social media buddies as fans, too? After all, they’re following us because (presumably) they want to, because they like us and want to know about our day-to-day existence, because they want to see photos of what we’re doing, where we’re going and what we have; basically, because they want to envy us—as if they were our fans.

And, knowingly or otherwise, we now respond accordingly.

Every time something happens, we take to status updates as if we’re sweeping gracefully up onto a stage, accepting a big shiny lump of gold or glass, then giving thanks, acceptance speech-style, to everyone we ever knew. It’s nice, I guess. It’s a bit tedious too, to be honest.

Oh and in case you hadn’t worked it out yet, that ‘acceptance speech’ back at the beginning of this—it was a Facebook post about going for a mini-break in the mountains (and don’t worry, I’m not publicly shaming anyone I know—believe it or not, there are others in the world who rant about this stuff too!).

The post was written by a lady whose baby hadn’t slept properly, if at all, for most of its short life; she and her partner had taken their infant daughter through one of those sleep training assessment course thingos for about a year. Once they’d finally gotten her into a wake/sleep routine that seemed to be working, they decided to take themselves off for dinner and an overnight stay at a luxury resort, far away from where they lived in the US state of Vermont, leaving the child in the care of relatives.

So no, despite the Academy Awards acceptance speech histrionics, it was just someone going out for dinner and thanking a bunch of people for some stuff they did. It’s unlikely this lady—or anyone, for that matter—would ever verbalise such gushy sweeping praise in everyday conversation, but she obviously felt that her much-needed weekend away was the culmination of the combined efforts of all these people, and that they were, therefore, deserving of the praise she heaped on them via social media; that half the people referenced weren’t tagged and, as such, weren’t likely to actually see the online praise apparently didn’t detract from the woman’s desire to post it.

In the olden days, people used to write letters and send cards through the post to thank each other for stuff. Later, they wrote emails for the same purpose. Today we use online public forums and social media to talk about, to talk to and/or thank people who’ll possibly never see what we’ve said (assuming they’re old enough to read at all); it’s a wonder anyone ever feels appreciated for anything any more.

What a different place today’s world might be, if only we quit the Oscars speeches and actually thanked each other again.

Death By Social Media

ripsocialmediaWilliam Christopher, Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Liz Smith, Rick Parfitt, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Thicke, Wayne Duncan, Anne Deveson, Peter Vaughan, Andrew Sachs, Robert Vaughn, Greg Lake, Peter Sumner, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, Colonel Abrams, Pete Burns, Gene Wilder, Ross Higgins, Kenny Baker, Peter Collingwood, Arnold Palmer, Max Walker, Garry Marshall, Muhammad Ali, Fred Tomlinson, John Berry, Prince Rogers Nelson, Merle Haggard, Gareth Thomas, Ronnie Corbett, Garry Shandling, Jon English, Norman May, Ken Sparkes, Richard Neville, Harper Lee, Vivean Gray, Lady Susan Renouf, Lewis Fiander, Reg Grundy, Frank Kelly, Bruce Mansfield, Alan Rickman, Bob Ellis, Keith Emerson, Don Battye, Arthur Tunstall, David Bowie, Black, Lois Ramsey and Glenn Frey.

Question: what do these 54 names have in common?

Answer: they’re all names of people who died during 2016, as if you didn’t already know… or did you?

How many of those names do you actually recognise? They weren’t all “superstars” per se, but they were all noteworthy folk from the sporting, political and entertainment worlds. You might’ve seen something about their deaths online, in the press, or on TV. But which of them did you read about on social media?

I was familiar with the work or achievements of each person in that list, but it’s only a tiny sample of the full list of last year’s ‘celebrity deaths’.

That’s how it is when famous folk die these days. Social media makes some of them hyper-visible to us (which, in turn, makes us hyper-aware of them), while others go virtually unnoticed. But this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.

Facebook and Twitter users have long latched on to of-the-moment issues with relentlessness and tenacity that’s rarely seen offline. The repeated incidence of this short-term, intense focus on individual topics creates the impression that all manner of relatively uncommon things are occurring in unprecedented numbers all the time—celebrity deaths, drownings, one-punch attacks, lockout law-related business failures, US Presidential elections, and so on.

Every year social media spotlights the deaths of the most well-known of the well-known, simply because they’re the deaths that users react to en masse; conversely, every year the same users blithely overlook the deaths of tens of thousands of lesser-known but nonetheless notable people who, for whatever reason, weren’t on the social media radar—basically, that’s anyone without ‘legend’ status and/or anyone two or more generations older than the average user.

Admittedly, by the closing moments of twenty-sixteen it did seem that the Grim Reaper’s boney index finger had reached out to touch many more celebs than in recent years—but had it really?

Was last year actually that much worse than previous years, or did it just seem that way thanks to repeated social media über-focus? And were they really all so unexpected, or is it simply that an increasing number of the most recognisable faces of our time are now of an age when, inevitably, more of them are likely to die?

Coz, to be fair, 1996 was a pretty appalling year for notable deaths too. From a list that’s far longer in full, I recall being aware of more than sixty of them at the time, among whom were Gene Kelly, Audrey Meadows, McLean Stevenson, George Burns, Greer Garson, P.L.Travers, Jon Pertwee, Ella Fitzgerald, Cubby Broccoli, Margaux Hemingway, Claudette Colbert, Tupac Shakur, Dorothy Lamour, Ted Bessell, Beryl Reid, Spiro Agnew and Tiny Tim.

Things weren’t much better ten years later, with the list of headline deaths in 2006 including such luminaries as Lou Rawls, Shelley Winters, Don Knotts, Gene Pitney, Aaron Spelling, Syd Barrett, June Allyson, Mickey Spillane, Glenn Ford, Steve Irwin, Jane Wyatt, Jack Palance, Robert Altman, Joseph Barbera, James Brown and Gerald Ford.

Before the advent of Facebook and social media as we know it today, a celebrity death was something we heard about on the radio or saw on the TV news, we read about them in newspapers and magazines, and sometimes—increasingly so by the middle of last decade—we found out about them online. Then we talked about them at work, at school, or at the pub, back when word of mouth was still a thing.

Very occasionally, the death of a prominent figure—think JFK, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson—has generated once-in-a-generation mass outpourings of grief. But the majority of celebrity deaths were a topic of some limited conversation, generally only until a funeral was held, or TV and radio tributes had aired; beyond this, further discussion was typically relegated to “where were you when…?” conversations, some time in the distant future.

Today, social media is so inward-looking that it seems what’s happening right now is all that matters and is unprecedented. The past is often a distant and alien land, beyond the comprehension of those who don’t remember it or were never there. But history always repeats and, whether we remember it or not, it’s almost inevitable that most of what we see around us has happened before.

Social media regulars seemingly spent most of 2016 gasping, crying, honouring or grieving the loss of certain well-known individuals, as if celebrity deaths had never happened on such a scale before; more likely is that users had simply never experienced the intense social media focus on so many notable deaths in the one year.

Twenty-eight years ago, the world mourned the loss of just as many—if not more—significant figures as were farewelled in 2016. From across the spectrum of politics, sport, the arts and literature, and all the various elements of stage, screen and sound, Lucille Ball, Daphne Du Maurier, Samuel Beckett, Graham Chapman, Irving Berlin, Herbert von Karajan, Mel Blanc, Jim Backus, Salvador Dali, John Meillon, Bette Davis, Robert Mapplethorpe, Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Sir Laurence Olivier all died in 1989. All were giants of their respective times and crafts; as years of sad losses go, it was one of the saddest.

Two years later the roll-call was just as long; in 1991 we said au revoir to Freddie Mercury, Miles Davis, Michael Landon, Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), Gene Tierney, Danny Thomas, Gene Roddenberry, Fred MacMurray, Lee Remick, Natalie Schafer, Brad Davis, Robert Maxwell, Irwin Allen, Martha Graham, Sheila Florance, Gerry Davis, Frank Capra, Serge Gainsbourg, Carmine Coppola, Margot Fonteyn, Graham Greene, Jean Arthur, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Pertwee and Joan Caulfield. You may not remember or know all of those names but, as in 1989, they were all significant figures in their respective fields.

Arguably, if people had responded to celebrity deaths in the 80s and 90s with the same emotional fervour as posters, sharers and tweeters today, we might’ve always felt that we were constantly being bombarded by news of celebrity deaths; if that intense, widespread focus had always been there, there mightn’t be such a strong sense that everything happening today is the biggest, most, best or worst that’s ever been.

It’s really about keeping things in perspective and recognising that, as much as we might want it to be, there’s not much about the ever-expanding bubble we inhabit today that’s especially unique to the here and now.

Instead of obsessing about the minutiae of the present, perhaps we should look back a little? Maybe tipping our hats to what’s gone before and attempting to understand the past could be the best way for us to prepare for what’s yet to come?

So here’s a great big “RIP” and “vale” to everyone who died during recent years without being mourned on social media. Irrespective of how few tweets they might’ve generated, their deaths were not insignificant and they didn’t go entirely unnoticed.

Middle-Class Social Media User Claims Satirical Skit “Deeply Offensive To Homeless People”

This has to be an example of ‘outrage culture’ at its very best.

Following a skit by comedian Tom Gleeson on the 26 August episode of the ABC’s “The Weekly with Charlie Pickering”, which ostensibly satirised attitudes towards the homeless both here and overseas, there was apparently yet more social media ‘outrage’.

It should be noted that Gleeson’s skit satirized attitudes towards the homeless, not homeless people themselves. Clearly,  satirical comedy on free-to-air television still has more than its quota of idiots with no concept of satire tuning in. More’s the pity.

““That skit was deeply offensive to homeless people,” said one angry person on Twitter”… according to a article.

“…said one angry person on Twitter”? WTF? I’ve seen and heard anger before. Of all the things I can imagine being screamed hysterically or emanating from a shaking red face, all twitching and contorted with rage, hissing through gritted teeth and with little bits of spit coming out, the statement “that skit was deeply offensive to homeless people” isn’t one of them. But I digress.

So this one supposedly ‘angry’ person… what do we know about them? As usual where social media ‘outrage’ is concerned, not very much. But it’s fun trying to imagine!

WeeklyHomelessFor starters, who’d actually say something like this? Would they be more likely to be a girl or a guy? I think a guy. Probably late-20s or very early-30s. A big beard, maybe? Masses of heavily product-laden hair with a side-parting sharp enough to cut your hand on, perhaps? Caramel or dark blue skinny chinos, possibly rolled at the cuffs? Big hiking boots? Maybe a red tartan flanno? Funky spectacles that could well be more decorative than prescription? Like most hipsters, I imagine our complainant to basically be the love child of Ned Kelly and the Monty Python lumberjack.

So there he is, tucked up all warm and dry in his comfortable home, probably stretched out on a nice squishy sofa, warm drink on the table opposite, belly still full from the meal he consumed an hour ago, watching “The Weekly with Charlie Pickering”, via Foxtel, on his 65″ Sony Bravia Ultra HD 3D TV. As he watches, the division of his fortnightly pay for monthly bills, social activities, his next O/S jaunt and his growing mortgage deposit is floating about vaguely in the back of his mind; he also reminds himself that he needs to fill the SUV with 98-RON Premium fuel on his way to the office in the morning.

In among all that, our totally not-homeless person somehow managed to focus for long enough to get angry about this one three-minute satirical sketch. So angry, in fact, that he took to a social media app on his smartphone to claim that it was “deeply offensive to homeless people”… oh fuck off, you massive wanker!

OK, so even if our angry outrager isn’t anything like the way my cynical imagination constructed him, the fact remains that he’s either had a sense of humour by-pass or has no concept whatsoever of irony or satire – either of which only makes me wonder why he was watching “The Weekly with Charlie Pickering” in the first place.

Homeless, are you? Know any homeless people, do you? Sat at least one homeless person down, in the comfort of your home, and had them watch the sketch, before asking their opinion of it, did you? If the answer to all three questions is “no” – which I suspect it might be – then just fuck off!

When will people stop getting outraged on behalf of other people they obviously don’t know and clearly know nothing about? It’s just not necessary for the well-heeled and comfortably middle-class to make assumptions about how the lower echelons of society might possibly feel about stuff! It’s even less necessary when their outrage is entirely due to their own flawed understanding of what they witnessed, rather than anything that was genuinely and intentionally offensive. They only make themselves look like faux-outrage wankers which, I’m pretty certain, does nothing to help the homeless in the end.

Here’s a novel idea: instead of all the stupid, pointless outrage on social media, perhaps our man could get off his arse, leave his comfortable home and do something tangible for all the homeless folk he believes were so deeply offended by something the majority of them would never have even seen, rather than merely jumping to their defence on fucking Twitter.

On the list of things that are utterly unlikely to ever happen, I wonder how highly our outrager would rate that idea?

Storms In Tea Cups


1. an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation
“her voice trembled with outrage”

2. arouse fierce anger, shock, or indignation in (someone)
“the public were outraged at the brutality involved”


Language is a funny old thing. In some respects it’s hardly changed, but at the same time it’s both greatly evolved and constantly evolving. Words that once meant one thing can end up meaning something else altogether, or fall out of use entirely. Other words just lose impact because we use them more often.

Some of the worst ‘swear words’ from back when I was a kid are now almost invisible in the modern parlance. Words considered so appallingly filthy that my mum would take to my tongue with a foul-tasting bar of yellow laundry soap now barely seem to raise an eyebrow.

It’s not just expletives, buzz words and the sometimes nonsensical vocab of young folk that lose impact from overuse. Ordinary everyday words also wear a bit thin if they’re heard too often and “outrage” has become a prime example of this phenomenon.

In today’s world of the 24 hour news cycle and endless social media banality, it seems almost everyone is outraged about something. So many people have such properly damning opinions about so many things! Opinions are hardly revolutionary, of course. I’ve always been something of an opinionated git and, presumably, we all had opinions in the time before we began drowning ourselves in endless streams of social media drivel. I’m just not sure when – or, more importantly, why – everyone became so righteously pompous about every little thing.

These days, any suggestion of misconduct or impropriety – or of anything that someone doesn’t like the sound of – is met with gasps of horror. Everything is “hugely offensive” and “apologies” are frequently “demanded”. More often than not, all the huffing and puffing is merely a by-product of the culture of confected outrage, rather than out of any real concern for the topic at hand. And everyone’s at it, too. Recently Nick Kyrgios & co. were outraged by Dawn Fraser; the Federal Opposition Leader was outraged by the Government; even the Prime Minister – who, himself, is in the habit of outraging most Australians on a daily basis – was outraged by a TV program.

This week alone, Australian social media went into collective outrage mode over a wholly misunderstood job advertisement; an Australian woman was jailed in Abu Dhabi for “writing bad words on social media” after being outraged by something; and social media types once again worked themselves into a lather of outrage after a radio ‘shock-jock’ tweeted an observation about a woman breast-feeding as she walked through an airport terminal… which even sounds a bit weird when you read it, to say nothing of how weird it might look if you actually witnessed it. One overly virtuous commenter suggested the observation infringed the human rights of both mother and child, while the irony of another comment was no doubt lost on whoever made it. “People who are offended should simply look or walk away”, they said, while neither looking nor walking away.

See, everyone’s so busy being outraged and politically correct that they seem to have forgotten two basic truths: 1) some of what we see around us day-to-day really is a bit weird, and 2) it’s actually OK to think so. It’s just human nature to observe and comment – we’ve all done it. If the less-than-silent outraged minority weren’t quite so busy with all their bluster and self-righteous indignation, they too might recall at least one time when even they were guilty of the same transgression (although they’d probably also be hugely offended by the implication and demand an immediate apology from me).

But that’s just how it is these days, isn’t it? Everyone’s constantly up in arms about something. A day doesn’t pass without someone being outraged, or angered, or hurt, or deeply offended by the merest suggestion of something which, in truth, they probably just don’t much care for. iTunes users were outraged that they’d been given a free album. United Airlines passengers were outraged after a flight was diverted for safety reasons and they had to stay overnight some place that wasn’t their intended destination. Sinead O’Connor was outraged about Kim Kardashian appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine (though even I have to admit that O’Connor’s killer tweet – “What is this c*nt (‘I don’t smile much because it causes wrinkles’) doing on the cover of Rolling Stone? Music has officially died“. – was absolute comedy gold!). It’s all this alleged outrage over largely trivial ‘first world problems’ that has the least ring of truth to it.

The regular panelists on Network Ten’s nightly news show The Project are among the worst offenders for encouraging outrage about practically everything, so it was unsurprising to see the same behaviour from former regular panelist Charlie Pickering on his new ABC show The Weekly. When discussing the recent execution of two Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia, the generally balanced Pickering asked, “but don’t people have a right to be outraged?”. But why do they, Charlie? Concerned, maybe. Sad, yes. Confused. Bewildered. Disappointed. Maybe even upset. But why outraged, Charlie? There’s enough faux-outrage in the world as it is. Must you encourage even more?

Today’s media is full-to-overflowing with headlines quoting offence and outrage from the four corners of the earth. Googling outraged suggestion offensive generated 37,200,000 results. Outrage, it seems, is big business these days. One of my favourite writer/bloggers, Ryan Holiday, dubbed it in 2014 as “Outrage Porn”, in an article that he headlined “How the Need For ‘Perpetual Indignation’ Manufactures Phony Offense”. And that’s exactly how it almost always comes across: contrived, superficial, fly-by-night, flavour-of-the-month, melodramatic, fake offence.

Stephen Fry said it best when he described outrage as “just a whine”, as if the aggrieved somehow (mistakenly) believe that being offended “gives them certain rights”. A few years ago, another of my favourite blogs,, said “there are few things white people love more than being offended… As a rule, white people strongly prefer to get offended on behalf of other people.” In other words, ‘offence-by-proxy’ – something our countrywoman in Abu Dhabi now knows the repercussions of all too well. I wonder if she’ll think twice next time she feels the need to be outraged by something that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with her? Let that be a valuable lesson to all social media users.

Outrage is important, it’s necessary, but these days the word is rarely associated with anything that warrants such a highly charged response. Yet everyone still feels the need to be outraged by everything. The fact that most of this involves a compulsive use of social media can only lead to tears before bedtime. Outrage is not something we want to lose the effect of, it doesn’t need diluting. Sadly, as with so much that the 21st century has sunk its talons into, the dilution has already begun.

There’s more than enough really bad stuff in the world that’s deserving of our relentless outrage and condemnation. Unusual stuff will always be everywhere and people will always do or say things that other people don’t like, but it serves no purpose for everyone to be outraged by everything. If people would only reserve their outrage for truly significant events and channel their energy into meaningful responses, the world would be a far less outraged place to be.

Backlash Or Bust?

Everywhere you look these days there’s an online uproar about this or a social media backlash about that. Let’s face it: the media’s come to love a good online backlash the way footy fans love a bit of on-field biffo. That much is patently clear.

What’s also becoming increasingly clear is that so-called online backlashes are little more than media beat-ups based around the opinions of a vocal few. True, they probably reflect the feelings of the silent majority in many cases, but what’s also true is that they’re probably just what most people have always thought – we just didn’t know it before.

Today we have more outlets for commenting, complaining and opining than we’ve ever had; we also have greater access to a media always desperately scrounging about for headlines and so-called ‘news’. But is it really a ‘backlash’ if some lazy hack quotes one person whose perspective doesn’t significantly deviate from how most people probably already feel? For that matter, is it even newsworthy?

And that’s where my favourite TV game show Family Feud comes into it. A few months ago there was one of these so-called ‘backlashes’ to a question asked on Network Ten’s top-rating (and only) game show: what’s something annoying a cyclist might do?FamilyFeud_Cyclists_Answers

Ask anyone who’s ever used any road in any of Australia’s crowded inner-city precincts, whether as driver or pedestrian, and they’ll inevitably rattle off a list of quite annoying things that cyclists do. However much cyclists try to hide behind their minority group victim syndrome, that’s one inescapable truth.

Arguably, it’s another equally inescapable truth that drivers and pedestrians probably do just as many annoying things as cyclists – perhaps more. Would they be all agog and aghast if Family Feud asked its contestants to name something annoying that drivers or pedestrians do? I doubt it. They’d probably be the first ones to agree.

Victimisation is a very personal thing and not something to be mocked. It just always seems that minority groups with a sense of victimisation that at least appears to be somewhat disproportionate to reality always seem to shout the loudest.

So it was with one of the comments in response to Family Feud‘s ‘outrage’, which managed to get published as far afield as The Washington Post. It was from the head of a cyclist’s group, who said: “Seriously, the hatred against cyclists has to stop… We all know that as soon as you bring cyclists into the conversation you’re going to get ratings, which is really sad”.

Sadder still is that it’s probably only cyclist groups who’d believe that.

For the record, there was a fairly normal variance between Family Feud‘s highest and lowest viewing figures that week, with a ratings dip after the so-called ‘reaction’ to this issue. Myth well and truly busted, thank you very much Mr. Head of Cyclist Group.

The cyclist group fellow also went on to tell Family Feud’s producers that “The next time a cyclist gets killed on the road you’ll have to live with the knowledge that your [sic] partly responsible for the death of a fellow human”.

Wow. Anyone for a spot of histrionics? The potential irony, of course, being the magnificent own-goal it would’ve been for Mr. Cyclist group if ratings actually had increased.

Thing is, Family Feud questions don’t just come from nowhere. They’re little more than broadly understood in-jokes and clichés. Every cliché is rooted in some element of fact for it to become a cliché in the first place. These questions need to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, so they have to be about the familiar – in effect, the in-jokes, clichés and other minutiae of everyday life. There’s always a precedent and Family Feud‘s 100 survey respondents clearly felt there were eight categories of precedent here.

So was this really a backlash? Or was it actually just a bunch of things someone said about something? In other words, was this merely someone’s opinion? That level of melodrama underscores most of the so-called ‘fierce criticisms’ that are so often leveled against virtually everything these days. But it’s actually nothing new.

It’s not like anybody’s thinking differently to how they would’ve thought in the pre-social media age. It’s not even hugely different to how previous generations felt about similar things in the olden days. This rubbish is what people have always thought, the only real difference being that we now have the very great privilege of knowing it, rather than assuming it.

It used to be that people would send strongly worded letters (in the style of “Dear Sir, I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms…”) or phone the TV station to complain about stuff they didn’t like. If there was a sizable kerfuffle about something, it might’ve rated a tiny five-line report on the inside back page of the Sunday papers.

These days the average complainant’s channel of choice is social media and ‘backlashes’, like the one about Family Feud, are even thought newsworthy enough to make the print media, not just the online entertainment pages.

Today’s volume of complaints is doubtless greater than in the old days, but the definition of what’s considered a complaint is now much broader too. Often the number of complaints posted, liked and re-tweeted via social media becomes more newsworthy than what actually led to the ‘uproar’ in the first place. It’s quick, easy and essentially anonymous, so it’s hardly surprising that volumes are so much higher.

In theory people now have more time to consider what they want to say and how they want to say it. The quality of much of what’s posted to social media suggests no amount of thinking time would ever be enough for many people. For most, their immediate reaction – as opposed to a considered response some time after the event – is simply a stream of consciousness; in many cases, it’s just poorly constructed drivel.

In theory, avoiding face-to-face (or voice-to-voice) confrontation should allow complainants to control the emotional responses that would’ve been largely out of their control had they picked up the phone in the heat of the moment. But it’s near impossible to judge anyone’s emotional tone from a five-line comment in response to , particularly when it’s littered with spelling or typing mistakes and devoid of all punctuation and grammar.

Many immediate online responses sound breathtakingly aggressive – but who knows if their authors were smiling and without a care in the world when they put fingers to touchscreen keyboard? Many people never even bother to state their own positions, happier to find a voice vicariously through the liked and re-tweeted words of others.

Which comes back to the original point: most of what’s pounced on by the media as an online ‘uproar’ or ‘backlash’ is nothing more than a collection of thoughts and opinions. Certainly they’re captured and disseminated differently to how they were in the past, but that’s not to say that nobody’s ever had the same kinds of thoughts and responses to similar situations before.

It’s all just the modern-day electronic equivalent of conversations, sharing opinions and the age-old practice of ‘Chinese whispers’. This stuff’s been happening for aeons. It’s just people saying and thinking stuff. 9 times out of 10, it’s not an uproar or a backlash and it’s certainly not news.

Not unless you’re a lazy hack peddling sensationalism from easy-to-access lowest common denominator rubbish.


The opiate of the masses

Opiate-Karl-MarxIn 1843, Karl Marx cited religion as “the opium of the people”, in a philosophical criticism of the hold of organised religion over a passive congregation.

In the late-1950s American journalist Edward R. Murrow put another spin on Marx’s famed one-liner to claim that television was the opiate of the people, in a pop-cultural observation of the hold that poor TV programming had over a passive audience.

Today’s siege and hostage situation in Sydney’s CBD showed beyond doubt how social media has become the opiate of the masses, perfectly capturing everything that’s wrong with 24/7 news and proving just how armed and dangerous the population en masse can be when they take to social media like wannabe journalists.

I work in an office about seven blocks (or less than 1km) from the Lindt Chocolate Cafe on Martin Place. From my perspective, it all seemed to start somewhere between 10 and 10:30 this morning. That’s when phones started beeping all over the office and a seemingly endless stream of text messages began delivering the ‘news’. Then the social media updates began: a terrorist with an Islamic State flag is taking hostages in Martin Place… it’s exactly what they said was going to happen months ago… he’s going to behead someone…there are bombs all over the city… Sydney’s being evacuated… really? Sydney’s being evacuated? That’s a bit extreme! What, the whole city of Sydney? Or just the CBD and the hundreds of thousands of people in it right now? I couldn’t help but be sceptical, at least to some extent.

opiate-TV-dont-thinkThen the internal messaging started and it was clear the situation had quickly become quite absurd. All staff were asked to stop streaming news content on the so-called ‘security incident’ as it was slowing our I.T. systems down across the board. At the same time, despite apparently OD’ing on so much information that our systems were going into apoplexy, phone calls were flying back and forth all over the office about the ‘facts’ of what was going on. Again, they were ‘facts’ gleaned from the half-baked stories that everyone else was hearing on streaming news and reading on Twitter, Facebook and the media’s live blog updates of the drama as it unfolded. In most cases, they were also about as far from being factual as they could get and even farther away from being officially confirmed, let alone informed viewpoints.

Then, for no reason whatsoever, a colleague jumped to an irrational xenophobic conclusion about a random guy moving about the office, telling me, “I just saw one of those Sikh blokes, you know the ones with the turbans? I’ve seen him around before but not for ages… funny how he’s back today, with everything that’s going on, isn’t it? But that’s how they do it these days, don’t they? They just integrate themselves in the business, in the middle of everyone else. That’s how they get us”. These were the views of an ostensibly intelligent IC1 individual, born and bred here in Sydney, expressed in absolute seriousness. I rarely get hung up about other people’s race-related phobias, but this was one of the most absurd things I’d ever heard and – for once – I was almost lost for words. “Probably best not to overreact to this Chocolate Cafe thing, eh?”, was all I could bring myself to say, lest I say something truly offensive to my colleague.

opiate-social-web-opiumThroughout the day there were hundreds of thousands of pointless tweets and status updates all over social media, the sum total of which was little of any real benefit and chiefly based around more unconfirmed ‘facts’, rumours, misrepresentations, misinterpretations, misinformed editorial comment and unfounded speculation. Rather than simply observe what was happening, ponder on it and maybe even do some research to educate themselves a little about what might really be going on, people chose instead to regurgitate what they’d just read somewhere else or what they ‘think’ about a situation that they patently knew virtually nothing about, contributing to an already swirling whirlpool of inaccuracies and falsehoods.

Saddest of all is that truly significant events – like the one in Martin Place today – have been reduced by the social media opiate to the same level as extreme weather events. You know how, on disgustingly hot days, everyone on social media posts statuses or tweets about what a disgustingly hot day it is? Apparently now when something huge sends an entire city into lockdown and is receiving non-stop coverage across all free-to-air and paid TV, radio and online media, everyone on social media seems to feel they have to comment on it too. Coz obviously, nobody else has noticed yet.

opiate-247-newsAnd what else does 24/7 news coverage of these events mean? First and foremost, aside from showing the same tiny snippets of footage over and over and over and over again, their primary goal is to fill in long periods of time where nothing’s actually happening that they can report on. And how do they do that? By finding some tenuous link between the event and anyone at all that they track down and conduct excruciatingly painful, drawn-out interviews that reveal nothing and benefit no one. Take this fine example of investigative journalism from ABC News reporter Claire Aird, as she tried just before 5pm to extract something, anything, from a young woman who’d been scheduled to start her shift at the Lindt Chocolate Cafe at 11am:

Claire Aird: When you saw her face on TV, could you read anything in to her expression?

Really, Claire Aird? What did you expect her to say she could read from her colleague’s expression? That it was like they were having a whale of a time in there? That she clearly wished it would never end and she’d never have to come out? Really?

Claire Aird: You could see another two of your colleagues? What could read into their faces, knowing them as you do, knowing them as friends, what could you see? Knowing what they’re normally like, what could you see through that window?

Really, Claire Aird? Isn’t this flogging a dead horse now? Didn’t you just get all you were going to get from virtually the same question about the first person you asked her about? Now you want her to counterpoint what the other two are normally like with how they seemed whilst holed up in their workplace by a gun-toting terrorist nut-job? Really, Claire Aird? Really?

Claire Aird: Such a terrifying thing and so shocking as well given that you do know these people so well – have you been in contact with any of their family members?

Translation: I know you haven’t been in contact with any of their family members yet because you’ve already told me that you haven’t, so please now send a heartfelt message to them just as your voice starts quivering with emotion, to really tug at the heartstrings of our listeners. Really, Claire Aird?

Claire Aird: How do you feel knowing that you were supposed to start work at 11 and had you got there any earlier, that could be you?

Oh yes, a truly riveting, insightful question there, Claire Aird. Of course she wishes she’d gotten there early. She already said they look like they’re all having a whale of a time in there while that bandana-wearing freak waves his shotgun around – how could she possibly not want to be part of it?! She feels like she’s found out her friends all had a party and didn’t invite her…

The poor young woman responded to Aird’s ludicrously – and very obviously – leading questions as best she could. It was a shameless attempt to wring as much emotion and drama from the situation as possible and, sadly, that’s the guts of 24/7 news. If you’re gonna go the whole hog, that coverage can’t end and if nothing new is happening, you have to find something else to talk about – however menial, however trivial, however tenuously linked, however leading the questions need to be and however little the discussion actually contributes to the overall story, just draw it out. Lead the poor interviewee down a path where the intention is so obvious and they have no option but to answer as they do because a) you’ve lead them there and b) they were hardly going to answer any differently anyway. It’s nothing less than painful, shameful journalism and even formerly ‘respectable’ media have lowered their standards to embrace it.

Too much knowledge can be dangerous. Too much news can be even more dangerous. But too much social media is the most dangerous of all.