Clickbait and You

 by Steve Wetherell

Not so long ago I made a joke post about how Doctor Who wasn’t allowed to be a woman. I made this post because I woke up one day to a sea of posts about how misogynists were frothing at the mouth over the decision, and, inevitably, that the Doctor Who fandom had some serious issues that were symptomatic of the downfall of society as a whole. I was skeptical, and said as much. A couple of people- people I like and respect- suggested that I hadn’t researched it enough, that the issue was indeed real. I had, though. I’d seen the presented evidence and I found it lacking, for one very good reason. Every article I read pointing out this “problem” was citing evidence from Twitter. (The exception being a Daily Mail article, but if you haven’t figured out that the Daily Mail is filled with troll columnists whose only currency is stirring a pot full of shit yet, then you haven’t been reading the Daily Mail hard enough. Good. Don’t.)

Here’s what I hate about Twitter. It’s a platform where news and opinion is shared in a very limited amount of characters. By its very design it does not leave room for a nuanced discussion of events. It is ill equipped to make a fair point. My second problem with Twitter is that it is very much about transmitting rather than receiving, primed as it is for people to make snappy comments, and share comments they thought were snappy. Thirdly, Twitter has millions of users, and the law of averages tell us that a percentage of those users are irredeemable fuck-wads. My fourth problem is a theory not my own but widely suspected by many- the law of diminishing jerkiness. Someone who’s a super jerk on Twitter is probably only a standard jerk in real life and so on. You know, how we’d scream obscenities from the isolation of our car that we’d never dream of bellowing into someone’s face in real life (yesterday I wished an old lady to drive into lake full of shit and remain there for the rest of her days. I didn’t mean it, obviously. I just wanted her to move away from the junction a little quicker.)

I’d no more trust Twitter as an accurate gauge of public opinion than I’d trust the writing on a shit house wall.

So what’s this got to do with clickbait? Well, I’ll tell you. Twitter is super handy for the clickbait writer because you can find ‘real life’ comments to back up almost any position. And that is a door that swings both ways. You want me to write a think piece on why the feminist end game is the castration of male children? You think I can’t find five tweets to back that up? Of course I can. Feminists can be shit heads too. What if I wanted to write an inflammatory article about how Black Lives Matter think white people are born evil? Look me in the eye and tell me that any writer at any level with even an ounce of cunning could not find the ‘evidence’ he needs to validate that position. In my circles, writing an article denouncing Republicans- say I wanted to make a claim that Republicans are all inadequate lovers- would be very easy and probably get a lot shares. It’s tempting. I don’t for a second believe it, but it’s tempting.

And that temptation is a problem. I was recently approached by a perfectly innocuous culture and news feed service that wanted me to write articles for them. The pay? Well, lets just say I’d need 30,000 views to get what I consider to be a minimal article writing fee. 30,000 is quite a lot for a small timer with no platform of his own. Would I get that touting my usual brand of silly introspection? Probably not. Could I get that with a ‘LESBIANS MORE LIKELY TO BEAT WIVES’ headline? Yes. Absolutely. I’d be stoking outrage on one side, tickling dark prejudice on the other. Either way, I’d be taking something entirely out of context to get clicks. And that sucks.

It doesn’t just suck for me and my withered soul, or the readers I offend, it sucks because I am contributing to the ever building pile of outrage, and if you haven’t noticed, that is fucking things up for everyone on a massive scale. How many half-formed exaggerations based on contextless stats do you think it got to put Trump in office? Or to keep Bernie Sanders out of it? Humans just aren’t smart enough to take in the whole big picture, so there’s fertile ground for people who want to draw your attention to only part of it.

So, back to Doctor Who. Does it matter that I don’t really believe that the Doctor Who fan base has a problem any more than any other group in society has its inevitable share of arseholes? No. I’m not about to start with the #notalldoctorwhofans. But there’s another element to this process, and that’s backlash. When someone drops a firecracker into the crowd and gets everyone panicked, both sides respond to it. It unfolded with tedious inevitability, but the rabid outrage about the female Doctor Who did appear. It appeared with a bunch of people irritated that they were being labelled as woman haters over something so silly. But once the blood is up, and the medium dictates the message, the argument basically devolved to “get back in the kitchen and make a sandwich and also stop being Doctor Who.”

You could interpret that as scratching the surface and finding the dangerous hidden misogyny in people who like watching children’s television shows. Or, maybe, and I’m referencing my own experience of people here, if you kick someone they’ll kick back.

Either way, if you’ve shared an article that takes very minor behaviour and attributes it to a whole, you are probably not handling that issue with the patience and care it needs. You’re probably just kicking someone, and then acting shocked when they kick back.

Twitter isn’t to blame for this, obviously. It’s just a useful tool. Newspapers have been doing it for years, the internet just does it faster. I have a special contempt for people who push others who were minding their own business into a fight, and then sit back smugly. I have even more contempt for people who do it for money. Look on YouTube, and you’ll find countless talking heads denouncing the same footage or article, and when you step back, you realise what they’re complaining about is very small indeed. That there are probably more people complaining than there are offending articles.

I try to be as fair minded as possible when writing articles, without attacking individuals or making scooping generalisations- even though that’s where the easy comedy is. It’s the reason I won’t ever get those sweet, sweet views. Not for me the rakes of comments gushing ‘THIS’. Not for me the rabid YouTube commenters ecstatic that someone has validated their views. Though, who knows. Maybe one day I’ll pick a side (any side, maybe both sides) and just run with it. It’s fucking easy after all. It’s like slinging burgers outside a weight watchers meeting. Even if they don’t want it, they’ll be tempted. They’ll get the stink of it.

Or maybe I’ll continue writing what I think is the truth, broad and simple as my thoughts may be. That people are people, mostly benign, and that fear makes us all susceptible to the whispers and shouts of those who seek power, however small and trivial that power may be. That people are people, doing the small good in from of them and avoiding the larger evils, and that they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

And it’s so easy to look at the facts and, with a sigh of relief, say;

Not all liberals are anarchists

Not all feminists are man haters

Not all republicans are nazis

Not all brexiters are racist

And then, with an even bigger sigh of relief, add the phrase “in fact, most of them aren’t.”

…But the tighter you push people against the fence, the more they will snarl, and none of us can be properly understood when we’re snarling. We are at our worst when the knives come out, so think carefully before drawing yours.

Or maybe I’m just a deluded hippy. Or maybe I’m a secret nazi apologist. Go through my Twitter. I’m sure, with enough spin, you could prove anything you wanted.

 And that’s the problem, see?

 

FOOTNOTE THOUGHTS:

So you can better understand where I’m coming from, I’ll take an extra moment to explain my stance. My more careful philosophy on judging people comes from my own experience growing up. I was a rich village kid who was educated and worked in a rough town. It was not uncommon to walk the streets and, as a long hair, attract the violent attentions of packs of youth. For a long time I thought everybody in my town was scum, and indeed it was not a nice town, especially back then in the recession years. It occurred to me later that there were many reasons my stance became arrogant. I won’t get into economics and stuff, but I will state the obvious point that took me far too long to realise; I was basing my assumptions of the town on a group of people who had specifically gone out looking for trouble, and not the thousands and thousands of unseen people who had better things to do with their lives. It doesn’t give you much comfort if you’ve just taken a kicking, but it’s the truth. A truth worth remembering.

 

 

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Horror Reviews with C.M. Saunders

Film Review: The Void (2016)

By C.M. Saunders

void_ver4

It isn’t often a horror movie leaves me feeling as emotionally drained as this one did. Other worldly cosmic horror, body horror, splatter horror, this film is a mash-up of every kind of horror you can think of, and probably some you cant. It’s hard to know where to start talking about it. Dismemberment? Check. Pyramids? Check. Demon babies? Check. Hospital-cum-gateway-to-hell invaded by knife-wielding devil worshipers in hoods? Check. You get the picture. Possibly.

          It all starts innocently enough when sheriff’s deputy Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole, who excelled in 2012’s The Conspiracy) stops one night to help what he assumes is a drunk dude crawling down the side of the road. When it transpires drunk dude isn’t drunk at all, but severely traumatised, Deputy Carter takes him to the hospital where his ex-wife works. There, whilst going through the administration procedure, he finds one of the nurses cutting her face off and stabbing a patient in the eyes with a pair of scissors. She then attacks Deputy Carter who shoots her dead. Not a regular occurrence. But his shift gets worse when he goes outside to his patrol car to call in the incident and is confronted with the aforementioned knife-wielding devil worshipers in hoods. Back inside the hospital, things take an even more disturbing turn when the dead nurse transforms into a slithering, slimy, tentacled creature, which is the last thing anyone needs, and matters are compounded when a gateway to Hell (aka, the void) opens. There are numerous twists and turns along the way, which I won’t spoil for you, ensuring the plot moves along with pace. The downside of this is the fact that of you blink, you are liable to miss something important.

            A lot of reviews compared The Void (favourably) with the low-budget horror flicks of the 80s. I don’t see it myself, though there are certain similarities with Josh Carpenter’s The Thing. Some of the cartoon violence comes across as a little bit gratuitous and the cosmic horror aspect adds some trippiness to proceedings, but the package works well. I love the return to ‘real’ special effects, rather than an over-reliance on CGI which has become the norm these days. The Void made quite a splash on 2016’s festival circuit and currently holds a 76% approved rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is remarkably high for a film of this type. Definitely not one to aVoid. Sorry.

The Swearing Corner: The N-Word and other words I won’t say (mostly)  

by Steve Wetherell

I’ll never say the n-word. Well, not in any official capacity. I might sing along to an Anderson Paak song, and my usual tactic of replacing it with ‘fella’ doesn’t always scan well. Also, I might write the word in the mouth of a racist character or such. Also, I might get drunk and scream it at someone’s wedding. Not the last one. That was a joke.

 

I wouldn’t say the word because it’s a very sensitive, contentious word, with a dark and terrible history, and it makes people uncomfortable. Saying it, to me, is far more effort that it’s worth. I mean, really, considering the fallout, I’d need a really, really good reason to say it. Maybe to prove some point about free speech and sensible conversation or such, or because Samuel L. Jackson commanded me to say it on national television. And that’s not really going to be an issue for me. I’m slightly suspicious of anyone who does think it is an issue. Why do you want to say that word? Is it because you were told you can’t? You coy little minx. Wash your mouth out. Also your soul.

 

Should the word have such power, though? The short answer is yes, but I may live to see a time when it loses that power. For example, when I was a young kid, referring to a black guy as a black guy was thought to be extremely crass. More sensitive people would say ‘the coloured chap’ or ‘Dave’ depending on how well they knew him. These days referring to anyone as ‘coloured’ is career damagingly offensive, and as ‘black’ is fine. Things change.

 

Faggot is another word I won’t say, apart from just then, obviously. Although it’s a fun word to say. (In England, a faggot is something you eat. It’s also a meat dish.) I won’t say faggot for the same reason I’ll never un-ironically say ‘cuck’, because it’s too often used by macho types with the self-awareness of a dick shaped lollipop and the compassion of an alligator. Also, it too has a pretty damned dark history. Again, not being able to say this word is really no skin off my nose.

 

I do miss “Gaaaaay” though. No, hear me out. We pretty much said everything was gay when I was younger, largely due to South Park. It’s got a big dumb mooing quality to it that makes it silly. Geography? Gaaaay. Newspapers? Gaaaay. Any outward sign of affection between two straight men? Gaaaay. In fact, the only thing we wouldn’t derisively call gay was actual gay people, because that would have been mean. Obviously, as we matured we realised that setting a tone where the word gay was used derisively was a problem in itself. It didn’t peter out entirely though. One of my favourite jokes in one my favourite movies- Shaun of the Dead- was the following exchange.

 

Shaun: We have to save Liz!

Ed: Why?

Shaun: Because I love her.

Ed: Alright… gay.

 

One grown man calling another grown man gay for admitting he loves his girlfriend is still hilarious to me. It’s absurd, and silly. I didn’t really stop saying gay in that way until my best friend and housemate came out to me in university. We had a frank and serious discussion about whether we were both supposed to stop calling things gay now, and he suggested that we should just carry on as normal. We didn’t though. I gradually phased it out. Now that it was more personal to me, it didn’t seem as silly.

 

Like retard. Remember when everything was retarded? Again, you’d call everything retarded apart from someone who was actually retarded, because what are you, a monster? Same situation as Faggot though. Phased that out. I’ve replaced it with fucktarded, but that’s still a bit dicey as the clue to its origin is fairly embedded in its structure. But here’s the problem- where I come from, flat out calling someone an idiot is a bit serious. It can be used light-heartedly, sure, but it’s also the word you use when you stop fucking around and want someone to know that they’ve sincerely fucked up. So, I sort of need a less serious word than ‘Idiot’ and less heinous word than ‘Retard.’

 

Answers on a postcard.