Sorry for the lack of updates to the blog for the past few days, but I’ve been unwell and lying languidly on the chaise longue familiarising myself with the finer points of the legal system. Some people would say that means I’ve really had my arse glued to the sofa, full of a cold and feeling sorry for myself while watching repeats of Judge Judy, but they’d be cruel and heartless bullies like those who swear at billionaire authors on Twitter who’ve got no one to back them up except 6 million followers and the entire UK media.
I missed the Sweargate scandal, what with being snottery and no well. Apparently Stu Campbell of Wings Over Scotland, seemingly in one of his frequent provocateur moods, swore at JK Rowling and wosserface from the 80s on Twitter – both of whom are very good at trolling duties themselves. The last time a swerry word provoked such condemnation was when Johnny Rotten swore at Bill Grundy on the telly in 1976. We’ve got more used to authentic working class language in middle class media spaces these days. Nowadays you can hardly go five minutes on Channel 4 without someone swearing – although usually that’s the viewer when they realise the unmitigated pish that’s on offer on the channel. Swerry words are not offensive, certainly not if you’re Scottish, but they do provide an excuse to take offence, which isn’t quite the same thing.
Anyway, I’m not proposing to defend what was said, nor to take offence on the part of the poor victimoids, but it does seem to me that the entire episode only became an episode because of the parties involved – that would be JK Rowling with her prominent unionist pointy hat on, and Stu Campbell the media’s favourite vile cybernat. No one really gives a shit about wosserface from the 80s.
The internet is full of swerry words, people seeking to offend, and people seeking to find offence to take. One of the worst cyberspats I ever had the misfortune to witness involved some very strong language about the detailing on a Hornby model steam engine. Boys’ toys are important, and it’s really, REALLY important when someone is wrong on the Internet. The fact is that the internet exists primarily for three things: A) pornography, B) pictures of cats in amusing poses – and apparently for some people with particularly recherché tastes categories A and B overlap – and C) having bad tempered pointless arguments about pointless shit. The very first two people ever to use the Internet used it to exchange expletives about a photo of a cat in a sexually provocative pose.
There’s a bit of a devaluation of language going on here too. When one adult says fuck to another adult over the Internet, that’s not abuse. Abuse is a child being the victim of an assault at the hands of an adult, abuse is a powerless person being attacked by the powerful, abuse is an illegal war, abuse is rape, abuse is violence. Mentally competent adults swearing at one another over the Internet is none of these things. It’s just a rammy.
However when the swerry words are being exchanged by an independence supporter and a unionist, all of a sudden it’s abuse. And it’s invariably the indy supporter who is the abuser. Indy supporter swearing at unionist is news, unionist swearing at indy supporter is not news. This is the imbalance that sticks in the craw. If the media was not so quick to condemn just the one side in the online ramminess and go greeting abuse whenever someone from Glesca used a swerry word, then indy supporters would be less inclined to rush to the defence of those who engage in it. We end up with a vicious circle of self-righteousness in which everyone feels perfectly entitled to tell everyone else to fuck off.
Then there are those who wring their hands at the online behaviour of followers of Scottish politics – invariably the followers being those of a pro-independence persuasion, and equally invariably the hand wringers are of a Unionist persuasion. It’s a scandal, it’s a shock, it’s appalling. And so it is. When grown up adults behave like hormonal teenagers having a fit of door slamming you don’t understaaaaaand me and I didn’t want to be born anyway, it’s never edifying. But this is not a problem that’s specific to Scottish politics. It’s an Internet thing. Complaining about internet swerry words as though it was a specific problem for Scottish politics is a bit like complaining about the neighbour’s cat shitting in your garden after a mains sewer has broken and flooded the entire town. And it’s not even one of those pornography cats.
Trust has broken down between a large segment of the Scottish population – I’d argue a majority – and the Scottish media. I’ve argued before that when that happens it’s not the fault of the people, it’s the fault of the media. The perception is that our media is one sided, partisan, and reflective of the views of only a part of the population. This is a dangerous and unhealthy state of affairs in a democracy. It’s not like there’s any shortage of instances of independence supporters being subject to verbal rammies from the gobs of Unionists, but they never seem to make the newspapers or the telly. And with every Internet rammy dressed up as an abuse scandal, the little bit of faith in the media that still remains withers a little bit more.
Some months ago GA Ponsonby, formerly of Newsnet Scotland, published a book detailing the one sidedness of the BBC during the independence referendum. How the BBC Stole the Referendum is an important and well researched book which goes to the heart of media imbalance in Scotland. There’s now a crowdfunding appeal to raise the cash to make the book into a documentary. I’ve already agreed to take part in it. The way to start changing things is to spread the message that things need to change. This documentary project is a vital contribution to that. If you haven’t donated already it’s well worth doing so. Let’s make this happen.
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