Soundbites and Substance, Social Media and Social Issues

by - Monday, June 22, 2020

I've put off writing a post for ages for a few different reasons - the lockdown has definitely affected my motivation and sense of well-being but not only that, there have been major movements and discussions going on in the world in the last while and I've felt overwhelmed by the need to inform myself as much as possible about them. The J K Rowling stance on trans women led me to really think about the issue of trans people and how they are treated in the world. I suppose I had a vaguely supportive stance previous to that, but really hadn't considered in any depth how the world treats a person who has transitioned.  And when I did inform myself more, I was shocked that an author whom I had looked up to, was taking such a limited view on this. Trans women are women, it is literally that simple in terms of human perspective and desire. The social issues and questions of acceptance are, of course, more nuanced and difficult but the fundamental principal that I live by, is that all people are equal and have equal rights.
But I also found myself in the strange position of being unsure - I keep abreast of world topics generally and I'm fairly certain of who I am and where I stand on things.  However, social media lately (twitter in particular) seems to be devolving into a kind of feral battleground with zero room for rational discourse. This has made me profoundly uneasy - especially when it comes to topics like transitioning - as it's not something I grew up with, my perspective is only recently formed, and I'm sure there are lots of people my age who have had to learn about this in the last few years. So creating a space of one dimensional posturing is counterproductive and unlikely to really change behaviour or attitudes.  And I am finding it difficult to marry these extremes on social media with what I know of people - who in real life are generally more balanced and kind hearted than their social media might suggest. 
This, perhaps, is the part that is bothering me.  Social issues can't be solved with a short tweet and Facebook comments (although they have more scope) are not really the place to have engaged discussion. It seems at times, though, that for many people  these avenues have become an easy subsitute for real conversation.
It is not all bad, though, and harnessing the power of social media can effect massive social change.  The #blacklivesmatter movement has come to the forefront once more after the death of George Floyd. He was pinned to the ground by the knee of a white officer for over 8 minutes, despite calling for help. Like most people around the world I was absolutely horrified by his death, by the callous disregard for life shown by the officers involved and all because he was a black man.
What has come out of this has been a massive cry for social justice and for a recognition of the extreme bias and discrimination that black people face all over the world. And despite the twee notion that Ireland isn't racist, you can click into the comments of any post on the topic of #blacklivesmatter and you will see the nasty bigotry that still abounds. I attended a socially distant protest in Newbridge recently and I felt incredibly sad to hear the stories of racism as relayed by the speakers.  We have to recognise and believe these stories and stand up where possible against racism and discrimination.
There is another topic I need to talk about in relation to this - I didn't watch the George Floyd video. I absolutely could not, and I completely refute the claim I have seen online, that everyone has to watch these atrocities in order to understand what is happening. There have been multiple videos showing in grotesque detail the violence of police towards peaceful protesters (including a video of an elderly man being pushed to the ground and then left bleeding). I choose not to watch - it doesn't make me any less aware. The power of words, for me, have a much stronger intellectual impact, so that reading about the content of the videos is just as likely to evoke outrage in me, and empathy for the victims.  I think we need to be very careful about pushing people to witness violence that has been filmed. Although, unfortunately, violence is a large part of many people's lives, it shouldn't be and I don't think that anyone believes that it should be a regular feature of the human condition. People who have witnessed and experienced violence in real life often go on to have lifelong trauma and psychological issues. I am absolutely convinced that becoming desensitised to violence and atrocities via the medium of film is going to do more harm than good.
Which kind of brings me to my concluding thoughts. Human beings aren't just pithy soundbites and one dimensional arguments. Perhaps because I am on social media a lot (despite my reservations, it is an essential tool in raising awareness and bringing people together to work on important actions around climate and other areas), I am seeing a lot of the negativity lately. And last night, someone posted a poem on Facebook and I also saw some beautiful art and I realised how much I have been missing that wonderful wholesomeness of humanity. The incredible creative drive that has given us so much beauty through the ages, in the form of art or dance or literature or music.  And the huge pleasure and connection that real conversation can bring. I had been staying at home like most people and had really missed interaction with others - I think being with others balances us and brings warmth and enjoyment in a way that video calling never can. So I have resolved to try and reinvigorate my creative impulses by writing (as I'm doing now), and by heading out with my camera a bit more to observe and capture some of the beauty around me.  Because at the end of the day, that is what gives real nourishment to the soul.

Purple Thistle on the Curragh

As always, would love to hear your comments!


You May Also Like

0 comments