The first of a new series, in which I make the extent to which I’ve become a grumpy middle-aged man abundantly clear.
“Never read below the line,” they say and, whoever they are, they’re absolutely right. If an alien were to land on planet earth and, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I was charged with the job of finding the very worst of humanity, I’d probably be a little spoilt for choice. Where could I head first? A Republican party convention in the United States of America, perhaps? One of the opulent homes of a member of the new opulence class? Isolated parts of the Middle East or Eastern Europe? So many places, so little time.
I have a hunch, however, that I might be able to show my new extra-terrestrial chums the very worst of the human race without even leaving my sitting room. Comments sections on websites are amongst the most dispiriting public spaces on earth. The truism that there is almost no subject on YouTube that somebody can’t find something racist, sexist or homophobic to say about is so well ingrained that it has become a truism, but it’s around the politics sections of websites that my eyes start twitching to the point that l I have to reach for a sedative of some sort.
These, we might have hoped, should be places where at least something approaching rational conversation could take place but, with this being the twenty-first century and all, anything salient that anyone does have to say is usually subsumed under a mountain of foam from the mouths of the socially challenged. But amongst the ad hominem attacks, the ultra-selective use of quoting and the standard lines – “do you get paid to write this drivel?” and so on – there is one particular trope, which seems to have become A Thing in recent years and has started to really get under my skin.
I’m talking here about the derogatory nicknames given to politicians. Now, I’m already one step ahead of you, here. I don’t have much time for the current rabble that pass for a parliament either, and I’m certainly not suggesting a return to anything like an age of deference towards these people. But there is something so fundamentally childish about calling David Cameron “Camoron,” Ed Miliband “Millipede,” or whatever, that just to see those pixels on a screen makes me automatically switch off from anything else that the person has to say whatsoever.
Of course, there’s no way of definitively knowing the age of people who are posting under articles on newspaper websites, but I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that, if the article is about a new pledge made by a political party or the state of the NHS, the overwhelming majority of those posting in these places are fully grown adults. This, however, is somewhat surprising, since most of the rest of us grow out of this sort of behaviour by the wine we’re about thirteen years old. I mean, “Millipede”? Seriously? Is that the best you’ve got?
I stand to be corrected on this, but I don’t think I see this sort of childishness anywhere else, even online. Celebrities, for example, seem to inspire disproportionate levels of rage from some members of the general public, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head who has their own derogatory nickname. Perhaps those who use this sort of language believe that they’re indulging in Swiftian levels of satire, that they’re giving the powerful a bloody nose, or something, but I just don’t see it, myself. What I see, my mental image of the person typing that, is of a smug, self-satisfied fool sitting back in a chair and congratulating themselves on their rapier wit, but also someone with little else of value to say, whose opinions I would sooner not engage with.
Don’t get me wrong. I have no great sympathy for the politicians themselves. They have, broadly speaking, brought this level of contempt upon themselves. And I doubt whether they stay awake worrying over such knicker-wetting. But there is a halfway serious point to be made here about the debasement of our political discourse. We’re at a point at which we seem to be incapable of discussing politics online without resorting to the language of a ten year old, and into such an insight vacuum is likely to fall the politics of the moron. And we’re closer to that than most of us think.
Really? Millipede? Seriously?
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