Noise on busy streets

A while ago I was doing research on online movements and my friend Elaine (wonderful writer & person) described posting on social media as shouting things on a busy high street. There might be a sense that you’re talking to like-minded people, but a passerby could hear and take issue. Maybe the street will suddenly fall silent and the whole city will hear you. You never know which of the things you shout will be taken out of context, and it could be anything. AKA: proceed with extreme caution.

That description is true (way too true) for people with small followings, but famous people know they’ll be heard. Every time they tweet, they know thousands of people will read what they have to say. When JK Rowling took issue with the phrase “people who menstruate” earlier this year and rolled like a stone downhill into transphobic territory most of us already knew to be her stomping grounds, I—like many of my friends—muted her and attempted to divorce the famous person from the franchise that brought so much joy. This post is not about JK Rowling so much as the noise around her. Plenty of others have spent their time dissecting her arguments and knee-jerk defensiveness over deeply discriminatory views. I liked the brevity of Daniel Radcliffe’s response, but tried not to focus on the social media cycle. As far as you can banish a famous person with huge influence from your own head, I’ve banished JK Rowling.

Apparently today is her birthday. Apparently it was necessary for a Scottish author/broadcaster/journalist many good people follow to tweet her support for JK Rowling, calling her one of the most caring and generous people out there. This author with 39.9k followers noted she’ll probably become the target of a twitter mob (“Yes, I know what happens next in my mentions. I don’t care,”). And I wonder… what’s the point?

Twitter: the public forum. The busy street. This person wants everyone to know (perhaps especially the people who have accused her friend of callousness!) that actually, her friend is all these positive adjectives. Such a brave show of support! Such kindness! I’m glad billionaire JK Rowling has been publicly wished a happy birthday as opposed to… oh, I don’t know. Getting a phone call. Being privately congratulated in a way that doesn’t tell thousands of trans people that the way they were hurt doesn’t matter—that in fact, the person inciting abuse against them is principled, generous, etc etc.

I’m so tired of the noise. Our world is so glaringly unequal, and what do most people do once they acquire an unfair share of it? They form ranks. They punch down. Over and over. I know power tends to corrupt—there are so many sayings about it, not to mention the entire superhero genre—but do we have to watch it happen? These famous people decry being ‘cancelled’, but the irony of the situation is that JK Rowling can’t be cancelled. She has too much influence; she keeps getting renewed. The seasons of “JK Rowling and cronies continue to incite abuse against people I care about then act the victim” surpass even Supernatural‘s endless run.

I want to change the channel, but more than that I want a time machine. I want to meet today’s rich and famous—the self-made, at least—before their break and ask them: what would you do? What would you accomplish with money and power? Do you lift people up, or tear them down? Do you help people with beginnings like yours, or fear them? Would you even dream of using your influence the way your future self uses it?

And then I’ll go back into my time machine and turn the dial all the way to the Jurassic period. Breathe some fresh air at last. Probably get eaten by a dinosaur. And as that hypothetical dinosaur tears my steaming guts from my still-living body, thrashing its head left and right to cut through my intestines, you know what? That dinosaur will still be less of an asshole than the average celebrity.

So thank you, hypothetical dinosaur. You are a beautiful departure from the overall online landscape, and I appreciate you. Thanks for keeping it real.


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