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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

A slackening grip on reality

There’s an interesting and disturbing long read by Alex Hern in The Guardian: The story of Facebook, QAnon and the world’s slackening grip on reality. It talks about how Facebook in particular encourages conspiracy theories.

The social network has always prided itself on connecting people, and when the ability to socialise in person, or even leave the house, was curtailed, Facebook was there to pick up the slack.

But those same services have also enabled the creation of what one professional factchecker calls a “perfect storm for misinformation”. And with real-life interaction suppressed to counter the spread of the virus, it’s easier than ever for people to fall deep down a rabbit hole of deception, where the endpoint may not simply be a decline in vaccination rates or the election of an unpleasant president, but the end of consensus reality as we know it. What happens when your basic understanding of the world is no longer the same as your neighbour’s?

The focus on this piece is QAnon, but there are strong parallels with another largely social media-driven movement, anti-trans activism – so much so that I’ve seen a number of people describe such obsessive activism as “QAnon for middle-class women”. Like QAnon its adherents claims there is a sinister conspiracy to target children; like QAnon they are often anti-semitic, alleging that the sinister conspiracy is funded by Jewish people generally and George Soros specifically; like QAnon they believe that there is a secret cabal of people who control the media and politics; like QAnon they include celebrities talking shit to large audiences.

“The industries that many celebrities work in – film, music, sport – were among the hardest hit by shutdowns. So even more than most of us, they suddenly found themselves with nothing to do but sit on Twitter,” Phillips says. “Not all of them did a Taylor Swift, spending the time recording an album. Some of them started sharing wild rumours to millions of followers instead.” This, then, is how we end up with Ian Brown, the former frontman of the Stone Roses, declaring that conspiracy theorist is “a term invented by the lame stream media to discredit those who can smell and see through the government/media lies and propaganda”.

And like QAnon, it’s bullshit that can only be perpetuated by denying reality and surrounding yourself with fellow conspiracists.

It’s not easy to overturn someone’s sense of reality, but even harder to restore it once it has been lost.

What frightens me most about this – and there are lots of things that frighten me about it – is that we know these conspiracies lead to real-world acts.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Nobody checks anything

Yesterday, multiple newspapers reported the return of Woolworths, a retail chain that no longer operates in the UK. The story was in the Metro.It was in the Daily Star. It was in the Mirror. It was in the Brighton Argus, and Birmingham Live, and the rest of the UK’s local press. It was everywhere.

It was bullshit.

Not a single journalist at any of those titles bothered their backside to check whether it was true before publishing. It wasn’t. The story was based on tweets from a fake account that couldn’t even spell the company name properly. That was enough for acres of coverage.

This is how too much journalism works now. All you need is a Twitter account and a logo and nobody fact-checks what you’re saying or investigates who you actually are; if it’s going to get clicks, it’s going to get published. It’s harmless when we’re talking about pic’n’mix, but this is exactly how anti-LGBT+ groups and right-wing lobbyists get coverage too. Far too many supposed “alliances” and “institutes” are little more than social media fronts for people who are extremely dodgy. They can only do their jobs because too many journalists aren’t doing theirs.

Categories
Bullshit Media

“Pundit brain is a form of stupidity”

This, by Tom Whyman, should annoy the right people.

If the image of the pundit-brained journalist has been crystallized anywhere, it is in the early satire of Chris Morris: shows like The Day Today and Brass Eye where his anchor character was constantly drawing wildly over-confident conclusions from nonsensical infographics, howling at unassuming guests that they need to solve absolutely everything that’s wrong with the world, right now, and smirking gleefully to camera at the possibility of instigating a war.

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Bullshit Media Technology

“Accidentally”

In response to the news that US writer Jeffrey Toobin has been suspended from his job for masturbating during a video meeting, Dr Jennifer Gunter pointed out on Twitter that “masturbating while on a work zoom/call is a choice. If Toobin was on mute he was still listening/watching the other participants and that’s still disgusting and violating. If the urge is so great, end the call. He knew that.”

There is some confusion over the precise circumstances: it’s been suggested that the writer was simultaneously having phone sex while taking part in the meeting, or that he was having phone sex during an interval between calls and accidentally rejoined the meeting too early. But whatever the explanation, his colleagues saw something they shouldn’t because he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing.

As you’d expect, many women who’ve experienced sexual harassment have opinions on this. And I’ve already seen some of those women having to limit their Twitter accounts because of a backlash against the completely uncontroversial statement that you shouldn’t be masturbating at work or during video calls with people from work. I’ve been on social media for decades so I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m seeing people – and of course, they’re men people – saying that there’s nothing wrong with having a surreptitious wank while talking to or listening to your colleagues. The only crime is getting caught.

I’ve written previously about the word “himpathy”, used by Kate Manne to describe the sympathy that’s extended to men rather than to their victims. That appears to be at play here, even though exhibitionism and masturbation are both well-known forms of sexual harassment.

CNN, back in 2017:

As shocking allegations of egregious sexual misconduct continue to emerge, one form of harassment has become a recurring theme.

It isn’t a physical assault, and it doesn’t necessarily involve men using sexual language. Instead, a powerful man masturbates in front of unwilling women made to witness the act.

Gunter linked to this piece, by Lili Loofbourow: The Myth of the Male Bumbler. It’s about the way some people rush to excuse men for doing inexcusable things.

Male bumblers are an epidemic.

These men are, should you not recognize the type, wide-eyed and perennially confused. What’s the difference, the male bumbler wonders, between a friendly conversation with a coworker and rubbing one’s penis in front of one? Between grooming a 14-year-old at her custody hearing and asking her out?

The world baffles the bumbler. He’s astonished to discover that he had power over anyone at all, let alone that he was perceived as using it. What power? he says. Who, me?

It’s an act, of course. The men who claim to be baffled about what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, as if there’s no difference between complimenting a female colleague’s new hairdo and making her watch you masturbate into a plant pot, know exactly where the line is. They just don’t think the rules should apply to them.

There’s a reason for this plague of know-nothings: The bumbler’s perpetual amazement exonerates him. Incompetence is less damaging than malice. And men — particularly powerful men — use that loophole like corporations use off-shore accounts. The bumbler takes one of our culture’s most muscular myths — that men are clueless — and weaponizes it into an alibi.

Allow me to make a controversial proposition: Men are every bit as sneaky and calculating and venomous as women are widely suspected to be. And the bumbler — the very figure that shelters them from this ugly truth — is the best and hardest proof.

Breaking that alibi means dissecting that myth. The line on men has been that they’re the only gender qualified to hold important jobs and too incompetent to be responsible for their conduct.

…If you’ve noticed a tendency to treat girls — like the 14-year-old whom now-Senate candidate Roy Moore allegedly picked up at her custody hearing — as knowing adults and men in their 30s — like Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump, Jr. — as erring youngsters, large sons and “coffee boys,” this is why.

Loofbourow continues:

This is how the culture attempts to normalize this stuff: by minimizing the damage to women and the agency of men.

…Economists have long and lazily attributed the exodus of women in various industries to their decision to bear children, but now this giant explanatory iceberg is floating up — this absolutely gigantic, widely denied story about how women are routinely driven from their industries because their male colleagues need to be free to use their professional power to indulge their sexual urges.

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Media

Heckled by a chicken

I was interviewed on camera for a BBC thing today, and it was filmed on an outdoor bit near my flat. As we filmed the interview we had to stop because a small dog was yapping. We looked up to see its owner, a really unpleasant old woman who’s previously yelled at my kids for playing quietly, beaming at us. She was clearly delighted to have disrupted what we’re doing.

We resumed filming.

Things escalated.

She grabbed the squeakiest dog toy she could find and squeaked it like she’d never squeaked it before.

SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK! It went. SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK!

“So, Carrie, can you explain what –” SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK!

“Well, Katie,” I replied. “The thing is –” SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK!

Despite her best efforts we still got the piece done. And now I can add “heckled by a rubber chicken” to my list of dubious career achievements.

Categories
Bullshit Media

Some people never learn

One of the reasons so many left-leaning people were shocked by the election of Donald Trump was because to much of the left-leaning media, Trump was simply a figure of fun; not somebody worth taking seriously, let alone doing anything to try and stop.

I think they’re taking him a lot more seriously now. But they haven’t learnt their lesson. Boris Johnson was a national joke; now he’s a disastrous PM. Nigel Farage was a national joke who became one of the most significant political figures of recent times despite being almost unelectable. And now we have a new national joke, the deeply loathsome Lawrence Fox. The left-leaning press’s dismissal of him as a figure of fun is arguably just as dangerous as the right-wing press’s lionising of him. He may be a ludicrous, pathetic twat, but he’s a ludicrous, pathetic twat with influential backers and an increasingly large platform.

Journalist Mic Wright:

The right-wing media channels — not just papers but their talk radio counterparts and forthcoming TV channels — will give Fox acres and hours of coverage. He will be heard and he will be heard seriously by those outlets and the people who consume their output.

I take Fox seriously because he is a narcissist who wants desperately to keep getting the attention that acting has brought him and he will say anything to keep that spotlight on him. Fox, in the same way that mouthpieces like Darren Grimes have done, is allowing himself to be used as a megaphone by more publicity-shy bastards. In interviews, he has referred to his ‘policy people’… I wonder who they might be?

Fox is ludicrous and ludicrously stupid, but he has money, he has support, and he has a platform. That combination is a dangerous one.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

Nine questions you might have about trans stuff

Katelyn Burns has written an excellent piece for Vox: 9 questions about trans issues you were too embarrassed to ask.

The questions are:

  1. What does it mean to be trans?
  2. Why should I care about trans issues?
  3. What about the pronouns thing?
  4. What issues are trans people fighting for?
  5. Why are we always talking about trans issues?
  6. What’s the deal with bathrooms?
  7. What’s with the panic over trans women with penises and trans men who menstruate?
  8. What about trans women playing women’s sports?
  9. What about trans kids?

I think the question “why are we always talking about trans issues” is particularly apt today because it’s Sunday, when the right-wing press likes to run its anti-trans hit pieces and scaremonger about trans kids, trans women and trans athletes.

“The right has worked to make it an electoral issue…  We see this across the board — they try to posture trans rights as extreme and a danger particularly to children,” Brennan Suen, LGBTQ program director at Media Matters, told Vox. This is why, he said, conservatives have focused so much on legislation regarding transition care for trans minors, bathrooms, and trans athletes in sports. “They are able to reach those voters who might not know a trans person and give them misinformation and bigoted information that honestly scares them.”

…as trans people have really been more visible in the media … we’ve seen the right really ramp up their attacks.”

Categories
Media

“Ctrl-F for ‘cancel culture’ to get to the worst part”

I do love it when writers have some fun. This, by Drew Magary, is in defence of skimming articles on the internet.

skimming is a way to help me glean the thrust of a story without having to eat my vegetables in the process. EVERYONE WINS. If I read a movie or album review, I skim right past the intro and hunt for the graf that tells me if the thing is good or not. If I read a recipe, I skip right past the storybook intro like everyone else does. If I’m hate-reading a bad column, I’ll Ctrl-F for “cancel culture” to get right to the worst part. I have s—t to do, man. I can’t go humoring the rest of you by reading all of your tedious bulls—t.

And this, by R Eric Thomas, is about US politician Katie Porter’s whiteboard.

My friend, if you ever find yourself sitting in front of the House Oversight Committee and Rep. Katie Porter pulls out her Whiteboard of Justice, please know that it is truly and deeply over for you. My friend, the truth is it never began. The minute her staff put that portable Porter board onto the little hand truck they use to cart Instruments of Truth through the halls of justice it was a wrap on you, those you associate with, and everything you’ve ever done. As the Good Book says, “And lo, a pale board! And the name of your overpriced prescription drug was upon it. And hell followed.”

It’s a really fun piece.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

“The world is better for having you in it”

Over 200 1,512 writers and publishing professionals have written an open letter in support of trans and non-binary people.

This is a message of love and solidarity for the trans and non-binary community. Culture is, and should always be, at the forefront of societal change, and as writers, editors, agents, journalists, and publishing professionals, we recognise the vital role our industry has in advancing and supporting the wellbeing and rights of trans and non-binary people. We stand with you, we hear you, we see you, we accept you, we love you. The world is better for having you in it.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Hating for ratings

How’s this for a TV show? We get a racist – a proper racist, ideally a knuckle-dragger from a really racist organisation such as the EDL or Britain First, someone who’s really loudly and proudly racist and spends loads of time being really racist to people on Twitter – and we pair him up with a nice middle-class Black woman. Then we get the two of them to sit down for a nice dinner and a chat and we film the whole thing.

Good, right? It’s a social experiment!

I haven’t even got to the best bit yet. It’s not just a chat. We give the racist guy a script of really racist things to say to the Black woman over dinner and we film her response. Maybe she’ll cry!  Maybe she’ll walk out! Maybe it’ll go viral!

No? How about we pair a neo-nazi with a nice Jewish lady?

Of course not. Trying to get a fight for ratings is disgusting, as we saw with the Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle shows. But that doesn’t mean TV production companies don’t keep trying to bring back the formula, which is essentially hating for ratings. For example, an Irish TV company is currently sending this to various trans women (and to other marginalised groups, such as members of the travelling community).

As one commenter on Twitter translated: “We’re making a show where we have members of marginalised groups sit down with people who think they shouldn’t exist, for entertainment purposes. Also we’re suggesting that marginalised people are the enemy, in the title.”

Earlier this year Evgeny Shtorn wrote about the importance of storytelling in regards to minority and marginalised people.

Considering how powerful storytelling is, we cannot pretend that the infrastructure built around it by media and researchers is always ethical and respectful towards those who constitute those stories… journalists were rude to me, disrespectful and abusive. Using my words or ideas without quotes, giving erroneous interpretations and false promises. Trans and non-binary people, homeless people, other migrants, people of colour, people with disabilities and a lot of others who I shared my concerns with, told me that they often experienced similar treatment from journalists, but also from artists, researchers and other ‘supporters’. It is called ‘cognitive exploitation’, and this is exactly the opposite to the idea of the empowerment of the community through storytelling.

…The problem is that after such an interaction most people retreat into their closet and don’t want to tell their stories anymore, despite those stories being so important to tell.

There was an example of this in England the other day: trans person and poet Jay Hulme was invited on BBC TV to discuss the government’s response to GRA reform.

I was going to be on the BBC today having a chat about the GRA – but I pulled out yesterday, having been informed that it’s BBC policy to have a cis woman invited to speak on any segment about trans ppl – I’m not going on TV to be yelled at by a transphobe from the Daily Mail.

By “cis woman” the policy doesn’t mean a cisgender woman who’s supportive of trans people, even though such women are the majority (and were the majority in the GRA reform consultation too). It means the kind of woman trans commentator Shon Faye was expected to go on air with this week. Faye was one of several trans people invited on BBC Woman’s Hour to discuss gender recognition. At the last minute, the panel was expanded to include an anti-trans activist who has taken great delight in publicly misgendering her and who Faye says even shared a now-deleted defamatory petition implying she groomed children. Faye declined the invitation.

I have some experience of this. I’ve refused to go on multiple programmes because the approach was clearly going to be gladiatorial, not editorial; other contributors were not people with concerns about specific bits of legalese but members of groups who peddle hatred on social media. Taking part is therefore a trap for marginalised people: if you don’t robustly challenge the other contributors they get to lie, lie and lie some more; if you do, and worse still if you also dare correct the presenter, you’re dismissed as unreasonable and aggressive. And even the most innocuous appearance will have bigots descending on your social media.

It’s clear that the people commissioning and structuring these programmes are thinking about ratings, not the damage these narratives can do to marginalised groups. And they are doing damage. By presenting extreme views as mainstream, such as perpetuating the myth that the two sides of the trans debate are “trans activists vs feminists” rather than “most of the country vs a few well-connected bigots”, they’re fanning the flames of intolerance and positioning extreme views as if they’re mainstream. We’ve seen this before with the platforming of far-right views, of anti-vaxxers and of climate change denial.

The problem yet again is that the people making these programmes have no skin in the game. Their human rights are not under attack. Their safety is not threatened by the rise in hate crimes. Their ability to participate in society is not something producers think should be up for debate. To them, it’s just another item. To marginalised and demonised minorities, it’s our lives.