I must apologise now, because I’m about to regurgitate words all over your screen. I have a lot of thoughts at the moment. They’re popping up faster than chickenpox. I have opinions oozing out of every pore, and thanks to the wonder of the Interweb, no one can stop me grabbing up handfuls and smearing them all over an unsuspecting public. No, really, you’re welcome.
I watched the London riots from a distance and filtered through TV and the web – what someone like philosopher Slavoj Zizek (not a good drinking buddy, I imagine, you’d think you were already drunk every time you said his name) might call the Desert of the Real. As far as my actual senses go, I have no idea at all what the riots were like. Pretty scary in places, I imagine. I can’t conceive of what it’s like to have your house burnt out from under you, or forget riot season of 1998 back home (to take just one blood-soaked example), when three kids died after their house was fire-bombed in a similarly pointless explosion of violence. But no, I don’t know what these ones were like. Instead I experienced the online version, in which reactions and accusations and judgements were hurled like stones. I watched it start small, and then, like the violence, rip its way through the web. Blogs were flamed. Snide comments launched. In a nice bit of irony, people starting calling for censorship of the net or Blackberry networks (yes, the same ones we use to broadcast these views).
For a while I tried not to say anything, the equivalent of staying at home with the lights off. I didn’t know enough about it and I don’t even live in London. I didn’t feel entirely entitled to an opinion. But soon it got too much. I was bewildered by the various reactions – calls to shoot on sight, racism, BNP agit-prop, assertions that this event was a product of various societal ills, anger at ‘apologists’, misplaced sympathy, fear, and simple over-reaction (the police in Kent had to keep up a 24-hour Twitter feed explaining that despite online rumours, no, there weren’t any riots in Hastings. THERE AREN’T ANY RIOTS! IT’S JUST A SEAGULL IN A BIN FOR GOD’S SAKE!) Eventually I waded in myself, got accused of being an apologist and/or anti-army, felt a bit bruised, and retreated. Upsettingly, I realised I was censoring myself. Because although I might stick any old ramblings up online (no realy, you’re totally welcome), I don’t want to get embroiled in a riot of the online variety. I just want to have a bit of a laugh and connect with people, basically. And not in a left-hook kind of way. I just want everyone to be a bit nice – the classic Liberal bumper-sticker. And as a writer I really don’t want to be censored, most especially not by myself. Censorship is death to creativity, whether it’s thinking, I can’t write this, it’s no good; or I can’t write this, someone might shout at me.
Then, just as quickly, it all died down. My Twitter feed was back to books and what people are having for lunch. The window of having to comment was over. It was an unusual feeling during those few days, the perceived pressure to have an opinion, any opinion, and the burning need to articulate it, versus the uneasy suspicion that, much like that drunk friend who hurls themselves into a nascent fight shouting ‘LET’S ALL JUST CALM THE FUCK DOWN, DUDES!’, joining in was only going to make it worse.
Worse than this was the implication that a) having a bitter laugh about it; or b) talking about something non-riot related, was in some way offensive. I saw a few people getting attacked online for putting up pre-scheduled tweets about writing, for example. I find this bewildering and more than a little frightening. Perhaps I’m just used to riots (back home we even have a Riot Season) and I underestimate the impact they had on people. But it feels to me like what the internet has created is a sloshing reservoir full of uncorroborated opinion, and an educated, articulate user-base who feel driven to share these opinions with the world, however little they know. To scoop a handful of opinion and splash it all over everyone. And I’m one of them. And this blog post is one more handful of LISTEN TO ME, I HAD A THOUGHT ONCE AND THIS IS IT. Next time there’s a storm in a Twitter-cup I might make myself a badge that says: I DON’T KNOW WHAT I THINK. I HAVE NEITHER THE TIME NOR THE KNOWLEDGE TO FORMULATE A COHERENT OPINION ON THIS TOPIC. LET’S JUST BE NICE, MMMKAY KIDS?
Thanks for listening. Please don’t shout at me.