Friday, 6 January 2017

Dispatches from the real world #1: 2016 Review Review

“It is the excess of reality that makes us stop believing in it.”
Jean Baudrillard, The Intelligence of Evil, Or, The Lucidity Pact

I went out into what is euphemistically known as The Real World (not exactly the one from the 90s MTV series The Real World, although probably about as full of self-regarding dicks seeking the attention of strangers for their tedious antics).  Because the online world has never appealed as much, and because it got particularly ugly and/or sad in 2016.

In Real Life (hereafter IRL), as opposed to the worldwideweb (hereafter www), there is still a lot of pleasantness and it outweighs the unpleasantness.  At least in my (limited, specific, entirely subjective) experience.  It still takes a lot of nerve to be really horrible to someone’s face.  To be viscerally unpleasant.  Most of us have no stomach for it, except for rare circumstances.  In the www, however, no one can see you, and you can’t see them, so it’s much easier to suspend norms of politeness, embarrassment and empathy, and just say whatever you want.  This is great for creating a (physically) safe space to argue about contentious things, but it also tends to embolden those who want to scream and shout and be horrible instead of making an argument.  (And that’s all of us, at least some of the time.)  At the extreme end, some people love being dicks to others and don’t have the courage to do it IRL, even with the help of alcohol.  These people are probably best avoided unless and until they can get their shit together. 

I watched a television programme, which is technically not RL – but possibly more reliable as a representation than the www, simply because of its narrow focus and comforting familiarity; we all know what a stereotype is, we all know that news presents a particular point of view (whilst (supposedly) aspiring to objectivity, as if that’s possible or even desirable); but the www net is completely open, which is great, until it isn’t.  When I was a Media student, it was all about looking at media critically.  When it comes to checking sources and considering bias on the internet, it should be much easier, given the wealth of information.  But it is easier than ever to make some shit up that someone will believe.  So, it’s harder given the wealth of information.  And all of this depends on the sophistication of the Reader.  And the Reader is anyone.  So….
Anyway, the TV thing was Charlie Brooker’s 2016 Wipe, which went with the usual “2016 was a horrorshow” angle.  What seems to have upset Charlie more than anything else last year was Jeremy Corbyn, for reasons the intrepid former Guardian columnist neither explains nor qualifies.  This is one reason I didn’t enjoy it much; another is that it was supposed to be funny, but wasn’t very funny – because it’s mostly dealing with things that are not funny. 
A friend described Brooker as the “Clarkson of the left” a while back, and I thought it was a bit unfair, mostly because I liked him and his funny pieces in the Grauniad; and partly because he rarely wrote about politics, and I’d seen nothing partisan enough to incline me to agree with that assessment.  However, watching this made me agree a lot more.  Brooker, who I still  like (intelligent people disagree, and I have agreed a lot less with more intelligent people and still stayed friends with them), affected a kind of amused detachment at Michael Gove, Liam Fox and others, and saved his gentle ire for Corbyn, which I found bemusing.  Because everyone in news media has been either casually dismissive of, or openly hostile toward, Jeremy Corbyn, without ever presenting an argument as to what it is they don’t like about him or his proposed policies.  As if that mediated representation is just what everyone thinks, so that’s how they have to present it…I wonder why people get their news from the internet.
It wasn’t just that the programme referred to Corbyn more than any other politician, it was the snide tone – an odd mix of casual dismissal and vague disapproval that would be expected of the BB…oh, wait, it was the BBC. 
Mind you, the bit with the keyboard player out of D:Ream admitting that Things Can Only Get Better is un-scientific and inaccurate was good fun.  Overall, it probably wasn’t bad, but the Corbyn thing was annoying.
Still, Television is going the way of fax machines and skinny jeans.  That’s progress, isn’t it?  It’s neither wholly positive nor wholly negative, it just is.  (It just is what we make of it, that is…)

Back IRL, I rode my bike through Eastville Park for the first time this year.  The lake was frozen and it looked beautiful with the sunlight glinting on it.  There weren’t many birds around, which is unusual.  Maybe they were sheltering from the cold.  Anyway, it all looked lush, so I took my phone out to get a picture.  My plan was to take one every day this year (or at least one or two a week) to show the changing seasons and that kind of thing.  I often think I’d rather not take pictures of things that look beautiful, and that it’s preferable to experience them in the moment and remember it as an experience, rather than an image.  Because how you feel about things is more important than how they look, and how you remember things is at least as important as how, exactly, they happened.
But the phone’s storage was full so I couldn’t take one – and after I spent a minute deleting some old pics, the phone gave up completely and switched itself off.  (It is old and battered and easily confused; and yet, headstrong).  So I have no picture to show to prove it.  In the www, this means it never happened (even though you can make convincing-looking pictures of things that definitely didn’t happen and people will sometimes think that means they did).  However, IRL, I can describe it and you might just believe that it was real, or that I really had the experience of it, and that even if I didn’t, or it didn’t happen exactly as I described, that the experience and the experience of the relating of the experience tells us something anyway, and is probably worth sharing.  And that what constitutes “reality” is not fixed and experience is more important.  And then you might think: yes, that’s the world of today. 
For better or worse.

Mostly for better, for me, anyway.  But the world is what we make it, isn’t it?  (Based on our subjective experience of it.)
Same as it ever was.

Also, through December, and into this year, I read The Sorrow Of War by Bao Ninh.  It’s moving and sad and the best book I have read about the war in Vietnam, and has an interesting style and way of dealing with history/memory/linear time and biography.

So, to sum up:

The Bad News
The world hasn’t ended yet.
Everything on television
Your experience is not everyone else’s experience.

The Good News
The world hasn’t ended yet.
You do not have to watch anything on television, and if we all stop watching it, the whole thing might just end, quietly, without much fuss.
Your experience is not anyone else’s experience.

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