I try not to get too involved in political debate online. Primarily because it’s not the best place to have any kind of meaningful conversation, but also because its so open to misunderstanding or hijack by some friend, friend-of-a-friend, follower or follower-of-a-follower with whom I have little in common.
But every now and then, I find myself compelled to say something purely to get it off my chest. This is one of those times. I don’t want to offer contrived platitudes or hastily fashioned tributes on social media about the tragic death of Labour MP Jo Cox. But what I do want to do is take a moment to try and wrap my head around why it happened – and how fucked this planet of ours seems at the moment… Because honestly, I’ve never felt like I wanted to be a part of it less.
I have a great life. I’m incredibly lucky. I’ve got a beautiful wife and son, and we earn enough money that we’ve been able to save and borrow our way to buying our first home recently. My world revolves around those two people, with a little bit of space saved for the few vices I have left. In this little bubble, I’ve not got much to complain about. In any case, I’m a white, middle-aged heterosexual male, I’m pretty sure legislation has been passed that’s made it illegal for me to complain. The problem comes when stepping outside of this bubble.
Outside my working week and family weekends, my daily peaceful commute and occasional pub lunches, there’s a whole world out there tearing itself apart. Every dose of TV news, every hourly radio bulletin and screaming tabloid headline seems to paint a darker and darker picture of humanity. It fees like we’ve completely lost sight of what’s important – and all because of this weird notion that each of us has something important to say. Everyone has a cause, idea or position on something, and often these tend to go way beyond personal opinion into some sort of unarguable, unquestionable truth.
It used to be much easier to avoid being force-fed the misguided and misinformed agenda of those who were obsessed with their own indisputable truth, you just steered clear of Catholic churches and people waving leaflets. Nowadays, there are more churches than ever, not all of which are associated with religion. It feels like we have never had more beliefs, causes and gods (false or, well, falser) to worship or decry. And woe betides anyone who wants to do anything but take one of these two positions on them.
Let’s start with an area I’m more familiar with, something more frivolous and unimportant before we get to the hard stuff. Online film criticism (whatever that means these days) seems to increasingly deal only in extremes. You can either heap hyperbolic praise on something, or condemn it as the death of the art form. And the beauty of it is, you don’t even need to have seen the film to decide which side you are on. Look at the upcoming Ghostbusters movie, never has critical opinion been so divisive, so venomous and so downright ugly – and there hasn’t even been so much as a press screening of it yet. It’s this ridiculous need to categorise my feelings that has compounded my need to get away from the sanctimonious, self important and self appointed jury that is the movie blogosphere. It used to be a conversation, now its just people yelling about how right they are without any adequate explanation of why, let alone any acknowledgement of subjectivity.
Even my beloved comic book movies, which I’ve fought hard to enjoy on my own terms without the influence of trending opinion, have fallen into the same trap of pitting one extreme against another – and asking me to make a choice long before I’ve been presented with the case. This year I’ve been asked by movie marketing machines to back Batman or support Superman, pledge my allegiance to Team Cap or side with Team Iron Man. I even get to cast my vote using a hashtag, so I can be piled into a virtual pigeonhole with other people who’ve picked a favourite without really knowing the context. Of course, none of this stuff matters really. We’re just talking about a marketing campaign for some blockbuster movies designed to sell Happy Meals. But didn’t film used to be a reflection of our wider social and political concerns? Or am I about to compare Batman to ISIS? Well, hopefully not. But for the benefit of those of you who’ve bothered to read this far without coming to a decision about whether I’m talking complete shit or am the second coming, I’ll do my best to make the link.
In the UK, we’re currently being asked to choose between being part of a community or heading out into the unknown alone. In the US, the choice is between a woman who wants more gun control and inclusion, and a man who wants more guns and racial division. Even our mainstream politicians, the people who are supposed to lead and guide our societies, are playing the same game as our mainstream movies. Pick a side. Choose now. And quickly, there’s a deadline.
This week, a British member of parliament, someone with ideals and goals aimed at making her constituency (and potentially our country) a better place, was killed. The full details haven’t emerged yet, but it seems her life was taken by someone who didn’t share her opinion on something. That opinion, it seems, may relate to her position on the EU or British sovereignty. But to be honest, I’m not sure it matters what it was he disagreed with her about. The fact remains that one man, so fuelled by his own indisputable opinion, decided that he had the right to brutally murder Jo Cox in the middle of the street, in broad daylight. His opinion was so correct, and hers so incorrect, that she didn’t deserve to live. Her husband didn’t deserve her as his wife, her two children didn’t deserve to have her as a mother. Based on one opinion.
I didn’t know anything about Jo Cox before this week. But after watching the rolling news eulogies, I think she seemed like someone decent. According to those who knew her, she got into politics for the right reasons and worked hard for her constituents. I don’t know her, and I’m basing this on the glowing reviews of her bereaved friends and colleagues, but she seemed like the kind of person you’d want in politics. She seemed nice. I don’t doubt she was passionate about her work, I don’t doubt she was passionate about her ideology. But so passionate she had to be killed?
Seeing as we now live in a world of only extremes and absolutes. Here’s one I feel confident sharing. There is nothing; no cause, no policy and no stance that entitles you to take a mother from her family. There is no religion, no god, no belief system that matters even nearly enough that it should condemn two young kids to being without that person for the rest of their lives and a husband to have to struggle on and force back his sadness to raise them alone.
None of us has ‘the truth’. We’re all just getting by in life on the information we’ve gleaned from those around us or the things we’ve managed to discover for ourselves. If you choose to base your beliefs on religion, patriotism or even just a deep love of Batman, that’s fine and best of luck to you. But if, even just a little, you don’t think those opinions should be challenged or disagreed with, then fuck you.