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In the wake of Leigh Sales’ most recent interview with the Opposition Leader, the Kabuki-like response began right on cue.
Prior to the interview, after Sales announced on Twitter that she would be speaking to Tony Abbott, the usual suspects began salivating over the prospect of an evisceration akin to his previous 730 effort, when he tried to blame BHP’s Olympic Dam postponement on the carbon price when the company had said everything but.
They were sending possible questions, encouraging general lines of query (which are truly excellent uses of social media), and proudly announcing that this – THIS – would be the day that Abbott would finally be brought down under the weight of his own evasiveness and mendacity. That latter one, not such a splendid use of modern media.
When Abbott turned up and brought his nominal A-game, that same group of Abbott haters on Twitter lost their collective marbles, going dead set bat guano crazy, and directing any amount of visceral opprobrium at Sales. Their fierce invective basically coalesced around a vague argument that because Abbott didn’t utterly embarrass himself, it was evidence that Sales hadn’t done her job properly.
The response, then, was just as predictable, and it fell into two categories: that “Twitter” is some malformed, flailing hivemind with a blatant progressive bias, willing to dump its much-heralded ‘principles’ when things don’t go their way, and that progressive voters are simply rage-filled hypocrites.
Our own Dragonista fell into the first camp, with what was one of the most thoughtful responses to the Twitter rage. While she was dead right that the kind of misogynist aggression that was levelled at Sales after the interview was disgusting, and was coming from people who gleefully point out Abbott’s sexism at every possible opportunity, the extrapolation of that group to represent ‘Twitter’ was off point, and increasingly common.
Incidentally, the behaviour of @thegaffhook is indicative of the leaching of the political into the public realm. After the charming attack that Sales “should be able to tell us if Tony’s dick tastes salty after that interview”, he deleted and apologised for his ‘feral’ tweet, claiming it was being ‘taken out of context’. Bullshit. There was only one context. But Sales set her own attack dogs on him, and he used precisely the kind of cowardly response that his hated politicians would have.
But I digress.
The far stupider end of the response to the response to Sales’ interview came in the Sunday Age, when Fairfax’s Chris Johnson decided to lay this behaviour at the feet of TEH LEFT with this sterling effort.
In short, his argument was that ‘the left’ was freaking out in the face of a near-certain electoral loss, and this was demonstrated by a few nuts on social media. Preston Towers offers a towering rebuttal over at his blog.
There is a common thread to much of this, and it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how we talk to each other in the 21st century.
Twitter is real life. Facebook is real life. There are millions of Australians on each, and they can now say the things they have always said, merely in a more public forum. There have always been stupid, aggressive, hypocritical political partisans, and they have been throwing their shoes at the TV since 1956, no doubt, and the wireless before that.
These attacks on ‘the left’ that the likes of Johnson attempt somehow contort themselves into treating ‘Twitter’ as some unitary, insane, ‘leftist’ mass; an unthinking collectivist Borg-like consciousness that is, at present, flailing away as their political ‘team’ is losing.
Bulldust. There are millions on Twitter. There are socialists, libertarians, Greens, ALP partisans, young Liberals (oh, the young Liberals), hateful sociopaths, you name it. Likewise, when Johnson asks rhetorically what ‘the left is up to’, he makes the same mistake of lumping an enormous group together under the banner of their least representative.
Possum over at Pollytics has written powerfully about the Unhinging that we’ve seen since the election of centre-left parties here and in the US, and it’s entirely possible that there is a similar effect underway among anti-Liberal voters that we will see unfurl on September 15.
But can we please stop universalising the actions of a small, crazy few? The temptation to attack elements of the Liberal base as representative is made easier when Tony Abbott makes appearances in front of Parliament house with abusive banners behind him. And also, by and large, the Coalition has sufficient wingnuts already (Barnaby Joyce and Cory Bernardi spring immediately to mind).
A couple of dickheads on Twitter being dickheads does not a political or social media movement make. Many people are worried about the coming election, for various reasons. Some people are excited. Most (the VAST majority) didn’t even watch the 730 interview and probably still don’t know it happened.
But, to quote those great thinkers who wrote the Simpsons, some people are just jerks.