Friday, 24 April 2015

The ponytail offers you a look into your soul

Add a pic of a chick and maximise your ROI

Let’s just get one thing out of the way first. I actually feel sorry for the waitress at the café.

That makes one of us, because no one else seems to be treating her story with the proper respect. She’s been used by everyone as a proxy for whatever deep-seated psychological problems they’re struggling with in their own lives. Yes, the problem is always you. Time to see why.

Don’t worry, I don’t really care about the ponytail girl or who she is either. Mainly because five days ago I didn’t know she existed. Now I do, and that’s what bothers me. What’s more important than her story is that she’s offering us a chance to peer into the mirror and look into our collective souls. Will we like what we see?

I was going to write something about how this debacle is a problem with government and society. As if it’s an issue fundamentally with democracy when we use people’s “true” pain to balm our own frustrations at not being part of the winning political team.

I’d have included a bit about how we’ve collectively transformed the position of “prime minister” into an almost physical object. As if someone can become more than human and transform into the title or idea in an unholy reimagining of a particularly disturbing Greek myth. As that person becomes prime minister, any action they take is seen in the environment of his title.

So when Mr Key ends up acting like the human he really is – by pulling a ponytail or taking a selfie – we react with shock and blubbering. “How could he do this? He’s our leader! He’s supposed to be better than that!” Well, a) your “leader” never stopped being a human and, b) show me a person who can occupy a position of leadership without acting like a human and I’ll show you a fairy-tale.

Do we really want to know why we have such poor candidates every single election? It’s because we ask for them. We want someone to easily judge for a trumped-up sexual indiscretion or because they can’t remember a terrorist leader’s name. With every article consumed or vote box ticked, we’re telling the system that these things matter to us. So it baffles me that people are surprised when we get what we ask for.

Then I was going to write something about how this reflected the bias and prejudices of the media, but I realised I still had no idea what really happened on those days in the cafe. I’m assuming it was a dark and cloudy day with just a hint of danger and foreboding in the skies.

But I began to wonder why it was I knew about ponytail girl and what it had to do with me. Her goal of seeking justice and keeping Mr Key honest never stood a chance. The media don’t just decide truth and falsehood but existence and non-existence.

You can agree or disagree with the ponytail issue, but you must do so alongside with media, not with the young woman. She ceased to matter immediately when you heard her name. Last week she was nothing, this week she is everything. And of course what happened to the ponytail woman represents the “sexist society” which trivialises harassment and belittles all other women. Fourth-wave Twitter Feminism to the rescue!

If all this doesn’t make you suspicious that the narrative might not be fully explained here, you’re not paying close enough attention.

How much power?
Aside from having terrible café guests, the ponytail girl’s problems changed dramatically when she went to the media. It’s not her fault she took this action, the entire system is built to encourage scared and hurt people to run to the nearest journalist whenever something goes wrong (or right).

She thought telling a reporter would fix her problem and bring some measure of justice. Whether she knew the people she talked to were actually journalists is largely beside the point. She wanted to talk to the media. She displayed an implicit belief that telling her story to a reporter gained greater meaning than if she took alternate routes. Bad move.

People think talking to a camera gives them power or offers them an unsilenced voice, but they are wrong. It is a complete and utter surrender to the media. They sign their own waiver allowing the media to use the story or photo in any way it wants. And they will use you in any way they want. The media wants you to talk, it has convinced us there is no other way to get your message out.

The media tells us what to care about. It’s certainly not the girl, she couldn’t be less important. The whole issue may have started as a story about a man in a privileged position manipulating a weaker individual. But before the ponytail girl even finished her sentence to the reporters, the editors had packaged it up and reproduced it like it was part of a reality show.

And by the time Ms Glucina spoke to the young woman, we had already been prepared to expect someone like her. It might look like we’re given the full information and allowed time to think for ourselves. But if we’re honest, we’re only reacting to what we’re being told.

And while we’re here, let’s talk a bit about sexual harassment. We won’t talk about it much, because it’s largely irrelevant to the story. Remember, no one cares about the girl. But it’s worth talking about the glaring contradiction flapping around in front of us showing exactly what we apparently do care about.

The rage over the Prime Minister’s actions were explained by the talking heads as representing barely veiled sexual innuendo, which is never a good thing, especially when it isn’t consensual. But the media slaps stories like this into headlines, screaming at us that sexual harassment is bad because it treats women like objects, and then runs advertisements representing precisely this objectification a few pages behind.

We know this is a contradiction, but we don’t care about that either. Because we desire the contradiction, and the media knows that. The whole point was to tickle the reader’s emotional responses, all the while feeding us exactly the pervasive marketing and exploitative psychology that probably got us into this predicament in the first place.

Step back for one minute and try to identify which side the New Zealand HeraldDailyBlog and other media chose to take on this topic. Wait, how did you know? Sorry, wrong. It’s super easy to assume this is all driven by some nefarious political “bias”, but it’s not. Because it doesn’t matter what the girl wants or what happens to her. The entire game was to capture her pain and repackage it and the harassment into whatever the media needed it to be.

She thought going to the media would help get her message out. But it didn’t, it helped get the Herald’s and the DailyBlog’s message out. I hear people retort that they don’t care for mainstream media, the newspapers haven’t had any real journalism for years. And yet given the infinity of websites, people still click and read the same ten websites, searching for and finding exactly what they want. Like a toddler playing peekaboo in the mirror over and over again.

Which reminds me, this isn’t the media’s fault. It’s yours. If we really want to talk about bias, we should look at our reactions. It’s time to find out why the media knows more about you than you know about you.

Media as the ultimate wish-fulfilment
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it won’t be the last.

You might remember an incident last year where a series of nude photographs of female celebrities was stolen by hackers and delivered – as fresh as hot pizza – to the cesspit of the internet.

Those photos were selfies or snapped in loving trust by boyfriends. None of the celebrities thought their privacy would ever be compromised. And then everybody, and I mean everybody, went absolutely berserk. “It was a violation of privacy, an affront to human rights. This attacks femininity itself!” An army of lawyers and a serious amount of money were used to hunt down the people responsible. Sigh… 

But anyone with even a passing knowledge of the internet should have spotted the hypocrisy immediately. And that no one actually noticed this says a lot about our society’s priorities.

Talking strictly from third-hand information of course, “apparently” there are thousands of websites dedicated to hosting as many private pictures of naked women as possible. All of those pictures were taken in trust, exactly as with the celebrities. And every picture was spilled into the public realm without the female’s consent, exactly as with the celebrities.

There are millions of these pictures of real, physical, you-might-even-know-her women. But no one says anything. No one cares. It’s just part of the story. The pictures are on the internet, and everyone knows you can’t remove pictures from that terrible place. And besides, who are those girls? 

But ask yourself this: what’s the difference between a “girl” with breached privacy and a “celebrity” or “star” who lost her photos to a bunch of bored teenagers? Why was it worse to attack a celebrity than an anonymous woman? Think about that, it hasn’t always been so. The former is an attack on the system so the system must respond with lawyers and SWAT teams; the latter is an attack on a woman, so…

And it’s the same with this ridiculous ponytail fiasco. Hundreds of cases of sexual harassment occur every month in New Zealand, according to the statistics. People who know more about this than I do suspect there’s far more that doesn’t get reported. But because none of the parties involved have anything to do with the machinery of power, nothing is done.

But a girl gets her hair pulled a few times by the prime minister, and suddenly everyone launches to DEFCON 2. So what’s the difference between a woman and someone within arm’s reach of the PM? The former is an attack on…(see above). Why didn’t you do anything about this? Now who’s the bad guy – the media, or you?

Instead, everyone preferred to see sexual harassment and misogyny, so the media got another trending series of articles about how the problem has a penis, is white and is also the Prime Minister. That’s known as the trifecta, ladies and gentlemen.

Did we learn anything?
The poor girl with long hair thought she was getting some justice by going to the media. I’ve already explained how horrible this decision was. Little did she know, her problem fit perfectly with the media’s desire to frame it as a new front in the gender war, the political war and the race war (he's white, after all) because that makes for good clicking.

There’s something to be said for why this story gained such high social media traction too. Everyone claimed to be defending the poor girl’s hair, but it was all frantic energy. People rushing around yelling at things, all noise and no substance but plenty of selfish pleasure.

Here’s what’s important, New Zealand: the primary thing isn’t what you’re angry about, the primary thing is your anger. You need to understand that your anger has nothing to do with John Key.

For all the people yelling on Facebook and Twitter about how despicable and slimy they thought Mr Key was being, they weren’t voicing their anger as an opinion - they were looking for a fight.

Because of the failure of modern politics to evolve away from the primitive “red team/blue team” dynamics, the whole point of voicing an “opinion” on these things is to provoke someone else on the other side – the other team – into responding. At this point, all the angry internet people tapping or typing away in rage about a ponytail don’t hate John Key, they hate John Key supporters.

Thing is, the media knows you’ll click on these stories. The media goes out of its way to find stories that tick the juiciest boxes, because the feedback it receives is that people want to read these things.

Let’s quickly summarise the issues according to outraged New Zealand:

• sexual harassment is a women’s issue, never mind the thousands of men who are harassed every year;
• the best way to handle women’s issues is not necessarily to solve them but to discuss them in the media.

Some people are claiming the importance of raising all this is to “build awareness”. Don’t worry, we’re all aware. Are you aware of how much money you made for media at your expense and without changing anything?


Malcolm Hansen said...

Well, reversing out of this deep discussion...

It is obvious to me (and I would say any other "normal" person that to walk into a cafe and pull on someones pony tail is simply inappropriate, and even more so when they tell you they aren't happy with it.

For John Key to think this is "OK behavior" certainly questions his awareness and / or grasp on reality.

Taking the wine shows he knew he had done something very inappropriate, and yet it didn't stop him doing it in the first place.

I know what I'd do if it was my daughter...

Malcolm Hansen said...
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