Perhaps I have been spending too much time on twitter. During lockdown, the social media platform became the hub for political discussion on coronavirus developments: verdicts of press conferences were provided, arguments took place over whether critics should cut the government some slack and debates raged on that even a pandemic couldn’t prevent.
Life before lockdown seems an eternity ago. But some aspects of the day-to-day have remained the same – political online debate is as fervent as ever. While it is often frustrating, overbearing and sometimes exhausting to look at, the democratisation of opinion should still be celebrated; it has allowed me to write this very blog. With blogging comes the thought-out framing of political debate, a concern for every single sentence down to the last comma. But politics on social media is instantaneous and often lacks foresight, it’s scruffy and imperfect.
The internet has provided a platform for petty insults that stifle debate. While this has always occurred in Parliament, newspaper contributions from readers were usually vetted to ensure coherence. I believe internet soundbites, as showcased on social media, fail to initiate impactful, intelligent debate.
Instead, discussions based on anger have simplified attitudes towards political opponents. Anyone of any age or political perspective is guilty. Phrases and stereotypes I often see, however, are directed towards older generations. These pejorative internet soundbites damage intergenerational relations.
There are numerous examples which represent how communication has been traduced and opponents homogenised. Take the phrase ‘Centrist Dad’. It stands for ‘middle-aged men who cannot come to terms with the world and politics changing’. (Link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41413937). Used originally against opponents of Jeremy Corbyn, it pejoratively described individuals who, may admire Tony Blair and opposed Corbyn’s style of politics.
When Corbyn was leader, legitimate arguments took place on his policies through television programmes. The young people he attracted to Labour communicated online – this should be welcomed. However, an online discussion shouldn’t exclude coherent arguments. The term ‘Centrist Dad’ suddenly becomes vacuous. Firstly, the centre hasn’t been defined. As for Dad, it stereotypes individuals and judges someone not by what they think, but whether they have children.
Judging how people appear is always wrong. Again, the internet would beg to differ. The term ‘gammon’ is used to describe older men with flushed pink cheeks. Used usually to refer to conservative Brexiteers, it fits a tired stereotype of Brexiteers as individuals in pubs moaning about life. Fundamentally, it is irrelevant. Tanya Gold in GQ even called the term ‘hate speech’ (Link: https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/article/what-does-gammon-mean). An individual should be judged by their character, not their appearance.
There are obnoxious racists who have pink flushed cheeks. Their appearance shouldn’t be important. Instead, individuals must combat racist arguments and explain why racist views are morally reprehensible. There have been many pioneering anti-racists throughout history that it should be easy to use arguments against bigoted individuals. Resorting to statements of appearance denigrates the importance of tackling vile views clearly.
Generalisation shapes politics. Decisions are made nationally that cannot combat individual circumstances. Everyone is subject to laws, but laws are enforced differently. Unfortunately, this mirrors the ‘OK Boomer’ meme. Relating to the generation of baby boomers born after the Second World War, the phrase highlights the frustration of millennials towards older generations.
It is this phrase most of all I find grating. Practically, I struggle to see generational divides and which years mark which generation. The label itself treats baby boomers as irritants, which is patronising and condensing. Someone apparently loses any rights to an opinion simply because they are retired. I have always thought someone’s age doesn’t give their point of view intrinsic value. Instead, their justification used for holding a certain view should be judged.
The phrase also suggests older people have had a perfect life. This argument is highly inaccurate. Many older people live in poverty and have been extremely isolated due to the pandemic. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 22% of single female pensioners lived in poverty in 2018/19 (Link: https://www.jrf.org.uk/data/pensioner-poverty) with Age UK reporting two million (16%) pensioners live in poverty (Link: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/money-matters/poverty_in_later_life_briefing_2019.pdf). Their situation deserves sympathy and public action.
Similarly, younger people face many issues, not least entering the housing market. Indeed, the Moneywise website report only 25% of young people will enter the property ladder by 2026 (Link: https://www.moneywise.co.uk/news/2019-07-31%E2%80%8C%E2%80%8C/just-one-four-young-people-will-get-property-ladder-2026). However, we live in a far more liberal society than previous generations could have ever imagined thanks to pioneering campaigners. ‘OK Boomer’ simply seems to halt intergenerational communication by hindering debate.
However far the UK has liberalised, some sexist stereotypes remain like the ‘Karen’ meme. Karen refers to a difficult woman who speaks to the manager, uses essential oils as medicine and opposes vaccinations. It was Helen Lewis’ book ‘Difficult Women’ that said feminist campaigners had to be difficult to achieve change.
I am against alternative medicine and support vaccinations. Individuals should engage in arguments regardless of someone’s age or gender. The Karen meme shuts down debate and views women as a homogenous group. Hadley Freeman in the Guardian argued it was sexist, ageist and classist (Link: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/apr/13/the-karen-meme-is-everywhere-and-it-has-become-mired-in-sexism) In reality, a diversity of opinions couldn’t be stronger. When facing debates, individuals need to stop focusing on the accidents of birth to justify discarding someone’s beliefs – ‘Oh, they’re a Karen’ – and use reason and logic to tackle arguments with intelligence. Instead, the pejorative ‘Karen’ controls what women can say.
The internet provides more intellectual resources than ever before. The amount of information is unrivalled compared to previous generations. Even top quality of libraries cannot, unfortunately, match Google. That information brings disinformation. While references to a UK culture war are exaggerated – there is remarkable unity over the NHS and support for the plight facing Hong Kong – it is undeniable that disagreement exists. That is the basis of democracy. Such disagreements should be conducted in good faith using logical arguments. Soundbites and generalised phrases do nothing to help this. Rather, name calling furthers intergenerational divides, extends polarisation and hampers an ability to understand different points of view. To retain an open mind, this must be combated.
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