Catching Rays of Light in the Shady Social Sewer

or ‘How I Ended Up With An Oven Chip On My Shoulder’

(thanks, Matt Hill for that excellent subtitle!)

Things are different around here since I accidentally did a viral, as Luke so nicely put it. All sorts of crazy stuff goes off when you get over a few thousand interactions & it’s interesting & difficult & rewarding & maddening & doesn’t happen very often to anyone & has never happened to me before, so I thought I’d share some reflections on it.

TL;DR ~ This meme doesn’t criticise poor people or rich people. It doesn’t say hard work isn’t important or that people shouldn’t strive for success. It says the world is not a meritocracy & makes a little joke parodying the frustrating myth perpetuated by haves that have nots are lazy. They might be lazy, but they might not have access to the same resources & that makes it a bit rich to tell them that. This is what the picture illustrates. Clearly, though, it can be overshared…

It started the day before yesterday when I smiled at this stupid meme I’ve seen a thousand times already of a schoolgirl tuba player honking in her friend’s face. It isn’t the kind of content I have ever shared before, and it isn’t the kind of content I ever intend to share again. Just a bit of fun! A light-hearted dig, a good-natured prod & the affluent and their habit of not recognising their own privilege.

320k likes & 82k shares as of 09:32 on the 28th January. It’s not my picture, I didn’t make it. I just copied it from an advert because it made me laugh.

Let me explain with a story, a ridiculous nth degree example.

Consider the case of Miss Cressida De La Von Beaureguarde, grand-daughter of Sir Cecil Lancelot De La Von Beaureguarde, heiress to an old money dairy packaging fortune. Her family owns a flat in Paris & London & she grew up in a Hertfordshire house with a piano & a cello in the west wing. She studied sculpture at St Martins college & she’s now the lead singer of The Honey Ho’s, signed to Redundancy Records, leading independent record label with an HQ in E1 & a lucrative line of mugs, bags & bookmarks. Punk as fuck, they are. She works in a bar and says it “helps make the rent” which is a thing she doesn’t actually have to pay.

She got there because she had access to resources. That is not to say she isn’t talented, or does not work hard, but she didn’t have to play the skanky school tuba filled with the spit of her enemies because she had one at home. That’s a wall she didn’t have to climb, a problem she didn’t have to overcome. The A&R guy at the record company used to work for a company that her family owns. She went to school with the daughter of the manager of another band on the same label. She’s not sending out CDr demos & hoping someone picks it up & they aren’t playing her demo because she’s so talented because she can just hand it to the right person, wink, and it’ll get a play.

I’ll say it again, she has access to resources. This isn’t a crime. It’s just how that part of society works. So why mention it at all? Because the lie that ‘the world is a meritocracy & hard work is the only thing that matters’ hinders the progress of those with less access to resources. It literally damages the chances of poor people to suggest that rich people ‘just work harder’. That’s not to say that poor people don’t or shouldn’t work hard, because they can & do & might well succeed because of it. It’s simply that rich people saying ‘hard work is all that matters’ undermines the efforts of the poor.

If I had a pound for every time someone said that to me over the past few days, I’d never have to work hard again.

Cressida had a leg-up, and she has a tendency to downplay the part that leg-up played in her success.

This is the problem.

Obviously this is a classist & probably offensive caricature, but such an extreme example serves to illustrate the point – this thing does happen, I’ve seen it, and when you start seeing it, you’ll realise it, too. That new solo singer, who burst out of nowhere with promo pictures by Tom Mitchell, a band featuring members of Bon Iver & reviews in every music magazine, how did they do that? Sheer talent? That is what the industry would have you believe. That’s what the press release says. Sheer talent & hard work is how that 18 year old musician exploded into the scene, check out their sweet new single.

But, no. Sometimes, maybe. But not usually. How did they, then? Money. Access. Contacts. Education. Facilities. Resources. Music lessons at home from an early age. A record collection. Access to instruments, expertise, equipment. You can turn your hand to anything, you just have to want to & there will be an easy path, a way in. The door is already half way open. The cards are stacked, the game is fixed, some people start the monopoly game owning houses on the board already & then hide that from the rest of us.

What Cressida does is not mention any of that. She buys a song & spends 10k of her trust fund on a promotional campaign that a far better artist with less available resources simply couldn’t afford. Imagine that singer from a tower block in Govan who doesn’t have the funds. Their CD is pure original fire and we lost them all because they had no chance, no way to get a leg up, because they had no resources available to them, no cash for the press release, no radio plugger budget, no proper distribution.

Starting. From. Nothing. Is. Harder.

And all the while, Cressida does interviews and says ‘oh, yah, I just always loved music & I just worked really hard through school, learned how to play and then I got this record contract that I don’t even care or want, really…’ and we lap it up like it’s the hypnotic, inspiring truth but it’s not. We all love a rags-to-riches story, so it plays well, it’s tried & tested, a time-addled tale of struggle that leads to triumph, the down-beat, down-trodden ordinary person succeeds against all the odds. And what happens, so often, nowadays, is that this story is appropriated by the wealthy to mask the truth in their poverty-play scenarios where it’s less rags-to-riches & more riches wearing rags.

So, that’s what the tweet says. Most people get it. The tweet ratios are good. 330k likes to 300 replies is positive, means it landed, but that tweet is a fire tower in a tinder-dry forest, a lighting spike on the tallest building; come at me, I said. And my fucking word, they did.

My wife & I have been the target of violent sexual & racial insults, thousands of them. I’ve reported more tweets than I can count & Twitter say none of them contravenes the rules. All those comments were fine. The people who called me a fag & a pathetic, whining white loser, they were all fine. That Josienne is an ugly bitch is no problem. Twitter is alright with that. Just so you know. It is not safe out there, you have to look out for people. Block, a lot. Twitter does not have your back.

‘I was poor, I worked hard & I succeeded, so fuck you!’ is the most common response. I have tried to say to those people that nothing in the picture criticises or contradicts or challenges that, but it rarely works.

‘Spread love, not hate!’ is next. Yeah. Spoken like a person with at least a toe on a property ladder. I’m not stopping anyone from spreading love, go for your life. I do that too. Sorry if I’m not 100% positive, 100% of the time.

‘You’re just jealous of rich people!’ is a popular one. I thought hard about this and I decided that it’s ok to be a bit jealous of people that have things. I wish I just had things. I do have some things. I wish had other things, and I wish I had a double bass in a music room in the house I grew up in. Everyone wants things. Jealousy isn’t shameful. Rich people tell poor people that it’s shameful to feel jealous of the things they have, but they have the things so they don’t have to feel jealous of them. Know what I mean?

‘But hard work WILL help poor people to succeed!’ Of course, it might, yes! Working hard is a good idea, if you want! Nobody is denying that. The picture doesn’t contradict that. It suggests that hard work is not the only factor in success, it’s simply one of the factors, and some people start with more than others. That’s true, whether you like it or not!

‘You’re a white male filmmaker, so you clearly have things!’ Yeah, man. I do. But this isn’t personal. It’s not about me or you. You can attack me personally, undermine this message, if you have a need to do that. I can take it. I know what I am & what I am not. I’m not going to explain my circumstances to anyone I don’t know. It doesn’t change the fact that the thing in the picture happens.

‘You are encouraging victimhood!’ I’m not encouraging anything. The thing in this picture happens. If you wanna undermine it for your own reasons, if you feel like a victim, or if you’re challenged or confused at the image & the sentiment it conveys, then I am sorry, but I cannot explain the nuance of it to everyone. And I have tried, but it is not possible.

‘This image is an excuse to be lazy!’ It’s not. It really isn’t. The phrase itself ‘if you work hard you can achieve anything’ might be 100% true, but said by a person from means to a person without, it is a damaging, insulting, patronising lie. Perspective is important. Some people are just poor by circumstance & need more help than other people, that does not make them worse people.

Those responses are about 20%. The rest is people saying, yeah, this happens to me all the time. I recognise this & it’s helpful to call it out. That the world is a meritocracy is a damaging myth perpetuated by the haves to keep the have nots in their place.

I’ve had so many DMs. A girl in Somalia has broken glasses. A guy wants to show me him wanking. Will I retweet a liberal arts poster? A life coach can help my post get more views. More wanking, more begging. My little pony porn. Who knew that was a thing? I didn’t reply to anything. It was overwhelming & a bit intimidating.

Twitter became unusable after about 10k likes. I had to disable notifications, and that doesn’t stop them all. I replied to most people, up til then. I successfully explained the point to tons of people who didn’t get it, which felt like worthwhile effort. I got yelled at by people who disagreed. The shit that people let out of their mouth at a stranger on the internet! It’s well documented that it happens but damn, it’s fucked up to actually be the target of it. It was too much for one person to handle, after a while. You just have to accept that it’s all out there & you can’t deal with it, so I cherry picked what I would try to explain. I’m not complaining, it’s just such a dark place. Riven with foulness. Shot through with risk & abuse that is judged to be acceptable by the platform.

I’m not out to get anyone. I’m not a venomous anti-rich poisoner. I mean that picture to be a call for honesty. Elon’s parents owned an emerald mine. Bezos’ mum injected $200k into his failing business. They worked hard & had a little help. There’s no reason to be ashamed of that. But if we all believe that they got there without those early handholds, then we’ll all believe we are failing because we haven’t achieved what they have. But that’s not correct. Not everyone has the same access to resources. I don’t think that should be controversial & I don’t think it can be denied. Is it RIGHT? No, but it is the reality of the capitalist world we live in so let’s tell it like it is and ask others to do the same.

I’m not complaining about my lot. Just explaining & calling for honesty. I will be more careful what I share because I don’t want all of these shitty milkshakes in my yard, I’m happy with 50 appreciative likes on a photo & a handful of shares on music & stuff.

Hashtag rant over. Go about your business & I’ll go about mine. Thanks for reading.