Did You Know
Did You Know
LONDON: The bouquet of flowers was a charming gesture. The sentiment on the accompanying card not so much.
When an image of a note sent by fashion designer Ulyana Sergeenko to her Russian compatriot, the tech entrepreneur Mira Duma, addressed “to my n****s in Paris”, appeared on Instagram last week, the reaction was quick and brutal.
Duma, who had included the image on her Instagram story - a part of the platform designed to be ephemeral - was condemned as a racist. The designer and her friend the embodiment of white privilege.
There was outrage. Things escalated. Within hours, new footage emerged of Duma, the 32-year-old who has built a global platform as an ambassador for sustainability and ethical fashion.
A video clip from 2012 showed her giving a talk in Russia making transphobic comments: “We would never publish someone like (Andreja) Pejic,” she said of the androgynous model, who would come out as transgender the following year.
“We have censorship at Buro (her online magazine). We’re very concerned about the beauty and purity of the things we publish.”
The video was inflammatory. Duma was removed from her role as chairwoman at one of the companies she co-founded. An attempt at an apology - “The person I was six years ago is not who I am today” - only stirred passions further.
Within 24 hours, Duma’s reputation was eviscerated. Her social media feed has remained dark ever since.
Such is the climate of outrage right now. Make a mistake and the consequences are brutal — and fast. Both Duma and Sergeenko appealed for forgiveness.
Both have suggested that, as products of a Russian culture in which social freedoms and attitudes have yet to catch up with the west, they might be afforded some clemency. Few are willing to forgive.
I don’t want to excuse those behaviours. But something about the pitch of the response was disquieting, not least because it was one of a dozen scandals unfolding on social media at the same time.
The current climate of intolerance brings with it fresh offences every day.
We were livid with Toby Young, the writer and chauvinist bore who was made a non-executive director on the board of the Office for Students — installed for only a nanosecond before his critics unveiled a retrospective set of sexist tweets that forced him to resign.
He may not be the person he once was either, but failing to “curate” one’s online history leaves an incriminating trail.
The comedian Aziz Ansari has seen his career trashed after having been accused of extremely poor judgment, or harassment, on what sounds like a ghastly date.
The allegations of sexual misconduct against Bruce Weber and Mario Testino have ricocheted across the internet, where the feeds drip with further insinuations.
FROM ONE SCANDAL TO THE NEXT
The severity of each misdeed hardly matters when each is subject to the same wave of outrage. The speed and intensity of our anger barely wavers as we spin from one scandal to the next.
Primed with our new lexicon, we are all now whistle-blowers in a world where we act as judge, jury and executioner.
And boy, do we feel good about it. Because we’re calling things out to serve a greater good.
How we love the sound of our own indignation. But are we really outraged, or are we just thrilling to a new order where our voice has an unrivalled platform?
And do we really care, or are we calling out the faults of others as a way to signal our own virtue - to insist on our righteousness?
In our cultural lives, we are willing to extend tremendous empathy. Our screen heroes are flawed. From glamorous whodunits to grim social dramas or even the fantasy perversions of Game of Thrones, we revel in characters whose morals are problematic.
We love a personal flaw - in fiction.
Likewise, we are compassionate in our one-to-one interactions. We pride ourselves in our ability to see things from different points of view. But the online dialogue has robbed our will to listen.
So we rush to judge instead.
In his recent bestseller Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff describes Steve Bannon’s political strategy thus:
"The Breitbart Formula was to so appall the liberals that the base was doubly satisfied, generating clicks in a ricochet of disgust and delight ... The new politics was not the art of compromise but the art of conflict."
Bannon’s plan was to create such a cacophony of indignation that we would lose our focus. It’s the strategy that got Trump elected. And supposedly how Putin, too, has stayed in power.
And though many of us may despise the politics of these men, we’ve all inherited that same tone. The din of disgust has absorbed both left and right. And it’s so deafening it’s blocking constructive debate. We are all full of fire and fury now.
Where is the reason, the kindness or the want to forgive? So much virtue-signalling is beginning to sound disingenuous.
And yes, some attitudes stink, but to insist that everyone share a worldview shaped in the democratic west seems just as naive and entitled.
We’ve been dragged into a screaming match where criminality and poor judgment have become confused.
But not everyone is “bad”. And sometimes we make mistakes.