Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Them gays and their rights and stuff

I signed a petition. Just one. I didn't realise it would have consequences.

I am not a political person. I don't understand the reasons why things happen, I know enough about local politics to know I'm powerless, and at the last mayoral election I voted for that nice lady because she looks like she's dressed by her cats. The world is a bad, complicated place, and I'm fairly convinced that if I tried to sort it out, I'd make as much of a mess of it as when I tried to clean a laptop with spray bleach.

But, you know, from time to time, I sign a petition. The one in question was about giving a (quite hot) Ukranian gay some rights or something. I didn't read the small print, I just thought that bad things shouldn't happen to hot people.

What I didn't realise was that I was unwittingly joining the "Purpose Foundation" and consenting to receive regular emails from "Andre and Jeremy" urging me to sign yet more email petitions, and to forward their emails to my friends to get them to sign them. (The phrase "one final push" may have been used, several times).

You remember when The Guardian launched that double-page spread in the middle of the paper to publish a a daily poster of a striking piece of photo-journalism? At the start, it was eye-catching, wonderful and occasionally moving. It then became your Daily Misery Porn Pull-Out, an interchangeable blur of crying mothers and starving babies, screaming "You Should Care More!". The fact is, after a while, you don't. Like a familiar picture on the wall, after a while, you stop noticing it's there.

The same with sending regular emails from "Andre and Jeremy" about fresh atrocities that demand my signature on an e-petition to strike a vital blow/send a stern message/change the game/refresh the legacy etc etc. You may think you've created a protest movement. You haven't. You've just created manual spam.

In my imagination "Andre and Jeremy" have become idealised idealists. Andre gets back from his shift at the Shelter, hanging the bike up on the hooks in the lovely whitewashed walls of their uptown apartment. He's about to prepare dinner using some locally-sourced ingredients, when he notices something wrong. Jeremy is sat, staring sadly at his macbook. "Oh no," Andre sighs, giving his lover a backrub, "What's happened now?". "Don't worry," says Jeremy, "I've got the internet onto it. Together we'll fight this."

I just don't entirely buy that signing an online petition changes a thing. It may do. But it just feels too easy. Remember when we all got hot under the collar about that nasty Jan Moir and rushed to the Press Complaints Commission? Nothing. And filling in a PCC online complaint form was actually quite hard.

Sending me constant emails telling me to be outraged yet again just makes me sad and even more convinced that I can't change anything.

There's a lovely mention in Private Eye of Ethan Zuckerman's Cute Cat Theory of how online activism really works. In brief - people don't really care about much online beyond looking at cats and porn. Governments think they do and block their access to stuff like Facebook. The masses can't look at cats any more. They get cross. Result: uprising. He came up with the theory in 2008. When the Arab Spring happened in 2010, Mr Zuckeman got proved very right indeed.


Joseph Lidster said...

I genuinely care about the world but if I could find a way to unsubscribe from Hope Not Hate's blog, that would make me a much happier person. Sometimes it's hourly updates on EVERYTHING.

ani said...

I'm convinced i can't change anything either but i still plug away, making no difference, just because it feels like the better thing to do.

JahTeh said...

I have two emailing me and I drive them crazy by supporting one cause but not another and then changing my mind. Of course I support any cause that annoys the Leader of the Opposition, that homophobic, big earred, loud mouthed and teeny Speedo wearing bag of snivelling spite.