I blame Twitter. The endless shouting match of horror, the voices of reason and justified outrage mixed in with the voices of hate and division. The internet used to be a place where the worst thing you could do was illegally download a song you liked. Now, it feels as though to be in the internet-which we are, most of the time, is to be in a whirlwind of news that goes from bad to worse, with added endless doom-mongering commentary about how it’s now basically the 1930s but minus the good bits, like Bette Davis and bias cut backless evening gowns.
What can I do? I ask myself, as I sit in my bed, scrolling through Twitter. What can I do to bring back decency to the world? Was decency ever there in the first place? Maybe it never was, it’s just that we didn’t spend so much time thinking about the lack of it because we were too busy getting on with real life. So I find myself thinking about how I can be an activist, as we all are nowadays, how I can make a difference. I remember once, as a child, boldy telling my father about how if I had been around in the early twentieth century I would have been a suffragette, a jolly, well-groomed prim and proper affluent housewife-turned strident feminist, in the style of the mum in Mary Poppins, marching up and down the stairs of a large, well-appointed London mansion wearing a WSPU banner, which was largely how the ten year old me imagined the fight for women’s suffrage.
“No you wouldn’t,” my father commented drily from behind his Daily Telegraph. “You would have been too scared.”
As dispiriting as I found that remark at the time, he was right of course. I would have been too scared. I am too scared. Fighting all the bad guys is scary. Martin Luther King and Gandhi got shot. Jesus got nailed to a cross. Being the good guy rarely ends well.
But I have to do something. I can’t just sit back and let the world go to wrack and ruin, can I? OK, so I accidentally deleted the email link to sign the anti-Brexit petition, but I tried. I retweeted some stuff. I voted Remain, back in the halcyon days before Everything In The World Went Wrong. I don’t buy the Daily Mail and refuse to click on their website. I’m even boycotting travel to the entire country of America, for Christ’s sake. Not that that’s hard. I’ve been to most of it already and anyway, I can’t afford a plane ticket.
Mentally, I start counting through the countries I am boycotting. America; Saudi Arabia. I mean, I know women are driving now, but still ….. What about Russia? Been there and in no rush to go back so not much of a “boycott.” Syria? No one’s going there at the moment anyway. Oh God, maybe I need to boycott Israel. They keep bombing Palestinians, don’t they. That’s terrible…. Oh no. But I really want to go to Jerusalem…. Do I have to boycott Israel? Can I get around this one somehow on historical and religious grounds, despite not being personally religious in the slightest?
I start counting down countries I’m definitely not boycotting and get as far as Ireland in one direction and France in the other, before concluding that this might just be a virtue-signalling attempt at not having to get on a plane.
So what about shopping? I do a lot of shopping. And by the way, I’m totally boycotting Topshop now, after that whole Philip Green thing. OK, so I let that one go about dismantling the feminist pop-up, reasoning that it was about old Philip having a dig at the publisher for flogging a biography he didn’t like, rather than any genuine misogyny on his part. This is a guy who’s friends with Kate Moss, after all! Mossy can do no wrong. OK, so she went out with that dodgy bloke from the Libertines who was always on drugs, but hey, she’s Kate Moss! She’s never given a political opinion in her life. She could be more problematic than Hitler and no one would even know! My mind briefly flashes back to my favourite ever Philip Green moment, the one when the woman who worked at BHS hired a boat and sailed around his super-yacht yelling at him through a megaphone, and recalls that even that whole shenanigans with the BHS and the £1 sale and the screwing everyone over didn’t turn me off Toppers. No one liked BHS anyway. It was just that place that your nan went for some elasticated trousers and “a bit of dinner” in 1965. I didn’t care enough about the poor BHS workers, did I? So why am I now drawing the line at “super-injunction”? I quickly flick past some Topshop adverts that pop on Facebook and tell myself I never wanted that PVC cropped jacket I’m too old to wear anyway and mentally indulge in a quick rundown of Topshop alternatives.
American Apparel is back, I consider briefly, before feeling horribly guilty that I never stopped shopping there, despite them having their own, highly problematic CEO. The lure of velvet bodycon dresses will make one ignore many moral transgressions. I wore a really nice outfit from Primark yesterday. Oh wait…..
So what is one to do, in these-as we keep being reminded (thanks Twitter!)-troubled times? How can we really be the change that we want to see in the world, as one great activist (Angelou? Frank? Mandela?) once said. I guess we can just be nice to each other. And, um. Not be bystanders? How exactly we do that in a social media age when we are bystanders to literally everything in the world is another matter. I’ll just have to keep trying. And try not to be too scared.