Fake authenticity: the compassion lie

I may lose friends. I may attract abuse. But this is one of those moments when I feel like I can no longer resist the urge to point and shout “the king is in the altogether.”

What am I talking about?

Fake authenticity.

Never heard of it? There’s a lot of it about, and you’d do worse than read this piece by Jonathan MacDonald – The Fallacy of Social Media.

In it he touches upon the fake approach taken to telling stories and building relationships online, particularly in the realm of social media.

Someone once said to me that to use expressions like “telling stories” in the context of PR was to admit that it was all spin, lies and bullshit.

The more I reflect on that the more convinced I am that it’s one of the most ignorant things anyone’s ever said to me and I should have said as much at the time.

Whether you are an individual, a brand marketer, a politician, a social media coordinator, when you are telling people something about who you are, what you do, how you behave, or what you believe in, you are telling them your story.

If you bullshit them you’ll get found out eventually.

Something Jonathan MacDonald picks up on is a piece of advice mooted by someone that says: “Act like you’re a company made of real, actual people, and good things will surely follow.”

It’s a liars charter in tl;dr form. And I find it quite distasteful.

As I’ve already said, there’s a lot of it about. And it’s not just brands that are doing it. I see a lot of people in my stream doing it constantly.

Recently jazz musician Terry Callier died. But for his work with the likes of Massive Attack he would only have been known to a fraction of the people in my stream – those who are serious-minded fans of music, or seek out interesting non-mainstream things to listen to. I don’t fall into either of those categories, just to be clear.

I remain unconvinced that a great many people who own something he worked on had ever heard of him either. In fact, I got a bit nauseated by the wave of “oh that’s terrible. #rip” tweets I saw from people who spend most Saturday evenings are watching X-Factor.

Oh, yes you are a very serious and dedicated follower of interesting musical collaborations, aren’t you?

No, you’re not. You’re a bullshit merchant trying to make yourself look cool, or – worse – desperately hoping to connect with something real, something meaningful to fill that foetid hole you drag round with you everywhere you are.

It was also evident in the wake of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in the US. “It’s awful,” read one tweet I saw, “13 people have been killed. #sandy”

Yes, of course it’s awful. Truly awful. Particularly for those directly involved. But do you know what else is awful…? The fact that the person whose tweet I saw – and the dozens more like them – had expressed no concern or compassion whatsoever for those left dead, displaced and traumatized by Sandy in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas, and probably other parts of the Caribbean too. Haiti hasn’t recovered from the earthquake it was hit by in 2010, and was in the midst of a cholera outbreak when Sandy passed close by. So fucking what, eh..?

The death toll in the Caribbean is around 70. Probably more. It’s possible no one will ever know.

The only time I saw anyone on twitter referring to that was as a counterpoint to the many, many, “I hope everyone in New York stays safe” type tweets.

Why is it that so many people, here in the UK, were so eager to express such concern?

Dislocated empathy. Not misplaced. Dislocated.

Of course we all hoped that everyone was going to be ok in New York and elsewhere in the US. The same ought to apply to everywhere that was in the path of Hurricane Sandy. No..?

Yet it would appear to be ok, desirable even, to carry on ignoring the plight of poor black countries hit by disaster, when latte-sipping, iPhone-using, GAP-shopping people, wherever they may be, have also been affected by something bad.

I know it’s easier to identify with people who have similar lives, but that’s no excuse, in my opinion, for not giving enough of a damn about the rest of the world to pause your lazy thinking and cast off your me-opia.

It made me rather cross. Still does. You might have noticed.

But more than that, it was telling to see the stories people tell about themselves.

Who do I indentify with..? Who can I identify with..? What kind of person shall I be today…

If you’re a genuinely compassionate person, and care about what happens to others, you can see further than those that wear the same clothes as you, or even the countries where you have personal contacts.

And you aren’t compelled to bleat about it in public in an attempt to define yourself.

Fake authenticity.

Nice work people.


Bigots, banter and middle class banality

It’s not easy being white, middle class, well educated and English. Or so I gather. I’m some of those things, not all of them. So I speak (or write) from the vantage point of the partial outsider. If such a beast exists.
This is a group of people that have been denied so many of life’s little pleasures – in particular, public displays of arrogance, superiority and bigotry. These things simply aren’t cool anymore.
They can’t even get away with being bigoted toward the less well off or the working class anymore. It’s frowned upon.
Don’t go thinking their fetid snobbishness has died off though. It’s the getting found out that’s frowned upon. Being clumsy enough to give the game away is not cool. And so the bigot just reinvented itself – well, slightly.
Want to see it in action? Check out the I hate banterbrigade. On one hand this is a great example of how some people on twitter really need a few actual problems in their lives in order to gain some perspective. But on the other, it’s a plain as they come down-the-nose sneer at the working class.
The kinds of conversational dynamic that get labeled as banterare really no different to badinage, or witty repartee. Except even I know you’re unlikely to hear “it’s just a bit of badinage” offered as an excuse from someone who doesn’t have three or four A levels, a 2:1 from a red brick, and who has a job rather than a career.
When I hear (or read) “I hate banter” it translates as I hate people who aren’t like me, who aren’t as clever as me, who don’t share my sensibilities.
No one’s perfect though, least of all me. I hate bigots and snobs – I’m only human. I especially have a problem the ones that are not as funny or as clever as they think, but do have a superiority complex than tends a little toward clinical narcissism.
I wonder sometimes if part of the problem is simply that WMCWEEs (that’s white, middle class, well educated and English) can’t be racist anymore. Unless they’re talking about Americans, of course. For some reason I haven’t been able to figure out, despite several years of thinking about it, it’s still OK to tell racist jokes about Americans – mostly about them being fat or stupid.
I’ve heard middle class English whities with degrees from hard-to-get-into universities make remarks about Americans that simply would not be tolerated in public if the word “black” was used rather than the word “American.” The extent of their denial when their racism is pointed out to them is the only thing more astounding, in fact.
It’s the same with the French. Being rude about the French is a commonplace activity. But again, isn’t it tantamount to racism?
I think what I’m getting at here is displacement. Those people savvy enough to realise they have to cloak their bigotry will do just that and will find other targets and use other weapons.
I don’t have any answers. This is, really, little more than my using 500+ words to say “I hate smug middle class wankers.”

Footnote: I dislike anonymous commenters. If you can’t be adult enough to put your name to a comment, don’t bother. I’ll only delete it.