Tuesday 23 July 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'There's an easier solution than the mob piling in on Liam Neeson'

A very particular set of skills: but learning to say nothing at all is not one of them for Neeson
A very particular set of skills: but learning to say nothing at all is not one of them for Neeson
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

One of the interesting aspects of the current cultural climate is that while people have become far more socially liberal than before, they've also become far more judgmental of others. It's hard to imagine that any rational, sane person thinks it's acceptable that someone's career can be ruined in the time it takes to send a single Tweet, or say something the baying mob doesn't like.

Yet that is precisely the environment in which we now exist, where it often seems as if there are hordes of angry, inadequate, deeply unpleasant losers who spend their day looking for people to denounce and condemn.

It's not social media's fault, though it often seems that way. That's because social media has simply enabled people who once would have been solitary cranks to join together into one amorphous mass of bullies and censors. At a time when all the surveys suggest we're more stressed and less content than ever before, they seem to find meaning in their own life by destroying someone else's.

Kevin Hart and the recent Oscars row over long-forgotten Tweets is a perfect example of this new and obnoxious trend of 'offence archaeology' and it provided yet another example of how those who loudly proclaim their tolerance tend to be the most intolerant, the most vicious and, quite simply, the nastiest people you could ever have the misfortune to meet. Having said that - Liam Neeson, what the hell?

To be honest, when I first saw the headline "Liam Neeson admits he once prowled the streets with a cosh, looking for a 'black bastard' to kill," I assumed it was a hoax.

After all, it's only a few weeks since an English tabloid had to apologise to Dwayne Johnson for inventing an entire interview.

But nope, the quotes were kosher and it is true that, following the rape of a friend of his, he went looking for vengeance against anyone with the same skin colour as the attacker.

Most people can understand that desire for revenge when a loved one has been violated - after all, it's pretty much the plot of every movie Neeson has made for the last decade.

The fact that he even moved the tape recorder closer to him during the interview so his words couldn't be misconstrued also shows that he knew exactly what he was saying and who he was saying it to.

Had he enjoyed what used to be colloquially known as a 'good lunch' before the interview? Was he taking method acting a bit too far on the press junket?

Either way, he quickly became persona non grata and, on the face of it, it looks as if the mob, for once, was right - what he said wasn't just appalling, it was also baffling in its stupidity.

But, as always, when you look at the bigger picture, there's far more nuance to the whole controversy than you can ever manage in a tweet.

For starters, it was 40 years ago. But more crucially, he was using the anecdote - in an undeniably ham-fisted way - to illustrate his point that the thirst for revenge is both primal and toxic and demeans anyone who succumbs to it.

He was, in his own clumsy way, trying to impart a life lesson, when the only lesson needed here was for him to count to 10 and say nothing at all.

You know you're in trouble when even Piers Morgan is condemning you as a racist, and while the Ballymena man has stridently insisted that he's not a bigot, that his revenge fantasy was from 40 years ago, and he was appalled by his own reaction, that counts for nought.

But should the actor be 'cancelled', as the hashtag this week claimed? Should he be barred from the Oscars and never allowed to make another movie ever again?

The thing is, that's up to the studios who hire him, because his films make money. It's not up to some sad sack sitting at their computer to unilaterally demand the actor's head.

Further reminding us that everything has just gone a bit wobbly lately, John Barnes, footballer and anti-racism campaigner, defended Neeson, even going so far as to say that he "deserves a medal" for his honesty.

Fundamentally, there's no doubt that the actor's thought process at the time was repugnant and by any metric it certainly ticks all the racist boxes - but that was his whole point.

Nobody is going to defend him for what he said, but that doesn't mean people have to try to destroy him, either.

In our outrage-culture, his remarks may well be the dumbest thing said by any actor in the last decade, but there's an easier solution than having the mob pile in on the guy.

If you think what he said was so bang out of order that you never want to watch him in another film, then don't watch any. It really is that easy.

Ah, but simply making the quiet and personal decision to forgo his movies isn't nearly as exciting or titillating as telling the world how much you hate him.

That's the problem you see - Liam Neeson may be the actor. But on social media, everyone is the star of their own show.

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