Thursday 21 November 2019

When did we start to confuse entertainers with spiritual gurus?

Feminist backlash: Taylor Swift
Feminist backlash: Taylor Swift
Joss Whedon
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Every now and then, it's a good idea to take a take step back from the Sturm und Drang of popular culture and see if you can tie any disparate threads into a coherent knot.

Surfing the Zeitgeist and looking for connections can, in excess, be a sign of impending madness. But in era of unparalleled global connectivity and immediacy, it's interesting to note that while we are never more than a text message away from any part of the world, we've never been further apart from each other.

One perfect example of that was the weird reaction to the disappearance of a Malaysian plane.

As soon as flight MH370 vanished from the radar screens in 2014, the theories came thick and fast. Amidst the inevitable rounds of conspiracy theories and rumours (my personal favourite was the dope on CNN who actually suggested it may have flown into a black hole) was a sense of weird, baffled fury.

How could they not find the plane? Why could they not find the plane? After all, a plane is a big metal thing, is it not?

What became apparent as the weeks of speculation dragged on interminably was that so many people no longer look on the planet as a rather large place and they certainly didn't seem to grasp that the Pacific is, to use the technical marine term, a big-ass ocean.

That was an example of people being subliminally conditioned into thinking that everything is within touching distance and the reminder that planes can still vanish off the face of the map seemed to come as a most unwelcome shock.

Another element of this new-found connectivity is that the issue of privacy has become a rather nebulous concept, particularly when you see the likes of Mark Zuckerberg express contempt for such old-fashioned notions. Every year brings Zuckerberg a new generation of Facebook users and every year, two concepts which used to be sacred - the right to free expression and the right to a private life - become more antiquated. In fact, we're not so far away from a time when the very notion of guarding privacy will be seen as the act of someone with something to hide.

This week brought us two perfect examples of the confused approach we have when it comes to telling the difference between an entertainer and their private life.

Let's put it this way, most people would probably agree that Woody Allen is a bit of a weirdo. But it's not going to stop people watching Manhattan the next time it's repeated on the box.

That director comes from a time when an auteur's private life was just that - private.

But as Joss Whedon and Taylor Swift have discovered, what you do - or more importantly, don't do - in your private life is now just as important as the work you produce.

Whedon was the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the finest TV shows of the last 20 years.

Buffy the character was tough and resourceful, Buffy the show was funny and scary and emotionally involving in a way that no so called 'teen drama' has ever been,

But now his ex wife has accused him of having repeated affairs throughout the marriage and modern feminists in the media have unleashed their not inconsiderable wrath.

Websites like The Mary Sue and Jezebel quickly turned on him, while social media has been thick with people calling for a boycott of Buffy and any future Whedon project. His crime? Being a bad feminist. The punishment? Well, apart from the commercial backlash, he has been compared to serial sexual abusers like Bill Cosby which reminds us, if nothing else, that we left the land of perspective a long time ago.

I know little of Whedon's private behaviour and care even less, because it's none of my business. A Hollywood mover and shaker who isn't the nice guy he pretends to be and sleeps around? Who wudda thunk it?

Well, not these pearl clutching ninnies who are ultimately no different from the Catholic League of Decency of yore, who would demand that an artist pass a sort of moral purity test.

We laughed at the likes of the Catholic League of decency and Mary Whitehouse because they were so bloody ridiculous, but if you laugh at their modern, spiritual heirs, you're condemned as a misogynist.

Taylor Swift has also felt a belt of that secular crozier this week because she had the temerity to bash her rivals in the video for Look What You Made Me Do. This also makes her a bad feminist and someone who is, according to the usual hissy fits, 'disgusting', 'shameful' and responsible for every ill in the world. Of course, the knives have been out ever since she refused to endorse Hillary Clinton, which led to rumours that she was a closet Trump supporter, which obviously means she must be banished and eradicated.

The connection between the two?

Well, they were seen as virtual spiritual gurus, not mere entertainers, by a confused coterie of people for whom the concept of privacy is alien.

We buy your stuff, so we own you, is the message. But even more than that it seems this new, Puritanical prurience is borne of a culture where people are encouraged to feel like they are players in the drama, when all they really are is consumers.

But ultimately, no matter how much they protest to the contrary, these hysterical critics are just the Catholic League of Decency by another name.

And they deserve the same contempt.

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