I’m a stickler for using correct written English. I am the Chief of the Grammar Police! I simply prefer that my thoughts be conveyed clearly. My high school English teacher, Mrs Fairhall – feared by many – once yelled at the class something along the line of “If you can’t write properly then it doesn’t matter who you are, whoever reads it will simply assume you’re a bloody idiot!”
A few months ago I Liked (and subsequently Unliked) a group on Facebook named ‘Spotted in Ipswich’. It is a bitching-group where residents of my town can post anonymous gossip and gripes. At times I found it hilarious, I have enough confidence in the human race to safely assume that much of it was just a piss-take. However, there were enough genuinely vicious and sick comments from local trolls to make me a little concerned about the state of modern society. The majority of those who regularly posted on the group’s wall appeared to be bigoted, xenophobic, and borderline illiterate.
When a group of travellers descended on the town they too made an appearance on ‘Spotted in Ipswich’ to vent about how unwelcome they were made to feel. I’m not even going to venture into that line of discussion or the events that happened in the town; but on Facebook a full-on war broke out. Every comment posted, by both parties, was more rabid and delirious than the latter. The battle lasted for days, perhaps weeks. The English language actually broke. Arguments came to consist of no more than random expletives in upper-case, accompanied by strings of exclamation marks. I suspect much of it was simply gaining pleasure from throwing fuel on the flames, attention-craving one-upmanship. Some folks leave hostile statements on Facebook walls the way dogs like to piss on lampposts – ‘I was here, I’m more important than you!’
The town where I live is really quite unremarkable. I’m not being unkind, it is simply statistically average in most respects, ‘Anytown, UK’. From my persepective it’s a reasonably pleasant place to life. The ‘Spotted in Ipswich’ page presented a rather more disturbing view of the attention-seeking nutters that live around all of us. I feel I’m safe in my assumption that the page could be representative of almost any other town in this country.
Now – before anyone wades in and accuses me of being snobbish or elitist I didn’t attend an expensive private school, I didn’t go to Cambridge or Oxford, and I’m not the son of a billionaire. I’m not a toff, or stuck-up, nor do I deny my flaws or fail to forgive others for their own shortcomings. I simply aspire to be the best version of me that I can be. If that wish requires reading a book, listening to some good advice, or putting an apostrophe in the correct location that’s cool by me. Please bear in mind those points as I move on to pose a question surely worthy of a degree-level paper:
Has it become more socially acceptable to behave as a complete twat? Is the aspiration for fame and entirely superficial attention now of more importance for some than a desire for genuine self-improvement?
Today, more than at any previous point in history, we reward individuals with wealth, fame, and the potential for a hell of a lot of influence. None of those are particularly bad attributes to give to an individual who, for one reason or another, has arguably earned the privilege of possessing them. Influential people who’ve worked hard to achieve big things also have the power to develop similar aspirations in others. Think of Branson, Sugar, Jobs, Gates, Professor Cox, or Attenborough and countless other people in every field of academia, science, culture and sport – both in the public eye and out of the limelight. They’ve learnt, theorised and developed, become experts, bettered themselves. Then they have embarked on enthusiastically sharing that knowledge to inspire and help others. The most recent addition to my list of aspirational role models is Commander Chris Hadfield of NASA. He broke into the International Space Station with a Swiss Army Knife, and later recorded a cover of a David Bowie song whilst onboard; not even James Bond did anything that cool. He’s also Canadian and has a moustache, cementing the fact that he’s a darn good guy. Hadfield has been credited with doing more to educate and inspire children about space and aeronautics than anyone else in his field. He’s smart, cool smart.
But not all celebrities imbue such high aspirations in those they influence; and arguably the stupider they are the more the media take an interest in promoting them. Let me be blunt, since the advent of reality television our society has bestowed fame and fortune onto a conveyor belt of ever-more vacuous self-obsessed morons. Talentless pricks fishing for compliments from people with IQs even lower than their own.
Traditionally fame was a result of an individual achieving something quite remarkable that propelled them into the public’s consciousness. Today it seems that fame itself is a goal and not a result. Celebrity seems to work more like a Google algorithm, the more noise someone with a developing ego can make in order to appeal to their intended fans the more likely they are to move up the rankings. Their links and social-value are perhaps more important than having any substantial content.
I’m not saying that PR shouldn’t help people who genuinely do have the talent to get to the top of their ladder, there are many talented people around today that are only widely known because the internet has helped them get public exposure. However, quicker than you can say ‘Vajazzle’ some other brain-dead ego-on-legs will be sprayed orange, have their wow-brows set to stun, and be shipped out to do drunken personal appearances in clubs to make a quick buck for their agent. ITV’s show The Only Way Is Essex is just one example where gross idiocy gets framed as being cool. Behaving like a dick now seems to be a valid career choice.
Bottom line: Some kids today must surely grow up with the deluded mindset that life doesn’t begin until the finger of fame plucks them from obscurity? All they have to do is be the loudest and most obnoxious in their social networks in order for fame to find them. No need to become good at something, that would just delay things. They may believe that big houses and fast cars are achieved not by developing and building on hard-won abilities over the course of many years of intense work, but that success will be given to them just because they want it. Fame being a prize they will surely win merely because they had the stamina to stand in a queue of thousands at an expo centre, grasping for an opportunity to get on TV. After all, there is only ever a single opportunity in any life to change one’s whole future by demonstrating an entirely imagined ability to people who want to mock you for the purpose of entertainment. If someone pins all their hopes and dreams on being told how wonderful they are then it is beyond any doubt that they’ll be absolutely devastated when someone tells them they’re actually crap.
I’m quite sure there are young people out there who firmly hold the belief that success in life will be theirs if only they could Instagram a pouting selfie taken with that fit but thick-as-shit orange guy who made it big in that reality show about some city where everyone gets drunk and smashes up their house in an argument. Yes, that would be the seed of a great future.