Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column on the so-called “#shirtstorm” episode is spot on. It’s also full of those fantastic soundbites we’ve come to know and love from BoJo :
I watched that clip of Dr Taylor’s apology – at the moment of his supreme professional triumph – and I felt the red mist come down. It was like something from the show trials of Stalin, or from the sobbing testimony of the enemies of Kim Il-sung, before they were taken away and shot. It was like a scene from Mao’s cultural revolution when weeping intellectuals were forced to confess their crimes against the people.
Why was he forced into this humiliation? Because he was subjected to an unrelenting tweetstorm of abuse. He was bombarded across the internet with a hurtling dustcloud of hate, orchestrated by lobby groups and politically correct media organisations.
I’m quite willing to accept that all too often in everyday life, we see examples of misogyny. I’m also quite willing to accept that the scientific workplace is male-dominated. But neither of these things are the fault of Dr Taylor. Or his shirt. He was just a guy who landed a spacecraft on a comet half a billion kilometres away. Anyone thinking that he has time for anything else – especially attempting to make wimmin angry – simply doesn’t understand. And this tweet, from a person who works in “communications”, summed it all up:
I have no idea how Dr Taylor dresses usually, but that was a very strange choice when he knew he’d be seen around the world.
Yes. That might seem a bit of a no-brainer to you as a communications strategist, but I can assure you, it was something which Dr Taylor gave absolutely no thought to whatsoever. His thoughts were 300 million miles away, they weren’t worrying about the design of his shirt. If he was in any way concerned with daily trivia like that, he wouldn’t just have landed a probe on a comet.
This is one of the greatest scientific achievements of man… er… “personkind”… and people are more bothered about the guy’s shirt.
Something is wrong here.
It seems that we have come to the point in society – fuelled by the ‘speak now, think later’ culture of social media – where people are actively looking for things to be offended by. If you’re going to do that, you’re surely going to find them: but the outrage over Dr Taylor’s shirt is a good example of taking offence for offence’s sake.
Not only does that irritate people like Boris and me, it also devalues the genuine disgust at the truly unacceptable actions or words that deserve to be called out. But stick your (privileged, cis, white, hetero, male) head above the parapet and you’re going to get it shot off.
This is the 21st century, for goodness’ sake. And if you ask yourself why so few have come to the defence of the scientist, the answer is that no one dares.
No one wants to take on the rage of the web – by which people use social media to externalise their own resentments and anxieties, often anonymously and with far more vehemence than they really intend. No one wants to dissent – and no wonder our politics sometimes feels so sterilised and homogenised.
Like I said: spot on.