This morning, The Times, The Mail, The BBC and the Express all ran a story about an Oxford student who has been selected for the famous Oxford-Cambridge boat race. Why did this one particular rower make national headlines? Because a year and a half ago he dressed up as a KKK member for a fancy-dress party.
This was, of course, not a particularly classy move on his part, but surely this was a story for a student newspaper (and indeed it was), not the national press.
If this young man were someone in a position of power or a well-known public figure, serious questions should and would be asked – but he’s not. He’s a 20-year old student who thought it would be funny to be controversial. The headline might as well read ‘Young man thinks he’s funny but isn’t’ or ‘this man you’ve never heard of is a knob’. What value does exposing him have, other than to satiate the thirst for hating posh people (he went to Eton) that is all the rage in 2018?
This sort of naming and shaming is pretty common in the media, as we all know. We often hear stories about students dressing as Hitler or making bad-taste jokes online. If we’re lucky, we even get treated with coverage of young people committing the grievous crime of getting drunk and kissing, as per the stories from the Conservative Party Conference last year. As Jon Ronson put it in his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed: “We’ve created a stage for constant artificial drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or sickening villain.”
This latest story bears a striking resemblance to another this week in which a man was convicted of a hate crime for teaching his dog to do a Nazi salute and posting a video on it on social media. Again, it was tasteless, but the media outrage is excessive. Fair enough if people want to comment on the video saying it’s racist, or YouTube wants to take it down. Fair enough if the Oxford rower’s friends want to call him out for being inappropriate and chuck him out of the party.
But it seems unnecessary to make a spectacle of people, with no power or effect on the lives of the British public at large, in the national press just so you get to look ‘woke’ for noticing that racism is bad.
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