Friday, June 21, 2019

The Bubble by Craig McEwan

Craig McEwan's character has trouble navigating the social mediascape - which opinions are the right ones?

The economy is going down the plughole again: because of Brexit this time. Everyone on my timeline voted Bremain. Who didn't? We think there should be a second referendum: surely we'd get the right result this time. Our poor economy. First the bankers and now this. We hate bankers. I spotted that rat-faced cashier from Barclays the other day in TK Maxx. If looks were daggers, she'd be a pincushion. Yotam Ottolenghi posted a new recipe for soy grilled quail eggs with sesame salt today. We love Yotam Ottolenghi.

I was signing a petition to save our libraries - we love libraries - when what popped up but a friend request from Emma Braine! My family did everything with the Braines when me and Emma were kids. Her dad, Brian, was a great block-faced man who worked for Plastimo, and the only man I ever heard interrupt one of Dad's stories and get away with it. Brian Braine. He sounds like a cartoon character, and he was, in a way. Larger than life. Emma and I were inseparable until Plastimo offered Brian a big raise and a relocation to Surrey, and that was the last I saw of her.

Emma's profile picture showed her flanked by a pair of great block-faced youths who could only be descendants of Brian Braine. I gazed at her clear eyes and unlined skin for some time before clicking accept. You'd never believe we're the same age. I can hardly believe it myself. Soon, a personal message window popped up:

Dear George, I'm sorry to bring tragic news after so long. My Dad passed away after a short illness last week. Your father and mine were great buddies once, and I thought he ought to know. Please would you tell him for me?

Love from Emma x

Now, there's little point telling Dad anything these days, but I said I would, anyway. I will too, next time I drag myself to the care home.

Do you remember The Journey From Hell? Emma asked after that. Did I! This was when our dads, smashed on Pimms, set sail for Guernsey in Brian's yacht, dragging both families along for the ride. Did they check the weather report first? They did not. Twelve hours trapped in a gale. Half-digested courgette a la crème all over the deck! How we laughed! The years fell away and soon we were yammering away nineteen to the dozen. We love connection. I took to keeping her window open day and night for fear of missing a message.

Caroline Prentice posted a piece about a lady in her sixties who had been a surrogate mother for a gay couple, with a lovely photo of the boys cradling their precious bundle while the lady hovered behind like a fairy godmother. They looked so happy. I hit share. We love babies, we love gays and we love surrogate mums. Within minutes, my post had dozens of likes, including one from Emma. She in turn shared a petition from the Pro-life Alliance, which protested the murder of millions of unborn children. By doctors! I signed and shared, of course. We love life.

Eighty-seven percent of people support a one pound a week tax increase to support the NHS. That would raise five and a half billion pounds a week! Or a year. Or maybe it was five and a half million a week. It was a lot, anyway. We love the NHS. You know who doesn't love the NHS? The Tories, that's who. They hate the NHS. They want to sell it to Richard Branson and use the profits to build a moat around their mansion. We hate the Tories.

Something awful happened. I was just checking my timeline when what smacked me in the face but the sight of two block-faced boys, each wearing camouflage clothing and a smug grin. It was night-time in the picture; the scene illuminated by flood-light. Slung around each boy's neck was an evil black rifle with telescopic sights. Before them lay the sweat-soaked carcasses of two murdered boars laid nose to nose in a bloody tableau of death. Beneath the picture was this message:

My two hunters, doing what they love.

A roaring sound filled my ears, my chest hammered, and I was nearly sick on the compostables. We hate hunters. What could I do? Emma had liked my Surrogate Pensioner post. I could hardly snub her. I bashed at the keys. They grow up so fast, I typed, then scrolled away as fast as my mouse would take me.

Did Brian enjoy a happy and productive golden age, I wonder, or did he endure decades trapped in a failing body and mind before he died, his passing a relief to everyone?

I didn't know they had boars in Surrey.

They're planning a rally to support the NHS, with hundreds converging on the high street waving placards. Also a socialist choir and speakers from the front-line of patient care. I hit like and share. We love the NHS. I'd be there in a trice, only I have to pick up my ointment that day. Plus, these demos end in fiasco half the time. Remember that anti-Nazi march? Seven of us plus two fascists, and one of them was Mr Gradidge from the corner shop. We all ended up going for a pint together.

My phone pinged: four friends had commented on my post. I jabbed at the link then tapped my fingers in frustration while the page took its own sweet time loading. My broadband is useless. Finally, the post appeared, but to my horror, it was the Dead Boars picture! The comments from Emma's friends were innocuous enough:

Essa Ford: They are huge!! Are they edible?

Al Calvados: Be sure to cook them right through to the bone. Those things carry some crazy organisms. Yummy!

They're talking about the slaughtered hogs, not Emma's block-faced boys. I scrolled down to the later comments; the ones from my friends.

Niall Baffi: Two disgusting pigs with their victims

Julie Mitre: There's not much difference between these parasites and those hunting rhino only this over indulged scum should know better.

Shax Bokrum: Meat is MERDER!!XX

But worst of all was the final comment, from Caroline Prentice. She had posted a GIF, a moving image of a woman viewed from behind and swinging her hips as she walked away into the distance. And below it a single word:

Bye!

Cold water trickled down my spine. I had been unfriended. A novel experience for me, though I myself had conducted a cull of my school-friends with wrong opinions. I was better off without them. We hate intolerance.

Panic gripped my throat as I hunted for Caroline's homepage. If I could only explain - about Emma and Brian and The Journey From Hell - she would understand, wouldn't she? But she was nowhere to be found. She had blocked me. I no longer existed for her, nor her for me. Loss hit me like a juggernaut. Heart pounding, I scrolled back to the Boar post, hoping to hit delete before it could cause any more damage. My jaw hit the floor. In the time I had wasted searching for Caroline, nine more people had followed her lead and blocked me.

Caroline Prentice is extremely influential in our circle.

On the plus side, several people had signed the petition about saving unborn children. Emma's friends, not mine, although that was easily fixed: a handful of add friend requests soon restored my popularity to pre-Boar levels.

I watched the most awful video last night. It began with a soldier, head to foot in camouflage gear despite the grey city backdrop. He was trapped, cornered by a group of men and women in civilian clothing. They were baiting him; throwing taunts, then rocks. They took it in turns to dart up to him, then dash away to safety before he could grab them. The soldier was becoming visibly frustrated. Then, without warning, he strode into the crowd and laid into a boy with the stock of his rifle. He beat him and beat him and beat him, though the boy had collapsed to the ground and was making no effort to defend himself. The bystanders just watched until other soldiers led the first one away, leaving the boy bleeding on the dusty tarmac.

I hit dislike, share, then scrolled on down the page, where I found out I should not have signed that petition for the Pro-Life Alliance. As a plethora of furious comments informed me, the primary function of the Pro-Life Alliance is to prevent women from having abortions. This is not the right message at all. We love abortions... I guess. We hate life? Whichever it is, my miscalculation triggered a fresh flurry of unfriends. My popularity was plummeting like the pound, and I felt like I did that time I performed a victory parade around the school football field only to realise I'd booted the ball into the back of my own team's net.

To make amends, I stayed up past midnight scanning my feed. Happily, my new friends championed many causes I'd not previously been aware of. I signed dozens of petitions and shared articles supporting movements ranging from PETA, Amnesty International and Oxfam to Doctors without Borders, All Lives Matter and The Countryside Alliance. My head hit the pillow like an anvil and I slept like the dead, happy to have done my bit towards a fairer world.

Then this morning, awful news! I have made yet another faux-pas! That soldier, the one that beat the boy, was Israeli, and the video was fake news. It turns out we love Israelis, and we hate Jews, at least in this context. Although, normally, I'm certain we love Jews, as otherwise that would mean we love Nazis, wouldn't it? One of East Seventeen tweeted that these particular Jews are practicing Apartheid. I know we hate Apartheid though I'm unsure where we stand regarding East Seventeen. I liked them in the nineties; I liked a lot of things back then.

I want to weep as I read the comments below my other posts. Countryside Alliance: wrong. All Lives Matter: wrong, wrong, wrong. I crash dishes into the drainer, so furious am I at the injustice of the situation. I shared those posts in good faith! What is the world coming to when you can't trust your own newsfeed? My circle of friendship is contracting like a sphincter with every unfriend. At this rate, I'll soon have nobody left. I don't want to die alone and friendless in this flat, discovered months later by a council worker after the neighbours complain about the smell.

Some parting comments from self-righteous Liberal pansies I once called friends have garnered replies that would send Caroline Prentice scuttling for cover:

Al Calvados: I'm no racist, but England is bursting at the seams. Ship 'em back!

Essa Ford: Which would you prefer? A lovely family day out hunting, or babies dragged from their cots by packs of starving foxes?

Maggie Jordan: Burn in hell forever baby-murdering scum! God bless x

I bat off a volley of friend requests to these new people. Beggars can't be choosers. By lunchtime, there are enough friend request accepteds to balance yesterday's losses. Not without consequence. Now that my timeline resembles the comments section of the Daily Mail website, I'm being hit with unfriends faster than I can refresh the screen.

I don't need a weather app to know which way the wind blows. Something has to change - fast - and when decisive action is called for, I'm the man to take it. I begin trawling the 'net for all that is intolerant, small-minded and petty. I like and share posts diametrically opposed to my old world-view. Every sentiment I find, every article I read, if it promotes mistrust, segregation or misunderstanding, then bang! up it goes as I transform my timeline into a bilious outpouring of mistrust. It's easy. Hatred is everywhere, erupting like mushrooms from the manure-rich soil of the web. Likes and comments flood in from my new friends, their friends, and friends of their friends. I click, wait, and soon they're my friend too.

A warm glow of acceptance enfolds me as I am welcomed into a new, comforting circle of friendship. Here, we never block people for hating the wrong thing. We're eclectic in our hostility. We despise liberally and unconditionally. We hate asylum seekers; we hate benefit frauds; we hate disability skivers. We hate political correctness, which has gone mad. We hate do-gooders, social workers and well-wishers. We hate paedos, weirdos and men in speedos. We hate hippies, yuppies, and GPs.

My old friends are jumping ship like rats from the Mary Rose. Poor fragile snowflakes, offended by any opinion not sanctioned by the liberal echo-chamber. Who needs them? They're just names on a screen. I slough them off like a snake shedding skin. Expendable. Ephemeral. Replaceable. The truth of this is borne out by the flood of friend request accepteds that have my inbox pinging like a cash register. Only these words from Emma bring a pang of regret:

...I can only guess at the misfortunes you must have suffered to leave you so embittered. Life is change, I suppose; God knows I'm not the girl I once was. You were bright, funny, clever, and I admired you so much. I'll never forget your kindness; a warm-hearted benevolence that the years seem to have stripped away from you. I don't like the stranger I see on my screen, and I won't let him destroy my memory of the boy who tipped Dad's bucket of fresh-caught mackerel back into the sea to save their lives. You won't hear from me again. Goodbye. I hope you'll always think of me as

Your Friend,

Emma.

I ball up my feelings and force them down my gullet to join the solid lump I have carried there for as long as I remember. Then I block all the old friends that haven't dumped me first. When I'm finished, the only old connection I have left is Dad; the profile I set up for him back when he was well. Unused but still active after all these years.

5 comments:

  1. Very funny take on modern life and facebook friendship. The online relationship between Emma and the protagonist is so crazy swiftian true. Well written.

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  2. I really liked the presentation. Excellent picture of our modern world and how some of us don't always understand how to handle it. Well Done.

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  3. this is a first class and timely commentary on an out of control phenomenon.
    Mike McC

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  4. Great satire on the stampede mentality that is today's social media. Nice work, Craig.

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  5. Clicks 'like' we like satire!
    Great stuff Craig!

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