British woman’s family relentlessly mobbed by activists for “misgendering”
Caroline Farrow is a columnist for the UK Catholic Press, her husband, Robin, a Priest in the parish of their local community in the United Kingdom. Together they have 5 children, the youngest 4, the oldest 15.
While on the exterior they might present as a beautiful, quiet family living their lives in quaint English parish, they have recently been the target of a seemingly limitless campaign of harassment.
In the last episode of the third season of Black Mirror (S03 E06)—“Hated in the Nation”—a hacker uses automated drone bees to kill off obnoxious people. The first to die is a provocative conservative pundit who mocks the disabled in her weekly column. The second is a narcissistic rapper who insists on “keepin’ it real”—even if that means bringing a nine-year-old fan to tears. The third is a drunken prankster who pisses off patriots by doing something akin to flag burning.
It’s called “The Game of Consequences” and pretty soon hundreds of thousands of anonymous citizens are playing. At the end of each day, whoever has the most #DeathTo mentions gets killed by the automated drone bees.
Although most of those targeted in the episode seem genuinely obnoxious, I couldn’t help but think of Socrates, the Athenian gadfly, getting sentenced to death, by his own people, for being an annoying guy who asks uncomfortable questions and brings up inconvenient facts. Can’t you hear the crowd chanting: “This is what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”
If something like this happened, if we could somehow get rid of all of the mean people, would it lead to a better world? I doubt it, Facebook. I doubt it, Twitter. I doubt it, YouTube. Regardless, this is Black Mirror, so the story doesn’t end here. We soon realize that these obnoxious individuals aren’t the real targets of the hacker’s fury.
He’s actually trying to rid the world of all those anonymous citizens who participate in Twitter pile-ons, all those Facebook users who viciously attack those with whom they disagree (e.g., all of the progressives who participated in the online mobbing of the provocative, politically-incorrect journalist are killed, as well as all of the conservatives who participated in an equally nasty pile-on).
In other words, the hacker is trying to rid the world of people like you (well, some of you). In total, 387,036 people are killed by the automated drone bees. If something like this happened, would it lead to a better world? I doubt it. Would the world be a much better place if you stopped participating in these online mobs, and treated those with whom you disagree with more respect? Absolutely.
There are some children who seek negative attention because it’s much easier to obtain. Lena Dunham seems to have made a career out of this.
Bad behaviour is often the result of past abuse. But at some point we can all become enablers of bad behaviour with people who play to our weaknesses.
A “naughty” child gets something out of causing outrage and, in Dunham’s case, so do Dunham’s critics. Social media users love to mock Lena Dunham and that seems to be what she’s counting on. Dunham wants the attention. Even if it’s negative.
Sociologically, there is a benefit to shaming others. Studies show that people engaging in shaming are signalling to others that the punisher is moral and ethical. Publicly shaming others signals that the person delivering the punishment can be trusted.
The person being shamed is given corrective social guidance and led back into a state of co-operation with the group. It seems like a win-win situation.
But what happens when the person you’re shaming was actually seeking that result?
It’s possible that the best corrective reaction to Dunham’s provocations is to ignore her. To not give her what she wants. On the other hand, that is a little too close to “deplatforming” for my comfort.
Dunham’s flaws and oversharing behaviour may bypass social norms but it opens up an avenue for important discussions.
On November 25, 2018, Allison P. Davis published a profile on Lena Dunham in The Cut. Before the end of the second sentence Dunham had already lost an ovary and I asked my Twitter followers to let me know if she makes it out of the article alive. She did.
Can someone please finish reading this article for me so I find out if Lena Dunham lives or dies?https://t.co/lcjsQEco2U
— Diana Davison (@d2davison) November 26, 2018
While many people may have wished for a “trigger warning” before seeing a screenshot of Dunham’s barely concealed pubic area, there are many women who may be trying to cope with similar medical problems who benefitted. Dunham’s candour may have helped a lot of people facing a similar life changing decision. At a young age, Dunham had elected to have a full hysterectomy.
The responses to that profile were almost entirely negative.
On December 5, 2018 Dunham gave us an apology on a different issue.
This is not surprising. Dunham has practically turned contrived apologies into her own genre. A common perception is that Lena Dunham says or does something outrageous so that she can later apologize. It’s a twofer.
What is surprising is that Dunham’s second apology seeks to establish another person’s guilt.
Murray Miller, a former writer for Dunham’s popular HBO series Girls, was accused of sexual assault at the beginning of the #MeToo movement just over a year ago. This Twitter based “hashtag” movement encouraged women to name their alleged abusers on the internet or through the media, not through the proper legal channels.
Dunham originally claimed that she was saddened to report she had “inside information” that Murray Miller was the victim of a false accusation.
After backlash, Dunham immediately apologized for having said Miller was innocent. The apology did not have an air of reality. Instead, it came across as if she was engaging in compelled speech under social pressure.
Of course Lena Dunham is not an arbiter of justice in her country. Whether or not Dunham feels that Miller is innocent or guilty is just her own opinion. But, as a person who was personal friends with Murray Miller, Dunham was in a unique position to actually hear his side of the story and her opinion carried significant weight.
So we have two apologies from Dunham to reconcile. The first was an apology for saying she believed her friend and, by doing so, implying Miller’s accuser was lying. The second is something entirely different.
On December 5, 2018, Lena Dunham wrote a guest editor letter claiming she had lied about knowing Murray Miller was innocent. Dunham says she had no “inside information” about the allegation at all.
This leads people to believe that Dunham’s previous lie somehow makes Miller guilty.
Dunham did indeed have some “inside information” in the case. She may not have seen text messages or emails or documentary proof that the accusation was a lie but Dunham had inside access to talk to Murray Miller and get his side of the story.
So Dunham is lying about lying about having “inside information.”
While we can all agree with Lena Dunham that she is a liar, there is something more insidious going on that needs to be addressed. As a friend of mine said, “she’s seeking a please deal with the court of public opinion; in exchange for trashing her friend’s career she’d like to walk with time served.”
I think that “please deal” is a very apt phrase.
If we were in a proper court of law, Dunham would not be a witness in Murray Miller’s case. What she’s offering to the public is called “hearsay” evidence.
A former friend of Dunham’s told me “the fact that Lena Dunham is a vicious liar and social climber has no bearing on Murray’s guilt or innocence, though he’s almost certainly the one that is going to pay the cost, a victim of Lena Dunham’s narcissism run wild.”
I don’t know if Dunham is “vicious” in her comments but she certainly admits to being a liar.
A current friend of Dunham’s begged me not to be cruel. “She makes mistakes that might be cringeworthy, but they are still useful in our culture because they allow others to learn. It’s like the kid in class who blurts out what many think but would not dare say.”
I do sympathize and agree to a certain extent.
I think it is very important right now to talk about who has the authority to pronounce guilt or innocence in a #MeToo accusation. Lena Dunham has given us an opportunity to have that conversation.
The current friend also said, “[Dunham] is not cruel, she is not vicious or mean. She might say things that are misguided, but she learns. And through her journey others learn too.”
Unfortunately, whether or not Lena Dunham is vicious depends upon your proximity to the trail of wreckage she always leaves behind. In this case, Dunham’s victim is Murray Miller.
Dunham says about Miller “I didn’t have the ‘insider information’ I claimed but rather blind faith in a story that kept slipping and changing and revealed itself to mean nothing at all.”
We are no further ahead in our knowledge about Miller’s guilt or innocence. All Dunham has said is that she doesn’t have any special knowledge. And yet this exact statement is tied in with Lena’s support of Miller’s accuser. She claims her own ignorance somehow makes Miller “guilty.”
Dunham has lamented and celebrated that the phrase “voice of a generation” will be on her tombstone.
It’s a statement Lena Dunham’s character Hannah Horvath makes to her parents, while high on opium, in the premiere episode of Girls. It’s what rocketed Dunham to fame and what enabled her to make the comments that later brought her so much disdain.
While Dunham will continue her own personal war with the culture that simultaneously made her famous and condemns her, the one thing Lena Dunham should not be allowed to do is speak to the guilt or innocence of another human being.
In this regard, without giving Dunham the negative attention that seems to make her thrive, I think it is appropriate to engage in some corrective action. Mobbing her is not the solution.
Maybe she did mean well. Maybe not.
Regardless, we can all learn from Lena Dunham’s many mistakes. Whatever it is that she wants to say to rescue her own reputation should not reflect on the guilt or innocence of someone else. And, for her own sake, she may want to stop providing us with so many learning opportunities.
I have two friends who know Lena and both of them feel very differently about her. I am not going to put her character on trial. The one thing we do know is that Lena Dunham is not a judge and has no legal standing in Murray Miller’s guilt or innocence.
And for that, we can be grateful.