Tuesday 14 July 2020

This was the week when everyone was outraged about something

This column first appeared in Malta Today

One of the reasons I am glad various places have opened up again is that perhaps it will stop people from obsessing over every silly story on social media and defuse some of the tension which has been building up. The fact that many now have somewhere to go will hopefully mean that less time will be spent scrolling through FB and the less opportunity there will be for everyone to become outraged. (Unless, of course, you enjoy being permanently angry in which case, go ahead, knock yourself out).

Even though ours was a mild lockdown, it was still taking its mental toll and those who have a short fuse have been among the worst affected. The agitation was building up and I do not think that it is a coincidence that some drivers had turned to racing on our roads, or that so many fatal traffic accidents were recorded this month.

The combination of financial instability, the (necessary) reams of regulations involved in opening up, and the fact that some businesses have not been allowed to open up yet, explain why everyone seems to be so irritable and snappy.

In certain instances, I can sympathise completely. It is very frustrating to see other sectors being allowed to open while yours still has a number of restrictions imposed on it. So when a make-up artist thoughtlessly posted that she had applied make-up on Charmaine Gauci for a TV programme, the fury from beauticians who have not been allowed to do make up, facials and other services was very understandable. The argument went on for a couple of days, between those who saw nothing wrong with it and those who were livid at the double standards. The squabbling turned decidedly ugly, as online arguments often do.

Of course, as the face of the whole public health strategy and one of the people who is deciding what is allowed or not, Prof Gauci should have known better. But let us say it was a slip on her part, I think she could have at least addressed the issue on TV and apologised. However, interestingly, no one asked her about it and she acted like it had never happened.

Some might brush this aside as a minor issue, but at a time when we are having new rules thrown at us at every turn, those in authority have an obligation to obey their own rules because of the message it sends. After all, in a country where rules are made to be broken, we do not need much encouragement to find loopholes and take shortcuts. The onus is on public figures to set an example, because a photo is worth a thousand words. This covers everything from social distancing to the wearing of masks, because otherwise you cannot blame people for shrugging and saying ‘why should I do things by the book, if even politicians are flouting the rules?”

Another hot button issue concerns teachers. Every time an issue involving education is in the news, it’s like someone has opened a tap and all the bottled up hate comes gushing out. Why all this aggression towards the teaching profession? One would think that after experiencing what it takes to handle their own children with online lessons, it would be enough for any parent to appreciate that teaching is not a piece of cake. With schools closed and elderly people needing to be protected, children were with their parents full-time, instead of being at Nanna’s. If both parents are working from home it meant trying to figure out creative ways to share office space, finding quiet corners of the house and negotiating over whose turn it was to supervise the kids’ schoolwork. In some cases, there was no negotiation at all because it was taken for granted that the mother would stay at home, receive the parent benefit and juggle everything. In single parent households, there was not even that option, and everything fell on one person.

And yet the backlash on a recent story was so vicious that the teachers’ union, the MUT was compelled to issue a statement, saying that while they appreciate everyone is under a lot of stress, “no one can say or imply that teachers are on some kind of vacation or are being paid for doing nothing.” Personally, I agree with those teachers whose reply to this type of uncalled for malice is “if you think our job is so cushy why don’t you become a teacher yourself?”

The next outrage of the week was Floriana FC and their supporters who celebrated being crowned Premier League champions by flocking to the Granaries. The sight of supporters hugging each other was there for all to see and the only ones who seemed to be maintaining any social distance were the Police officers, casually waiting around in a far corner, who seemed to think it was best to let them have their fun and let off steam. Obviously, that was the last straw for many people who have been abiding by the stay home, stay safe rules, and social media went berserk.

After so many weeks of this, I think I am so passed the point of being angry that I could only share a meme of a furious Carrie (Charmaine Gauci) bashing Mr Big (Floriana FC) on his head with her bridal bouquet. For those who don’t get the reference, that’s a scene from Sex and the City when Mr Big stands Carrie up at her wedding, humiliating her in front of all her friends. The veins in her neck are popping out with rage, while he can only defend himself with an abashed look. In fact, I often yearn for someone more blunt to replace the always polite Prof Gauci for just one day and speak to the nation more forcefully. Bil-Malti pur (in pure Maltese) as the saying goes, without mincing words.

We will know in a week or so if that little celebration will have led to another cluster of positive cases. In which case, they all deserve another smack upside their head and we can only hope that they have not infected anyone who is high risk.

And finally, the story of Tik Tok and the Police officer

A Police officer on duty, wearing her uniform, thought it would be fun to dance in a Tik Tok video. But Tik Tok is meant to be shared, that is the whole point of the app. So obviously, she should have realised it was bound to go viral and as predictably as night follows day, it did. She has been suspended, but there are those who have supported her unconditionally, pointing out that Police officers all over the world have filmed themselves dancing. But the main issue seems to be something else: that someone in the Police Force (allegedly this Police officer herself) used their position to obtain the phone number of a FB page administrator, ordering him to take down the video. Meanwhile she has been called every name in the book, because you know, everyone is ANGRY.

I don’t know whether I am just worn out or whether my gauge of what makes me incredibly angry is different to that of other people. I get angry about the rampant, ugly, illegal construction which has ruined Malta. I get angry about certain select, powerful, lobbies always getting what they want at our expense (yes, FKNK who are trying to take over the woodlands, I mean you). I get angry about the illegal dumping of waste, which is marring our countryside and turning our seas into a murky mess. I get angry about children being abused and neglected, and women being bashed and beaten up with nowhere to go. I get angry at the mis-use of public funds, and dodgy contracts entered into with even dodgier foreign investors. I get angry when the same businessmen (kumbinazzjoni) always seem to get away with everything, becoming even richer, while the little people are forced to put up with it.

There are so many real, very serious issues to be outraged about, but looking through social media it always amazes me that the things which make people get hot under the collar are, in comparison, rather inconsequential.

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