- Axiom: Recklessly broad generalisations lead to arseholery.
- Postulate: Rigorously bounded generalisations are the root of empirical investigation and rationality.
- Corollary: Take care not to confuse the two.
I initially thought this was too thin a thread to hang a post on, even though my epigram above was inspired by a conversation last week with a chap who was telling me how many blokes he knows who believe that “feminists need to get their story straight”, and I wondered which feminist pope he believed should get that cat-herding campaign organised, and because that guy wasn’t an arsehole he chuckled, conceded that point, and then we had a really good talk. (Sidebar: there isn’t any atheist pope either, but the media really wants it to be Richard Dawkins, while this atheist just wishes he’d keep his mouth shut more often, because he’s really not helping.)
Then I saw this post today on Skepchick from Rebecca Watson dissecting an article in The Independent where the headline was “Celebrity feminists are making people care less about women’s rights, study claims”. Spoiler alert: more accurate headline would be “Savvy clickbait-generating author fools mostly-reputable masthead”, because he knew the two magic words.
“Study says” are two of the most powerful words in journalism, because you can say literally anything in front of them in a headline and people will take it as gospel truth. Like this: “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the most overrated movie of all time, study says. See? Don’t you believe that? I mean, because it’s true, but also the weight of a “study” saying it makes it so much better!
Watson notes that despite this particular piece of churnalism being a crock o’crap, there are nonetheless legitimate criticisms of celebritised media feminism to be made, just like there are legitimate criticisms to be made of celebritised media atheism. For a start, the media overwhelmingly prefers their celebrity figureheads to be white and English-speaking, which further sidelines already marginalised voices.
I don’t want to entirely discount the utility of celebrity voices as gateways for the curious to the various movements that question different elements of the status quo; it’s just that celebritism is appallingly, ridiculously, egregiously over-valued and over-emphasised by our digitised media because it drives page-views and thus revenue, and one of the results of that cynical profiteering is that Donald Trump is now PEOTUS. A cautionary tale indeed.