An interview emerged yesterday in which Liam Neeson stated to the Independent that he had sought to avenge the rape of a close friend by hanging around in London hoping that “a ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”
A shocking, repugnant admission immediately condemned as such by Neeson in the same interview. Still too late though.
Within seconds, the top blew off Twitter and hot take lava engulfed us all. Smart arse critiques of government ineptitude were suspended in favour of side eye emoji retweets and hilarious gifs. Reasoned, informative takes by people who have experienced the repercussions of institutional racism suffocated by the fumes as national accelerant Piers Morgan launched himself at the blaze, describing Neeson’s comments as “something the KKK would say.”
The BBC’s obligatory phone-in. As one caller described a sad but necessary walk to the charity shop to drop off his copy of ‘Off The Wall’ by Michael Jackson (to the chagrin of the staff, he editorialised darkly) I wondered if the backlash movement was less about our feelings towards morally reprehensible behaviour and more an attempt to assert ourselves in a world where are own voices are drowned by the cacophony of others trying to justify their own existence. Rather than any desire to avenge the survivors of alleged abuse, say.
It’s a phone in, and of course my own fault for listening to it. But the fury towards Liam Neeson exists in a very real sense. It achieves sentience through discussion and think pieces mostly written by white people (like this one) and Neeson’s career, like those of many before him, will undoubtedly suffer as a result of this admission. The modern judicial system is swift.
It’s not without its flaws though. How do we decide where to put our feet down in this, the most temperamental of minefields? Do we stop buying R.Kelly records? Lost Prophets records? Woody Allen films? What about the ones we already have on VHS? Should we avoid Christmas compilations with Gary Glitter on them? What’s the critical time frame? If the offence happened before 1975, are we still able to prosecute?
It’s a meta debate ideally suited to being chewed over in 270 characters or less, but as with most things taken up as a cause by the Twitterati (again, I include myself in this tiresome group), it’s utterly futile. The more interesting question is why is it entertaining when Liam Neeson avenges crimes against family members in the Taken franchise, but when he alludes to the idea of doing the same thing in real life, we’re entitled to flee like he’s wearing a suit that’s been infused with anthrax spores?
Because it’s fiction and as intelligent human beings we can tell the difference? Really? If that’s the case, why don’t we make the distinction between a contextual admission that is immediately condemned by the protagonist and an alleged campaign of sexual abuse against minors? The trouble with a social media backlash is that often essential details are forgotten in the crush to be seen to react.
The boycott of thingswefindoffensive is pointless because we’re imperfect beings. We subconsciously apply cognitive dissonance to things we choose to be outraged over, while diminishing the repercussions of other things to mitigate the crushing existential nightmare reality has become. Privilege. Racism. Cheap, disposable clothes. Meat consumption. Climate change. Cobalt in the lithium battery probably powering the device you’re communicating on.
We can’t handle the truth of modern life. The complexity. The energy of having to maintain the lies we tell to ourselves to enable us to get out of bed every morning has to escape somewhere, and where better than social media, where everyone is entitled to an opinion and a voice? The fact that the resulting discourse is utterly unreliable because in order to get enough page impressions to be heard one has to be controversial enough to attract them is, at best, irrelevant.
We’re raging at the dying of the light, people. And too stubborn to reach for the switch.