I recently had the misfortune to hear ‘AntiSocial’, a discussion program on BBC Radio 4 about the use of ‘Trigger’ warnings, an import from the US, warning people about content which they might find upsetting. These are now used before most archive programs on TV, even Dad’s Army, and in universities to protect students from possible shocks provided by the likes of Thomas Hardy and Charlotte Bronte. Also, to close down texts which are found to be too upsetting, or racist. Supporting these warnings in the program was Elise Page (They/Them) a graduate of St Hugh’s College, Oxford, now working on a PhD at UEA, which she says, ‘Examines 9/11 as an embodied event and reads the Twin Towers through affect theory in an ecocritical frame.’ She, ‘Synthesises affect theory and ecocriticism to create a specific theory of the Ecology of NY. Their academic interests include decolonising the academy, climate humanities, affect theory, trauma theory, and architecture.’
She is taking a year off from all that to work as ‘post-graduate officer at UEA,’ such are the pressing concerns of Woke. She says on line, ‘It really was an honour to be elected by my fellow postgraduates. I am passionate about fostering a compassionate, liberatory culture on campus. Before this role, I was doing some work on decolonising the university. This can mean diversifying course content, or making learning and teaching methods more accessible to everyone. But it needs to be steered by students from a diverse range of backgrounds – I’m here to support you and make sure your voices are heard.’
Despite all that academic prestige I thought her use of English in the program was disappointing, ‘Hi, like, you know, kind of, sort of,’ she seemed unable to my ears, to express herself clearly, it was not possible to really know what she thought as her ‘compassion,’ seemed to make it hard for her to fully disagree with anyone. Perhaps that was just as well as she was supporting the use of ‘trigger warnings,’ even though three recent studies using a thousand cases in the US and Canada have found that they are useless and in fact increase anxiety among students.
I put my surprise at how poor she sounded on Twitter and received a response from a woman who referring to Elise as, ‘Them,’ said she’d found Them’s performance, ‘fantastic’. I replied that even if I had approved of her, I wouldn’t have called her, ‘fantastic,’ which is just empty hyperbole. That was followed by a horrible, if I may also exaggerate although I won’t lapse into the now popular term, ‘horrific,’ ‘pile-on’ where a large number of people on twitter get together to mob someone with their hatred and contempt. I was attacked as a loathsome right-winger who had broken one of our current social mores; you are not allowed to criticise someone’s language especially not if they are younger, now almost a protected category, or from a different ethnicity. ‘Kindness’ or rather US style blandness is now the rule and we are now an all whooping, hand clapping, ‘kindly’ non-critical people, get used to it, ‘Boomer!’
Perhaps because I was brought up in the exacting age before this constant approval, I find this a big change. I was reminded of this in a recent episode of The Archers, surprisingly as for years the series has been a left-wing diatribe with whole busloads of Ambridge pensioners going off to celebrate ‘Pride’. But a bucolic character was complaining that a teacher had once told him he was exceptionally good at something and now he found he wasn’t good at it at all. He was quickly reassured by a friend that the teacher must have been right. I meet those teachers regularly. We are now in an age where pupils now renamed students, patients and passengers are chiefly ‘customers,’ and after forking out a lot of hard-earned cash in taxes and fees, expect good results even if they are impossible to provide.
On a recent still-life course, we were presented with a round, stubby stainless-steel tea-pot and other assorted items to draw. I was astonished later to see that all the mostly elderly ladies present, these groups are mainly women which may have something to do with the blandness/kindness, had given their pots very long spouts. Come back Dr Freud, or at least someone who might have noticed it, apart from me. Our ‘teacher’ didn’t say a thing, apart from the now usual, ‘Fantastic, marvellous, well done, Betty, Joyce, Marjorie.’ At another group in the National Gallery where we were going to draw from Rembrandt’s paintings it was the same. The young woman teacher or I should say, ‘facilitator’ came late, looked dishevelled and stood about smiling, before telling us all our drawings were just wonderful and ‘amazing’. There was a man present on that occasion and we whispered to each other that we found the teacher disappointing.
I assume that she was being paid, but for what? Why not just put some kind of little robot into class rooms to spout the magic word, ‘Fantastic,’ at appropriate intervals. No one will demur, everyone will be really happy and feel they have got their money’s worth; and it will save the state an enormous amount on salaries.