A magical word, an uplifting word that swells the chest and – in the right voice – raises the hairs on the back of your neck. “Freedom!” cried Mel Gibson in a kilt, as he defied the English oppressors in Braveheart. “Freedom!” cried Mel Gibson in a tri-corner hat, as he defied the English in The Patriot. Yes, whenever we think of freedom, we think of Mel Gibson. And what sh*%heads the English were and are, stomping all over the rights of colonials with their enunciation and proper diction. Jerks.
But then, in the late 90’s, something happened. Freedom went too far. I put it to you, that for too long we’ve stood ideally by, content with what we’ve created: A community where misinformation, dangerous ideas, abject hatred and threats of violence are allowed to breed without reprisal. I speak of course, of “The Comment” section on the internet.
I never go online intending to read the comment section, but it’s a black hole that pulls you down and through into an alternate dimension where logic is non-linear and rules of discourse, common courtesy and reality don’t apply. It’s a kindergarten basically, where all the kids are drunk. I reach the end of an article, and I think, “Why not… just scroll my mouse wheel… one more time? Maybe something nice will happen.”
And then I get mad. You guys, I get so mad. It’s very, very, very difficult for anything to be published online that doesn’t result in unnecessary and misguided invocations of Hitler/ accusations of fascism/ racism, and general invitations for each and all to perform self fornication probably spelled wrong. It could be in the YouTube video of the happy, happy hippo dance from Fantasia. Nothing at all is immune from the throwing of virtual pies by internet commenters.
Have you ever been involved in an angry finger gesturing close call with another motorist, and then get stuck next to them at a traffic light five minutes down the road? Both of you having to just sit in the awkwardness pretending the other isn’t there? I imagine that’s how internet flame throwers would behave if they discovered they were standing in the same lunch line.
The sense of anonymity and distance is what brings it out. On the internet, no one has to know that you’re not really as big an asshole as you make yourself out to be. Using an internet handle to hide the fact that you’re generally a nice human being is one thing, but using it as a platform to purport angry opinion as fact is a step too far.
Watching the gun debate rage in the American press makes for some fascinating sport for we Australians, because gun-control proponents frequently call us out as the shining example of sensible gun control success, whilst gun advocates loudly maintain that gun control has left our nation weak and fearful as crime climbs unabated. Who’s to say who’s right? Australians are. For fuck’s sake we live it.
Reading through the comment section of gun related editorial on US sites is endlessly engrossing. According to the pro-guns, as an Australian I’m as racist as I am gay – which would make for an interesting Facebook group or street march – oppressed by my tyrannical government (nonsensical references to the Khmer Rouge and it’s enslavement of Cambodians crops up constantly), and that I’m in constant danger of being sexually molested by armed marauders and/or former loved ones.
My response, as an Australian, is “yeah, nah…”. Which means “No. Oh, America! You so silly!” 2016 marks twenty years since Australia tightened restrictions and instigated a buyback program. Gun homicides and suicides have since fallen through the floor. Now while this might be coincidental- a nation with less guns incredibly having less gun deaths – but the only way to test it would be to put all the guns back and see what happens. I believe we’re unanimous when we say we don’t want that, and that no Australian has ever sincerely thought:
“I sure wish everyone in this train carriage/classroom/nightclub/open plan office was playing with their guns instead of their phones. Then I wouldn’t get shot.”
“This AK will give me the respect I deserve!” I scream-cried at the counter of the Westfield mall gun show.
We appear to occupy different realities. Australians are bewildered by the notion that there’s a vocal online segment of the US that believe a nation which already had 20 school shootings in 2015 alone, (Australia had zero in 2015. In 2014 Australia had zero. Actually, in every year ever, Australia had zero) thinks schools would have less shootings if there were more guns in them, that the US government apparently plans to impose martial law because it’s economically sound to convert the professionals of their information and service-based economy into primary industry field laborers and make America poor again, that their armed service people – whom they claim to support – would carry out this theoretical enslavement of their own nation because “Obama told them to,” that legal documents written over 200 years ago can’t be updated to take into account new evidence or changed circumstance. That 30,000 dead a year is an acceptable price to pay for “Freedom.”
The Australian response to gun violence was at least to “try”, whilst the US response, from down here, appears to be “yeah, nah…” It’s the Underpants Gnome system of reasoning.
Step 1 – Do nothing
Step 2 – ???
Step 3 – Success!
Maybe it’s because we frame it as a public safety issue, like “No drinking and driving a commercial airline”, or “installing crash barriers on cliff roads so sleepy drivers stop plummeting into ravines” which makes gun control seem sensible, proactive and sane, instead of an abominable human rights violation. It’s strange though, we’re so alike in so many things. English speaking, Netflix watching, democracy-having trade partners who’ve been allies in every war of the past hundred years. We’re bros! We too, all enjoy the Hemsworth brothers and the dancing of Bindi Irwin. Hugh Jackman.
Maybe “Freedom” is a subjective term. Sincerely, good luck, America. Stay safe.