December 7, 2013

The nuisance of cyber banter

First there was knuckle-biting stupidity. Then there were attempts to defend it

Monty Panesar: an inspiration for the Oscar Wildes of social media © Getty Images

"Did you hear the one about the four Sikhs? No? Well, there were these four Sikhs… "

If someone were to approach you at the bus stop and invite you with these enticing words to embark with them on a perilous linguistic journey through the withered and blasted badlands of feeble 1970s-style humour, I suspect most people would politely decline.

Sadly, on Twitter, there is no way of interrupting someone mid-joke and explaining that you haven't got time to listen to casual racism at the moment, as you've an urgent appointment with your proctologist and would they mind awfully going away.

So there was no way of stopping the knuckle-biting stupidity of Cricket Australia's official tweet. Those of us who have tweeted in haste know that horrible sinking feeling when you see the words that sounded so trenchant and witty in your head turn into a grammatically disastrous, libellous or just plain stupid mess of characters smeared across the screen. On a particularly bad day, if I haven't had enough coffee, or if I've accidentally heard Michael Vaughan on the radio, I might spend most of the morning angrily tweeting, remorsefully deleting, stubbornly retweeting then wisely re-deleting.

Of course, to have the wit to click on delete, you first need the wit to spot what is delete-worthy, and that's where our anonymous Cricket Australia hero comprehensively failed his stupid test. Let's be generous. This was probably not the tweet of a racist, but it was the tweet of someone who wouldn't be able to spot racism at a Ku Klux Klan convention.

So how exactly did that thought process go?

1. Man sees a picture of four Sikhs on the internet.
2. Man remembers that Monty Panesar is a Sikh.
3. Cartoon light bulb appears above man's head.
4. Eager to share his discovery, man employs opposable thumbs to point out to the world that Monty Panesar is a Sikh, like these other Sikhs, who are not Monty Panesar.
5. Exhausted, the Oscar Wilde of social media retires to contemplate his triumph.

As feeble as the tweet itself were the attempts by third parties to defend the tweet, attempts that were available in two flavours:

1. English people are only complaining because their team is losing.

This is silly. I'm English and anyone who has met me knows that my readiness to complain is not contingent on the cricket score. I've complained more in the last few years while the England cricket team has been good than I ever did in the two decades when it was rubbish; more often than not I've been complaining about the England cricket team.

2. It was just a joke.

It wasn't even that. A joke, even a racist one, at least involves some effort to craft an enticing set-up and a pithy punchline. If you took this tweet to a Racist Joke Repair Workshop, it would get short shrift: "Tut, tut, who put this together, then? We'll have to strip the whole thing down and start again from scratch. Call that a racist joke? Dear, oh dear."

There has been an apology of the "I apologise for the fact that you think I should apologise" school and some shuffling of the virtual chairs in the Cyber Banter Co-ordination Department at Cricket Australia Towers, and that will probably be the end of it. Let's be honest, even if the ICC wanted to take it further and managed to get a photo of the guilty tweeter, they'd have a tough time finding him because, frankly, all these Australians look the same.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 8, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    @Anthony Purcell : Sadly I think it's part and parcel of being an island nation - there is little cultural exchange taking place unlike elsewhere in the world where borders are shared (even Britain is made up of several small nations and now is heavily interconnected socially with Europe) If you're only exposed to one ethno-centric way of life then ignorance is more or less the only result. If our politicians weren't so hell-bent against education of Aboriginal culture in schools maybe we'd get a better cultural exchange going on..

  • Dummy4 on December 8, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    I grew up in Australia, and the suggestion that many Australians are loutish and intolerant used to strike me as just ignorant. Then I moved overseas for five years and on my return I was stunned to learn just how accurate a summary of Australian character 'intolerant louts' is. We should be ashamed but we're too heavily in denial to realise we have a problem.

  • Luke on December 7, 2013, 14:04 GMT

    Panesar deserves, and I think has already been granted, a lot of respect in Australia for the way he faced up to Johnson today. Compare his courage to the (futile) efforts of Broad to avoid having to bat, or hold a bat, or stand remotely anywhere near his stumps.

  • RAJARAMAN on December 7, 2013, 12:33 GMT

    if I've accidentally heard Michael Vaughan on the radio, I might spend most of the morning angrily tweeting ... excellent

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