The internet is many different things to many different people. It is, in its most basic form, a place in which information is collated. It is a digital library of endless proportions; a constantly-growing, inconceivably large hive of videos and comments and articles and memes and streams of leaked information. It also offers more-than-ample access to heaps of pornography – appealing to all tastes and preferences – along with the possibility of procuring narcotics of any kind. It is a place in which all is possible, and all that is possible is done. The internet caters to all-comers, yet perhaps the single greatest unifying factor is laughter. Everybody laughs at the internet, because of course the internet is absurd.
Yet the internet, too – channelled through the hub that is Social Media – is increasingly the sole means through which we receive our information. As newspapers were, and then television, we now look to the Web to stay informed. Not only this, but the medium has extended the range of access to all corners of the globe. They even have broadband in Siberia. Thus, what we read on the internet does matter. It matters because – now more than ever – it plays a central role in sculpting how people perceive Reality.
Evidence of this has never been more prominent than during the 2016 Presidential elections. Countless numbers of articles have flooded people’s social media homepages, and the coverage of the process became a spectacle of its own. Even stranger was that the perception of the coverage seemed to generate almost as much discussion as the actual event itself.
The truth is that, for the most part, it all seemed rather hilarious. The two most ideologically opposing candidates to ever run for President, fighting it out. Equally as funny was that one of those candidates was Donald ‘The Donald’ Trump. Seldom are those who refer to themselves in the third person not amusing.
It was a campaign that assumed its tone far earlier than is customary. In this case, the central point appeared to have very little to do with policy. Instead, each candidates’ key ‘trump card’ was that they, personally as well as systematically, represented the direct antithesis of the other. It is safe to say that this election was a very personal one. However this is not surprising when you consider the rise of the Cult of Personality. This is the Age of Celebrity, after all.
The result was that supporters of both sides, radically vocal on social media, were simply laughing at each other. This was even worse with the sickeningly entitled radical Left. With the matter of Donald Trump, his cheap rhetoric, and often down-right lies, were treated like a joke by people long before he even secured the Republican nomination.
Here was a man – a billionaire celebrity – standing before hordes of uneducated white Americans and screaming about building a wall. Why did he want to build a wall? In order to keep out some supposedly ‘seriously bad hombres’. In between basic repetitions of talking about ‘making America great again’ and ‘winning so big’, he freely insulted entire communities, countless individuals, and whole groups of already marginalised minorities. Ironically, nobody took this seriously, because it felt understandably like an absurd joke.
Yet, fourteen months later, Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. From the end of January 2017, he will be the forty-fifth President of single largest superpower that the world has ever seen. When you consider how he was treated by the press, and what Obama said in 2011 (http://ow.ly/RhnP306nMYc), it is fairly amusing.
But the role played by the Press in this must not be forgotten. Instead, it must be analysed. Did the ‘Court Jester-like/Pantomime villain-esque’ role assigned to The Donald make his extreme rhetoric (which, it must be noted, was supported by millions from the get-go) seem merely ridiculous? Almost certainly. There was a long period of time, around eight or nine months, in which the very suggestion that Trump might win was greeted with a laugh. The Donald Trump presidency was nothing more than an anecdote, a punchline.
So now, despite this, Mr Trump will be President. Just like the Brexit vote before it, the election in 2016 has confirmed what many had suspected and yet hoped was not the case; that an extreme breed of Right-wing sentiment has emerged from the depths of society. And it is from the depths where it has come. The election of Trump, like Brexit, has come from what is considered by the educated Left as the underbelly of society. To these people, Mr Trump’s radical diatribe was clearly not a joke.
We all laugh at the internet. We laugh at the internet because the internet is ridiculous. What is not ridiculous (for it is a reality) is that we now find ourselves living in increasingly extreme times. They are extreme for a whole host of reasons, but the people have spoken. In the upcoming French elections, there is every chance the radical-Right will win. This is cause for concern. But it is precisely because of this extremism that those who joked so much – i.e. The Press – must now become very serious. All of those who believe in Democracy, tolerance, and individuality, must now stand up. Extremity demands reaction. And do not doubt it – for it may not seem quite so, yet – we are living in extreme times.