As regular readers know, I was attempting to go on an indefinite hiatus in the New Year, but my resolve lasted less than a month.
The Ontario leadership changeover brought me back, but it could have been any number of things. For I find in this world of instant information gratification we not only develop an insatiable news thirst provided by the internet, but we also seem to need to touch bases with others about these issues.
Possibly it’s a news addiction. The internet not only enables that need but feeds it and eventually it develops a life of its own.
And so when we come to the topic of Tom Flanagan we witnessed the online implosion of a prominent academic’s career over the course of one day – due to his remarks about the viewing of child pornography.
We collectively gawked at the virtual train-wreck with shock and morbid curiosity.
Idle No More supporters attended Flanagan’s Feb. 27 lecture and posed a rambling question to which Flanagan could have responded in any number of ways but he chose to play the role of Contrarian Professor. Unwittingly he stepped into the digital abyss as the whole exchange was recorded and uploaded to YouTube. (Notice how Levi Little Mustache cleverly disarms Flanagan’s defenses with the Ikea Monkey comment.)
The next day Twitter lit up with remarks of disgust and disbelief. Flanagan was tried in the Internet Court of Public Outrage and instantly sentenced to public humiliation and loss of employment.
Some columnists like Michael Taube have since reflected, and cited the need for context and clarification before pillorying the man. However Christy Blatchford brought out a side of this discussion I hadn’t considered before: that the Internet itself has forever changed the way child porn is manufactured and distributed:
Where decades ago those who harboured sexual fantasies involving children might trade in the shadows a handful of well-worn pictures ripped from mail-order catalogues, the web has changed everything about child pornography, as it has about so much else...
She goes on to describe how the ‘system’ works today and it is not a pretty picture.
And so we witness and weigh the trashing of one man’s career and reputation against our own feelings of moral outrage and instant ability to vent them.
Did Tom Flanagan deserve this virtual tar and feathering?
I have no answer for that. I only know that the Internet and social media make it all so easy.
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…At 7:45 pm the floor was opened up to a question and answer period. Up to this point, the lecture had gone like any other. Once the q/a period began the rabble rousers of the audience made their presence known for the next two hours. Talks like these usually attract about 20-40 listeners in Lethbridge, from my past experiences. The q/a period goes on for about 30 minutes. A question usually takes 30 seconds to two minutes to present with a two to five minute response.
The night Flanagan spoke the room was filled to capacity, perhaps 120 people. There were people from Calgary who drove down to attend. 60% or so were Native, not typical demographic representation, and 80% pro Idle No More supporters. For the next two hours the “audience” controlled both the question and answer portions of the period. The atmosphere turned from academic presentation to town hall forum airing of emotionally driven grievances. Very few were interested in what Flanagan had to offer. Some so called questions took up 15 minutes of time. In many instances, Flanagan was treated like the PM and accused of all sorts of things and was even attacked personally. The audience booed, hissed, and hollered over each other in attacking Flanagan for the two hour q/a period. Towards the end it was visible that he was frustrated, worn out and tired. It is in this context that the child pornography comments need to be placed...