The Twitter-isation of memory

The other night, just before I was about to go to sleep, I checked my BlackBerry and discovered an email containing really annoying news. As I then lay sleepless and annoyed in my bed, two things occurred to me:

(1)  don’t read emails from work right before you go to sleep. That is just stupid.

(2) I was framing all my reactions to this news immediately into the form of how I would express my disgust in my Facebook status and tweets in the morning.

We are constantly constructing and reconstructing memory. Ernst Schachtel in his article On Memory and Childhood Amnesia discusses two aspects of memory and its construction. The first is the idea that we frame memory according to social expectations – one’s wedding/birth of a child is always remembered as “the happiest day of my life”. not because it was, but because that is what we are socialised to expect and remember. Secondly he discusses the manner in which we frame individual remembrances so much that sometimes, even as we experience things, we are structuring are recall of them. Think for example of how when something is happening you are thinking about how you will tell your friends about this. As we remember, we narrativise, condense, cast ourselves as the hero/victim, create a coherent construction of memory which is what we present to others. In retelling and re-presenting our own past, we reinforce in our own mind that particular construction of memory. Thus our memories become completely mediated, framed in the most comfortable structure for retelling, influenced by our own embellishments and solidified.

So what happens to that construction of memory when are recall is mediated through 140 characters, or a status update that can be read by everyone from our mother to our work colleagues? Not only do tweets and status updates involve our own representation of experience, but they are also likely to be retold to others and returned to ourselves. They are a written representation which can be easily circulated of our (mediated) memory.

While I would hope that people re-present their own experiences in enough other ways to ensure that our recall of an event can be longer than 140 characters, it does pose some interesting possibilities. Will be retell stories to our children with hashtags? Will we learn to symbolise “like” and “unlike” for each memory? On Twitter the other day, a shiny new coin suggested that we needed to invent an air quote symbol for hashtag – perhaps it could be the first of many that structures interaction both inside and outside our internet existence. And if the American Constitution can be put on Twitter, why not our entire memoires?

My life, brought to you one status update at a time.

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Old cliches, new applications

So in the last week, I have been rather exercised by the whole Matthew Johns rugby league sex scandal. The thing which has frustrated, upset and disappointed me the most is the fact that, as a society, we really don’t seem to have moved on from the idea that girls in short skirts are asking to be raped. Or at least its equivalent. It seems that when a woman exposes these things, out there we feel the need to play the (wo)man, not the ball. It is not enough to talk about the meaning of consent, or the nature of moral judgement, or whether it is just to punish one for the sins of many. No, immediately the reaction of both the media and the fraternity and the (ugly, ugly) fans is that clearing she was a lying slut who was asking for it anyway. My complete flabbergastedness reached its zenith today on reading the News Ltd headline – she married a rugby player? So what – in later life marrying a rugby (union not league) player means that you consented to being gang-banged by rugby players when younger? I’m not sure I understand the logic – it is ok to be raped as long as you later go on to marry someone who works in the same profession? Fascinating.

This kind of blame-the-victim mentality is particularly obvious in some of the Facebook groups which have sprung up. What is particualry interesting is that some of the most vitrolic and mysogynistic commentary appears to come from women. Take for example these three verbatim entries:

At any time during her interview did they ask the question that I think matters most? DID SHE CONSENT??????? If so she should pull her head in. As a women I feel some of us have taken Womens rights to far its ok for some of us to start a Facebook fan club re: Picking up Pro Footballers but the poor footballers can’t have consentual relations without being ridiculed. Cmon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Or

At no time have i heard this women say she could not leave the room.. at no time has she said they violently raped her unwilling .. she knew wat was going to happen when she went to the room with the guys and wat now she is having a whinge over it. Or is money tight for her and she figures this is a good way to make a quick buck by being paid for the interviews.. I think if this women has nothing to hide come out and show your face .. she says she has been in hiding for 7 years.. hiding from what i ask.. I know the guys have to take responisbitity for their actions and learn to walk away for what is thrown at them by some 5 mins of fame wanna be women but on the same hand these women have got to either want it by a football player or dont go to their rooms… She has to remember that SHE went to their rooms not the other way round.. I think she should suck it up she got wat she wanted and get over it and leave the poor footy players alone. BRING BACK MATTY JOHNS …..

or

Its all well and good to say have respect for women, but u cant not expect people to respect these women, if the women dont respect them selves first, that girl had no self respect…never said no…..or walked away…….she knew wot could happened n it did so then the blame should also lay with her…she wasnt forced to that room she wanted to go (her idea i understand) so now she wants someone else to suffer, n that to me is discussting n should not be allowed to let this haapen she got wot she wanted her 10 minutes of fame and now she is getting away with the fact that she doesnt have to take responsabily for her own actions and people are letting this happen like channel nine….wot message is this sending to young women of the world if u dont like wot happened just blame someone else cause yr a female u will get away with it…mum always told me growing up means taking responsability for yr self now remind me how is this female doin that!!!!!!!!!!

So let’s consider this. Apparently no one asked whether it was consensual – well, clearly, ‘Clare’ didn’t think so. There was a police investigation at the time, and I’m assuming it wasn’t one of the players who made the report which provoked that. Personally, I think it was pretty clearly rape (although not by Matthew Johns himself, who apparently did have consent). She consented to having sex with two players but unless she knew exactly what she was consenting to and what was going to happen when she went into the room, the rest was rape. It is interesting because I wonder what these women quoted above would say if the men in question were young Lebanese men from Western Sydney. In a number of the prominent rape cases over the last decade, the young woman in question consented to having sex with a guy, who then brought in his friends and subjected her to repeated sexual assault. And interestingly, their defence was often similar to those quoted above – she was a slut and was asking for it and should have known.

Then there is this concept that she could have left the room and that she wasn’t “violently raped unwilling”. Firstly, a very young woman in a room full of athletic, strong blokes, half or fully naked, slightly drunk – is this really a situation that is so easy to walk away from? Is it easy to just get up and say – sorry about that, this isn’t really on guys, see you later? The fear of violence, of mockery, of scorn sees women just passively go along with any number of things that they are still not consenting to. Being naked and already engaged in sex hardly puts you in a position of power. And since when did rape have to involve violence? Is this the best defence that can be mustered – it wasn’t violent? Again we also have this prominent theme that “she got what she wanted” – the getting a whole lot more than that apparently is a small price to pay.

Sociologist David Rowe has pointed out that this is a consistent pattern of behaviour for rugby league. In the Sun Herald on the weekend an article by David Sygall notes:

“The same outcome seems to occur – that the scheming woman knew what she was doing, she’s bleating now because she feels rejected, and the real victim is the sports hero,” Rowe says, adding that this pattern is consistent with aspects of league culture.

Of course, ironically, the Sun Herald which carried this critical report about league culture, also featured on its back page the musings of Danny Weidler, a total boof-head, on the back page who, while feeling sorry for the girl, indicated that his conscience was clear because, even though he knew about the incident at the time, he chose not to report it, because he had heard “the other side.”

It is this very pattern of behaviour which leads to the repeat offenders and the endless cycle of poor behaviour.  The situation with the Coffs Harbour incident involving the Canterbury Bulldogs was similar, with unbelievably vitrolic attacks on the woman who dares to speak against their stars on ‘Doggies’ websites. It is also interesting that the Duke lacrosse team incident involved the same kinds of attacks on the credibility of the woman involved – she too was a lying slut, and a stripper at that. Is it any wonder that women still are reluctant to report sexual assault when we as a society still drag their sexuality, morality and reputation through the mud. Clearly the idea that raping a nun is infinitely worse than raping a prostitute is still alive and well.

Out of the coverage, I must say that I have grown a great deal of respect for Rebecca Wilson having read her piece in the Daily Telegraph and heard her on ABC radio. Other commentary like that of Robyn Riley and Adele Horin has highlighted some of the issue that make me shudder about the whole incident. I think that it is important that women who do like the sport (and I must admit I am not one of them) are also willing to point out that the culture is not good enough. As Matty’s wife herself said “I wouldn’t have wanted it to be my daughter.”