Social Media Bullies

The Internet is a funny place; it’s part news, discussion, encyclopaedic entries, fluffy animals and random musings. As far I think, the tumultuous combination of all of these elements makes cyberspace a cool place to hang out.  There’s just one tiny problem. It gives everyone a god complex. We’re all allowed to say what we want, even when no-one asked. Many of us also think that there aren’t any repercussions to what we do or say online, even though we’re warned repetitively not to put drunken photos, naked videos, or any other socially awkward moments online. And yet, many people still continue to push the boundaries.  We just need to consider the furore surrounding Pretoria University’s ‘blackface’ students to remember that everything we put online is in the public arena and can be used by anyone, anywhere, for good or bad reasons.


Yesterday, I was on the receiving end of some pretty nasty tweets and it’s forced me to consider what to do next.  Even more problematically is that it involves a student.   Initially, I laughed and thought just forget it.  One of my colleagues however, said I should sue the offender for defamation.  One of my followers came to my defence and was told to ‘fuck off’. And me? I was told to ‘go and kill myself’ (just to clarify, I hadn’t responded to any of the original tweets). After all of this, I began to wonder, should I out them, so to speak? Should I report them to management? How does one respond to something like this?

In case you think I’m being melodramatic, here’s the exchange. I’ve blocked out student’s personal info because I don’t think identifying them serves a purpose.

twitter exchange1

Luckily, I’ve got a pretty thick skin. I teach, so I’m used to students being nasty, but this seems a little different. Firstly, it’s ‘out there’, and you never know who could read it and how they’d respond to someone implying that you’re a racist. It could cost me a job one day. And just imagine if the roles were reversed and I’d said this to a black student. It would definitely cost me my reputation, a lot of respect and possibly give me a criminal record.  And all thanks to someone who’s had a two second interaction with you on Twitter.

Secondly, using a homophobic slur and being part of an institution that prides itself on being inclusive is problematic. What if this behaviour extends beyond social media into something more sinister on campus?  Isn’t it my responsibility as a senior student to report this type of behaviour? And finally, what if I took the whole killing myself thing seriously? There are cases where families have sought damages and pressed charges against cyber-bullies for encouraging this type of thing. Does this student understand the real-life consequences of advocating suicide to others? I wouldn’t stand for one of my students telling another student in class something like this, so why should it be acceptable in cyberspace?

I’m still thinking about what to do, but in the meantime, I thought I’d invoke my own god complex, write this piece, include the offending conversation and let the Internet have its say. I’m also considering posting an open letter to the student to see what happens. But maybe that’s just trying to rock the boat a little too hard?



previewIt’s odd. As children we were taught that ‘sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us’. And yet, when you really think about it, words are the things that stick with you. The things people say to you are the things that, if we allow them to, shape us to our very core. We’re always told how important positive reinforcement is for a child, and how devastating it can be if one is emotionally abused, teased and lambasted. So then why the proverb? Why deny the very things that hang over us? The things that define us? The things that translate how those around us feel about us?

Sure, some would argue that ‘actions speak louder than words’, and yet, without those words actions mean very little. We forget the good things and most often remember the bad, especially when said with words that aim to destroy our character.

Strangely, even the good words can be hidden weapons. I love you. I miss you. I’m sorry. Thank you. All of these are potentially tainted. Said too often they lose their meaning and become empty vessels which imply the opposite of what they intend. I don’t love you; I say it to hide the emptiness in our relationship. I don’t miss you; I merely want it to appear that I thought about you when in fact you’ve never mattered. I’m not sorry; it’s just an obligation to clear the air and make myself seem like the better person. And I am certainly not thankful; otherwise, I’d have to admit that I owe you something, some favour, somewhere down the road.

But then again, words are magical things. They’re the possibility and the inspiration to take you away from that hurt, pain and emptiness. Shaped by imagination and the vigour of the most perfectly constructed phrase, one is able to feel love and meaning through just a few syllables strung together. I love you; you’re my everything. I miss you; I couldn’t imagine being without you. I’m sorry; watching you hurt is the greatest punishment I can endure. Thank you; I owe you everything.

Strange how such tiny fragments, arbitrary etchings, can be so devastating and yet so unequivocally beautiful at the same time. Orwell’s Newspeak would probably replace the term with hatelove or emptyfull; those things that can do just as much good as they damage. And still, we pretend they don’t matter. Those sticks and stones however…

Belittling the Cause

tumblr_m3b6iuMI0Q1r0men0I’m confused. Charity shouldn’t be something that one boasts about. Not because it’s not important, or that it’s not something to be appreciated, but rather, because we should all be helping each other whenever necessary. The current trend of women taking photographs of themselves without make-up to raise awareness for cancer irks me (as does the idiocy surrounding Movember and the latest ‘cock sock’ trend). Not because I think cancer is something that should be ignored – we’ve all had an experience with it in one way or another – or that people’s intentions aren’t good. The reality however, is that most women who are posting these selfies, haven’t done anything except post a photograph. It’s technically the same performance that one gives when clicking that ‘like’ button to send militia into Africa to save an orphan with Ebola, a cleft palette and an extra eye from a life of prostitution.

I’m not saying that everyone who takes part in this awareness campaign hasn’t donated something – whether it is time or money – to the cause; but why boast about it, and put it all over social media, as if you are some type of demi-god that should now be worshipped for your sacrifice?

Some may argue that it’s an awareness campaign and this creates awareness. Unfortunately, here’s the newsflash: cancer isn’t a secret. We know about it, we hate it, we’d do everything we could to stop it. That’s why there are millions pumped into cancer research every day throughout the world. PhDs are written about the disease, patient care, family support and pretty much anything else related to cancer, every year. There are so many other things, which are just as important, that aren’t given nearly as much attention. Corrective rape, domestic violence against men, inadequate sanitary access at schools, where children fall into pit latrines and die, are all issues that we seem to ignore. Why not cover yourself in shit and take a selfie to help encourage safer sanitation in our schools?

One, it trivialises the issue, and opens the door for cynics like me to question your motives. And two, if it doesn’t affect the middle and upper classes those people don’t like to think about. And those are just normal people problems. I haven’t even gotten onto animals, the environment or religion. The point however, is that whatever cause it is you are fighting, or whichever charity you are supporting, it shouldn’t be a one-off ‘look at me, supporting x like the good person I am’. It should be something that forms part of your everyday life, and more importantly, it shouldn’t be seen as part of a faddy group mentality, otherwise you risk belittling an important cause all in the name of self-promotion.

That’ll do SA… That’ll do…

Barack+Obama+_+Mandela+MemorialBlah, blah, blah, Mandela, blah, blah, blah, world mourning, blah blah blah. Yes, we’ve all heard about it by now so there’s no need to recap any of the finer details, but hell, what a show we gave the world to send off our ‘old man’. Bob Mugabe and Tony Blair in the same stadium, America and Cuba reconciling 50 years after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, some imaginative sign language from a dude in a snappy suit, and a self-confessed porn addict (or so the doctor says, and we always know to trust the doctor) to sing in Obama (there’s some lovely joke in there somewhere but I’ll have to mull it over). But I think my favourite part of the entire Mandela Memorial was Uncle Cyril stepping up to that mic, interrupting the Indian prime minister and telling the people of South Africa to behave. And as with any small child with a dodgy uncle, most of the crowd fled the scene. The more rebellious however, stayed.
We (yes, I’m laying claim to being the voice of all South Africans) wish they hadn’t. As if it wasn’t mortifying enough being told off in Zulu for being horrible little skebengas in front of the world, we were told off again by Pappy Tutu, who, by the end of it, was so outraged that he went off on a rant in Afrikaans. Oh what lovely irony. A boisterous crowd of mostly black South Africans told off in the language of their white oppressor at the memorial of Nelson Mandela. Seriously?! Really?! Verwoerd couldn’t have written a better script himself.
Well done South Africa, well done.

PS You think next time someone important in South Africa dies (no doctor, Rattray wasn’t important) could we please do without the stadium thing, and rather let the crowds be crowds on the street and the dignitaries be obnoxious in a private room with cameras judging them, rather than them judging us as a nation? Imagine how much more fun and self-righteous we could’ve been about Obama’s selfie if we hadn’t stuffed up so many other things? OMG! I just realised. We didn’t stuff up anything. It was all a cover-up to make the American president look less like an angry teenager who forgot to get out of bed on time… We really are a giving nation.

Maturity Abounds

wallyYou’d think that once you get to a certain age, you’d grow up, act like a responsible adult and other responsible adults would curtly acknowledge your maturity with a slight nod of their head as you passed them on the street. Yeah, this never happens. You will remain that silly little five-year old FOREVER! Except, unlike when you were five, you now have the leeway to drink, drive, vote and make babies (not necessarily all together – though it could make for interesting voter news footage). You’re probably thinking that my story is going to waddle off on yet another rant about students and student life. You’re wrong. This little tale has to do with those who are in charge of moulding the minds of tomorrow’s street cleaners MacDonald’s waiter leaders.

Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that from time to time academics are prone to behave somewhat…err… oddly.  I’ve usually been on the receiving end of their antics. Begging for wine money in Ireland comes to mind, as does placarding expletives in foreign languages all over the lecturer’s lounge, but usually it’s all in good fun, and the short burst of immaturity morphs back into absent-minded nodding at strangers.  Unfortunately, there are some ‘grown-ups’ who never got the memo.

200155_9617200561_1372_nI am sorry to say, that today, after a number of good laughs were had while attempting to bring to life our own version of Where’s Wally, the ‘grown-up’ surveillance system decided that in an institution of higher learning and students, there is no room for practical jokes, immaturity and silliness. It’s all rather unprofessional, don’t you know. As you can see from the picture of our ‘clients’ alongside, we’re all about serving humourless, mature adults. 184_24834065561_3971_n

No room for joking here!

Instead, our morning has been filled with emails flying backwards and forwards, requesting permission from management 100kms away if we can go pee-pee. Yup, it sure is fun to be a grown-up.

PS The bathroom break was noted and granted.

Exam Marking

Nothing can ever prepare you for exam marking. Even after you’ve done it for years. I think it’s like childbirth – you forget the pain and bloody mess involved. But unlike children, who are obliged to love you, exam marking just leaves you empty, hollow and suicidal.
However, before you end up at that stage, exam marking makes you wonder. Wonder if there’s hope for the human race, wonder why people pay so much money to fail, wonder if you missed some of your own lectures because the answers are so incredibly bizarre.
Can anyone tell me what a crippy is? Apparently it lives in your brain. And no, I don’t teach biology, human physiology, neurology or psychology; though I think this student might need a doctor.
But I digress. We were at the stage of wonder. Overall, you just begin to wonder what you spent the last six months doing.
Exams are wonderful examples of understanding what students really take away from your lectures and you realise how little they really know about the outside world. Everything is conflated and music videos end up being performed during World War 1 in rememberance of children who died in the Soweto uprising (the video in question is Zombie by The Cranberries, just in case you were wondering).


And then, every now and then, you find one exam that’s vaguely intelligent, and you pretty much lose your mind.


Then I dance; well, in my head I dance, in reality I just kind of jump up and down giggling like a rabid tiny human. And then, the world comes crashing down as you realise that it’s not really that good. The student just has the ability to put more than two coherent sentences together. The content is actually crap and you slap on a 65.

BUT THEN! You find ONE. ONE out of seventy that is coherent, intelligent and uses big words correctly. You consider emailing the student and thanking them for being a truly remarkable human being; instead, you write 85% on their work, and move on with a semblance of hope. Hope that the world isn’t doomed, hope that you’ll find more exams in the pile that are worthy, hope that there may be one that’s better.

Like a tired octogenarian, it doesn’t come. It barely dribbles. Sure, you get the solid work. The work that some hard-grafting and dedicated student has memorised for the 24-hour period of their exam. But you know that come Monday, they’ll be possessed by that cripper, and all will be forgotten.

You cry; violently into a pillow. You cry for the trees that gave their lives so that this drivel could be written, you cry for the sake of the country and business, but most of all, you cry for yourself as you realise that you’re broke, the year is over and your students still don’t know the difference between Belfast and Berlin.

But next year… Next year it’ll all change. You know you can get this right. You know you can make a difference. And so the pain and disappointment dissolves and you ready yourself for the next batch.




Black Pudding, French Fries and the Irish Revolution

I’m starting to think that Ireland has a tendency to make everyone slightly nuts. I don’t have any proof, but I’m sure that they use whiskey to purify the water here. It’s the only explanation for why everyone is so happy all the time, and why we are all on a continuous mission to cause mischief.

irish-potato-232x300Added to this, there seems to be incessant need for the Irish to prove that they’ve recovered from the potato famine of the 19th century and feed you as much potato as they possibly can. I’ve already mentioned the baked potato stuffed with mash, but the other night we had lasagne and french fries. Who the hell serves french fries with pasta?! I’m convinced it’s a plot to take over the world. Get everyone drunk on whiskey water and weighed down by starch. Nobody’ll be able to do anything when the leprechauns move in on their bunny army.

Not to say that the food isn’t great, because it is. The doctor might disagree. She was conned insisted on trying black pudding at breakfast (excuse me while I take a moment to laugh hysterically again). I’ve never seen anything come out of someone’s mouth so fast and yet so politely.
‘That bad?’ I inquired.
‘It tastes like burnt blood,’ she said, taking huge sips of orange juice.
Now, I’m no expert here, but I have to wonder how she knows what burnt blood tastes like. I know I don’t. If it were the Middle Ages, I might consider reporting this odd incident to the local priest. It could be evidence of some odd Pagan sacrifical ceremony involving insubordinate undergrads. For now I’ll just have to watch my back.

Either way, we’re off to Belfast today. When I return I shall regale you with tales of the mysterious stranger, the wise professor’s saged advice about sex and older men, oh, and Belfast. Yay!

Bring the Whiskey!

DSC_0072We spent last night at the Jameson’s Whiskey Distillery. Nothing happened. The end!

Just kidding! Where would the world be if a trip to whiskey Disneyland didn’t end in some crazy antics; especially when you add our more northerly colleagues, from the land of gold to the mix? We started off in this amazing bar, illuminated in green and whiskey bottles. We then went on a tour to learn how whiskey is made. Instead, we found the original cat that used to hunt for mice during the 1700s in the original distillery. Apparently, like the ancient Egyptians, the Irish have a thing for worshipping cats and decided to reward the little hunter by stuffing him for permenant display to honour his hard work (looked too skinny to have been a good hunter if you ask me, but hey, maybe the mice took some revenge on his carcass).

We then got shown some ancient torture device. Actually it was some machine that used to mix whiskey and those guys that were late for work were punished by having to clean this machine every so often. He got special tap shoes so the guys on the outside could hear him, and when they stopped hearing him, they knew he was probably dead. But not to worry, they had instructions on revival plastered all over the place.DSC_0078

Then we got to taste whiskey. I decided to have it the Irish way, with ginger ale and lime. If you’ve never tried it, DO IT! It’s the most yummy drink in the world. The doctor had one too, but also managed to con threaten convince the innocent one travelling with us to grab a shot for her as well. But as usually happens with doctors, her diagnosis for innocence is more whiskey, and a bit of wine thrown in.

That’s when our northerly friends took over and somehow, the dancing was taken over by South Africans, forming conga lines, ululating and speculating widely about the use of sports bras and jock straps by Irish dancers. What? More wine? Yes, please!

Apparently a glass should never be empty in Ireland. I think it’s a wonderful life philosophy. More cultures should honour this age old tradition. I’m convinced it would bring world peace. Just look at our conference. One night and we united China, Ireland, South Africa, South Korea, Australia, Mexico, Austria, America, Canada, Spain, Italy, Greece, Yemen, Lebanon and probably a whole lot more I can’t remember. But that’s an impressive achievement.

No politics, just whiskey!*

*If any whiskey label wants to use this slogan, I’ll be happy to sell the copyright for a lifetime supply of your best brand 🙂

And Round and Round We Go…

This trip is going badly. I got us lost… AGAIN! This time though we ended up at the bus depot near the airport, waiting for a new bus to take us back to town. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, otherwise you’d be seeing photos of the super frollicking in the heather, picking wild flowers (which is illegal) and marvelling at the beautiful countryside. We eventually made it back to the conference venue and were greeted by the President of Ireland himself. Obviously, he heard we were coming, and we all know how important and influential I am in the world of supreme higher beings.

220px-Michael_d_higginsHe spoke about why media is important and referred to that guy Habermas (if you’re in the field you would think this is hilarious, I promise). But what impressed me so much was his complete lack of politicking. The whole time he spoke, we were waiting for him to use the stage as an opportunity to push one issue or another. He didn’t. It was refreshing, soothing, and overall, I wish I could go back in time to when he did work in academia so that he could have been my lecturer.

My favourite part came afterwards, free wine and food (although I didn’t see any – convinced I’ve aligned myself with the wine connoisseurs of academia, so food is always avoided in case it mars the robust flavours). Unfortunately, the wine didn’t flow as freely as we required, so we decided to find a good old fashioned pub. Our less worldly counterparts from the coast are rather scared of the working class vicinity of their hotel, so we (now experts in public transport) ventured off to take them from the dodgy end of town to the Brazen Head pub (we wanted old fashioned and this was the first pub in Dublin. Founded in the 10th century).

We only realised once we arrived that it was closer to 10pm than dinner, but using the power of the super and her fair maiden sidekick from the coast, they somehow flirted offered services convinced the very handsome barkeeper to serve us dinner. It was huge, it was amazing, it was starchy. Only in Ireland are you given two baked potatoes with mash and gravy on the side.

You know, this trip isn’t so bad. The diet when I get back will be though 😦


To Avoid Blackmail

guinness_181345tI’m always being told that I know far too much. It’s true, the more secrets people have and  the more you know about them, the harder it is for them to dispose of you, or hold too much over your head. So for sake of full disclosure, and to ensure that nothing can be lauded over me when we come back, I shall come clean on two things that have happened since arriving in Dublin (so wah-wah Doc, no blackmailing power for you).

After the bad flights and lack of sleep over the previous 26 hours, we really didn’t think we’d be doing much of anything on our first night in Dublin. Well, I didn’t at least. And then somehow, at dinner, an entire bottle of Chardonnay disappeared, and we felt the need to find some traditional Irish music to help everything digest. Lucky for us, there’s a pub right next door to our hotel; and they have traditional Irish music (actually, it was just an Irish guy singing songs from contemporary Irish bands, but I disgress).

Anyway, we decided that since we are in Ireland, and that neither of us have ever tasted Guinness we were going to order a couple of drinks and a pint of Guinness. Luckily, Guinness is really cheap because it is the most vile concoction I’ve ever put in my mouth (and I emphasise the coc here). The problem was, we couldn’t work out how to dispose of the ghastly black stuff without arousing suspicion, and possibly causing an international incident.

Being the sound-minded, brilliant and inventive person that she is, the doctor thought that if we headed outside with our drinks, have a quick chat, and leave forget the goo outside, that nobody would notice and we could avoid offending the locals. There was just one problem. His name was George. He was the bouncer. And he saw the offending message which we were sending back to South Africa, moaning about how awful Guinness is. He took the glass from us and said that if we’re going to be so rude about Ireland, he’ll bring us something better. He did. It was red. It was little. And it was good!

It’s how I ended up with the pin below. George said it was for the Children’s Hospital. The doctor said it was a con. I said okay George, you’re right (because postgrads never listen to their supers) and handed over five euros and a kiss on the cheek and he gave me his pin. The doctor now says I’ve been initiated into some underground IRA unit. I think she’s just jealous because no-one offered her a pin into a secret Irish society.


Unfortunately, she got her own back the next morning. We decided to do a tour of the city and then head to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells (if you don’t know what that is, click the link!). As per normal, I took the lead and started navigating through the streets of Dublin. All the while being told that I was going in the wrong direction. I pointed out that I had never gotten us lost before, I remembered were things were in an airport I’d only been to once, and that certain touring academics have tendencies to wander off and end up in dodgy bars. I knew where I was going.

And so we arrived, at Christchurch Catherdral. It wasn’t Trinity College, but I got us to the church; on time to hear the bells toll four 140px-The_Spire-doyler79o’clock. Actually, I had no idea where I was going and like a true academic, I just wandered aimlessly with a more slightly less aimless supervisor in tow. So yes, I got us lost. My supervisor knew the way and got us home.

But, we did amble for three hours through Dublin to get home and found that while we’d been out, somebody had erected a giant spike in the middle of the street in front of our hotel. Apparently, it’d actually been erected a few years ago, but we didn’t see it the day before. So either there really are leprechauns with mischief and magic, or the Irish have invented invisibility cloaking, because trust me, there is NO WAY that both of us would have missed a 120 metre high phallic light pole.


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