Often there’s more value placed on appearing good than actually being good.
There’s no doubt, slowthai was out of order at last night’s NME Awards and the subsequent condemnations were warranted. The Northampton rapper spent an excruciating two minutes leering at presenter Katherine Ryan before jumping into the crowd having been outraged that his actions were called out. All this from an artist that has a song called ‘Ladies’, that literally calls on men to respect women.The tragic irony of this taking place during his coronation as ‘hero of the year’ was not lost on many either.
Thai apologised for his actions on Twitter earlier today and regardless of what you may think of his apology, or the nitty-gritty of his actions, this article is about neither. Instead, what last night showed us is yet another manifestation of a systemic issue. When it comes to public discourse it is easier (and often lucrative) to preach and offer judgement from a moral high-ground, than it is to confront problematic aspects of your own behaviour.
The toxic internet culture of moral one ups-manship has contributed to many engaging in shallow statements. People often share scorching-hot tweets from a safe distance to illustrate how much they hate toxic masculinity and respect women. Picking up online brownie points for tweeting #Feminism and shitting on the inappropriate actions of whoever is being cancelled is easy. It does little to move the conversation on and just creates a fear of being roasted online, rather than a more thoughtful and critical approach to how we conduct ourselves.
Slowthai rapping an ode to the women that ‘made us men’ is easy. Actually being conscious of your day-to-day behaviour, reflecting and making change isn’t.
It’s convenient to say you support and respect women, but when confronted with real life scenarios people can get defensive. You know the type, the nice guy that shares his outrage at Harvey Weinstein on his instagram story, but talks over his female colleague in a company meeting. You can picture him wiping his hands clean, tipping his fedora and saying “job done”, after tweeting a foul-mouthed rant in support of a woman being trolled online.
It’s almost as though there’s a sense that if you speak about respecting women enough it removes any need to actualise those ideas.
The Northampton star is just the latest in a long line of people who have shed their cloak to reveal how little they are willing to follow through on the things they have preached about.
We have seen it before with Brockhampton, a collective who prided themselves on being a beacon of positivity. They chanted “respect these women boy” on their song ‘Junky’ yet came under fire for their treatment of sexual abuse allegations against their (now former) member Ameer Van.
It is widely believed that the group knew about Van’s sexual abuse, but waited until allegations arrived to kick him out (many of them shared rooms with each other on tour so their claim of ignorance is highly questionable, but that’s besides the point). Ultimately, for Brockhampton, it was convenient for them to fly the banner as a group pushing progressive narratives, but when it comes to confronting their own behaviour they were found lacking.
Without labelling the band as cynical or manipulative, it is fair to say that Brockhampton’s advocacy for progressive values and social justice proved convenient in garnering them attention online from an increasingly politicised audience. However, what proved disappointing about both Brockhampton and slowthai was their reluctance to hold themselves to the same moral standards that they set out for others. One cannot help but notice that for these acts, when being moral becomes an inconvenience, it also tends to become unimportant.
Another example highlights that I’m not immune either. I host a hip-hop podcast. I’ve pushed inclusivity and what I hope are progressive values. Even still, it took 20 episodes for me to feature a female guest. No amount of tweeting or waxing lyrical actually compensates for your actions. I was grateful to the friend that offered me a much-needed reality check.
But this also isn’t about self-flagellation. Nor are all displays of solidarity to be dismissed as cynical ‘virtue signalling’. Showing support online for something you believe in is good, creating music with positive messages is great, holding people to account is important. However, all of these things are ultimately hollow if followed by inaction or in the case of slowthai, hypocritical behaviour.
Perhaps it’s a reflection of our culture of vanity, exacerbated by social media, but we often invest more into seeming good than actually being good.
We have got good at pointing the finger, but often fail to look in the mirror. Placing importance on superficial measures of the perceived good is skewing our moral compasses. Maybe the next time you vilify the actions of others ask yourself if you have ever been guilty of the same?
Photo: David M. Benett // Getty Images