A dispatch from my safe space

I hate all this bollocks about ‘safe spaces’, as if the very notion of having somewhere you can go to be content and happy, largely insulated from the hate, fear and bullshit of the world, is somehow indicative of weakness or timidity, or an unwillingness to engage. “Get back to your safe space, snowflake!” seems to be the insult du jour on social media at the moment – often, but not exclusively, used by emboldened right-wingers (let’s call them ‘red caps’) who just love snappy slogans (Take back control! MAGA!). However, it completely loses its impact if, like me, you think of it merely as a kind-hearted suggestion. “Get back to my safe space? Thanks, I will! It’s cosy there and we have Hobnobs.”

Don’t we all need somewhere to retreat to? Even Katie Hopkins must retire to the peace and quiet of her bedroom every now and then, falling back onto her bed clutching that photo of Trump and Farage (the one where they look like a racist Bill and Ted, but instead of using a time machine disguised as a phone booth they use a gold-plated fucking elevator).

I have a two-year-old son, so my ‘safe space’ is a home filled with lots of play, with a televisual backdrop of CBeebies and Channel 5’s Milkshake!, which is wonderfully comforting in the poisonous era in which we live. Last week, my son created a game in which I had to deliver my foot pouffe to him (aka ‘the world’s biggest birthday cake’) in the style of a waiter ostentatiously balancing a domed silver platter in one hand. “Sank you!” he said, appreciatively (he wasn’t doing a bad French accent, he just can’t pronounce the ‘th’ yet) before handing me an invisible slice of icing and waving me goodbye. Yes, it was repetitive – “AGAIN!” he kept demanding – but I could’ve played it for hours. The more time I spend delivering giant birthday cakes, the less time I spend obsessing about humanity’s slide into darkness. It’s the perfect antidote to these troubled times.

Children’s TV is also great place to hide away from the hideousness of the world. CBeebies in particular can tug on your heartstrings so violently at times that something like the Tee and Mo ‘Go to sleep’ song practically ruptures your aorta. And with a recent Sky News Data poll suggesting that Britain is now more racist and less happy, Children’s TV increasingly feels like the last bastion of diversity and inclusiveness, where friendship and cooperation are championed and the world is generally presented as a wondrous playground full of possibility and endless adventure. It’s obviously all tailored to appeal to the developing minds of toddlers and small children, but it’s gutting to think that such a beautiful, positive view of the world will eventually become clouded, distorted, hopeless, ugly and…real.

With every passing year, Ally Sheedy’s line in The Breakfast Club hits me just that little bit harder in the gut: “When you grow up, your heart dies.” You only need spend a few minutes reading the replies to a Trump or Brexit-related tweet to see how true that is (for some). Someone recently described Twitter as “a fire hose of dangerous ignorance”, which is depressingly accurate. It feels like obnoxious, bigoted cunts are everywhere right now, descending like a foul-smelling mist to spew objectionable views from behind their Pepe the Frog and default egg avatars. I used to shudder to think that there were people like that out there, somewhere – but now they’re here, en masse, with their dead hearts and misspelt 140-character bile.

It’s a strange and terrifying time to be raising a child. My wife and I are trying to instil politeness, respect and kindness in our son at a time when someone like Donald Trump – a heavily lacquered fascist, with a blabbering mouth full of lies and horseshit, and a face that looks like someone’s dusted a huge pair of bollocks with paprika – can ascend to the most powerful office in the world by rejecting such values in favour of ‘plain-speaking’ (the ‘fuck your feelings’ approach). I’m preparing my son to enter a world where empathy and compassion are dirty words, experts and intellectuals have been deemed surplus to requirements, any mainstream news that fails to reaffirm a person’s narrow, hateful world view is considered unpalatable and fake, lying is now an industry and truth has lost its power. That’s pretty scary – the torrent of lies in particular.

As parents, my wife and I tell the occasional white lie. For instance, when my son doesn’t want to get out of the bath we tell him that we have to drain the water because the plug monster is thirsty. The silly lie helps us get him out of the bath and into a warm towel so that he doesn’t get cold. This is much gentler than the white lie my dad told me once, when he assured me that the 18-rated film Screamtime (tagline: ‘The newest thing in nightmares!’) would in no way plague my 11-year-old brain with oppressive, nightly terror and that I definitely wouldn’t spend a whole year staring at the fireplace in my bedroom, sat with my knees pulled tightly under my chin, waiting for a murderous Mr Punch to descend the chimney and beat me to death. After all, it had puppets in it! And in 1985 it was one of only about 10 videos available for rental in our local Ritz Video store.

Anyway, you get my meaning – we all lie occasionally. But these are harmless lies, so inconsequential as to be carried away on the wind as soon as they’re uttered. They’re not big whoppers like, say, when you pimp an executive coach with a lie written down the side in two-foot-high letters, which you then drive around the country in a concerted effort to hoodwink the gullible and furious masses. Whoppers like that have consequences.

Of all the lies I’ve seen in the past year – and there have been a lot – possibly the most chilling was Donald Trump’s woefully inaccurate account of Barack Obama’s response to a Trump protester at a Hillary Clinton rally. It was like sitting down to a gentle viewing of Up, but with the directors commentary from Hobo with a Shotgun playing inexplicably over the top of it. That someone aspiring to be the most powerful man in the world could lie so effortlessly, with such theatrical embellishment, seemingly unconcerned that his lies would be instantly and categorically disproved, was frightening. Trump even encouraged his supporters to “go back and look and study [the footage]…and see what happened” – actually directing them to check out an incident that simply didn’t unfold the way he described. David Folkenflik, Media Correspondent for National Public Radio, recently said that Donald Trump was “untethered from fact” – but you could also argue that he’s “uncoupled from his fucking mind”.

The relevance of this bizarre moment on the campaign trail is neatly summed up by The Guardian’s Nick Cohen, who reminds us that liars – however powerful – are completely impotent without a willing crowd to embrace and parrot their bullshit:

Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president.

This is the scary world awaiting my son. Armies of useful idiots desperate to believe in something – anything  now have the power to mindlessly spread misinformation with the click of a mouse. One click to build on a destructive lie, the next to perhaps enter into a pointless online discussion about how a giraffe might wear a tie to work (answer: giraffes are now facing extinction, so let’s concentrate on that). I hate the 21st century. Every day, an avalanche of distraction. It’s no wonder truth and facts have been so easily displaced.

The only good thing to come out of the last few weeks since Trump’s inauguration is that the truth has now become a powerful resistance movement. There’s now a Twitter account dedicated to adding context to every tweet the new U.S. President posts, which is a bit like having Snopes follow you around 24/7. ‘Rogue’ Twitter accounts for a whole host of largely science-related U.S. government agencies have recently been activated to ensure that Trump’s attempts to suppress climate change research are well and truly scuppered. Meanwhile, librarians – God love ’em! – are helping students to better evaluate the information that floods into their lives every minute of every day, equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to weed out fake news and navigate to trustworthy sources of information. And more mainstream press and media are finally calling a lie a lie, rather than blathering on about the post-truth world we’re supposedly now living in.

Because the truth still matters, and it should still be able to take people down. And when these current conflicts of ‘good versus evil’ (Trump) and ‘good versus bafflingly fucking moronic’ (Brexit) are done, I pray that facts and truth still exist. And I hope I’m able to raise my son to understand why all this matters. And to care. And I hope I can stop crying at traffic lights while listening to Elvis’s If I Can Dream. And I hope my beautiful safe space continues to keep me sane.

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