Do you remember the word “meh”? I do. I remember how much it annoyed me. It was the internet equivalent of a casual shrug, a roll of the eyes, the unimpressed utterance of a billionaire’s son who has just been told he is going skiing for Christmas again this year. It feels like we haven’t seen it in ages. And then just the other day, it came back with a vengeance, and just where you wouldn’t expect it.
This was our response to a story that emerged of a South African international triathlete who was out running at 3am, attacked, and dragged into bushes on the side of the road where his assailants tried to cut his legs off with a chainsaw. This story was the the very definition of horror. I mean who the hell goes running? And at 3am? If I am awake at the 3am the only thing I am running is my mouth. Making matters worse they tried to take his legs with a chainsaw. Put the assailants in clown costumes and it could actually be a Stephen King book, yet South Africans shrugged, muttered, “Polony is worse” and the story was relegated to page five by day two.
The Times had a quote that said, “He offered them his cellphone and wallet and they tried to take his legs”. How much more unenthusiastic could you get? And what does this say about the quality of our cellphone networks that robbers would rather take your legs than an expensive piece of tech? Even if you aren’t stealing it for the unreliable service, a single phone must be easier to dispose of than a pair of legs? Almost anyone will buy a cellphone, but I can think of only one person in the country who could use a pair of athletes legs – Oscar Pistorius. Case closed.
In a world where a lynch mob of thousands can be summoned up in a heartbeat on Twitter to rant about everything from an accidentally exposed nipple to a teenager who made a bad music video, one would think there was still some emotion saved up for a truly disturbing news story. Instead we saw the return of “meh”.
These days no experience is immune to being hyped up. In a world where everyone has an opinion, and a blog (NB Link) click-bait headlines have had to over promise to get the kind of simpletons who would otherwise be having a conversation with cutlery to follow the link. “You won’t believe what happened next”, “7 Weird Blogposts that will change your life forever”, “A South African housewife used this one weird trick…” and we as normal people have started doing it too.
Every one of life’s experiences on social media has now been overblown to the point of irrelevance. It seems a rare hero who can have a cup of coffee without photographing it for Instagram and uploading it with a description that makes it sound like he orgasmed on the spot in front of applauding shop assistants. No one goes to a concert anymore without telling their followers it had them gushing like a character on a yoghurt commercial who just tasted the new flavour, and, instead of being bait for people who spoon-fed themselves fertiliser at a young age, superhero films are now religious experiences that leave audiences weeping on their knees in the cinema. It makes us all seem delusional.
The flip-side is also true. No mishap is so small it can’t be made into a tragedy. Minor slights have become career ending slurs, unfunny jokes are now internet ammunition, callous behaviour inspires hashtags, and a sleeve brush makes Aussie cricket captains run crying to a match referee. There is a kind of person for whom this tragedy is sign that the times are changing. That we as humanity are sweeping out the old, and celebrating the new. Really? Are we? Then how come, despite all of this, we still haven’t used a catapult to fire Dan Roodt into a pit full of wild dogs?
So maybe I shouldn’t complain? Maybe the shrug of the shoulders Mhlengi Gwala got, was the best we could hope for – a genuine response in a sea of over indulgent trash, and false emotional epiphanies? Maybe when a story like Mhlengi’s comes along, and no one reacts, you should take a minute to appreciate the quiet, the tranquillity, the “meh”. Or maybe you could just accept the internet for what it is, and tell everyone this blog is the best thing you ever read, and that it made you feel like you touched the balls of God. I know that would at least make me have a real emotion for once.