You probably noticed last week that Gemma Worrall – a 20-year-old beautician from Blackpool – made the most stupid remark in world history. It was about the Ukraine situation and it set Twitter alight with glee. “If Barraco Barner is our president why is he getting involved with Russia, scary” Gemma typed.
As the flawless, deeply cognisant, beyond reproach human beings who constitute everyone on earth apart from Gemma, we took her rather sweet, funny mistake and rounded on her with sticks. Evidence of her stupidity was retweeted 7,000 times, abuse turned from jovial ribbing, to “banter”, to straightforward personal abuse, to your common-or-garden internet threats to “stab a dumb fuck like her and rip her tongue out”.
Gemma spoke publicly about being very scared by this. Despite police arrests following the Caroline Criado-Perez affair, it still seems as if society feels such abuse is acceptable and “just the way it is today”, particularly if you’re a person who has committed a crime as bad as Gemma’s: poor spelling and a no handle on current affairs. The crime, that is, of being stupid.
Sniping at the less clever is so acceptable that thousands of perfectly rounded individuals add “pedant” proudly to their Twitter or Facebook biography as one of their attributes. Pedantry – the grim social curse of the middle classes – is the inability to stop pointing out to strangers their minor errors and then bask in the cold dank pool of mutual bad feeling.
“That sense of inadequacy! I created it! Me!” the pedant whispers inwardly before stumbling off to point out the idiocy of mistaking “infer” for “imply”. The Gemma Worrall situation must have blown internet pedants’ vast, expansive minds. She was just so, so stupid.
Of course, away from the classroom, stupidity and smartness are really only relative to what it is one actually needs to know. Because, yes, Gemma hasn’t much of a grip on Ukraine – neither have I, but I’m a damn good bluffer – and neither can she nail the spelling of Barack Obama without making it sound like a delicious vitamin C drink. But as a beautician, Gemma is one of those girls I am constantly giving money hand over fist to.
Gemma has a skill. Gemma will most probably have a thorough understanding of Shellac nail procedures and skin exfoliation. She’ll probably know how to remove excess upper-lip hair, push back cuticles and spray a Fantasy tan without missing elbows or staining knees. So, yes, Gemma seemingly can’t spell Barack Obama. But she will always be in employment.
Meanwhile, the clever person with an arts BA Hons 2.2 who can spell Angela Merkel first time without googling it will be sat at home writing petulant blogs to David Cameron about why the Government hasn’t furnished them with a job as a medieval art curator. We deride the differently skilled and slap down the not quite as sharp, but the country’s cogs turn via the energies of people not quite as bookish as you.
And for what it’s worth, I enjoyed Gemma’s slight confusion that Obama is a high-level influencer in British politics – no Westminster pundit in the land would quibble at this suggestion. Also, her worry about provoking Russia and her fear of war aren’t silly in the slightest, they’re absolutely bang on the money. Perhaps Gemma isn’t enormously au fait with the history of the Cold War or the break-up of the Soviet Union, but she’s possibly seen photos in the tabloids of Vladimir Putin with his top off riding a tank or letting stallions nuzzle him – and that’s enough to guide foreign-policy strategy for most of us.
As access to the internet makes many of us feel cleverer, more connected, more omniscient, more infallible, it’s tempting to write off all the people “left behind”.
All those little unthinking people without university degrees who shape our nails, or clean our houses, or mend our toilets, or rewire our kitchens, and can’t even spell a president’s name without messing it up.
But the fact is, they might not know where Ukraine is, and they might not know why Germany doesn’t favour sanctions against Russia, but when the lights go out in your house, they know where the fuse box is and which wires to fiddle with to mend it. And right at that moment that’s a damn sight less stupid than you.