The ‘Wilhelm scream’ of modern activism
If you’ve seen a few movies, it’s extremely likely that you will have heard the ‘Wilhelm scream’. It’s so ubiquitous in film, that when you did, it’s just as likely it will not have registered.
That is, unless you were specifically listening out for it.
The Wilhelm scream is a stock sound effect of a man screaming in agony, used over and over in a variety of films usually when someone is shot, or falls to their death. It’s so often used, that it’s become an inside joke or ‘nod’ in the movie industry.
If you aren’t listening out for it intently, the Wilhelm scream simply dissolves into the background. It serves as an indicator that someone has fallen, but really washes over you as you wait for the next piece of action.
It is a regurgitated, familiar noise used so regularly that its only effect is to elicit a faint recognition at best.
Now, replace the scream with words like ‘fascist’, or ‘transphobia’, and for some, that is exactly what is happening. An often performative scream heard so many times, and at such a wide array of targets, that it eventually goes unheard.
When Pink News CEO Benjamin Cohen appeared on BBC Radio 4’s flagship political show, the Today Programme in June 2021, to ‘debate’ the recent controversy around Stonewall, what transpired was more of the same. And so a Wilhelm scream or two was emitted.
In stark contrast to fellow guest Simon Fanshawe (his impeccable credentials included the fact that he co-founded Stonewall) who spoke intelligently and with compassion about the subject, Cohen (pictured) went on to babble incoherently. His appearance predictably resulted in accusations and deflection, not managing to go more than a few seconds before flinging allegations of transphobia around.
To bend Geoffrey Howe’s famous cricketing analogy when he quit the Thatcher government, for Stonewall it must have felt like sending in your worst batsman, who doesn’t have a bat, and has in fact never even heard of cricket.
Prolific ‘trans rights activists’ will scream ‘transphobe’ at those who dare to have doubts or questions of the doctrines or methods at play. They will call these women fascists and bigots, while turning a wilful blind eye to the regular threats of violence and rape aimed at these women, and yet a few years ago dowsed their social media activity with #MeToo hashtags.
At a time when 2 women in the UK are murdered due to domestic violence every week, 90% of sexual assaults in public take place in unisex facilities, and almost a third of 16–18 year old girls experience unwanted touching at schools, it seems the height of wrongheaded thinking, or straight out misogyny to scream at women who object to a transwoman walking around a spa changing room with their penis out.
And yet the defence of this outlook is usually a demand that these women back off and shut up, that not all penises are male, with several claiming that the children in the dressing rooms shouldn’t be staring at the person’s penis anyway. On objections to unisex bathrooms one man said that, they are like your bathroom at home, while another stated that being frightened was silly because, ‘if they wanted to rape you, they would’.
Surely they should know better? But as Francis Fukuyama said, “If people can no longer struggle against injustice then they’ll struggle against justice because what they want to do is struggle”.
‘Progressives’, in what often feels like a Pavlovian response at anything that contravenes their views, fling ‘fascist’ about until it loses all meaning, while others write off the other side as ‘woke’.
It seems unlikely that those shouting deliberately inflammatory slurs ever stop to consider, what is my goal here, to change their mind? Because, this doesn’t seem to be working.
One is left with the realisation that to persuade or change the mind of someone, is not on the agenda at all. This is shouting past each other. This is an exercise in scoring points, making the other person feel smaller than you feel, and using a cause on shaky ground to do it.
Now that Twitter has found a way of delivering people an echo chamber on steroids, by presenting tweets non-chronologically and instead based on your preferences, the walls between differing opinions are raised even higher.
While we might hope for civil discourse or debate, this doesn’t feel like the path we’re going down. Who wants to engage with someone calling you names?
And while this happens, some find themselves backed into a corner, embedded further, and desperately looking for allies. Others are emboldened, part of the gang, all the while leading to less and less self-examination, humility or critical thinking.
Clearly activism can work, and often comes from a place of nobility, and a genuine passion to change things for the better. But these days, one is required to commit virtually nothing to call yourself an activist.
You don’t need to write to your MP, chain yourself to a tree, or even turn up to a march. You can simply sit in your pants staring at your laptop screen, switching tabs. One minute you can be telling a feminist to shut her mouth or suck a dick because she has a problem accepting someone who was a man until middle age now entering women’s sports. And then you can seamlessly switch to watching barely legal pornography.
And of course, take a break from objective reality, instead, try on someone else’s subjective reality and prance about in the garden of cognitive dissonance.
An activist these days can be a middle aged Dad, pronouns proudly displayed on his social media, whose political views have not been updated since he was 17 (you know the kind of thing, prostitution good, Israel bad). He’s finally getting the opportunity to be at the forefront of a civil rights movement. A civil rights movement that seems intent on attacking women and championing the testing of drugs on children.
There is a performance element to some activism, and a single mindedness. An unbending and angry show that only ends in theory when your opponent shuts up.
And so, while the media feeds off social media as its chimneys spew infantile outrage and hatred into the atmosphere, the temptation for many is to simply switch off, to ignore the shrill bombardments and arguments and turn away.
Why talk back? No one is listening.
Your Children Are Boring by Tom James is published by Sauce Materials and available here in every format, worldwide.