Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Breaking my Bullard silence

Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out I wanna see you be brave. There I was driving along Witkoppen with Jacaranda on the radio — for once, I was a classic shooter curtain cliché — and those words struck home.

So here I am, being brave — or stupid — and writing about something several friends have advised me not to. But it’s eating away at me, so here goes nothing.

10 years of friendship destroyed for 10 000 followers. That’s the gist of this, for me. I’ve been silent on the David Bullard vs Michelle Solomon debacle because it’s just too personal. The engines of outrage are less fun to rev when actual friends are involved — and, yes, when your ability to earn a living flashes before your eyes. David has nothing to lose. I have plenty.

But nonetheless, I have to say something. Not because I want to take sides, but because I’d like to do the opposite. The whole thing was always going to be atavistically tribal. The feminist-hating troglodytes on the one hand are at war with the professionally outraged, and real people, with real feelings, are being lost in the chaos.

This is a complex issue, which means that a whole lot of apparently contradictory things are true, from my perspective, all at the same time. Bear with me while I list some of them for you.

1. First, some context. Until last week, I had been friends with David Bullard for nearly 10 years, from a time before That Column. I quoted him in my insult books and he took me out to lunch. Yes, I was always the groupie, and he was the star. And yes, that meant being quiet about things I didn’t like because I was afraid he’d stop being my friend.

2. I have never met Michelle, but know her well-enough to know that she is smart, and driven, and a good journalist. There is also a part of me that wants to say to her: Michelle, you’re so much more than a rape survivor. Why do you base your entire sense of self around this? But, frankly, that’s not for me to say. And if someone told me to get over my divorce, I’d tell them where to get off.

3. David has been good to me. Unlike many others — mostly men — who bullied me for daring to be a woman with an opinion, he promoted me, and helped me to express it even when he disagreed with what I had to say. Believe it or not, it is possible for a person to be kind and generous as well as mocking and provocative.

4. I stuck by David even when many others found it expedient to distance themselves because I know that he is more than the persona he performs for public consumption. I disliked the column that got him fired, but then I dislike plenty of things that people in my life do, and those friendships survive because they are based on something more meaningful than public perception. The point at which friendship is strained to breaking point is different for everyone, as I found out last week.

5. I know other rape survivors, and they hold widely varying opinions on what Michelle does. Some support her, taking the view that she has the right to talk about her own rape in any way she sees fit; others are deeply angry about the way she addresses the issue, and feel that what she does is counterproductive.

6. I have no doubt that David has enjoyed this thoroughly. The more he provokes outrage, the more he loves it — because it’s so entertaining. Spend any time with him and it’s singing, voices, accents and ribald humour. What he has been doing on Twitter is simply a performance, and that’s what angers me: that he hurt Michelle in particular and rape survivors in general for the entertainment of the peanut gallery. And that peanut gallery consists for the most part of people who utterly repulse me: misogynists who hide behind anonymity.

7. David and Michelle have a kind of a co-dependent relationship in that each gives them the attention the other wants, and the luxury of certainty. David gets to sell newspapers again, and he gets to be hated, something he’s become accustomed to; Michelle gets to be the crusading rape survivor under attack by the one group for who no right-thinking leftist has any sympathy: older, white, privileged men.

8. The test for me is this: who is having fun, and who is not? Regardless of what you think of Michelle, or the merits or otherwise of her claims, regardless of how much she annoys you, she has been the target of vicious bullying. If you make your point with gratuitous cruelty, then you have lost my respect. At one point, I blocked David on Twitter because I felt physically ill after reading his tweets.

9. I don’t for a moment believe that David suggested group sex to anyone as anything other than a joke. A tasteless joke, maybe, but that’s what he does.

10. I believe that Michelle was raped: that is, that she was not in a position to consent to sex. David raised questions about her claims, so it’s important that I state that, and that I fully understand why so many women do not report their rapes.

11. Michelle was an easy target for two reasons: she’s abrasive enough that she provokes anger and resentment (even among people who sympathise with her cause) and she’s white. I don’t think David would have targeted a black woman in this way; too much risk of being pegged as a racist, and after becoming persona non grata he wouldn’t want to go down that path again.

12. There’s an entire essay I could write about what this all symbolises: a clash of generations, the tectonic shift between old media and new, the nature of performance, digital allogrooming and a quest for relevance by people who continue to mourn the fact that the world no longer revolves around them. But I won’t, not yet.

13. In the end, the performance was the problem. (Yes yes, cue the obligatory Viagra joke.) Followers were more important than actual friends, who ended up as so much collateral damage. 10 000 followers counted more than 10 years of friendship.

I hope it was worth it.

Tags: , , , , ,

  • Should we ban boys-only schools?
  • Shaming rape survivors and other bull
  • Bullard vs Solomon and the unwritten rules for speaking about rape
  • I’ve had enough of Bullard. And so should you
    • Leanne

      Sarah it sounds to me that writing that piece was difficult and painful for you. I nodded my head in agreement and then shook it disapprovingly; what you have managed to capture is the complexity of the social world we inhabit and how difficult it can be make sense of it. It is usually the ignorant or foolish that find it easy to take an unassailable position on such matters.

    • PM

      I particularly like your point about friendship. It is important that our friendships NOT be (exclusively) defined by our politics. Understanding others is critically important, and friendship is critical to understanding. Friendship across political lines is important for the understanding of others.

      That said, there comes a time when understanding (and friendship) can be mistaken for approval. It is not the same. That is a personal choice that (in this case) only you can make, only you can judge the appropriate timing. I am glad that you chose to be thoughtful, and not rush into this.

    • David Smith

      Personally, I think the whole thing is a storm in a teacup. Who really cares what one person says to another on twitter? It is mindless drivel. It is one of the reasons I no longer use it. It is like one of those Rainbow Chicken batteries, filled with a cacophony of small voices all yelling. For a second you think it makes sense, and then you realize it is just noise. If David is your friend, ring him up, tell him what you think, if he acts like an ass, tell him it is over. Job done.

    • http://pessimistinc Wayne

      It is always a strange dance of counter balance when you put an opinion in the public domain just as Michelle did. What is even more incredulous is the idea that all will conform and agree to that opinion!

      Davids opinion is in no way my opinion or thoughts on the matter however when you put a piece or thought out in the public domain you will hear many opinions and well frankly some might be darn nasty. However that my friends is what freedom of speech and democracy are the right to air an opinion and even more so an opinion on the thoughts of others in the public domain.

      There is of course two sides to the coin in that Michelle has the right to counter argue the opinions expressed and this is what we call robust debate something we have forgotten about in this country resulting in our freedoms been curtailed as in the freedom of speech laws we have just witnessed.

      In short what i am saying is rejoice in been able to argue and debate such matters it means we are free for the day we stop debating such matters we are prisoners

    • Sipho

      Sarah writes: “I don’t think David would have targeted a black woman in this way; too much risk of being pegged as a racist, and after becoming persona non grata he wouldn’t want to go down that path again.”

      I’m still asking why drag in a black woman into this, does David Bullard have to say whatever he says to white woman to a black woman as well to prove his mettle.

      To me this shows a latent racial grievance – how dare David say something to a white woman that he couldn’t dare say to a black woman!

    • SM

      Thanks for writing this Sarah. I appreciate the effort to put together a balanced and reflective comment. However, I still think it reflects your favourable bias toward Bullard.

      The idea that Solomon and Bullard are somehow equivalents in the ‘performance’ is deeply problematic. Yes, she gets more attention for her cause but she also suffers the consequences of having numerous people attack, in graphic detail, the validity of her claim that she was raped. Is it only legitimate to be an activist if you haven’t experienced the thing you are campaigning against? Is it not okay to be perpetually angry about rape in a society like ours? So some rape survivors don’t like the way she does things, so what? There are some women who get raped who have been brainwashed into thinking it’s an inevitable part of marriage, should we then not do anything about the broader problem because they think it’s a fuss about nothing?

      Fact is, in South Africa rape activists have more than enough ‘material’ to keep them busy, they don’t need idiots like Bullard to provide a reason for their existence.

    • Momma Cyndi

      “Followers were more important than actual friends …” now that is the saddest thing I have read in a VERY long time. Has the techno generation really degenerated to this level?

    • Rory Short

      @sarah thanks for this reflective piece.

    • Sipho

      There’s a Nigerian saying which goes: ” An antelope hates less the one who sees it, than the one who sees it and shout its presence.” Enough said.

    • Walter

      Excellent and very brave. The German expression “Der Krug geht solange zum Brunnen bis er bricht” – “The pitcher goes once too often to the well” – comes to mind.

    • Terry Dale

      As a complete outsider with no knowledge of the two personalities other than their journalist fronts I was troubled by all of this so I can understand how you have taken the time to write such a thought through piece. Subsequently I have to resound David Smith’s sentiment recorded above…their insults challenges feuding? Mindless drivel. If this is the kind of legacy we wish to leave to future generations and what we wish to teach them about the power of the “digital’ pen…then it is a very sad world we live in.

    • Bernadette

      Well said, Sarah. Personally, I think David is feeling more than a little invisible these days, and craves attention (ANY attention!) more than anything else.

    • PM
    • Fiona Wallace

      Sarah, great piece. I completely identify with your dilemma. How far is friendship expected to stretch when it starts to compromise core ethics?

      This is a brave step from you, especially as you have been the victim of vicious cyber-bullying yourself. I hope that Bullard chooses the road less travelled by himself, and does not make your writing the object of his next attack.

    • Jenny

      I really am at a loss as to why David Bullard got so mean and ugly – and his cohort Jeremy Gordin too. It’s so wrong – even if you think something it doesn’t mean you have to say it. I think that is wrong with our society today and the problem with social media – everybody thinks it’s okay to have an opinion and air it regardless. It really isn’t.

    • Momma Cyndi

      The fact that you chose faceless ‘follwers’ over a long time friend, has been a huge stone in the shoe of my mind – it keeps poking at me at the most random times. Then I realised just how long it took me to realise that you don’t have to like someone to love them. Heck! At least half of my own family are completely unlikable but I do love them. Long time good friends are people that you don’t have to agree with or even trust. There is, however, a comfortableness knowing just how far you can trust them and knowing that disagreeing with them is okay with them.

    • J.J.

      I agree with David Smith.

      This article is just an extension of the social network culture – spilling over into mainstream media. Everyone feels they MUST have a public opinion over something controversial that was said on social media – which are closed communities. In other words spats are bound to develop in/on there. In my opinion they should stay there.

      In the “old days” >> only about 6 or 7 years ago << people would have sorted all this stuff out amongst themselves, personally, but now everyone has to "go public", because these days everybody has an "audience" and "followers".

      Here's a question – does all this taking sides and and everybody trying to shout the loudest and sounding the most self-righteous and correct and just and outraged actually make any real difference to the situation in the country, the conditions of victims and having open debate about all victims, not only some?