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.