Now, I have to admit that some comments were uncalled for. In fact, some comments made towards Indigenous poet Ellen van Neerven were not only unnecessary but also begged the question ‘What can you possibly achieve through malicious harassment?’. However, this post is not about the small minority of students who had taken a meme too far; this post is about the students who are unnecessarily becoming the victims of censorship & un-fair treatment by those with an authoritarian mindset.

I want to re-iterate this point clearly so it doesn’t bring about any confusion; the poet did nothing wrong. She wrote a poem that was chosen by NESA for this year’s HSC, and unfortunately become the victim to online harassment by some people who took a ‘joke’ way too far. I empathise with this viewpoint, however I do not believe that the majority of students (people who are merely by-standers and enjoying a meme group), are being fairly represented in this debate.

I predict that an over-generalisation of the issue, and the types of players involved, will result in the unsubstantiated war against teenagers. I mean, it has already begun. There is a specific twitter account that has created a vacuum-sealed echo chamber, where the user’s ideologies  are fervently being pushed as the ‘truth’. However, we must not forget that every example, every ‘meme’ and every quote chosen to be tweeted is nothing but  justification used to substantiate her already preconceived  ideas.

Not only that, but this specific individual is actively participating in spreading this propaganda as a way to generate hate, which ultimately is being used as a recruiting tactic to enlist individuals who can further this toxic, illusion of what the majority of students are supposedly like.  I plead.  Please do not create a false sense of who these students are. They are hard working and dedicated individuals, who do not resort to the HSC 2017 Discussion Group as a place to whinge, but rather a place to find solidarity in their present situation.

I have no issue with people expressing their opinions. It would be a hilarious contradiction if I did; however, I do have an issue when people try to create a situation where there is none. Did some students stupidly harass Ms van Neerven? Absolutely (no question).  But do these individuals represent the majority of students who are just trying to look at some memes and study for their exams? Absolutely not! These people have no malicious intent, and most definitely are not inciting the ‘racism’ and/or ‘sexism’ that the mainstream media is suggesting.

Below is a perfect example of the heightened hysteria that is plaguing and ultimately affecting the authenticity of any conversation that is to come from this incident. Image One, wrongfully broadcasts the notion that the meme’s focal image was solely chosen based on the historical significance it has to the poet’s heritage. This is an example of a “relationship implies causation” fallacy,  that ignorantly assumes that there is an association between why the image was chosen, and what its intended purpose is.

Image One:

Now, fortunately I understand how to use the internet and within the space of two minutes was able to locate the origin of this picture, which to no surprise, provided a non-racially driven reason as to why it was utilised.  This image  represents “The Infinite Monkey Theorem”; a mathematical concept which talks about the probability of a specific text being randomly written out by a monkey.   However, do not be mistaken, as stated by the Wikipedia page (Image Two), “the “monkey” is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces an endless random sequence of letters and symbols“.  Nowhere is the concept of race mentioned, in fact the very idea of  sentient interaction is addressed and immediately thrown aside.


example 2

Image Two:

Now I understand that my investigation into the origin of the image may not be indicative of the meme-creator’s intent, so as a way to properly understand this situation, I messaged him, and quickly got answers that allowed me to have a proper grasp on this situation. Unfortunately, I later found out that this was not common practise, and in fact most outsiders to this modern internet-culture, had a pre-constructed idea of this whole fiasco without even trying to contact the person responsible.

The creator’s name was Josh, and these were his answers:

Prior to posting that meme, were you aware of the poet’s heritage?

Absolutely not, considering it was an unseen text and that her last name is dutch by nature, I had no clue.

What was your thought process behind creating that meme?

I proclaimed in the common room “That poem was so simple and disjointed it was if a monkey at taronga zoo had written it” and based it on that, and also the concept of the infinite monkey theorem.

In what ways did the Infinite Monkey Theorem contribute to the thought process for the meme?

The idea behind it is that given infinite time and a typewriter it could produce anything. Therefore linking the nonsensical nature of the poem with the theory.

What did you search when looking for that image?

Monkey on a typewriter.

It was not the type of conversation that was full of theatrics, but rather one that was grounded in honesty. Unless we have these types of discussions where the truth is sought after, rather than generating a reactive response, we will never arrive at a reasonable destination.

Additionally, whilst writing this blog post, I became aware that the previously mentioned twitter user started a live-stream where she took time out of her day to go through the poem and draw connections between it and the notions of ‘Discovery’. I would be out of my mind, not to mention this and pretend as if it meant nothing. No. This act highlights that there is a desire to connect & understand, and that everybody in this situation is just coming from a different perspective.

I’m going to take this opportunity to ask those who have made it this far, to not demonise the other side but rather empathise. Regardless of where you are coming from, we need to find common ground where memes, comments and ideas are not taken out of context, and where no side intentionally skews the magnitude of this problem. There is no point in generating false stories, or trying to speak for one another; we need to have a proper conversation where facts are treated as facts, and where people are treated with the upmost respect.

Originally published on Thoughts by Tanya, and reposted with permission from Tanya Shukla | @tshuklanya