The nihilistic nineties brought with it a climate of fear, we didn't know who or what to believe and we didn't really care. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins told us there is no God, no powerful being to come and rescue us, we were on our own, with nothing to worship except the weathered coins that jangled in our pockets.
In the territorial twothousands (territories matter, especially those that have all the oil). The Messiah arrived in the enthusiastic form of a bright eyed Tony Blair, education, education, education, he shouted as the people's party leapt to its feet in an encore. I'm here to bring you equality and justice, he declared, trust me, I'm a lawyer. Like sheep we followed, I may even have been baaaing as I popped the champagne, yes, yes, yes, Tony, enlightenment for the masses, its the only way!
There was much that was good, Surestart, EMA, University education open to all, but underneath, lurked something very, very bad. In order to lead the people, you need to control the people, you need to know who they are and where they are, how much they earn, where hey shop etc, etc. I know, said some bright spark, lets convince them the danger of terrorism is everywhere, and the only sure way to stamp it out is with ID cards, only those with something to hide would object. And if they are not convinced how clear and present the danger is, we can send army tanks into Heathrow Airport - that should up the ante!
But the public weren't quite rattled enough to queue up at police stations volunteering samples of DNA, their bank statements and full medical history. The (manufactured) fear of terrorists, muslims and aliens just wasn't cutting the mustard. Twas Messiah Tony's sheer bad luck, that he arrived to save us slap bang in the middle the of the Age of Information, he was going to need a lot more than 2 loaves and 5 fishes to win 'em all over. The Great British public are nothing like the previous generations, who sat around radio sets in their Sunday best respectfully listening to the PM's speech. Now they are more likely to be making a cuppa and googling 'why are we are going to war'. Maybe teaching them to read and use a computer wasn't such a good idea after all. Doh!
With education came the realisation that the 4.8% of the population who are muslim were very unlikely to overthrow the government and introduce Sharia Law in the UK. A new enemy was needed. Someone we could all universally despise, someone we could string up from a lamp post to the cheers of a baying mob. Someone no-one would defend, for fear of being accused themselves. A bogey man, a child snatcher, a sinister predator hiding in the bushes, or behind the wall, watching families and waiting for the opportunity to sneak in and steal their babies.
And where does this threat come from? Why directly from the computers in our living rooms and bedrooms! The lawless internet is riddled with paedophiles waiting to prey on kids with lollypops and plane tickets to Disney. These perverts are the new public enemy number One, the enemy within, the reds under the beds, the invasion of the body snatchers. Never mind that 99.9% of children are abused and battered by people that know them, the message is 'Stranger Danger', or more accurately, Cyber Stranger Danger. The unseen threat, is the best threat of all when a government wants to instil fear into the population. Its unsettling, its unheimlich and when our kids lives are at stake, we will hand over anything our 'protectors' demand, especially if it is accompanied by the implication that if we don't, we must be 'one of them'.
And this is where poor little Madeleine McCann came in. She was the poster child in a campaign of fear. A campaign that struck terror into the hearts of young parents worldwide, when every young blonde girl was assumed to be the missing Maddie, and every smiling granddad was a potential predator. And the legacy - obese kids confined to their bedrooms by overprotective parents terrified that if they step outside the door they will be snatched by one of the paedophiles who lurk on every corner. People reluctant to intervene when they see a distressed toddler on their own, parents terrified of their children being photographed. Young mums and dads have lost the freedom to enjoy their kids, and the kids have lost the freedom to enjoy their childhoods as we did. Gone are the days when scruffy kids sat at the dinner table, excitedly telling their parents about the pals they made and fell out with, the conkers and snails they collected, how they got a great big hole in their best jumper. Replaced with mums and dads terrified to let their offspring out of their sight, and terrified to let them stray any further than the sweetshop or nearest takeaway, unable to relax until they know the kids are safe in their room eating junk food and playing mind numbing computer games.
The latest 21st Century fear is internet trolls. Beware the lawless internet says Grace Dent, stamp out the small groups who are spoiling it for everyone, says the Mail, make an example of a troll demands Gerry, 'your wish is our command' says Sky Television.
The internet is a powerful tool and the powers that be can't just let any old pleb post on it without some sort of censorship and restraint. The journalists in El Vino's are weeping into their Chablis, as Joe Public are doing their job for them, only better, and more thoroughly. Their articles and opinions can now be compared, their word is no longer final - its open to research and credibility checks. Perhaps this should be the Transparent Twothousands, because sweeping under the carpet is no longer an option, unless of course, they can get some new laws in pdq, and award another standing ovation to Mr. Gerry McCann. The problem is we can see for ourselves those newspapers, journalists and television presenters who stick to their principles and beliefs and those prepared to lie through their teeth for a pay cheque. The public will judge them, and therein lies the karma.
As for the trolls, jail them by all means, although they are likely to be solitary types with few friends and too timid to step outside their bedrooms. But ffs, people should educate their kids so they don't need smelling salts when they encounter a bit of harsh reality. If Chloe Madely is such a wilting flower, has she really chosen the right profession? Perhaps twitter should carry a 'not suitable for sensitive adults or namby pambies', so she could have made a hasty exit to a flower arranging hashtag. And I say that as someone who has been on the receiving end of McCann orchestrated troll campaign for several years. Yes, there are indeed dangerous trolls out there, some of whom drove an innocent woman to her death, a more important trolling story I believe, than a minor celebrity with hurt feelings.
If individuals voice an opinion in a public arena, opposing opinions will follow - its how a democracy works. The only people who oppose it are wannabe dictators, tyrants and Dr. Evils. Everyone's opinion is valid, whether we like them or not. Characters such as the McCanns and the Madeleys are living in cuckoo land if they think they can step up to the platform, say their piece, and walk away to a round of applause. It takes 'You Must Love Me' to a whole new level, complete with a prison sentence if you don't.