In my last blog I wrote about Macquarie Dictionary’s word for 2019 – ‘cancel culture’. Cancel culture is the online phenomenon of boycotting public figures who say or do the wrong thing. I personally don’t believe in ‘cancelling’ people, instead I think you should always give an individual the right to tell their side of the story and be heard.
After learning about ‘cancel culture’ I started researching Macquarie Dictionary’s other words of the year, and I learnt about ‘milkshake duck’ – the word/phrase of the year in 2017. A milkshake duck is a person or sensation which at first is widely loved by online audiences, but then it is exposed as flawed and is widely attacked by the online crowd.
Is there no good left in the world?
The term was coined in June 2016 by Australian cartoonist Ben Ward, who tweeted the following: “The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you the duck is racist.” That tweet was retweeted more than 12,000 times and the concept of the milkshake duck has taken off in Australia and overseas.
You can now ‘milkshake duck’ something or someone by exposing anything dodgy from their past which turns them from beloved to despised. I think this trial by social media is terrible, but I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s the way the world works.
The Macquarie committee said: “Milkshake duck stood out as being a much-needed term to describe something we are seeing more and more of, not just on the internet but now across all types of media. It plays to the simultaneous desire to bring someone down and the hope that they won’t be brought down.
An example of being ‘milkshake ducked’
“There is a hint of tall poppy syndrome in there, which we always thought was a uniquely Australian trait, but has been amplified through the internet and become universalised.”
Here is an example of someone who was milkshake ducked. In 2016, Duncan Storrar, an audience member on the ABC live television programme, was celebrated for questioning why low-income Australians would miss out on a tax cut. He asked about the government's plan to give workers who earn more than $80,000 a year a tax cut, while providing nothing for low-income earners.
“If you lift my tax-free threshold that changes my life,” he said. “That means I get to say to my little girls, ‘Daddy's not broke this weekend, we can go to the pictures.’ Rich people don't even notice their tax-free threshold lift. Why don't I get it? Why do they get it?” The studio audience erupted in applause.
A few days later, Storrar’s lengthy criminal record was revealed. Various media reported that he had been convicted for offences including assault, drug possession and threatening to kill. He was then widely publicly criticised. I don’t think this man ever wanted to be either a hero or a villain. He just wanted to ask a question.
Aren’t we allowed to applaud acts of goodness?
But the question I want to ask you, is can’t anything in this world just be ‘straight good’ any more?
Can’t we just applaud the occasional act of kindness and leave it at that? Look at the two Australian cave divers who helped rescue 12 Thai boys and their coach from a flooded Thai cave in 2018.
Richard Harris and Craig Challen had been friends and cave diving partners for years. Harris, an anaesthetist and diver from Adelaide, and Challen, a champion diver from Wangara, Western Australia, were part of the global team that freed the boys in July 2018.
The men stayed in the underwater Tham Luang cave system for three days, swimming multiple kilometres in hazardous conditions. Harris swam the length of the cave system, performed medical checks on the children and administered anaesthetic to each of them. Challen then transported the children to safety, and the two men worked together to ensure all 12 escaped unharmed. The three-day rescue involved 18 divers and one retired Thai naval seal died in the process.
I think we should just applaud the selflessness, courage and willingness to help others. Unfortunately Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, called one of the English divers a ‘pedo’ on social media – for reasons no one understands.
Mr Musk has apologised for the tweet and said ‘pedo guy’ was ‘a common insult used in South Africa’ when he was growing up. Of course it would have been better if he had never written this. Again I say, can’t we just applaud good, and not have to belittle or undermine people?
I think if you want to be inspired by people who do good just for the sake of it you could research some previous winners for Australian Day Awards and other citizenship awards.
Last year the Indigenous rapper Danzal Baker, or Baker Boy, was named young Australian of the year. The 22-year-old musician from Arnhem Land raps in his Yolngu Matha language. His song Marryuna came 17th in the Triple J Hottest 100 in 2017, and his song Cloud 9 won the station’s Unearthed competition. He encourages young indigenous people to be proud of their heritage. I think he is fantastic.
The senior Australian of the year was paediatrician Dr Suzanne Packer, for her work advocating for children’s rights. Again, what a woman!
In New South Wales, Sue Lennox won NSW Senior Australian of the Year Award. She has set up OzGREEN, which helps people make changes to improve the environment.
Sue and her husband Colin (who died two years ago) co-founded OzGREEN almost 30 years ago. As school teachers during the 1980s, they were worried their students were feeling anxious and distressed about the future of the planet. They have found a way to help young people to turn hopelessness into positive action, by designing global programs based on environmental education, participatory leadership and community development.
Again, here are people who just do good for the sake of doing good. Let’s give them a cheer.
I wish that we did not have phrases like cancel culture and milkshake duck. I wish that we could just embrace the positive and stop looking for ways to ‘cancel’ or undermine others or belittle their achievements. Can’t we please just celebrate goodness in this world – and leave out the negative?
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Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.