Covid’s selfishness gene

Has the pandemic made us more boorish?

Is there something in the air? Post pandemic, or – with case and death numbers still consistently high – that should probably read post lockdowns and restrictions, does a changed attitude prevail? Have we become more selfish and less concerned with the feelings of others?

Is bad behaviour the new norm? When even stand-up comedians, accustomed to audience participation, banter and generally good-natured heckling, say some audience members have “forgotten how to behave in public”, maybe it’s time to sit up and take stock. Comedian Dani Johns wrote recently that since restrictions lifted and live audiences returned to clubs there has been an increase in abuse and harassment, “from aggressive heckling, to talking over the act, to jumping on stage”.

Fellow comic, Nish Kumar had to ask a disruptive audience member to leave a gig in Shrewsbury. After posting about the incident on Instagram and referring to what he said could be construed as a racist comment the person made, the issue came up again the following night at a gig in Cheltenham. When Kumar tried to explain why what was shouted out wasn’t funny another audience member told him to “stop being so sensitive”. Kumar said later, “I’ve had a few conversations with other comics and there’s a sense that something doesn’t feel quite right.”

The incidents do seem to be part of a pattern, with a woman thrown out of a Romesh Ranganathan gig at Hammersmith Apollo after reportedly racially abusing the comedian. And comedian Rosie Jones, who has cerebral palsy, was targeted online by trolls who sent abusive messages after she appeared on the BBC’s Question Time programme.

But the shift in behaviour patterns isn’t confined to comedy clubs. Workers in other sectors, including supermarket staff and bus drivers, have also reported worsening treatment from customers. Simply queueing to fill up the car on petrol station forecourts has led to arguments and even violence. The pandemic affected us all, some more directly than others, so coming out of it change was inevitable. But change for the better? In some cases, it appears not. An “I want to be noticed” attitude often prevails, and with that can come boorish, offensive and downright bad behaviour. For many, the lockdowns were like being locked up, and with the doors finally thrown open, some have decided they need to catch up, to get out there and live – for the day, the hour, the moment.

The pandemic highlighted the fact that none of us, young or old, know what time remains, so many are determinedly making the most of whatever time they have. Suddenly there are more clichés around. “This isn’t a rehearsal.” “There are no second chances at life.” Perhaps too, the new uncertainties and harsh realities of the everyday – the cost-of-living crisis, tax hikes, rapid inflation, a looming recession and the horrors of the war in Ukraine – can sometimes push us to just go for it. Regardless. And often, it seems, regardless of others and their feelings.

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