Many commentators have decried the furore surrounding the departure from The X Factor of Natalia Kills and Willy Moon, who failed to survive the 90-day trial employment period and were let go by their bosses after they let go at hapless but lovable contestant Joe Irvine on the live show.

Surely, they say, there are more important things going on in the world. If only, they lament, such public passion could be directed at these other issues then some of them might be resolved.

They have a point. Here are some of the things that happened in the past seven days that were more important than Natalia Kills' failed attempt at savaging Joe Irvine on The X Factor: Vanuatu's infrastructure was devastated by Cyclone Pam; a humane piece of legislation that would have provided food for hungry children in decile 1 and 2 schools was defeated; and residents of California learned they are going to run out of water in a year.

Yet the Moon-Kills affair is important, although not because of the two people at the centre of it. If they set out to gain notoriety they certainly achieved that aim and we should probably be grateful they did not have to resort to leaking a sex tape along the way. There has been much speculation about their futures, including predictions they will never work again, but you can't really say that when they don't seem to have been working in the first place.

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The affair is important because of what it says about the way we treat each other today. It demonstrated that the most vicious sort of verbal abuse has become widespread and acceptable to many.

A few years ago it would have been unthinkable for anyone to speak to a fellow human in the way that Kills and Moon addressed Irvine. Where did people learn to behave like this?

Scroll through Twitter and it won't be long before you find vicious attacks on individuals, all from the safety of a computer keyboard far, far away from the object of the abuse who will almost certainly be a stranger to the abuser.

Bullying in social media is so common we have become desensitised. It has been normalised. So much so that many of those defending Irvine did so with all the viciousness Moon and Kills showed, seemingly unaware of the irony and hypocrisy that displayed.

And now it's part of prime-time TV viewing.

Until now, only those who exposed themselves to criticism by entering public life - politicians, broadcasters, businesspeople who felt comfortable sharing with the rest of us their views on how the world should be - were open to this level of comment.

Bullying is increasingly seen as just another way of getting things done. The pages of Dirty Politics were full of examples of bullying being carried out with impunity at the highest levels.

This week we saw it in the form of a threat to the Northland electorate that its precious bridges would not be widened if voters chose the wrong person to represent them.

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But social media has taken Andy Warhol's prediction of 15 minutes of fame for everyone and adapted it so everyone is famous all the time. Anyone and everyone can be a public figure and, therefore, is also open to abuse all the time.


At the time this column was written, Joe Irvine had not, as Willy Moon predicted, been caught stitching someone's skin to his face and killing everyone in the audience. Needless to say, that would have complicated things considerably.