I recently wrote a post called “5 things the media does to manufacture outrage,” and a lot of you read it (and if you’re reading this, but haven’t read that, you may want to start there). Thanks! Some of you also had some strong opinions on it, and that’s great! I wanted to follow that post up with parts 2 and 3. Here’s part 2. Enjoy!
What I find interesting about the response to that recent post, however, were the wide range of conclusions being drawn. Some thought I was sticking it to all those whiny little Tumblr-dwellers and ess jay doubleyewsss. Others saw it as an argument in favor of getting mad on the internet because damn the man, right? Still more viewed it as a rallying cry for the return of “real journalism” and not all this digital clickbait nonsense. And on… and on… and on…
If it serves your purpose, you can keep thinking whatever you need about that post. Just like some see a duck in this drawing, others see a rabbit. What I see doesn’t really matter, all things considered.
But let’s say you were genuinely interested in what I set out to say with that post. I can answer that, no problem.
Stop getting pissed off at people because you think they’re pissed off about something.
Outrage over people who are outraged is one of the most (outrageously) annoying things. (And no, this isn’t me being outraged about the outrage over outrage culture. I’m not meta enough for that.)
This really shouldn’t be that hard, and hopefully, if a single thing was clear in my previous post, it’s that those types of people irritate me.
Person A: “Pretty bummed out about last night’s episode of Blah Blah Blah. That joke about blah was kind of shitty. I’m done with that show.”
Person B (who doesn’t even know Person A): “FIND SOMETHING REAL TO BE OUTRAGED ABOUT! YOU PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS OFFENDED!”
Like, WTF is that? If someone thinks a comedian sucks because his jokes about whatever come at the expense of others, just chill out if they express their opinion. Having an opinion on someone’s act? Awesome. Having an opinion on someone else’s opinion of someone’s act? Bizarre.
Someone saying they don’t like something or they find something offensive or that they plan to personally boycott something or whatever doesn’t require a response, especially from a stranger.
If someone finds what you do offensive, but you think their criticism is off base, then just keep doing what you’re doing.
It’s really as simple as that. You are 100% within your rights to decide “Nah, I don’t agree with what that person is saying, so I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.” Think you’re right? Great. Keep on keeping on.
During the interview, I asked about “P.C. culture” and all that jazz. In response was just an extraordinarily thoughtful look at what it is to grow as a person. Here, I’ll highlight a couple of my favorite lines:
“In some ways, I can understand feeling like you can’t say anything without offending somebody, and I’m a comic that offends people sometimes. I don’t mean to, but that’s just a part of it. I make my own choices from my own gut and what my insides feel like, what I feel is funny and what I want to say. Whether I feel good about saying that or not, if it feels bad in my gut, I don’t say it.
Listen, I just talked from my own experience. I remember years ago saying, ‘I say ‘gay,’ like that’s so gay, like it’s lame. I’m from Boston and that’s what we say. I have gay friends, it has nothing to do with them,’ and then catching myself and realizing I’m the guy who goes, ‘I say colored. What’s the big deal? I have colored friends.’ Is it that hard to change with the times? It took me about a day and a half to find new words for gay. When I look at my work 10 years ago, I cringe and I hope I always cringe when I look at my work from 10 years ago, you know?” —Sarah Silverman
I thought that was just a really great response. She received backlash the whole time, but at that point in her life, she weighed the merits of those arguments and decided she was going to keep doing what she was doing. As she said, it felt right in her gut.
As time went on, as the world changed around her, she moved on from some of those routines because they no longer felt right to her in her gut.
That’s really all any of us can do. Still don’t like her work? That’s your prerogative, and that’s just fine.
If looking back on something, you think better of it and choose to apologize, then do that.
I’ve done this more times than I’d like to admit. Like, here are three examples of times I apologized for something I said (I don’t remember exactly what any of these situations were, but whatever it was seemed to include me saying/doing something someone else found upsetting/hurtful/etc., and then later coming to the self-realization that yes, they were right and I should probably say I was sorry. It’s no big deal.)
One of the weirdest things I’ve seen on the ol’ internet are the people who actually get mad if someone else apologizes for something.
Here’s an example of someone who was bragging about how he doesn’t apologize for stuff? Okay. Like, since when is it bad to give a little thought to your actions and reconsider them? Damn, introspection! Always being so… uh… introspective!
But a lot of people actually take somewhat significant portions of time out of their day to get upset with anyone who apologizes for anything, as they see an apology as “caving to P.C. culture” or something.
I don’t know. Seems ridiculous to me. Like, here’s an example of someone who was mad that Amy Schumer was like, “Yeah, some of those jokes about Hispanic men being rapists I used to tell were probably not so great” or whatever.
Dude, it’s okay to look back on life and go, “Nah, my bad.” You don’t have to stick to every single position you’ve ever taken. I’ve said some extraordinarily stupid things in my life, taken some extraordinarily stupid positions, etc.
Sometimes people will say to me, “I like your writing, though I don’t always agree with it.” I tend to respond, “Thanks! And neither do I.” Why? Because as I grow as a person (as hopefully we all aim for — you know, growth is good), I come to new conclusions about things. No shame in taking a mulligan.
But here are some more people angry that others apologized for something. Who even knows why… It’s like a weird game to them.
But let’s steer this back towards the question at hand: are people too sensitive? Should we all just suck it up?
I don’t really even know. One person who responded to my last post said something along the lines of, “Are we more easily outraged now than ever before!? OF COURSE WE ARE OPEN A BOOK ASK AN OLDER PERSON BLAH BLAH BLAH” and so on. I kind of zoned out because a.) they said they didn’t bother to read past that line in the first paragraph, and b.) that’s all anecdotal. There’s no way to control for social media.
Are we “too sensitive?” I don’t know, man. Maybe don’t worry so much about whether other people are “too sensitive?” That’s kind of the only advice I can give you. It’s such a subjective thing that it’s pointless to try to police others’ threshold for being able to keep emotions bottled in — and really, that’s what it is.
Should people just “suck it up?” Again, maybe spend a little less time worried about other people. If someone, say, in the case of some of the recent protests at Missouri, doesn’t like it when other students call them racial slurs/draw poop swastikas on dorm walls, who are you to tell them they shouldn’t push to hold the school accountable? Which… one sec…
This brings me to one of the most overused quotes about outrage: you know the one I’m talking about.
It’s that quote you’ll see tossed around by anyone who thinks we should all just keep our feelings bottled up and never ever tell people how we feel (which of course, it’s super duper healthy, obviously). It’s a quote from Stephen Fry in a 2005 Guardian article:
“It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that’, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I’m offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what?” — Stephen Fry
YEAH, MAN. RIGHT? FCK ALL THEM PEOPLE WHO GET ‘OFFENDED’ BY THINGS. “WELL, SO FUCKING WHAT,” EXACTLY BRUHHHHH.
Except, that’s not (really, entirely) what was being said there. If you read the article, you’ll see it’s about his thoughts on a possible law that would actually outlaw certain forms of speech (specifically, blasphemous stuff).
Here’s another quote from that same piece:
“I’ve always believed that everything that is said from authority is either the authority of one’s own heart, one’s own brain, one’s own reading, one’s own trust, but not the authority of someone who claims it because they’re speaking for God and they know the truth because it’s written in a book. That, essentially, is where I come from. In a sense, tolerance is my religion. Reason is my religion.” —Stephen Fry
What he was specifically arguing about in this instance was that actually making speech illegal (based on an individual’s religious beliefs) puts people in particularly precarious positions, as there’s no universal guide for what counts. What he was arguing, in this instance, was for people to be able to speak freely… and then face the social, professional, and cultural consequences of that speech, both good and bad.
Outrage exists. It always has. Maybe it’s the policing of it that’s new. And chill the eff out about online petitions.
While I’ve tried to put together a pretty decent guide for not falling for outrage produced by the media, I think it’s important to acknowledge that some people will genuinely be angry about things — and that is okay. You may think some of those things are pretty stupid, maybe even oversensitive. But you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and frustration by just letting people have it. If someone chooses to start some sort of change.org petition to do x, trust people being petitioned won’t cave if demands are too high.
Noah Berlatsky wrote about this kind of situation over at The Establishment. Berlatsky’s example centers around a petition started by students at Cardiff University asking the school to uninvite Germaine Greer, a feminist whose views explicitly exclude trans women, from giving a paid speech on campus.
“When Greer was asked to speak at Cardiff University this year, students started a Change.org petition asking that the invitation be rescinded in light of her transphobic comments. The university never seems to have seriously considered the petition, but Greer decided to cancel the event rather than visit a campus where some students might criticize her. Many writers in mainstream and left publications weighed in to declare this a threat to free speech, including Zoe Williams at the Guardian and, in a viral article, Katha Pollitt at the Nation.”
Now, Greer actually did give that speech (after deciding to cancel), but that’s kind of beside the point. What’s interesting, though, is how students using their own free speech to protest (as is their right) someone being paid using their own tuition funds to speak on campus as somehow being anti-free speech.
People start online petitions for all sorts of reasons, some of them really stupid and annoying and might make you shake your fist at the sky whilst mumbling something about feckin’ Millennials. But instead of painting the petition as being inherently oppressive or whatever, how about just standing on the merits of what they’re petitioning? It’s really strange how much we hear from people whose free speech is supposedly under attack, but so little from the people supposedly attacking it.
But I plan on addressing free speech and “P.C. culture” a bit in part 3. Until then, s’long!