The Rise of Outrage Culture
and why it’s a damaging force to our society
I came across one of Umair Haque’s articles a few days ago. In it, he tried to argue that the United State’s migrant detention centers “met the legal definition of genocide.” The opening paragraph screams out what the article would be like: an emotionally charged, high-impact propaganda statement written in just the right way so that it capture your attention.
Usually, I would just ignore articles coming from extremely ideological writers, especially one with sensationalist claims right off the get-go. However, this one stood out as the perfect example of a rising trend in our culture. The tone of the whole article resembles that of a military hearing after you made a terrible mistake that cost hundreds of lives. You’ve done such an irresponsible and outrageous act and you can’t help but feel caged as your superior chastises you!
Haque’s article might be unique in its directness, but it’s definitely not the first article of its kind. On Medium, a site where independent authors can publish their work, the resemblance to the mainstream media’s tactics are astounding. Authors who probably consider themselves as ‘progressives’ play into the same cash-grabbing strategies that the media uses: fearmongering.
As you might have guessed, the stories about Trump ‘putting children in cages’ are incredibly exaggerated. Not forgetting that Obama first came into heat for doing the same thing, the conditions in these places are far from the hellhole many media outlets assume they are. Children in these facilities not only are given pamphlets and help to reunite with their loved ones, but they also enjoy the living conditions of an average university dormitory. Of course, there are still both positive and negative aspects to these centers, as articles such as this one and this one have already covered. However, it’s far from the bombshell that it’s been made out to be.
Which leads me into the theme of this article. Outrage culture.
We are now living in an era where our desire for social justice and righteousness has led us to become predators. Starting with the media turning any event into a controversy, sometimes pulling them out of thin air, and ending with people being harassed until their lives are ruined after making a joke on Twitter.
In the era of #Metoo, of Trump Derangement Syndrome, social justice, and political correctness. In the era of social media and instant access to information, all of these forces culminate into a giant snowball of cultural change. Unfortunately, not for the better.
One needs to look not further than a made-up Rolling-Stone story to see that this trend is anything but recent. In 2015, Rolling Stones reported on a supposed gang rape incident happening in a Virginia fraternity. This got them sued for $25M, as the story was later debunked. The eagerness shown by Rolling Stones reporters showed at the sight of a potential controversial story really makes you wonder.
Arguably, this failure of a story could be attributed to journalistic negligence. The reporters might have just been chasing smokes and mirrors. After all, sexual abuse is a serious crime that must be taking seriously, so it’s worth listening to the victim. That makes for a convincing argument. That said, other stories are much less defensible.
Take for example a story by The Hill which accuses a scene from ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ to be racist. The scene shows an image of the characters sitting around a table, but Franklin (a black character) is sitting alone on one side of the table. It shows a picture of the scene, followed by a bunch of Tweets and ‘interviewing’. Apparently, this incident is so important that it deserves its own story. Such are the times.
Perhaps Rolling Stones and The Hill are not the best representation about the general media attitude. An article on a Charlie Brown comic scene might show how ridiculously far people will reach in order to stir up polemics, but it doesn’t really reflect overall culture, right?
Well, perhaps the next story will change your mind. I previously mentioned Trump Derangement Syndrome and that was for a reason. The fiasco that was the Convington Catholic story will continue to serve as an example of media fearmongering.
The quick rundown is that outlets such as CNN were sent videos of a bunch of students wearing Make America Great Again hats and seemingly surrounding an old Native American man. The headlines were one-sided: “Teenage Trump Supporters Harass Native-American Man” and the like. Some people went as far as to say that they were young white supremacists in the making. Needless to say, after other videos on the incident surfaced up, it was shown that the students were only waiting for their bus, the Native American Man being the one who approached them.
I won’t go into details about how the media has made Trump supporters to be the new enemy on this piece. Yet the media has always used the ‘common enemy’ tactic to influence popular opinion. First it was communism, then it was terrorism, and now it’s people wearing red hats. Just like with sexual assault, anything related to Trump and his supporters is an excuse to stir controversy, mostly of negative nature.
Don’t get me wrong, outrage culture is not a partisan issue. Conservatives have been known to be easily outraged by LGBT-related matters, and people on the right-wing can just as well be outraged by other events. Tree angels can be just as controversial, apparently.
The problem is that conservatives almost seldom attempt to ruin people’s lives for their political beliefs. Political correctness serves as the left’s stronghold, shaming tactics and de-platforming serving as the siege weapons. For people who are all about “Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and “Working hard to get ahead”, right-wingers seem to be happy having their own Bastille get stormed by the outrage mob.
A liberal teacher would never lose his job for saying that he’s pro-choice, yet a conservative one can definitely find himself unemployed if he says he’s pro-life. Educational institutions are non-surprisingly left-leaning, but even the private sector you can get trouble for having the wrong opinion. The worst part about this discrimination is that it’s often completely legal.
“Political speech and activity, especially in private sector employment, is not well protected by anti-retaliation laws.”
Most states have “at-will” employments laws, which means that your employer can dismiss you for any reason as long as it’s not illegal. This means that if your employer doesn’t like your political views, well, you’re at his whim. This is extremely important because of the rise of PC culture. Companies want to avoid controversies and bad publicity as much as possible, and since the dominant cultural narrative is progressive, you’ll just have to stay quiet if you don’t want to risk getting sent packing.
If you’re aware of the current political and cultural climate, you probably already have some awareness about this issue. However, here are some examples to make it even clearer.
An employee at Crossfit fired for Tweeting “Pride is a sin”. A Google engineer writing a memo that questions the company’s political biases and views ideology on gender disparities. A Canadian sportscaster fired for supporting traditional marriage. A comedian fired for making a joke.
YouTube is the another notorious offender. If you think that only crazy conspiracy theorist such as Alex Jones or extremists get banned off YouTube, you couldn’t be more wrong. YouTube will ban any channel that might bring bring bad publicity to advertisers. Meaning, everything that’s not on the ‘right side of history’. Right-wingers such as Hunter Avallone, Legal Insurrection, PragerU, and Tommy Robinson are just a few examples.
A culture based on outrage doesn’t only silence people and get them fired. It also disenfranchises the majority of the population . Most Americans are moderates, a good percentage slightly swinging to the right. Most Americans don’t hold fringe views. They don’t want to silence people for disagreeing with gay marriage. They don’t want to de platform people for disavowing feminism. They’re not the types of people whom go out to protest the ‘patriarchy’ and fascism. Americans don’t align with these ideologies.
Yet those types of ideologies are exactly the ones that have creeped into virtually every segment of our society. Sillicon Valley is notoriously progressive, the media is incredibly biased, the corporate world is practically dominated by HR. Companies are always on their toes, pandering to the vocal minorities and hoping that they don’t get involved with any ‘bad publicity’.
What’s another result from all this? Radical ideas being pushed from all fronts such as the encouragement of drag queens or the support for open borders. If you criticize these things, you better be damn sure about what you’re doing because everyone from the angry SJW mob to your boss will quickly be on your case.
Leaving mainstream politics aside for a second, let’s consider what happens when an average person, just like you and I, blows up on Twitter. This Ted Talk discusses how Justice Sacco’s life got turned upside down from a Tweet went wrong. What was supposed to be a joke mocking Western privilege turned into an outrage fiesta for Twitter. From online trolls to big brands, everyone jumped aboard of the shaming train.
Going back to the Covington Story again, people’s responses really highlight what social outrage can turn people into. People whom (I assume) are otherwise decent and moral people will act like vicious sociopaths if given the right opportunity:
Jon Ronson opened my eyes on the influence power can have over people, even if it’s only on Twitter. He perfectly describes the tendency of self-righteous people to persecute common enemies and “end up behaving like a baying mob”. We use social justice and ‘giving a voice to the oppressed’ as an excuse to exert our mob influence, much to our delight. A quote of his really nails this idea:
“There are two types of people. People who favor humans over ideologies, and people who favor ideologies over humans.”
Two things I’ve noticed about people who engage in these shaming ‘sports’ is 1. All of us are complicit in one way or another and 2. It seems to affect people like a drug. As Nancy Rommelmann puts in her article, in which she describes how she received so much outrage that it forced her business into collapse:
Show us the next person to hate and we are so there; we take an animalistic pleasure in destroying the kid in the MAGA hat, in fashioning a decades-old interview with John Wayne into a knife with which to posthumously eviscerate the actor. And then we look for the next target.
It’s not surprising, then, that people call it ‘outrage porn’. That’s what it is. It keeps us looking for the next ‘hit’. Show us the next racist. Show us the next homophobe. The next bigot. Show us the next misogynist so we can put him in his place. Of course, a lot of the time the accusations made against people are false or taken out of context, but who cares?
This is a problem that we, as a society need to start discussing. In present day, we’re putting more value emotional reactivity rather than logic and reason. We’re chasing villains instead of talking about real issues. If you agree with me, then take action to stop being part of the problem.
If you want to make a change, start with yourself. Before you can make a change in the world, you must first ‘clean up your room’. Stop chasing villains and start focusing on real issues. Let your voice be heard and make sure that everyone knows that you won’t partake in the outrage culture. You are better than that, we all are.