Outrage: Everyone’s Favourite Pastime
It is a political narrative of the right that liberals are overly-sensitive, easily offended and like to play the victim. Let’s set the record straight: both sides of the political spectrum use victimhood to whip up public opinion, and the media never fails to lap it up.
Outrage is everywhere right now. I can barely get through a news bulletin or the front page of a news website without a story of another outrageous comment from someone demonstrating their deep racism/sexism/religious intolerance/lack of patriotism, or whatever’s on the agenda. I’ve been drawn into it myself, it’s incredibly intoxicating, and taps into a deep frustration many have about politics right now. But it’s a trap, used by political operatives and media outlets of all sides, designed to strengthen false or overblown narratives. By drawing out anger and outrage, people are sucked in and become ever more iron clad in their views.
Let’s look at some examples. Theresa May is shocked that the word ‘Easter’ has been dropped by the National Trust’s egg hunt, calling the situation “absolutely ridiculous”. To supporters, this is emblematic of institutions being cowed by political correctness and a loss of national, and Christian, pride and power. To her adversaries, it’s lambasted as an over-reaction that shows her coded nod to national populism and lack of religious sensitivity. For me, not only are both sides making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I just genuinely don’t care. The story I cared about more last week was the death of 58 civilians in Syria in a gas attack perpetrated by Bashar al-Assad. That is something to be truly outraged by.
Trump’s offensive coments about women in that taped conversation with Billy Bush caused widespread condemnation. As disgusting as those comments were, I was pretty surprised to see people marching in the streets and protesting the state visit of a democratically elected US president. One wonders where the equivalent outrage and marches are for Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, or for the exploitation of women in the UK in the sex trade. This is what frustrates me (and yes, outrages me) the most. As the media latches on to comments, and screams at the tops of its lungs that it has found something awful, actions in another league of horror are left in the shade, and ultimately neglected. As people march about Trump, despise Theresa May and rage about an immigrant on benefits story in a tabloid paper, they lose all perspective, lost in the glow of being proven right. I think we all need to stop and take a breath.
If we expect public figures to always be perfectly on-script and not have any biases, then we are begging them to hide things from us. I have biases, some conscious and some not – why should our politicians be any different? Surely we can forgive them some humanity. We should care what people say, words are important, and yes, march about things if you disagree with them. But let’s put things in perspective first, and save the real outrage for the true horrors that abound every day in the UK as well as across our planet.
Let’s move the focus away from an intertextual analysis of every uttered comment, and on to what our leaders are actually doing. Trump is a master of misdirection; everyone is so focussed on what he says, that proper scrutiny of his policies is minimal. We are all too busy being outraged at his latest tweet to criticise his budget plans. Although Trump has said disgusting things about women, Mexicans, immigrants and many others, and caused perfectly reasonable offense, he is not the devil incarnate. There are plenty of powerful world leaders who more closely fit that description.
It’s the same in the right-wing media – are people really that offended because the National Trust dropped the word Easter? Who’s being a snowflake now? If you want to get outraged by something, why not try the wrongheaded policies of the UK government on refugees, China’s human rights abuses, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, climate change, the appalling treatment of women and homosexuals in many countries, starvation, war, abuse, homelessness, poverty – the list is endless. Yes, be angry, and call out people if you disagree with them. Take action and march. But please, let’s save some energy for the important stuff.