The outrage machine kicks into overdrive

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch via

Outrage sells. Outrage gets attention. Outrage provokes more outrage.

Katie Roiphe talks about outrage and Twitter in the June/July Esquire:

The danger of social media is that outrage feeds on outrage, instant rage flashes into more instant rage, the group instinct overtakes any individual event or person … With the efficiency of the medium, speed and rawness are privileged over depth.

Twitter has some useful purposes: news flashes, one-liners. But to much of the news media, it’s best for stirring up outrage. The stories write themselves.

So when a presidential candidate, a master of Twitter’s no-nuance explosiveness, is constantly depositing bombs of outrage on the Internet — building a wall, kicking out 11 million people, talking about conspiracy theories with an “I’m just sayin’ ” nonchalance — it’s like feeding chum to sharks. Whoo! Outrage!

Listen, any literature teacher can tell you that the essence of plot is conflict. But the usual political conflict — debating issues, questioning positions (even if they’re bogus) … well, jeez, that’s so booooorrrring.  (And so hard to do in 140 characters or one-minute videos!) Better to offer a knee-jerk response and watch everybody buy in.

Maybe a few try to question these bombs with logic, which works about as well as putting out a fire with a lecture on Descartes. (Television and much social media — certainly Twitter — are not friendly to calm and logic.) So we’re getting a full-on spectacle, along the lines of professional wrestling or the cattiest reality shows on Bravo. Is it entertaining? For some people. Of course, for some people, so is watching someone hit an opponent over their head with a chair.

There must be a lot of people enjoying chair-hitting this year. Ratings are great! Keep it coming, Mr. Presidential Candidate With Strange Hair! Keep everyone distracted!

It’s a shame, because outrage can be useful — in the beginning. People rail at injustice and want something done, and they start by screaming and yelling. But that screaming and yelling has to be channeled into focus and attention, into detail and (horrors!) compromise, or the problem won’t go away.

All I know is, all this outrage is making me weary. What happens next? What happens when the outrage leads nowhere? I can see cynicism taking over. People stop engaging in the system. The attitude becomes (to paraphrase Louis C.K.): Everything sucks and nothing gets done.

I guess that works to the advantage of the outrage-lovers. The cycle begins anew. More yelling, more screaming. It doesn’t solve anything, but boy, is it entertaining.



One thought on “The outrage machine kicks into overdrive

  1. What I don’t get is the outrage over completely trivial things and no outrage over things that really do matter. It is bizarre. It would seem that unhappy people transfer real anger and outrage in their lives onto something that is trivial – whether it is celebrities, sports, society or politics. I think many choose politics since it is supposed to be “important”. That way, their outrage must be valid and justified even if it is about trivialities, outright fabrications or utterly confused interpretations.

    Unfortunately, outrage is the prelude to violence in all its forms.


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