Outrage is All the Rage

Lately, it appears like everyone wants to be guarded from the things that offend them. I suspect, however, that the exact opposite is, in fact, true.

Apr 5, 2012 at 5:10pm | Leave a comment

In case you missed it, Bill Maher had an op-ed in the New York Times two weeks ago titled “Please Stop Apologizing.” You should go read it, but if you don’t feel like it, I’ll give you a brief summary:

Maher opens with the fact that Robert De Niro made a joke at a fundraiser where he was speaking with the first lady. The joke was this:

“Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” 

You all know what happened next. Everyone freaked the fuck out. (Specifically Newt Gringrich who demanded President Obama apologize. Because Obama totally has the power to apologize for another person's actions.) But the thing is? That’s what we do now. Someone says something we don’t like and instead of just ignoring it or shrugging it off, we lose our shit, demand apologies, and totally overreact.

Instead of acting like grown-ups who realize we’re not always going to agree on everything and that everyone isn’t responsible for coddling our delicate sensibilities, we become outraged. How dare someone tell a joke I don’t think is funny! How dare someone have an opinion that differs than mine! How dare another person be allowed to continue on with his life when he’s having such a negative affect on mine! HOW DARE THEY!

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About this, Maher writes, “When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like?” and this is when I started nodding my head in vigorous agreement. Which was a little awkward since I was reading it while peeing on the toilet.

But then I started thinking about it and I realized, maybe it’s not that people don’t want to only hear things they agree with; perhaps it’s actually that there’s a huge faction of people who get off on hearing things they DISagree with.

Maher assumes people would prefer to never hear anything that provokes them, but I posit that a large majority of people actually enjoy getting riled up. They listen to radio shows with opposing views just so they can call in and be outraged. They read columns on the Internet just so they can push back in the comments. The demand people be fired, suspended, whatever, but in reality, they would miss the provocation and drama.

For me, life’s too short to freak out about every little thing and it’s definitely too short to seek out reasons to be enraged. If I don’t like the jokes someone tells on Twitter, I don’t follow him. If I find someone’s writing to be trite and vapid, I don’t read it. Or if I accidentally read it, I don't bother to take the time to tell that person. What's the point? I don’t expect everyone to please me, and nor would I want them to. How boring would that be?

For example, I have a dark sense of humor. Instead of giving the horrible aspects of life power over me, I make jokes about them. Do I expect everyone to be this way? Of course not. But it’s how I chose to deal with stuff and I'm (obviously) okay with that. I've written things that have offended people. I probably will again. But I've never apologized for any of it. Because if I did, it wouldn't be sincere. And who wants a faux-pology? No one. 

I’m not saying that there’s not room for healthy discourse about controversial topics. Of course there is. In fact, writing about the unpopular opinion is often the way these conversations get started. Again, of course there's room for all kinds of writing, but if I only churned out stuff that everyone agreed with, I would have to question why I decided to be a writer in the first place. Yes, it feels amazing to write something that gets an overwhelming positive reaction and those pieces are imporant. But I like doing both things.

And I'm not going to apologize for it. Even if it does offend some people. Because I can't apologize for my beliefs. Nor would I ever expect someone else to do so. And while it's up to each of us to decide how we're going to react when we stumble across something that irks and irritates, I question the enormous amount of energy people seem to be putting into their outrage.

I hate feeling annoyed, so it's confusing to me that it's a feeling people want to marinate in. Why people like to soak in their anger when they could be taking warm bubble baths with scented candles, trashy magazines, and champagne. Why they get off on being put off.

Anger and outrage lose their power if they're overused. Plus, they're exhausting. If you feel the same way, why not take Bill Maher's advice?

“If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life.”

Or, you know, leave a comment. Whichever.