It’s an outrage!

The fact that the cowboys play it so straight is what really sells it for me. That and all da kittehs.

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl. I haven’t in a long while, even for the commercials (besides, the EDS “Herding Cats” commercial from 2000 will always be the best one in my view). I instead spent the day cat-sitting fur-nephew Charlie and watching movies.

And chuckling over reactions on Facebook and elsewhere to the Super Bowl halftime show. Really, it doesn’t matter who performs, there will be complaints, whether it’s racy content (like pregnant Rihanna and her rubbing her butt and crotch this year, or the infamous Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake nipplegate show in 2004 that prompted 540,000 FCC complaints), charges of “race-baiting” (like Beyonce’s 2016 show) or whatever else strikes people as outrageous.

That’s one way to announce you’re pregnant with your second child; but hey, she’s covered up! Image found on The New Yorker.

Because that’s the point. Outrage is what drives so much of society now, and entirely too many of us have become addicted to grousing about every little thing that offends them and insisting that because they were offended, no one should be have to be subjected to it. Where once a great many of us could claim to be well-measured in our reactions, it seems more have given in to the outrage machine that generates clicks and views like mad (literally, sometimes).

Which reminds me of a story one of my instructors in college used to tell his classes. A woman called the television station where he was working one night, quite upset with what was being shown. He had answered the phone, being one of the few people in the building at the time. He said he told her: “Ma’am, there’s a couple of knobs on your TV. You can change the channel, or you can turn it off.”

(Yes, obviously this was decades ago since you’d be hard-pressed to find a TV with knobs now. Don’t rub it in that I lived in a time when there were knobs and kids were the remote control.)

Ignoring that that sort of comment to a customer might get you fired these days, it’s still advice to take to heart. No one’s forcing you to watch something that offends you except for you. I mean, unless you’re being held against your will and forced to watch it with eyes held open, à la “A Clockwork Orange.”

Some movies are hard to watch. You’d probably have to do something along these lines to get me to watch “A Clockwork Orange” again, even as much as I love Malcolm McDowell’s acting in general. GIF found on gfycat.

I’m not a fan of Adam Sandler (c’mon, he mostly plays an overgrown kid in his comedy movies, and it’s hard to put that image aside for drama). If something comes on with him in it, I can choose to not watch it. That’s the beauty of a country like this. You’re free to do what you want to do for the most part, as long as it’s legal and doesn’t hurt others. My not thinking Sandler is funny is not enough reason to wage a campaign trying to keep him from performing, and I’d just be wasting my time with performative outrage. There are far more important things to be outraged about … like, say, an attack on the Capitol to try to overturn election results, or the relative ease of getting your hands on a gun when you really have no business doing so. (Seriously, at minimum, if you’re not going to institute a waiting period, then make gun buyers get insurance, just like car buyers have to.)

Sandler? Not worth the trouble. Nor are drag queens reading children’s books to kids, but that’s another matter entirely.

By all means, complain. That’s sort of the bread and butter for the Voices page that I edit for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Just remember that not every complaint is meritorious, nor is every complaint genuine. Some—shocking, I know—are made simply to drive audiences to watch, click or whatever, and outrage is easier to stoke than thought. Not naming anybody, but his initials are Tucker Carlson.

Tucker, you don’t deserve candy at all. Stop making controversy where there really is none. Image found on Gizmodo.

And when that outrage comes with convenient talking points that no one cares enough to fact-check or expand upon, it leads to me having to reject letters, sometimes in the middle of a letter drought (c’mon, at least cite your source; then I can give you some leeway). Besides, those talking points make every letter sound the same; switch it up!

One of the big conservative talking points is that the social media giants like Twitter and Facebook are biased against conservatives, despite the fact that conservatives usually have the highest levels of engagement, which would tend to suggest their posts aren’t being supressed to the extent they believe they are. (Being asked to follow the same rules everyone else has to follow is not bias; others, including corporations that own the platforms used, have rights too, and can set terms that all users have to agree to or go elsewhere.) On the subject of this, Siva Vaidhyanathan, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia, told the BBC in October 2020: “I think it’s a mistake to look at it as a right-wing versus left-wing bias. The bias is toward content that generates strong emotions.”

Those strong emotions make the outrage machine working overtime. Because of this, so much of the time we feel like we’re on tenterhooks because something is always trying to elevate our blood pressure and keep us on edge just for a few extra views.

Performative outrage is the worst outrage, especially when you take something out of context and blow it out of proportion when there are more serious issues to deal with. Editorial cartoon by Drew Sheneman, The Star-Ledger.

Matt Lewis wrote in July 2019 on the Daily Beast: “Is it just me, or lately have Americans been living their lives just waiting for the other shoe to drop? You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that something is wrong with the world as we know it. Despite relative peace and prosperity, nobody really seems happy. Our culture is fraying. Our politics is coming unglued. We could probably generate a long list of factors that have contributed to this malaise and apathy. But I’m starting to wonder: Is America’s outrage machine—social media platforms, political activists and agitators, and cable news—tearing this country apart by incentivizing (and monetizing) conflict?”

Little did he know then that Jan. 6, 2021, would happen, but it seems foreshadowed looking at that column now. We’re stuck in “an unvirtuous cycle,” Lewis wrote. “One side of the political aisle does something to outrage us. We can’t avoid seeing it, nor can we avoid wrongly assuming that this is representative of the other ‘tribe.’ In some cases, outrageous behavior creates a backlash, whereby we are drawn closer to our side of the political aisle. In other cases, outrageous acts spark retaliation, thus igniting a whole new round of outrage and outrage backlash.”

People afflicted with hyperpartisan performative outrage are how we ended up with people like MTG, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and George Santos in Congress. Editorial cartoon by John Deering, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

And with 24/7 cable news and social media, rest assured that the outrage will be spread, especially if it brings in higher ratings for the purveyors of that outrage. And because that outrage sells and no one seems to face meaningful consequences, it continues, and gets even worse (i.e., George Santos).

The thing is, we don’t have to take part in it. We can, as my radio/TV instructor said, change the channel or turn the TV off, limit our exposure to social media outrage, and not spread unchecked talking points. As long as there’s an audience for something, it will continue.

Times change. Where once marching bands and Up With People entertained at Super Bowl halftime, now it’s popular music artists … because Michael Jackson’s 1993 halftime show showed the NFL it could keep eyes on the TV instead of whatever snacks need to be refilled.

Don’t like RiRi or Maroon 5 or Shakira? You don’t have to watch. I mean, unless the only reason you’re watching is so you can participate in the outrage machine.

Herding cats is much more fun, if you ask me.

I herded this one by putting a freshly laundered fuzzy blanket on the end of the bed (once he got up and let me finish making the bed in the first place).