The concept of outrage culture has firmly taken root, but can positives be wrung from it or has the argument just got louder?
I love seeing a media term like “outrage culture” fly with the determination of Icarus. The closer it gets to the light of examination, the glue that holds the wings of argument melt and the writers find themselves plummeting back to reality, screaming outrage over the outrage. To clarify, this is considering the phenomenon from the perspective of those that are convinced that outrage culture is “political correctness gone mad.” which births the follow-up comment of “why won’t anyone be more considerate of my feelings”.
For this article, I’d like to stay here on Earth and work out from where each feather was plucked to make up the plumage of this strange bird.
So, where does the idea of outrage culture come from?
Firstly, one of the big contributors is the inherent anonymity involved when commenting on the Internet. People feel safer to communicate in far stronger terms when they are not receiving the same stimulus as when sitting opposite from their detractors. Secondly, all of a sudden there are far more voices heard from far more sources than ever before. This is clearly going to outrage the status quo, the members of which have only ever been exposed to media that interests them. From this schism, we going through a massive social flux.
Through nuanced information (and also through shaming and outrage), a society begins to change its collective mind. A good example of this is the slowly progressing world of acceptance of gender transition.
We have long gone without having to regularly challenge our ideas, and now we are doing it regularly. Whether this turns into a more efficient social evolution or something far more distorted depends on what side of the fun house mirror you stand.
“The Medium is the Message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan which explained that the way information is conveyed is hugely important to the content. The above points follow this theory. This gives an insight into how outrage culture might feed sensationalism and suddenly we have a new avenue of communication, as well as new things to communicate about. People become defensive of their outrage, and in that defence look for information to justify it. The Internet is an open bar, where you can mix your own cocktail, where the spirits are mixed half-and-half. Half solution, half outrage.
Outrage is often triggered by a number of issues; our resistance to new ideas, a defence of our morals, a reaction to years of oppression, a decision to defend our civil liberties, a decision to defend our own agendas.
There is a long-running sociological theory that when there is no war, we look for new conflict. It’s a theory that is used to explain the rise of Gridiron (NFL) in the United States just after the war. It relies on the evolutionary theory that survival as a motivation for any species is instinctual but when survival is far more probable, where do we place it?
This does not reduce the validity of these new outrages but in comparison with the functionality of aggressive sport, perhaps this outrage can be funnelled toward something socially productive. If capitalism works in a way to keep everyone kind of happy, part of the time, then revolution against oppression seems improbable.
Perhaps this new outrage can be the start of a revolution of ideas which can dismantle the oppressive nature of our current social structure, where fingers may bleed action, but the same people do not bleed in the streets.
If society needs to get confrontational to make lasting change particularly when it comes to the needs of people other than those who have found themselves in power, then so be it.