Culture Media Politics

Are We Addicted to Outrage Porn?

In 2009, political cartoonist Tim Kreider had an article featured in the NY Times called “Isn’t it Outrageous?” Though Kreider is anything but conservative, his comments on outrage and the peculiarly American business surrounding it were extremely insightful. His basic point was this:

Once I realized I enjoyed anger, I noticed how much time I spent experiencing it. If you’re anything like me, you spend about 87 percent of your mental life winning imaginary arguments that are never actually going to take place. . . . It sounds like we’re all telling ourselves the same story over and over: How They Tried to Crush My Spirit (sometimes with the happy denouement: But I Showed Them!)

Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure. We prefer to think of it as a disagreeable but fundamentally healthy involuntary reaction to negative stimuli thrust upon us by the world we live in, like pain or nausea, rather than admit that it’s a shameful kick we eagerly indulge again and again.

And, as with all vices, vast and lucrative industries are ready to supply the necessary material. It sometimes seems as if most of the news consists of outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulses to judge and punish and get us all riled up with righteous indignation.

Or, as Katelyn Beaty wrote for Christianity Today, we love “being right and feeling wronged.” Four years later, Kreider’s thoughts are even more apropos than they were at the end of the Bush administration. Now, almost nothing on the news registers as anything other than outrage porn. Whether it’s Miley Cyrus as the top story on CNN or pretty much any headline from the Drudge Report, news outlets know that they can make an extraordinary amount of money baiting mouse-holders with emotionally charged outrage chum.

Just go look at the Drudge Report (or reddit politics for the opposite brand of outrage porn). With a clear head, read the headlines. Is this fair and balanced news? Do we really read this stuff in order to be well-informed? I don’t think so.

The most telling sign that we’re addicted to outrage porn is the comments section of … well pretty much anything on the Interzweb. Holy angry populace, Batman! I read comments for one primary reason: they are hilarious. Never in the history of man has so much impotent rage met with so much pitiable ignorance. I know I shouldn’t be amused. It is really sad and destructive. But I can hardly help myself.

It’s like when I take the black permanent marker away from my one-year-old. He stands there in the middle of the room with his mouth a perfect oval of malcontentedness, his shrill voice piercing the heavens, and his hammy fists shaking in the sky. In other words, he’s just adorably cute. For now, that is. What’s cute in a toddler isn’t all that attractive in an “adult.”

Something tells me that we, as a culture, haven’t been parented very well. Level heads should prevail, yes. But where can level heads be found? Because let’s face it: maybe there are a lot of angry people out there because there is a lot that is wrong with the world. A lot. And that’s where outrage porn is most unhelpful. It allows us to feel like we have done something about the evil in the world when in fact we haven’t done a thing. Writing an angry comment or blustering with co-workers does nothing of any value. But it makes us feel like we are on the right side—that we won’t stand for “the left’s” latest Machiavellian schemes. But year after year, in spite of all of our outrage, we lose a little more ground. Our anger in itself accomplishes nothing.

Bottom line: stop seeking outrage porn—find out what you can do best in and for your community and do it. Foster real rather than virtual loves and real rather than virtual hates. Live in the actual world. And with that, I’m out. An angry little toddler needs a hug and a talking to.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com


About the author

Michael Minkoff

Michael Minkoff writes, edits, and typesets from his office in Powder Springs, Georgia. He honestly does not prefer writing about politics, but he sincerely hopes you enjoy reading about it. He also wonders why he is typing this in the third person.

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