Does It Offend You? How Outrage Became A Commodity

Are you easily offended? Prone to sudden mouth-foaming bursts of sanctimonious indignation? You are? Then why don’t you fuck right off and do one?
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Are you easily offended? Prone to sudden mouth-foaming bursts of sanctimonious indignation? You are? Then why don’t you fuck right off and do one?

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Seriously. Because you’re probably a pious, self-righteous cunt. We all are. In fact, it’s what makes us human. Taking offence at something (and, increasingly, at anything), along with the inevitable moral outrage that follows, is often the only thing that distinguishes us from other animals these days.

When the Guardian recently reported that the Edenbridge Bonfire Society in Kent had constructed an effigy of Katie Hopkins to torch on the 5th November the comments section underneath was filled with a near unanimous vitriol towards her that flirted with the psychopathic; most posters being of the opinion, ebulliently expressed, that it ought to have been Hopkins herself on the pyre rather than an effigy. On the other side of the political divide in Friday’s Daily Mail Richard Littlejohn launched an extraordinary attack on Jack Monroe, a woman whom he has almost certainly never met and who simply writes a food blog called A Girl Called Jack. Littlejohn of course appears to be cuntish in almost every respect, and his columns in the Mail are so far beyond parody that it’s tempting to suggest they are in fact extremely clever satirical Trojan horses, the kind of thing that Chris Morris used to do so well. Whilst Monroe’s response in the Guardian was as smart as Littlejohn’s piece was oafish, an elegant epee to his backfiring blunderbuss, both of these cases form part of an increasingly unpleasant online narrative whereby vicious character assassinations are dressed up as social or cultural comment, and debated endlessly in newspaper articles and their bastard offspring, the comments sections beneath, before finally curdling nicely on the weirder outreaches of Twitter.

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The manufactured outrage over Miley Cyrus is a case in point. Serious newspapers, as well as less serious ones, worked themselves up into an apoplectic frenzy over a young woman repeatedly thrusting her arse at a man on a stage, and it’s hard not to get the impression that columnists and media commentators were going out of their way to be offended, whilst usefully illustrating just how disgusting it all was with photos of said woman in various states of undress. The icing on this particular cake was provided by Sinead O’Connor waging a war of words with Cyrus on Twitter, when all she originally wanted to do was point out to Cyrus that she was perhaps being exploited (and unfortunately whilst this may well have been good advice, no-one likes being patronised).

Twitter appears particularly well-suited to this manufacturing of outrage, for Twitter is nothing if not the largest throwaway pub conversation in the world. Imagine a pub somewhere on a Friday night 20 odd years ago. The conversation would often go thus:

Person A: “Did you see that twat on the telly last night? What the fuck was he playing at?”

Person B: “Fuck yeah. What an almighty bellend! I mean, fucking hell, what an absolute fucking gimp!”

Person C (sitting at another table): “Oh yeah, I saw that – what a twat. I bet he’s a fucking paedo as well.”

That’s basically what Twitter often is; a raising of the stakes in being self-righteously offended. And whilst most of the people mentioned above, with the exception of Monroe, are to a greater or lesser extent completely ridiculous and well deserving of whatever mockery comes their way the danger of this constant outrage lies in it’s subsequent devaluing as a useful currency. Being offended or outraged by someone or something is often used as a tool to make us feel better about ourselves; the more outraged we are the better we feel, because there’s nothing better than looking down our noses at someone, right? Particularly if they are famous and wealthy. But it also serves a more serious function; at it’s best outrage can act as an engine of social change. The suffragettes were outraged, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were both outraged, the NYC drag queens at the Stonewall Inn who had had enough of being pushed around by the police and rioted, they were outraged. Is this really the best we can do?