1. an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation
“her voice trembled with outrage”
2. arouse fierce anger, shock, or indignation in (someone)
“the public were outraged at the brutality involved”
Language is a funny old thing. In some respects it’s hardly changed, but at the same time it’s both greatly evolved and constantly evolving. Words that once meant one thing can end up meaning something else altogether, or fall out of use entirely. Other words just lose impact because we use them more often.
Some of the worst ‘swear words’ from back when I was a kid are now almost invisible in the modern parlance. Words considered so appallingly filthy that my mum would take to my tongue with a foul-tasting bar of yellow laundry soap now barely seem to raise an eyebrow.
It’s not just expletives, buzz words and the sometimes nonsensical vocab of young folk that lose impact from overuse. Ordinary everyday words also wear a bit thin if they’re heard too often and “outrage” has become a prime example of this phenomenon.
In today’s world of the 24 hour news cycle and endless social media banality, it seems almost everyone is outraged about something. So many people have such properly damning opinions about so many things! Opinions are hardly revolutionary, of course. I’ve always been something of an opinionated git and, presumably, we all had opinions in the time before we began drowning ourselves in endless streams of social media drivel. I’m just not sure when – or, more importantly, why – everyone became so righteously pompous about every little thing.
These days, any suggestion of misconduct or impropriety – or of anything that someone doesn’t like the sound of – is met with gasps of horror. Everything is “hugely offensive” and “apologies” are frequently “demanded”. More often than not, all the huffing and puffing is merely a by-product of the culture of confected outrage, rather than out of any real concern for the topic at hand. And everyone’s at it, too. Recently Nick Kyrgios & co. were outraged by Dawn Fraser; the Federal Opposition Leader was outraged by the Government; even the Prime Minister – who, himself, is in the habit of outraging most Australians on a daily basis – was outraged by a TV program.
This week alone, Australian social media went into collective outrage mode over a wholly misunderstood job advertisement; an Australian woman was jailed in Abu Dhabi for “writing bad words on social media” after being outraged by something; and social media types once again worked themselves into a lather of outrage after a radio ‘shock-jock’ tweeted an observation about a woman breast-feeding as she walked through an airport terminal… which even sounds a bit weird when you read it, to say nothing of how weird it might look if you actually witnessed it. One overly virtuous commenter suggested the observation infringed the human rights of both mother and child, while the irony of another comment was no doubt lost on whoever made it. “People who are offended should simply look or walk away”, they said, while neither looking nor walking away.
See, everyone’s so busy being outraged and politically correct that they seem to have forgotten two basic truths: 1) some of what we see around us day-to-day really is a bit weird, and 2) it’s actually OK to think so. It’s just human nature to observe and comment – we’ve all done it. If the less-than-silent outraged minority weren’t quite so busy with all their bluster and self-righteous indignation, they too might recall at least one time when even they were guilty of the same transgression (although they’d probably also be hugely offended by the implication and demand an immediate apology from me).
But that’s just how it is these days, isn’t it? Everyone’s constantly up in arms about something. A day doesn’t pass without someone being outraged, or angered, or hurt, or deeply offended by the merest suggestion of something which, in truth, they probably just don’t much care for. iTunes users were outraged that they’d been given a free album. United Airlines passengers were outraged after a flight was diverted for safety reasons and they had to stay overnight some place that wasn’t their intended destination. Sinead O’Connor was outraged about Kim Kardashian appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine (though even I have to admit that O’Connor’s killer tweet – “What is this c*nt (‘I don’t smile much because it causes wrinkles’) doing on the cover of Rolling Stone? Music has officially died“. – was absolute comedy gold!). It’s all this alleged outrage over largely trivial ‘first world problems’ that has the least ring of truth to it.
The regular panelists on Network Ten’s nightly news show The Project are among the worst offenders for encouraging outrage about practically everything, so it was unsurprising to see the same behaviour from former regular panelist Charlie Pickering on his new ABC show The Weekly. When discussing the recent execution of two Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia, the generally balanced Pickering asked, “but don’t people have a right to be outraged?”. But why do they, Charlie? Concerned, maybe. Sad, yes. Confused. Bewildered. Disappointed. Maybe even upset. But why outraged, Charlie? There’s enough faux-outrage in the world as it is. Must you encourage even more?
Today’s media is full-to-overflowing with headlines quoting offence and outrage from the four corners of the earth. Googling outraged suggestion offensive generated 37,200,000 results. Outrage, it seems, is big business these days. One of my favourite writer/bloggers, Ryan Holiday, dubbed it in 2014 as “Outrage Porn”, in an article that he headlined “How the Need For ‘Perpetual Indignation’ Manufactures Phony Offense”. And that’s exactly how it almost always comes across: contrived, superficial, fly-by-night, flavour-of-the-month, melodramatic, fake offence.
Stephen Fry said it best when he described outrage as “just a whine”, as if the aggrieved somehow (mistakenly) believe that being offended “gives them certain rights”. A few years ago, another of my favourite blogs, stuffwhitepeoplelike.com, said “there are few things white people love more than being offended… As a rule, white people strongly prefer to get offended on behalf of other people.” In other words, ‘offence-by-proxy’ – something our countrywoman in Abu Dhabi now knows the repercussions of all too well. I wonder if she’ll think twice next time she feels the need to be outraged by something that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with her? Let that be a valuable lesson to all social media users.
Outrage is important, it’s necessary, but these days the word is rarely associated with anything that warrants such a highly charged response. Yet everyone still feels the need to be outraged by everything. The fact that most of this involves a compulsive use of social media can only lead to tears before bedtime. Outrage is not something we want to lose the effect of, it doesn’t need diluting. Sadly, as with so much that the 21st century has sunk its talons into, the dilution has already begun.
There’s more than enough really bad stuff in the world that’s deserving of our relentless outrage and condemnation. Unusual stuff will always be everywhere and people will always do or say things that other people don’t like, but it serves no purpose for everyone to be outraged by everything. If people would only reserve their outrage for truly significant events and channel their energy into meaningful responses, the world would be a far less outraged place to be.