The outrage conundrum

Internet warriors fight over 70-year-old song as world burns (and freezes)

Illustration ©

There is outrage in the social media world.

A lot of it. Incessant and unrelenting.

Just last week, the Twitter and Facebook worlds reacted with outrage to a 90-second clip of a man, apparently a Russian tourist, at a Malaysian street fair.

The man is some kind of street performer. Holding a baby in nappies, he flings it about himself, to the left, to the right, above his head, between his legs. A long-haired woman, looking straight out of Haight-Ashbury, is beside him, collecting donations for the performance.

The video went viral. The comments accompanying the video spit venom at the perpetrators in crystal-white outrage.

"I'm going to call the cops on him. This is outrageous!" wrote Mohamed Usman, for example. Meanwhile the media went crazy, The Mirror newspaper in London calling it a "horror moment".

(There was one dissenting island amid the outraged thousands. "Dear friends, here is nothing worse!" one Russian woman responded, and you really must read her comment aloud with a Russian accent for full effect. "We call it Cossack gymnastics. We train our children from birth and we know exactly what to do! That's why Russians are so strong!" Boy did she cop a mountain of outraged emojis.)

It is an incident that sums up everything that is wrong about these rapidly changing times.

At any moment, at any second, we are all, collectively, ready to be outraged. Not just ready. We are champing at the bit to engage in it.

We humans are always collectively getting off on something. LSD in the 1960s, weed in the 70s, cocaine in the 80s, ecstasy in the 90s leading into more recent amphetamines. In the closing year of the second decade, it's collective outrage.

Take that video, for instance.

How pathetic a father must be to make money out of flinging around his own baby. That was my reaction. Isn't there a waiting job at a local restaurant he could take up instead? And it must be pointed out that the flinging, while stupid, was not dangerously rough. It wasn't like he was tossing his kid 10ft into the air and then catching him.

After registering those emotions and reactions, I got on with my life. I returned to my work, attending to more pressing matters.

But outrage? Save that for the important stuff.

We're not talking about petty annoyance or mild irritation. This is raw emotion spewing out from the very depths of one's soul or one's bowels, depending on your standpoint.

It's full-on and it's cathartic, which may explain why we engage in it so often. It is an outlet for pent-up frustration and emotion, not at a Russian tossing a kid, but at our own personal glitches, disappointments and despair.

The entire social media world seems to be lying in wait for anything that can offer them the tiniest opportunity to express it. People who stare blankly into their phones, as they commute, wait, walk or even drive in public, are not engaging in anything. They are swiping with their thumb, endlessly, through Facebook and Instagram feeds, looking for something that will catch their interest. If something looks good they pause for a second, press a Like, and travel on. This is why staring at a phone screen is so vastly different to reading a book. A phone zombie is searching for interest and engagement. A book reader has already found it.

Thus when such a video as the Russian idiot pops up, it jolts them into interest and engagement ... to its most full-on extent.

In the past, when seeing or hearing of such an event we were still shocked, or surprised, or disgusted. Some of us would write letters or make phone calls, but for the vast majority, we moved on. Let's face it; a Russian father in Malaysia registers a blip on the world importance scale.

Not anymore. We can now make our outrage heard. We can press a button and join a pack of equally outraged netizens. It feels good to be part of that pack, too, doesn't it? It's like throwing stones at a prisoner until he dies. It's like holding torches and marching through towns, shouting obscene chants with others just like me, damning people who aren't like me. The adrenalin!

Do a Google search on "outrage over" and look at the list of topics. The baby flinging is right up there next to outrage over a Gillette commercial. Outrage over Charlie Brown. Outrage over an American politician who painted his face black 35 years ago.

America was "outraged" over the winner of the most recent Dancing With The Stars. He won the competition despite getting consistently low scores that almost had him eliminated myriad times in previous weeks. Then he won.

The outrage!

It flits from issue to issue like an animal that cannot be tamed. Gillette today, Charlie Brown tomorrow. It dissipates quickly and coagulates at a new site in no time.

I can only click "like", "love", "sad" and "outrage" on my Facebook feed. I need a button for "tsk-tsk, shake of the head, but now let's get on with our lives because for me to register outrage over a TV dancing contest means I really have to take a good look at how shallow and mundane my own life is".

There was collective outrage over the Christmas song Baby It's Cold Outside because it promoted rape culture. Yes, we got mad over a song written 70 years ago.

In Thailand there was outrage over Sek Loso, a local rock star, and his drug habits along with his inability to hold down a relationship. He's a rock star, guys! It's like getting outraged over som tam because it contains papaya.

We are so outraged over stupid issues that we don't really have any energy left to tackle the ones that affect our lives.

I want to express outrage at the amount of plastic I toss into the trash each day here in Thailand, but I just can't seem to find the collective anger I can find in, say, Dancing With The Stars or a baby-tossing Cossack.

The ice caps are melting. Australia's roads are melting, too, as the country experiences temperatures of 45C. At the same time America just had a bitterly cold spell that paralysed parts of the nation. Still we keep mining coal and extracting crude oil out of the ground at a rate of millions of barrels per day.

Where is the outrage? We're all gonna die, folks, but that fact doesn't hold a candle to the rape implications of a 1940s pop song.

Never before have we been able to register our outrage both collectively and anonymously at the same time. No need to carry placards or torches for hours or sit under the hot Sun outside Parliament House. The internet allows us to trawl and be trolls with ease. It's a pack mentality without having to see my face, and it only lasts a moment.

And that is where we are at -- a pack of anonymous eagles, wheeling in the sky, searching for a mouse, rather than the scary mountains, to swoop down upon. It's outrageous.


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