Outrage has become the most valuable commodity of 2016, but for 2017, I say we forgo outrage as the default, and let go.
I’m tired. It’s not end of year weariness or the fact that I’ve just spent two days up at the Central Coast with my mum and three of her friends celebrating her 70th b’day (FYI: alcohol and charades makes septuagenarians go crazy).
No, I’m tired of the anger, the arguing, the outrage of modern-day life.
Outrage is so normal a part of our lives that if it were available as energy, we would be able to abandon wind, solar, nuclear and fossil fuels in one fell swoop. Imagine if for every angry Tweet, we got twenty minutes of charge on our phones…what a highly efficient (if terrifying) world that would be! Unfortunately, rather than an energy source, outrage becomes an energy sapper. Outrage has made us tired, lazy and boring: our hankering for a knee-jerk reaction has ruined our ability for something else: meaningful discourse.
I sat down to watch First Contact on SBS the other week, the show which exposes six “regular” Aussies to the realities of life as an Indigenous Australian. One eye was keenly watching the drama unfolding on the TV screen while the other was flicking through Twitter, watching how it played out across the country. From what I could tell, there was outrage of three kinds: outrage towards ex-One Nation pollie and one-time Pauline Hanson bonk-buddy David Oldfield; outrage towards white Australia in general for our ignorance and our lack of interest in fixing the Indigenous problem; and outrage towards SBS for doing the show in the first place, labelling it “racism pornography” and suggesting that the show was preferencing white “realisation” over fixing black trauma, as though the two have to be mutually exclusive.
Sure, there was the odd positive comment about the remarkable beauty and tenacity of the Aboriginal people and of their culture, but the common feeling online seemed to be anger. I would argue some of this anger is good; if people didn’t understand the depths of disadvantage when it comes to black Australia it can only be a good thing that they know now and are angry about it: that means they might actually do something about it. But so much of our anger, our outrage, makes no sense. David Oldfield is an irrelevant ex-politician. To get outraged about his point of view is as futile as responding to your 72-year-old uncle when he wonders on Christmas Day about whether you have to “convert” to lesbianism in order to rent in Newtown. (True story)
As for the “racism porn/white privilege vs black rights” criticism screaming from the Twittersphere over First Contact, it seems to me to be outrage instead of discourse; outrage instead of action.
Isn’t it exhausting to get so damn angry over everything? Constant outrage over every single topic takes up actual time and energy we could be putting towards solving an issue.
Some might say it’s my white privilege that allows me to be tired of this kind of race-based vitriol. That’s not the case. (FWIW, I myself have Aboriginal ancestry and have worked extensively in Indigenous communities.)
And y’know, if I look hard enough, I can see the perspective that a show like First Contact forces black Australians to relive decades of trauma purely so white people can learn something. I can see where people could arrive at that conclusion, but I still don’t agree with it. I don’t think you can only have one or the other. To suggest that, as a white person, you can’t simultaneously realise your own ignorance and care about the welfare of others is as dumb as suggesting you can only love one of your parents. Or your children. It’s like saying that because a friend has a particularly annoying habit you can’t still enjoy their company. You can be aware of one and still do the other.
I feel the main point is that when someone tries to right a wrong, or at least make people aware of it, and then someone is outraged, it begins to feel like no-one can ever do enough; that if you try and fix one thing, someone will always say “but what about this?” Someone will always be angry about something, and in today’s world, we seem to have lost the ability to differentiate between what is truly outrageous and what is merely frustrating. “Woke” millennials blame old white men for this – and certainly people like Andrew Bolt and Steve Price, and their female counterparts like Miranda Devine – are a huge part of the problem, because a platform plus a salary equals a megaphone. But millennials, for their part, aren’t much better because we’re, quite simply, never satisfied. Like Veruca Salt telling her daddy she wants an Oompa Loompa and she wants it now, we have become a generation who demand immediate gratification and perfection. If we can’t get it, we get angry. We want people to satisfy our every need and want and if we don’t get that, we revolt or we drop out – we refuse to participate in the process.
There’s one more major factor in this outrage machine: outrage for outrage’s sake. If we don’t get on board we get serious FOMO. Last month our Facebook feeds were flooded with people “checking in” to Standing Rock, in support of the people actually at Standing Rock, protesting the North Dakota Access Pipeline. Now, on the one hand, I’m in favour of gestures because I reckon gestures make a difference. Gestures boost morale, gestures make you feel less alone. But at the same time, token gestures run the risk of being just that: tokenism. They run the risk of being a quick fix, a hit, a sense that we’ve joined a cause or that we’re in the know, that we’re part of the collective experience or, in this case, the collective outrage. This allows us to feel collectively pleased with ourselves when something we got angry about works out, when we win, as seems to be the case, for the moment, with Standing Rock. We get maximum satisfaction with minimum effort.
The only way 2017 isn’t going to be worse is if we take a step back, get angry about things that matter and take a deep breath about things that don’t.
The thing is, there will always be a new bandwagon. There will be another Standing Rock – or closer to home, another Adani. There will always be progressive government policies like Safe Schools that people think are poisoning young minds and there will always be provocative shit-stirrers like Bill Leak who want to test the grounds of our discrimination acts. And on the flip-side, there will always be those who genuinely are overly sensitive, or who push their own sensitivities onto others, whose own experiences have coloured their judgement when it comes to being truly impartial on certain issues. But isn’t it exhausting to get so damn angry over everything? Don’t you agree that constant outrage over every single topic takes up actual time and energy we could be putting towards solving an issue?
Maybe we complain so much because our world has gotten so tough, so complicated, so tense that everything seems much bigger than it is; that it feels like we can’t actually solve the huge problems, so we make the little ones into colossal ones. We can’t let this continue. It didn’t require nearly as many op-eds as I must have seen written on the subject: the fact that Ghostbusters was re-imagined with an all-female cast was, I imagine, confronting for some man-babies who couldn’t imagine that vaginas could fight the supernatural, but it isn’t nearly as outrageous as the fact that the biggest man-baby of them all is about to get the keys to the White House.
There’s no doubt that 2016 was a particularly shit year. Lots of good people died, lots of terrible things happened to good people and lots of terrible people got good jobs they’re highly under-qualified for. 2016 definitely had moments worth getting outraged over. But we can’t let outrage become our default. We can’t let it become the norm. I know people like me are part of the problem. I write op-eds. My editors deal in click bait. Outrage is second only to cute animal videos in getting hits on a website. I get it. But the only way 2017 isn’t going to be even worse is if we take a step back, get angry about the things that matter and take a deep breath about the things that don’t.
In the meantime, I’m patenting that Twitter rant-energy producing thing, just in case.