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fake outrage.

February 20, 2009

I read David Sirota’s article at Salon on the Phelps incident. It’s about how America can somehow muster up “fake outrage” at Phelps and his picture and other gossip, but not at events that warrant our real anger. It then turns into criticizes drug policy, which really doesn’t interest me. The article is nicely summed up in this paragraph:

“As with most explosions of fake outrage, the Phelps affair asks us to feign anger at something we know is commonplace. A nation of tabloid readers is apoplectic that Brad and Jen divorced, even though one out of every two American marriages ends the same way. A country fetishizing “family values” goes ballistic over the immorality of Paris Hilton’s sex tape … and then keeps spending billions on pornography. And now we’re expected to be indignant about a 23-year-old kid smoking weed, even though studies show that roughly half of us have done the same thing; most of us think pot should be legal in some form; and many of us regularly devour far more toxic substances than marijuana (nicotine, alcohol, reality TV, etc.).”

What bothers me in this paragraph – and the whole article – is that Sirota seems to be saying we shouldn’t be outraged by such events because they’re common. Or, I guess, we shouldn’t be outraged at single instances of events that commonly happen while ignoring the others. And that’s just not true. Yes, half of marriages end in divorce, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. So when Brad and Jen (who everyone loves) split up, it serves two purposes: destroying hope for a lot of people (if they (two “perfect” celebrities) can’t stay together, who can?) and giving people, who try to be strong and supportive and positive, an outlet for all the anger they might be storing up from more personal divorces. Similarly, with the Paris tape, she’s singled out because of celebrity. And maybe, again, this provides society with a specific target at which to be angry when they can’t voice it to the people they know. Just because we don’t get media-crazy angry about every single divorce or sex tape, doesn’t mean society isn’t just keeping their outrage in check. Having that one target to focus your anger on makes it infinitely easier than target an undefined group that you may or may not know.

And, the big difference between Phelps and Brad, Jen, or Paris, is that marijuana is illegal. The policy might be ridiculous; a lot of people think that it should be legalized; clearly, a lot of people don’t because it’s not. But guess what? Until it is, it’s still illegal. It doesn’t really matter what you think or what your reasons are or how many people are doing it. Doesn’t everyone know that if your friends jump off a bridge, you shouldn’t follow? If you break the rules and get caught, you should be apologizing and facing the consequences (in this case, suspension and possible loss of sponsorship).

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One comment

  1. I agree that “if you break the rules and get caught, you should be apologizing and facing the consequences …”, but I don’t think one shouldn’t do something *only* because it’s illegal. Certain rules are silly and other rules don’t makes sense. Some rules are archaic. In other words, rules are made to be broken, this is how we propel social progress.



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