Culture of exclamation – Why the commentariat needs to slip itself a valium now and again

Posted on January 9, 2011


I’ve been meaning to blog about the professionally outraged for a while now. With great regularity, a social issue with strong opinions on either side will raise its head in the media, and the whole world goes berserk. Well, for ‘whole world’ read people in the media who follow each other on Twitter. I am one of these people, and I have been outraged with the best of them. But I’m starting to feel uncomfortable.

I’m not talking about things like the case of Paul Chambers, and the blowing up Robin Hood airport tweet. That was a huge waste of civic funds, and bad law delivered by lawgivers who don’t seem to know what’s happening in modern society. It motivated someone to create the #IamSpartacus hashtag, which although inspired, does not compensate for what Paul Chambers has been put through. I’m not even talking about the Danny Dyer ‘cut your ex’s face’ story. Perhaps because the story happened in an earlier period in Twitter’s history, at a lower point on last year’s steep curve of user numbers, this one was memorable for the anger it generated.

No, I’m talking about the increasingly rapid turnover of issues that people are happy to leap up and down and shriek about. Welcome back, demented whack-a-moles. The latest is Kenny Tong, who will surely get a TV series or book deal off the back of what’s being said about him now. All the outrage about his tweets will simply give him more publicity. I had never heard of him until the current tweetrage. Yesterday it was the anti-Naomi Wolf teeshirts. The day before it was Naomi Wolf herself saying rape accusers should be identified. Before that it was comedian Frankie Boyle being un PC and going beyond someone’s line on what you are and are not allowed to laugh at. A couple of months ago it was Stephen Fry saying things about women’s sexuality. For a while now it has been aspects of the Assange rape case, where the shouting quotient has been especially intense. (For example, there’s a messianic tone to that last link that doesn’t sit right for me.) Months ago it was someone’s blog post about the second Sex and the City movie saying it was shite and being rude about the women characters, [sorry can't find it] and the massed feminist counterblogs that ensued against the author, saying she was a misogynist.

All the above subjects happen to involve what could loosely be called women’s issues, on the surface anyway. Everyone has a different idea of what women are and would like to be and should be, if you believe in shoulds. But is there such a thing as a women’s issue, without men being involved in some way or another as well? Sometimes the debate, even if the issues are fundamental, just looks like one big self-perpetuating troll, a herd of sacred cows driven this way and that according to the prevailing winds of the day. The trouble is, the shouting has all got so shouty that all it serves to do is confirm orthodoxies, especially feminist ones.

I started my own mini-foamfest on Twitter a week or so ago, by saying that I wished the bloggers who constantly rant about the Daily Mail would deal out equal criticism to the Guardian. This was too much for some of the professionally outraged to take, and I was half-accused of being a BNP supporter. There are people who seem to spend their entire blogging lives attacking the Mail and I see little purpose to it other than making themselves feel better.

Nothing wrong with that, you might say, but I also see something more sinister in here amid the sanctimony, a whiff of ‘us and them’, a kind of liberati snobbery disguised as being a Good Person. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the heart of middle England listening to ‘Daily Mail’ type views on a daily basis, that I’m fairly inured to forcefully expressed non-PC opinions. People have them. Sometimes they’re not very nice. The hysterical bullying from some PC folk is, at times, just as not very nice. But it’s ok because the people doing it identify as left wing, making them, of course, er, right.

I think my psychotherapy training has made me better at seeing both sides of an argument, even if I don’t agree with one, or even either of them. I’m more interested in the person and why they said whatever they said. As I peer into the great blue unknown that is 2011, it is up to me to decide whether to spend this year trying to become a professional contrarian, expressing manufactured (or even genuine) outrage with the best of them, or not. It will certainly gain me Twitter followers. The thing is, I grew up listening to a lot of screeching on a very regular basis, and it doesn’t solve many problems, believe me.

Posted in: Life, Politics