I’m outraged. You’re outraged. They’re all outraged. We’re all outraged!!! Except, what if we’re not?
The Associated Press reported that Gillette’s new toxic-masculinity ad caused an “online uproar.” “Gillette Ad With a #MeToo Edge Attracts Support and Outrage,” claimed The New York Times. “Gillette faces backlash and boycott over ‘#MeToo advert,” ran a typical headline in the BBC this week.
Outrage? Uproar? Backlash? I’d say it’s more like a hacklash. It’s journalists dealing out pretend outrage.
Lazy media reporters who are too lazy to even actually speak to people anymore are instead constructing Potemkin Villages of fake hate, fake disgust and fake outrage. They’re Contemptkin Villages. No one really lives there. The laziest hacks can build them using tweets, even tweets from anonymous Twitter accounts. Somehow these hacks are employed at places like the BBC and the Times.
The instantly infamous Gillette ad calling out “toxic masculinity” that painted males as bullies and sexual harassers certainly spurred a lot of conversation. But were dudes outraged or did they just think the ad was misguided and wrong? Men aren’t going James-McAvoy-in-“Glass” Beastmode on Gillette. They’re just saying, “I’d rather not be lectured about what a bully and a creep I am, especially by my toiletries.” The New York Times quoted an obscure Irish deejay calling the ad “condescending” on Twitter as an example of “outrage,” alongside the British chat-show host Piers Morgan saying the ad was “pathetic.” “You’re pathetic” is an expression of outrage?
The BBC claimed breathlessly, “There have been calls for Gillette to post an apology video.” There have? Click through on the source for this tidbit, and it turns out to be a Twitter user with 18 followers who also demanded that everyone at Gillette be forced to read a men’s-rights book. Sure. Later in the piece the BBC cites another supposedly angry party to the controversy. That turned out to be an anonymous Twitter user with six followers.
(Most observers readily grasped that Gillette is desperately using cynical marketing ploys to make us remember they exist. “Gillette, Bleeding Market Share, Cuts Price of Razors” ran a Wall Street Journal headline in 2017.)
“Whip up a little outrage” is an old tabloid directive — the city editor of The Post used to scream it at me across the newsroom circa 1994 — but it did depend on finding someone who matters, or at least someone who represents a lot of people who really are angry. Shameless online editors today figure that readers will click through to anything that is supposedly making anyone mad. And if the underlying story doesn’t actually contain any evidence that anyone has blown his lid, too late! Made ya click.
Just before Halloween there was a nontroversy over Halloween costumes: Were sexy “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes OK? How about white kids wearing “Black Panther” costumes? Valid questions to some, and fodder for jokes and sarcastic jibes on Twitter, but was anyone actually angry? Nevertheless, “outrage” and “outcry” and “uproar” were described in so many stories that a retailer named Yandy removed the “Handmaid’s Tale” offering from its site.
After an anonymous Twitter user posing as a hater posted video of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doing a cute “Breakfast Club” dance on a rooftop while she was apparently still in college, Republicans were reported to be going bonkers.
Teen Vogue reported there was “conservative outrage” and the Times reported in a headline that the video “was meant as a smear” even though the underlying story gave zero evidence for this, since we don’t actually know who posted it, much less what his or her motive was. The story did not supply the name of even one American who didn’t like the video.
Ocasio-Cortez jumped on the media’s insistence that the Right had its panties in a wad with a new, brief dance video under the line, “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous.” No one said that. She also told a reporter, “It is unsurprising to me that Republicans would think having fun should be disqualifying or illegal,” and no one said that either.
AOC’s Contemptkin Village is exactly what editors are looking for these days. If you can’t get a rise out of anyone important, just go on the Internet and find someone, somewhere, who expresses even the mildest disagreement. Then put “Fury,” “Anger” or “Uproar” in your headline.
“A dance video appeared on the Internet, and the world shrugged” or “Someone took exception to what someone else said” just doesn’t draw the hate-clicks.