It’s rare that I do this sort of thing but I wanted to expand a little on something I wrote yesterday, not for the sake of clarification and certainly not because I’m fretting over negative pushback — since I get a lot of that — but more to explain my thinking.
I write a lot about what I’ve taken to calling our new “Age of Outrage,” in which it seems as if very few people are willing to simply ignore something that offends them. Not injures them, offends them. Here’s how I’ve described it before:
There’s nothing wrong with being offended or even with voicing that offense; the problem is that there exists now a mechanism that can turn the grievances of a few people into the rage of many and give the entire mob the means to retaliate with a wholly disproportional amount of firepower. Because that’s where we are now as a culture. We don’t just turn away from the things that piss us off and go on with our lives anymore; we spread our indignation like a virulent plague across the internet in the hope that our outraged crusade can become the outraged crusade of others, so that as many random people as possible can hear our roar and ultimately join in our personal pissy-party pile-on and together strike down entirely that “democratically agreed-upon” thing that should not exist. It’s not social justice — it’s a kind of social engineering, achieved through being asshole bullies.
Yesterday, I wrote about the online outrage now aimed at Artie Lange in response to a really awful series of jokes he made on Twitter involving ESPN2 host Cari Champion. What he said was fucking terrible and there’s no parsing that. He can’t expect to post something like that on the internet and not piss people off.
But my issue with the coordinated campaign to get him dropped from public appearances and to otherwise make him a pariah — which he already is, by the way — is that it accomplishes absolutely nothing. Artie Lange doesn’t make public policy. He’s not a thought leader or someone who holds great sway over our culture’s imagination. He’s a self-destructive standup comic — nothing more. Taking on somebody like him, a doof who makes questionable jokes for a living, may flood your brain with dopamine and make you feel like you earned your Boy Scout good-deed badge for the day, but when it comes to actually making the world a better place it is, quite literally, the least you can do.
This tendency toward “#Hashtivism” against idiots like Lange might make those who undertake it feel as if they’re striking a blow for liberal values and making the world a better place one victory at a time. But I’d be curious to know if the people who take great pride in bitching about every little injustice online actually went out and voted on Tuesday. Because it sure as hell doesn’t seem like it. I’m sure I’ll hear about how these two options don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and they definitely shouldn’t be, but if everyone who lost their shit over Artie Lange, or Patton Oswalt, or Stephen Colbert, or those white suburban assholes who dressed as Ray and Janay Rice for Halloween had voted, we might not now be stuck with a government run almost in totality by the worst people imaginable. People who not only believe that America should be an oligarchy and that women shouldn’t be allowed to choose what to do with their bodies and that gays shouldn’t marry and that minorities are shiftless moochers who deserve to be disenfranchised, but who are in a position to do something about it. People who can actually codify racism.
Voting with a hashtag is often meaningless — voting with a ballot can actually accomplish something. There’s a decent-sized segment of our culture that now seems to place more value on one than the other. Maybe it’s because that other requires a little more effort than typing out 140 characters.
Raking an Artie Lange over the coals for his impudence may be satisfying, but America’s no different a place today for having done it. As for the “hard work” of voting, America’s absolutely a different place today for not having done it.