Outrage Du Jour
Media, as a general rule, is directed more toward our emotions than our minds. As Neil Postman argued so eloquently in his delightful book Amusing Ourselves to Death, a word based culture tends to be more reasoned, more thoughtful, whereas an image based culture tends to be more emotive, more reactionary. We are a sensate culture accustomed and comfortable with experiencing emotions lightly and at the behest of others. We pay Hollywood to make us fearful, or sad, or excited. But of course the monster isn’t real, the sick child just an actor, the rampaging dinosaur a creation of a computer, rather than a mad scientist. We take our emotions in manageable doses by feeling them in contexts that have precious little to do with reality.
Those outlets outside the mainstream media also know their audience. Whether it is conservative talk radio or Christian blog punditry, even though our perspectives on the issues may differ, our approach to them is essentially the same. We may pull the levers marked ‘R’ when we vote, but we also like having our strings pulled. So we tune into talk radio to learn all about the outrage of the day. Of course talk radio is in one sense a word based medium. But in another it is shared experience, the theater of the appalled. “On today’s episode, we discover that black-hatted fiend is sitting on his thumbs while the mid-east ignites.” Or, “Tune in tomorrow as President Bad-inoff tells his helpless citizens, ‘You must grow the debt.’ And our heroine Congressperson Bauchman replies, ‘But we can’t grow the debt.’” Of course both sides cheer the end of the melodrama when the hero from China declares “I’ll buy the debt.” We wring our hands over the latest episode, talk it over at the water cooler, and feel like we’re doing something.
Further still to the right are we committed pro-lifers. On Facebook, on our blogs we recount the genuinely heroic work of Live Action that exposed ACORN and now a Planned Parenthood office in New Jersey where a couple posing as a pimp and his underage employee learn how to receive services and avoid messy intrusions from the state. The pimp is even offered a sort of volume discount. We are outraged, as we were a few weeks ago when one abortionist was arrested for murdering seven born babies and one murderous mother. And so we sleep well at night, thinking our outrage is our doing our part, feeling ourselves to be rather fine fellows.
Trouble is our outrage is misplaced. Whatever else the President is doing wrong, it all pales in comparison to this: he uses his office to speak for and to defend the murder of unborn babies. Whatever advice and counsel Planned Parenthood provides for pimps in secret is nothing compared to what they do every day out in the open. The eight people that Kermit Gosnell is charged with murdering are no different from the hundreds if not thousands he murdered within the law. These are distractions.
If our emotional responses were to be rational, to fit with reality, we would be outraged by abortion, when it is done carefully, in sterile places, by competent, licensed, professionals. If our emotional responses were rational, our outrage would not satisfy us, but would goad us. We would respond with shame, that we have done so little. And then we would respond with resolve, that we will labor faithfully, on every front, from the voting booth to the crisis pregnancy center, to the very doors of the murder centers. And finally, we would commit to have our emotions match reality, rather than being led about in circles by the Pied Pipers of talk radio and internet punditry. It is right and proper that we should feel strongly. Neither the day’s news nor commentary on it however will bring us there. Instead it’s what’s not news—babies are being murdered.