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Well, America, the winter of our discontent flowed into acrimonious summer with only the occasional glimmer of goodwill to lighten the journey.
Our outrage is constant — though bizarrely selective — because opportunities for outrage have not been lacking. Judging from old-style news coverage and our new-media onslaught, the summer’s three worst atrocities were the church massacre in Charleston, S.C., last week’s on-air murder of two Virginia television journalists and the killing of Zimbabwe’s Cecil the lion.
One of these things is not like the others, but a visitor from another planet wouldn’t know that based on the attention devoted to it and the number of stuffed animal offerings and death threats it inspired.
The murder of human beings is horrifying and tragic; the slaying of a beautiful beast is unnecessary and rather sad. Why did the latter inspire so much more shrillness and hatred?
Is the public outcry inversely related to our distance — actual and moral — from the situation and our responsibility for it?
Or did people flip out over Cecil because, hey, you just gotta vent sometimes and why not over a pretty cat?
Is our emotional compass getting turned upside down? Or does it just seem that way, due to modern media’s amplifying effect?
“All of the above”?
It is safe to say that everyone has been guilty at one time or another of racist thinking or behavior, some to a greater degree than others, and when a fellow citizen — white or black, Dylann Roof or Vester Flanagan — acts on his race-fueled rage and commits murder, it touches a sensitive nerve even while it horrifies and stuns.
Could we ever do that? Surely not, of course, but when someone does, we must once again examine ourselves and our society, ask tough questions and argue about weighty matters.
Outrage over the Planned Parenthood “sting” videos has a similar dynamic. Some are outraged over the barbarism uncovered, some over how it was uncovered and edited, and by whom; but all reactions are fraught by our discomfort with how closely the subject touches on our conscience or experience.
By comparison, Cecil-rage was a gimme. It was safe to strike a righteous pose; most of us are not big-game hunters and are thus at no risk of getting caught in any hypocrisy.
Nor are most of us ever going to be part of a dogfighting ring. We were repulsed by the crimes of quarterback Michael Vick.
And even though those crimes were nearly a decade ago, the offender duly punished and apparently rehabilitated, some Steelers fans launched a “Pittsburghers Against Michael Vick” page on Facebook that has received more than 16,000 “likes.” A protest was organized.
Four or five people showed up.
Maybe the outrage was largely manufactured by our vaunted social media. It costs me nothing to click a Facebook button, and I get to reaffirm what a wonderful person I am. Posturing is easy, protesting someone else’s old sins under the hot August sun, a bit harder.
(What about forgiveness? What about redemption? Those are hardest of all.)
Or maybe we’re too exhausted by all our outrage to actually do anything.
The old media noted the huge gap between social media hype and the Vick protest’s reality. I think such a gap exists on virtually every topic Twitter and its ilk touch — sound and fury signifying almost nothing.
And at the risk of further displaying “early onset grumpiness,” I’ll observe that our new social media are dominated by the young, who have, throughout history, rarely been celebrated for their wisdom — especially not when I was among them.
But both new and old media played macabre roles in the murders of journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward last week. While Mr. Ward’s camera broadcast the shooting on live television, the murderer recorded it on a GoPro camera, later tweeted about it, posted his video to Facebook and faxed a raging manifesto to ABC News.
The media carried his message, and shaped it, too. As tragic as these murders are, the story became bigger than it would have been because of the broadcast and recording. We should brace ourselves for more.
Outrage is sometimes appropriate and necessary, but this summer it has seemed corrosive. Wearying.
Of the topics I’ve mentioned, only the heartbreaking Charleston massacre elicited from us the true anger and sorrow our spiritual health demand. The others have felt off — as if we’re getting addicted to our anger and don’t know how to stop.
Ruth Ann Dailey: email@example.com
Check out the following August 24, 2014 column by Ruth Ann Dailey on moral outrage:
Ruth Ann Dailey: Facing the facts a moral must-do