As you know, America is a nation obsessed with being offended. We really enjoy it. We just love the feeling. We relish any opportunity to take umbrage at something. We revel in the insult. The outrage. The indignation.
It’s invigorating. It’s stimulating.
And when you mix our enthusiasm for outrage with the constant saturation of news and information, it creates an environment where offense grows like mold in a dark basement. Factor in our boredom, our warped sense of perspective, and our perverted moral compass, and suddenly you find offendedness thriving to a degree never before witnessed by man.
There is so much National Outrage that we have to stay up later at night and wake up earlier just to make time for it all. We squeeze in three or four outrages in the morning before breakfast, snack on a stream of offendedness between breakfast and lunch, and by the time we finish dinner in the evening we can scarcely remember what we were outraged about in the morning.
This is our culture. This is our country.
This is what we’ve become.
I don’t think I need to provide examples, but here’s the most recent one anyway. I call it the most recent, but by the time you read this it will be an ancient relic in the annals of The American Hypersensitivity Hall of Fame.
Two actors, Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans, were forced to issue formal apologies for making a disparaging joke about a fictional comic book hero. For anyone not familiar with the Marvel comic book universe — perhaps because you don’t keep up on superhero news, or because you’re a grown up — Renner and Evans both play characters in the upcoming “Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie. Scarlett Johansson also stars in the film.
Apparently, there is speculation among people who speculate about fictional superhero romances that both Renner’s and Evans’ characters will be romantically involved with Johansson’s character, Black Widow, in the new movie. When asked about this at a recent press junket, Renner joked that Black Widow is a “slut.” Evans laughed and muttered “whore” under his breath. Both men were obviously having a little fun by pretending they’re jealous of the other person’s fictional character for having a fling with the fictional character their fictional characters are also involved with.
I have now spent a paragraph explaining a superhero love triangle, which makes me weep inside.
Anyway, feminists and emotionally invested comic book fans reacted swiftly, calling the men “idiot frat boys,” and proposing that an off the cuff joke about a female superhero reveals how “deeply ingrained sexist attitudes are in our culture.” (Side note: isn’t it sexist to call two successful grown men “idiot frat boys”?)
Scarlett Johansson, from left, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, and Chris Evans present Robert Downey Jr. with the generation award at the MTV Movie Awards at the Nokia Theatre on Sunday, April 12, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
The blowback was severe enough to prompt written apologies from both guys, but will it be sufficient to assuage the anger and heal the emotional scars? Will our country every fully recover from this moment? Will make-believe characters played by beautiful rich blond women ever achieve equality in our society?
These are the questions that plague us in the aftermath.
Of course, none of this surprises anyone. The crybabies took over a long time ago, and their Outrage Radar is so finely tuned that no offense, no matter how microscopic, can escape their teary eyed gaze.
This, after all, is the country that invented “trigger warnings” to prevent people from encountering opinions that might be traumatic to their fragile psyches.
It’s a country where college campuses set up “safe zones” to shield students from ideas that might be challenging and scary.
It’s a country where a man dressed in women’s underwear cries “transphobia” if he’s asked to leave a restaurant and go put on some clothes.
This is a country where dozens of media outlets have reported for days about a “controversy” surrounding the fact that Ben Affleck’s relatives owned slaves two centuries ago.
This is a country where students at Johns Hopkins want to ban a fast food company from their campus because its owner expressed an opinion two years ago.
This is a country where even our military members are subjected to sensitivity training and “white privilege” seminars.
This is a country where some schools set up anonymous tip lines to report microaggressions, which could include being asked where you’re from and if you speak Spanish.
This is a country where feminists complain that men who spread their legs too far on the subway are sexist.
This is a country where screenings of “American Sniper” are canceled when people complain that the film is “nationalistic” and “Islamaphobic.”
This is the country where people were upset that the smiley face cartoons on their iPhones weren’t ethnically diverse, so Apple provided a more racially sensitive selection, only to make more people upset when other people used them in racially derogatory ways. Finally, a detergent company Tweeted about the emojis and people were upset that the comment seemed racist. So, if you followed that one all the way through, there was controversy over the lack of multi-colored smiley faces, and then controversy about their inclusion, and then controversy about a soap manufacturer making a joke about the controversy.
These are just a small selection, off the top of my head, from the past few days or so. I haven’t even provided examples from my own life, of which there is a never ending supply. Of course, I write about “controversial” subjects, so hurt feelings are inevitable. But anyone who has an audience of any size knows that any statement of opinion — no matter the subject, no matter how its worded — will stir up anger and acrimony.
In fact, it doesn’t have to be a statement at all.
I’ve been fielding hate mail this week because I posted a new Facebook profile photo. I happen to be holding a cigar in the picture, which one woman told me “drove her to tears” because smoking is “sinful.” And that feedback was downright reasonable compared to some of the rest of it. Some people were mad about the cigar, others were mad that there was a beer visible on the table next to me, and others were perturbed that I have a tattoo on my right forearm. Still others felt the need to express their feelings about my beard and my clothes.
Several people accused me of “intentionally trying to provoke controversy” with the picture. If I was (I wasn’t), it’s quite a sad statement that controversy can be intentionally provoked with a picture of a guy sitting in a chair in his backyard.
As it happens, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that literally anything I do or say will upset people, so to minimize the hubbub I intentionally waited until Sunday morning (the slowest time for Facebook traffic all week) to post the provocative image. I’m not afraid of the “controversy,” I just find it irritating.