07 July 2009

Understanding the Joy of Outrage

In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Svidrigaylov makes an interesting comment regarding personal outrage. His deceased wife, Marfa Petrovna, seems to have felt most alive when she felt outraged about something. He recognizes, at the beginning of Chapter 1 of Part Four "that it sometimes happens that women are highly gratified at being outraged, in spite of their apparent indignation. It happens with everybody: mankind in general loves to be affronted". And while Svidrigaylov specifically attaches this talent to women, he clearly understands that this need for personal outrage is actually a form of personal "entertainment".

We can see this sort of thing today reflected in media coverage of our culture. I hesitate to call any of it "news" because, as Svidrigaylov notes, it is designed more for our "entertainment". Much news coverage is designed specifically to outrage certain groups of watchers. The outlets of this entertainment want the audience to ask, "How could he/she? How dare he/she?" This sort of emotional reaction is quite easily stirred up given the vast number of celebrities, pseudo-celebrities, and political-celebrities which inhabit the culture. One may even consider the possibility that this shift in focus onto personalities is intentional. By focusing on other individual personalities, the propagators of outrage "entertainment" are assured of a steady stream of subjects. Just when one story line has run its course, another human failing occurs - as it surely must - and the cycle can continue. Endlessly.

But what then are the ingestors of this "entertainment" not focusing on, not thinking about? Indeed, are they capable of serious critical thinking? Or is it just too comfortable, too safe, to simply enjoy himself while being "outraged" and the world outside?

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