Everyone is outraged about everything. Credit: Daily Star Sunday

Did you notice that we live in an age of outrage? There was a book by that name published in 2008, and another book called Protecting Children in the Age of Outrage published five years later. Google just fetched up a couple of intriguing, recent, zeitgeisty headlines: “Comedy in the age of outrage: When jokes go too far” was one; “The Age of Outrage is Ruining Worthwhile Debates” was another.

Neither of these articles discussed actual outrage—if by that we mean powerful anger. Audience reaction to jokes that go too far was described as something less like genuine fury than like prissy indignation. Collegiate audiences that refuse to abide unfashionable ideas were scorned as fatuous “custodians of decency” dishing out “semi-literate abuse” that they don’t necessarily believe themselves but understand will put them on the righteous side of an issue they’re supposed to be passionate about. Outrage, it seems, is no longer a word that simply means what it means. Now it means it with an air of mockery.

If outrage once conveyed powerful anger, it now conveys a show of powerful anger. Consider the popular query, Where’s the outrage? It’s asked for one reason only—to expose an opponent’s perfidious hypocrisy. Outrage isn’t something we feel; it’s something we profess. We thunder “I am outraged!” for effect. It doesn’t mean we are.

The last redoubt of outrage is journalism. Headline writers would be lost without it. Again I turn to Google:

Louisiana family’s Christmas photo card goes viral, sparks outrage  

Outrage as Violence Erupts in Casablanca Stadium After Football Match

OUTRAGE as England given fewer tickets for the Euros than ICELAND

National outrage over local Wal-Mart worker firings

Outrage, but not surprise over ‘affluenza’ teen on the lam  

This list could go on and on. That last story discussed a 16-year-old rich kid who drove drunk, killed four people, and got off easy. “And instantly, there was outrage,” said the CNN story: “How could someone kill and then avoid jail partly because he was spoiled?” Not anguish. Not anger. Not stinging sense of injustice. No, there was outrage. As in Whatever. Some folks got pissed.

This just in, from Forbes: “Tax Outrage Du Jour: Netflix Paid No Corporation Tax On Its Losses.”

Outrage du jour! Outrage has become so lame media are starting to have fun with it. And here’s one last head: “Antonin Scalia and our outrage addiction.” 

Christian Schneider of Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel argued that Justice Scalia‘s recent remarks on affirmative action were willfully mischaracterized by critics “addicted to outrage.” Schneider observed, “Sure, being outraged gets our blood going and makes us feel alive, but people who should know better are losing perspective. If everything is outrageous, then nothing truly is.”

Some days it seems the world is being torn apart by its passions. But those are real passions. Journalists need to consider the possibility that outrage is merely an inert gas useful to journalists for quick inflation.