We live in the age where everyone is a public figure, no matter how small their reach. Everyone gets to say their two cents on any topic they can think of. I think Banksy said it best:
“In the future, everyone will be anonymous for 15 minutes.”
One of the topics I’m most fascinated by is that of “outrage culture”. Much like Nick Carraway looking over Manhattan, I am simultaneously entranced and revolted by outrage culture. I can’t look away, and yet I continue to have a foul taste in my mouth.
I’m defining “outrage culture” as being specific to the internet, characterised by a readiness to “cancel” people, engage in witch hunts, and dogged character assassination. A cursory Wikipedia search returns this as a definition of outrage culture: “Call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) is a term for the social phenomenon of publicly denouncing perceived racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry.”
Typically what results from outrage culture is the following:
Anyway, you get the point.
Right off the top I need to stipulate that I’m all for addressing problematic behaviours people exhibit. It’s important to set boundaries, and to re-educate people who might have outdated ideas about things such as race, gender, homophobia, transphobia, and so on. This will always be important to me. I would hazard a guess that it’s important to most people.
I also need to stipulate that this is not an article intended to defend anyone’s actions. It is especially not an article intended to defend people who have been pulled up on damaging behaviours and statements, who continue to demonstrate bigotry because they think it makes them funny or edgy, or because they prefer to be ignorant because it makes them feel safe.
The issue from outrage culture doesn’t arise from the correction of behaviour, or from defending the rights of minority groups to live safely and with the respect experienced by the majority. The issue arises from a culture that determines someone is “cancelled” and lambasted long after they have attempted to rectify their actions.
I see a lot of outrage culture being directed at young content creators, especially young men. One of the most controversial figures subject to this is Felix Kjellberg (better known as Pewdiepie). I know, when will the straight, white man catch a break?
Again, I feel the need to reiterate that I’m not defending anyone. It isn’t my role or responsibility to decide whether or not we should be outraged by Kjellberg’s past mistakes – and boy howdy, they were extensive and career damaging. I don’t hold the key to “forgiving” Kjellberg on a larger level, but for what it’s worth, I do think his experience with the media provides us with an interesting case study.
I also want to acknowledge that at the time of writing this article, Kjellberg has apologised for the unacceptable behaviours he has engaged in, acknowledged the issues with them, and has worked to correct his behaviour while remaining aware of the impact of his actions. In my opinion, this is all someone can do when it comes to saying or doing the wrong thing.
As a recent example of the outrage culture directed at Kjellberg, a Twitch streamer implied that the lyrics of Kjellberg’s parody diss track, “Bitch Lasagna” (what a name), have racist undertones. The lyric is as follows:
“I’m a blue eyes white dragon, while you’re just dark magician.”
Now, for those of you who aren’t as well versed in Yu-Gi-Oh as I am, blue eyes white dragon is a very desirable card to have, while dark magician is a relatively common card that isn’t as powerful. It was essentially the deus ex machina of the series. And yes, I was a very cool person in primary school.
While I understand that “blue eyes white dragon” may be misconstrued to be linked to Aryan features, I think you have to perform some pretty extensive mental gymnastics to interpret this as Kjellberg intentionally using a children’s card game to put forward some sort of racist message. When I look at the title of the track itself, I’m not really given to taking this song to be one with particularly deep messages.
To me, the streamer’s interpretation is a clear example of how no matter what Kjellberg does from this point on, his past mistakes will always be dragged back up from the mire and held against him. Where he used to be known for frankly cringy gaming videos with relatively unfunny jokes, people will now seemingly forever associate Kjellberg with “edgy” alt-right ideology as a result of the character assassination occurring after his remarks. Regardless of if there is any concrete evidence to prove that Kjellberg subscribes to alt-right beliefs, that is now who he is to the larger general public. Furthermore, it is easy to assume that if not for the controversies, this rap would have been taken for what it is: a pretty idiotic lark making fun of the 2018-present subscriber war on YouTube.
It isn’t my job to decide whether or not Kjellberg is deserving of the continuous public criticism he faces and the microscope he is under, especially given the severity of some of his more “edgy” internet stunts. But it does work to demonstrate my point about the extent to which outrage culture can affect a person’s career and character.
In outrage culture, no matter how much you correct your behaviour or attempt to make reparations for your ignorance, you are always going to be twisted and misconstrued to reinforce that you are still the person you were when you made the mistake in the first place. There are no second chances on the internet. They think, therefore you are.
On a long enough timeline, we are all bound to say something stupid or ignorant. We’re human, and sometimes we simply don’t know better until someone teaches us. In real life, outside of the internet, most often when the behaviours of people around us are corrected the issue is dropped. We tend to look down on people who call out others for things that are no longer relevant. So why is it that on the internet, everything is fair game?
What I would argue is that part of it is a desire for people to appear to be on the bandwagon – to be “woke” and “progressive” – as opposed to a genuine outrage or taking of offense. Sometimes I see a tendency to wait to be told whether or not to be offended by something. What really gets my goat about this is the fact that the very same people who engage in constant public humiliation of people who are trying to fix their mistakes are the same people who preach “only good vibes”; you cannot have both.
For as long as we keep internet outrage culture alive, we’re going to foster a society where people won’t speak their minds authentically because of fear of being lynched by public majority opinion, and when you do that you eradicate intelligent discussion. We’re going to homogenise culture until we all think, feel, and act the same way out of fear of being completely annihilated.
What it really comes down to is this: yes, address problematic behaviours and opinions. Yes, challenge people’s beliefs and identify gaps in knowledge. But you have to allow people the chance to demonstrate that they’ve changed and that they’ve learned. If you ask me, the cost of someone’s character isn’t really worth the internet points you might gain.