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HAWORTH: The Profitability of Outrage

“Outrage” has become a common word in our modern vocabulary. It often dominates media coverage regarding public reaction to speech, actions, or events. Fueled by the pseudo-anonymous mob mentality of social media, targeted outrage can have a short-lived but damaging impact.

Since outrage is an entirely emotional reaction, it is by definition subjective and divisive. While some outrage can be universal, many instances form along societal, political, racial, or other such divides. As a result of the continued growth of intersectional ideologies, the reaction is often directed towards the determined group of which the alleged perpetrator of wrongdoing is a member. It is not just a Democrat or Republican, it is all Democrats or Republicans. It is not just a man or a woman, it is all men or women.

This mentality has allowed outrage to become a form of societal capital. Predictable divisions in society are capitalized upon for political or monetary gain by carefully sparked outrage.

Politicians constantly stoke the flames of division with borderline (at best) statements made through platforms which encourage impulsive and emotional reactions. This occurs on the Right, with President Trump’s Twitter feed causing almost daily fury among the political Left, and support among many on the political Right. A recent example would be his use of the word “trail” when mocking Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for her false claim of Native American heritage, making a clear but subtle reference to the “Trail of Tears.” Similarly on the Left, Ilhan Omar has faced support or condemnation for her history of Tweets regarding Israel, employing subtle and strategic use of anti-semitic tropes to carefully tread the supposed line between “speaking truth to power” and outright bigotry.

In the same manner as politicians, companies and corporations use outrage as a marketing strategy to promote brand recognition. Given that their primary goal is profit, we should assume that successful companies are not foolish enough to make major and unintentional slips regarding the commercialization of controversial topics.

Nike made a calculated decision to use Colin Kaepernick as part of their campaign. The phrase “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” was no doubt the result of deep and strategic discussion. Whether via support or boycott, Nike dominated conversations across the internet. Similarly, Gillette’s commercial was an example of masterful social justice marketing. Regardless of personal opinions of “toxic masculinity” or Gillette’s self-assignment of masculine morality, they were able to cause emotional reactions through joy or outrage. Either way, #Gillette was trending on Twitter. Whether it be the backlash against Gucci for their “blackface” sweater, or Dove dropping a commercial after accusations of racism, it is clear that large companies have identified the profitability of political outrage.

People on both sides of societal divisions must recognize that many sources of outrage are carefully constructed for that very purpose. The attempts to spark outrage are merely an attempt to create division for profit, and not a symptom of division which must be supported or condemned.

With much of our society geared towards an immediate response to short-lived events, this seems like a gargantuan task. However, unless we unilaterally agree to resist the temptation to rally into divided and angry camps in response to every intentional controversy, those who wield the weapon of outrage will only continue to hone their skills, forcing the divides in our society ever wider. The American public are more than mere pawns in a macabre game of political or monetary profit.

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