Posts Tagged ‘Outrage’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Sagging Pants?  Outrage.  Twerking?  Outrage.  Largest bank in Europe laundering money for drug dealers and terrorist organizations? Crickets.

The first two examples above can really kick up an American’s dander. The third was passed over with barely a murmur.  Fashion choices that affect no one; dancing fads that look like other dancing fads; someone working the system to get food stamps when they are not needed.  Such stories have become social media, and mainstream media obsessions.  The publicized word of mouth outrage has been metastatic. It feeds on itself.  Outrageously however, our saggy-pants-illustration-vl-verticalnational obsessive outrages point in the wrong direction. Real outrageous stories and happenings fall by the wayside, replaced by the latest absurd outrage d’jour.  We need to figure out what is going on, and get outraged over this misplaced outrage.

Start with baggy pants.  I pointed out in my last post how sagging jeans is still a topic people get riled up over, two decades since they became a common fashion trend.  The notoriously stiff and starched George Will wrote a somewhat hilarious opinion piece about pants a couple years ago, calling the ubiquity of blue jeans in our culture “an obnoxious misuse of freedom”.  While a just a wee-bit of an overstatement, ol’Georgie boy will be pretty happy to know that this freedom is slowly being curtailed in certain parts of the United States when those blue jeans are a just a bit too saggy.  That’s right, in some towns of our ‘sweet land of liberty’, it is now a fine-able offense to wear ‘baggy pants’.  In April, a Louisiana town passed an ordinance that would fine baggy pant wearers “$50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $100 plus 16 hours of mandatory community service for the third offense.”  And, in case you think this is an issue of a white, racist majority, trying to legislate modern Jim Crow laws, think again.  Jerome Boykin, the president of the local NAACP chapter declared, “There is nothing positive about people wearing saggy pants. This is not a black issue, this is not a white issue, this is a people issue… Young men who were in prison who wanted to have sex with other men would send a signal to another man with his pants below his waist.”

Oh boy. Let us get this out of the way right now.  The homophobic baggy pant prison theory/rumor is false.  The look evidently did come from the prison system.  But, all inmates had baggy pants because it is a suicide risk having belts in the clink.  Furthermore, EVEN if the homophobe theory was true, who really cares where or how the trend began?  How does this justify outlawing someone’s fashion choice? This is unfortunately a rhetorical question.  American history is filled with ridiculous, often vicious laws regulating personal choices. See Jim Crow.

Outspoken outrage has been turned into legislation, and today’s hyper-connected world may be partly to blame for the ubiquity of such outrage, and hence, for the growth of such laws as well. Social media, and 24 hour news cycles, has allowed outrage to reach a deafening cacophony.  Modern media allows, perhaps even encourages, miley-the-screamoutrage to become obsession, with conspiracy theories, and unsubstantiated rumors (Prison homosexuals) travelling on fiber-optic cables, leaving the truth struggling behind, as it tries to connect with a dial-up modem. This is the world of the internet memes.  Memes can produce a falsified, angry narrative hidden behind universally recognized pop-culture humor. This internet guerrilla propaganda depends upon the most absurd of photos, and most flippant of reasoning to make a point, produce a laugh, or create a sneer.  Talking points then become repeated verbatim, creating an echo chamber of outrage that feeds upon itself.

Memes allow our outrage to be directed at the most daft and harmless social trends.  See twerking and Miley Cyrus for the most recent example.  Just this previous weekend, Saturday Night Live poked fun at the outrage about Cyrus’ VMA performance, using a nuanced, advanced humor to point to the absurdity of twerk-rage.

If you think this is all tongue-in-cheek, just quickly Google “Miley Cyrus Fall of Western Civilization“. You will find people who make such an argument.

So now, the big problem. Our contagious, self-spiraling outrage is making Americans truly blind to the forest for the saplings. If you ask Americans how they feel about baggy jeans, or Miley Cyrus twerking, you will get outspoken opinions, outrageous in their passion.  But, ask them about the HSBC scandal, and you would most likely get blank stares.

download (1)What is that, you may be asking?  A couple years ago, authorities discovered that HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, had been laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels, dictatorial regimes, and even Al Qaeda.  The United States military have shocked and awed nations and civilians for much less, but HSBC got a relatively light sentence from Washington D.C. The bank had to pay a 1.9 billion fine, which sounds all well and good, until you learn that outrageous total is about 9% of the company’s pretax yearly profit.  Oh, and another thing, not ONE manager, VP, CEO, CFO, got jailed, or even fired for this little indiscretion of laundering cash for murderers.  Where was the outrage?  Where were the memes?  Where were the viral videos?  Good questions.

Such ignorance of the HSBC makes me…well… outraged.  I need an answer.

Stuart-Gulliver

HSBC CEO Stuart Gulliver

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is an example of Freud’s ‘narcissism of small differences’.  Maybe we get outraged over someone wearing baggy pants, or stealing an unnecessary 30 dollars from the government each month, or twerking because we are similar to those people.  They are us, and we are they with only a couple tweaks of the cultural dial.  Maybe HSBC is too big; too nameless.  Miley Cyrus was that girl next door who has gone bad.  HSBC is a multinational corporation. I know what Miley Cyrus looks like; I have no idea what HSBC’s CEO looks like (Stuart Gulliver).  We feel powerless attacking a monolithic bank. We feel empowered to shame a kid wearing jeans we don’t like, or a girl dancing in a way we find offensive.

It really is outrageous.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

I had a strange realization last quarter.  I was in my American History course, and I just mentioned in passing, apropos of nothing, that people get far too outraged at young men wearing baggy, low hanging pants.  To my surprise, my teenager/twenty-something students started to complain about the droopy trouser fashion in the gallery_1_1_11337 (1)exact same language as most octogenarians. I think some may have even muttered something about ‘kids these days’. I felt as though I was surrounded by cooler, younger Abe Simpsons, waving their fists at passing clouds.

I wouldn’t say this was the first time I have noticed this unexpected phenomenon.  I have heard students before speak of loose-fitting slacks in negative terms.  But, as I looked around the room this time, realizing the ethnic and racial diversity of a 40 person class at Robert Morris University, I was struck at the different characters reviling the fashion in a similar….well….fashion.  White, African-American, Latino, Asian, young, old, male, female; a small majority of the class had the same negative opinion when it came to baggy pants.

My mind started to wander.  As I checked in on social media in the days and weeks after this particular course last quarter, I saw a handful of memes posted by extremely different Facebook ‘friends’ that were supposed to be funny, but obviously masked a severe outrage and hatred concerning young men’s pants.  Again, the strangely divergent backgrounds of the people posting about an innocuous fashion trend struck me.  Old and young; white and black; urban and rural; educated and not-all-that-educated; men and women; northerner and southerner; liberal and conservative; religious and secular.  They all agreed on a topic.

It hit me! The outrage about baggy pants is pluralistically democratic.  I can’t think of any other social topic that a broader range of divergent people agree upon.

Ironically, I think this outrage is backfiring.  If these people want to get rid of the baggy pant look, they may be more advised to start practicing it themselves.   Most other youth fads, whether it be music, movies, language, or fashion, lose their revolutionary chops when less rebellious populations co-opt them.  As soon as mom and dad start to listen to rock and roll, rock and roll is dead. Along comes punk, and mom and dad are outraged. Long live rock and roll.

The baggy pant fashion has never been co-opted by mainstream society, and it probably never will. Perhaps this is why the baggy pant look is a freakishly long youth fashion trend.  The best I can figure, the look began around 20 years ago, gaining its first full-throated pop culture critique from Alicia Silverstone’s character in the film ‘Clueless’.  See this clip:

Such long lasting outrage raises two big question.  First, what upsets people so much about this fashion choice?  Is it the ‘sloppiness’ of the look, as Alicia Silverstone points out in that clip?  Or, is there something more sinister?  Is racial bias tied up in the disdain as well?

I am going to avoid this query, since I think each person who hates baggy pants has their own reason, and to pigeonhole anyone‘s particular feelings is unfair.

The second question is more intriguing, and, I believe, more important.  Why are people so outraged with another’s pants, all the while ignoring much more outrageous social ills? I will take up that troubling question in next week’s blog post.