How much of this outrage is performative?

We are now fed a regular diet of outrage about the most trivial of things. The latest are the ones about the Muppets, the Potato Head toy, and some Dr. Seuss books

These things are definitely ginned up in order to get viewers and clicks. I am pretty certain that the people on Fox News and similar sites (even the most dimwitted) know that these things are silly even as they feign outrage over these pseudo-controversies. But I wonder about their target audience of older, white, right-wing viewers. Do they view these things as serious issues and get angry or do they see them as merely entertaining? I am sure that some do get genuinely fired up but I cannot imagine that it can be a large number. Maybe there is an unspoken agreement in which the people in the media pretend to be outraged and their audience pretends to be angry. Or maybe I am just naive in thinking that adults can’t surely care that much about such things.

Stephen Colbert had a very thoughtful segment on the Dr. Seuss books faux-controversy and gives some children’s books recommendations of his own.


  1. ionopachys says

    I wasn’t even aware of the Muppet Show issue.

    I think years ago the outrage was performative, but when people are exposed to that stuff every day for decades, it becomes real to both the audience and even the media personalities. I wouldn’t be surprised if Limbaugh was just putting on an act thirty years ago, but was completely sincere by Obama’s inauguration. When a person tells the same lies over and over for years, he can start to believe those lies. In addition people raised on that junk think it’s the normal, appropriate behavior.

  2. mailliw says

    I was shocked to hear Joe Biden accusing Republican governors’ plan to reopen as ‘Neanderthal thinking’.

    I hope no one will let this profound insult to our highly intelligent hominid cousins* go unchallenged or for that matter uncancelled.

    * I mean the Neanderthals not the Republicans -- just in case anyone is wondering.

  3. Silentbob says

    @ Holms, you astound me!

    I’m so glad to see you recognize faux outrage about gender-neutral language for what it is. I look forward to you denouncing efforts to oppose language inclusive of trans and non-binary people in future. We’ll make a decent human of you yet!

    (Incidentally, I wish people would find out what “performative” means. I know I’m fighting a losing battle here -- like trying to get people to understand what “literally” or “begging the question” means. But I can dream.)

  4. sonofrojblake says

    We are now fed a regular diet of outrage about the most trivial of things.

    You know what I think? I think the right are jealous.

    People on the left get angry (some of them performatively, let’s be honest, but not all) about things like:
    -- climate change
    -- financial inequality
    -- systemic discrimination based on race/class/gender/sexuality/whatever

    Y’know -- actually important stuff. And the people on the right see that sweet, sweet outrage and they WANT some of it. But if you’re a comfortable straight white cis male with enough money and a nice big gas guzzling car, what are you going to get enraged about? None of those things for damn sure. Fox et al have spotted a market and are serving it.

    And it has to be performative, in the main, surely, because conceptually you’ve got some loony lefty standing there with their banner shrilly screaming “WE HAVE TO SAVE THE CLIMATE!!!1!!!!!!” and the loony righty response to that is “Won’t somebody please think of the Muppets!”. Anyone with even a sliver of self-awareness has to know that that just sounds stupid and is therefore doing it as a performance…. right?

  5. aquietvoice says

    Performative? Not quite.
    I think rather than a performance, it’s a result of being angry about things but being unable to do anything about them has led to a lot of outlet-outrage, ie. just giving vent to feelings as a way of processing stuff.

    Anger is a very motivating emotion, but a lot of the time people can’t actually do anything, so they just need a way to blow off some tension towards what is effectively a big sign saying “bad person can be yelled at here”.

    By now it’s also a way of socialising with the in-groups so there’s that too.

  6. mailliw says

    Trump supporters are claiming that he has been “cancelled” by being barred from Twitter.

    Maybe Trump will start his own social networking service; he could call it Fibber.

  7. mailliw says

    @5 machine intelligence

    Well, the Neanderthals died out, so there is that.

    They didn’t die out, they interbred with homo sapiens. People interbreed with Republicans too.

  8. KG says

    Do they view these things as serious issues and get angry or do they see them as merely entertaining?

    I think they do get angry about them, and enjoy doing so. My dog will spend hours gazing out of the window, waiting for something to bark at. Occasionally, if nothing becomes available, she’ll apparently hallucinate an object at which to direct her outrage.

  9. Allison says

    I think that the outrage is real, but it’s not so much about the specific topics as it is about what they symbolize: that USAan society will no longer cater solely to privileged, white (=European-American), cis-het men. Each topic represents yet another step away from the world/social order that they feel they have a God-given right to, and since society keeps getting farther and farther, they are always angry. And they get together with other “angry old men” who will validate their anger. (And patronize news media that pander to their resentments.)

    It’s like the psychology of MRAs.

    BTW, I feel like this posting and the comments are mocking and minimizing their resentments the way that right-wingers mock and minimize our demands for, e.g., gender-neutral language, or substituting so-called “politically correct” terms for marginalized groups.

  10. Allison says

    Silentbob @6

    (Incidentally, I wish people would find out what “performative” means. I know I’m fighting a losing battle here — like trying to get people to understand what “literally” or “begging the question” means. But I can dream.)

    I hear you, but it’s not surprising. “performative” is used in a number of different contexts, and in almost all of them, it’s a pretty subtle concept. It reminds me of the way that non-technical speakers use phrases like “quantum jump” in senses that are almost the opposite of their meaning in technical contexts.

  11. Mano Singham says

    Silentbob @6 and #8,

    Thanks for that information! I will make a note of it, so you have converted at least one person on this usage.

  12. says

    I try to keep the uses of “performative” in mind. I’m not sure if I have been sloppy here, but I’ve wondered. If I feel the impulse I’m acting on I’m performing the thing in question so it feels fine to say I’m responding to a performative urge for example. It’s worth thinking about the issue.

  13. Holms says

    #6 bob
    I was think more about people that chastise others for using the term ‘political correctness’ despite that term not being uttered.

    #7 son
    Weirdly, the right seems to think that this is a new change, as if companies haven’t acquiesced to public anger except very recently.

  14. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    It’s only March: have people already forgotten that the War on Christmas gets trotted out every year? Performative emotion is what the right wing DOES.

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