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This is an OUTRAGE!
If we are to believe the papers, the radio and television news, New Zealanders live in a perpetual state of outrage. The nation’s blood pressure is never less than 180 over 110, so outraged are we by the egregious sinning of our fellow man and woman, at home and abroad. Our outrage can be singular or plural. An individual may be outraged by a neighbour’s cat walking across his lawn and want to damn the breed. In response an entire community of cat-lovers, numbering millions, may declare themselves outraged at such a perfidious suggestion. Occasionally the entire nation is said to be outraged, most commonly by something said or done by an Australian. An under-arm ball comes to mind.
The connection between the seriousness of an action and the public outrage it occasions is tenuous at best. Where outrage is concerned, actions need no longer speak louder than words. Indeed, as sources of outrage, words seem to have surpassed actions altogether.
The most recent example of words leading to general public outrage (as defined by the Fourth Estate) was a passage from an article in Investigate magazine, penned by New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser. Mr Prosser wrote:
“I will not stand by while [my daughters'] rights and freedoms of other New Zealanders and Westerners are denigrated by a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan.
“If you are a young male, aged between say about 19 and about 35, and you’re a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to travel on any of the West’s airlines …”
Now my assessment of Mr Prosser is that he is blithering idiot because only a blithering idiot would paint a target on his forehead, while carrying a sign with the words “please shoot me” in neon letters, and distributing loaded firearms to passers-by. God knows, one would have thought being a member of Winston Peters’ raggle-taggle caucus was ignominy enough without revealing oneself as a suicidal maniac.
Mr Prosser deserves our pity, not our outrage, but our outrage he has got and it runs to tens of thousands of column inches and millions of spoken words.
I am reminded of the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” They were never entirely true of course, but these days they could not be further from the truth. While we tolerate man’s inhumanity to man in so many areas, national and international, we mount our high horses more commonly over what is said than what is done.
In the process the currency of the word itself has been debased. We should express “outrage” in the face of real outrages, not merely when we think something said or done is bad or offensive or stupid or insensitive or neglectful or unkind. We have words for all of that – annoyed, angry, pissed off, ropable, furious, horrified or that old journalistic standard “shocked”.
When I recently wrote what amounted to a favourable obituary of Paul Holmes, I was faced with the ire of many readers (still) outraged at a handful of ill-considered words spoken in the course of a 40- year career of live broadcasting, and at my praise of a dying man, seemingly rendered beyond redemption for having given verbal offence.
I’m more inclined to be outraged by what is done than what is said, though one can of course lead to the other. Off the top of my head I’d rate poverty, unemployment, discrimination, child-abuse, torture, cruelty in all its forms, the absence or denial of justice or free speech, the subjugation of the weak by the strong as outrages, and the tolerance of such evils as outrageous. You can make your own list.
Anyway if you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, count the number of times in a week that the words outrage, outraged, outrageous appear in your local rag, favourite mag or on radio and TV. You’ll be shocked by what you find.
Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards blogs at Brian Edwards Media.