5 Stories You Got Outraged About (Went Back To Being Awful)
You're so angry! Right? I assume I'm right; we are on the Internet, after all. If the headlines are to be believed, Internet outrage is out of control and running roughshod over our collective right to say whatever we want at any time. That's like half the reason Trump is uncomfortably close to being appointed our next chancellor or however that will work under his regime.
Except, that's not really true, is it? Do you feel like you're routinely shielded from hearing or reading the terrible things people have to say? People are still as free to do that as ever; that's why we see and hear so much awful shit on such a regular basis. It's just that people have just as much right to react, and the Internet makes spreading those reactions around remarkably easy. That part is relatively new, and a lot of assholes don't like it.
That said, with a few exceptions, that backlash they so often cry about rarely amounts to anything that's ultimately effective or substantial. We talk about that on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by Cracked editors Alex Schmidt and Josh Sargent. That's also what I'm talking about in this column. Up first, a story where the Internet backlash was kind of effective, just not in a way that helps anyone in the slightest.
Cecil The Lion Outrage Stopped Lions From Being Killed (For 10 Days)
Man, you guys sure love lions, huh? That's the lesson Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer learned after a picture of him posing with the lion he'd paid thousands of dollars to hunt and kill in Africa started making the rounds online.
To be fair, if lions could take pictures, they'd probably do this every time they kill one of us.
Almost immediately, outrage swept the Internet. See, this wasn't just any lion, this was Cecil, a lion so popular and beloved that most of Zimbabwe had never even heard of him. Nevertheless, the rest of the world lost their shit. Sure, some of that had to do with the fact that Cecil was living in a wildlife preserve and was apparently lured into leaving its boundaries solely so killing him would be technically legal, but it was mostly just that we were told this lion was famous and that Walter Palmer was a monster for making him a trophy.
The calls to bring the people behind this illegal hunt to justice soon became deafening. In some respects, it worked. The guide Palmer hired to keep him within the lines of the law was charged, as was another guide who was responsible for the killing of a different animal months earlier. What kind of actual punishment they'll face remains to be seen, but still, at least that happened.
As for Walter Palmer, he didn't face any charges. The job of a guide is to make sure hunters stay within the limits of the law; his guide essentially failed him on that front. There's not much the courts can do. However, that doesn't apply to the court of public opinion. In that forum, Palmer has been absolutely shredded. Sure, he eventually returned to his dental practice after months of uproar ...
Come on, man.
... but it's apparently open only one day a week, which I learned from the business' perpetually defaced Yelp page. Things have gotten so bad there that Yelp has apparently hired a team of people just to keep watch over Palmer's page for reviews that don't actually relate to the business, and they aren't even sort of capable of keeping up with the torrential downpour of hate that's besieged the page in the months since the scandal broke.
You're fighting a losing battle.
So, that's cool. Looks like you won that war, Internet. Your efforts have effectively ruined the life of a lion killer. What those efforts haven't done is stop lions (and any other wild animals you can name) from being killed for sport and profit. Yes, Zimbabwe imposed a ban on this type of hunting in the days after the story broke, but they lifted that ban less than two weeks later.
As of right now, several sites are offering hunting packages in the exact same area where Cecil was killed. The sites are jam-packed with pictures that are every bit as depressing as the image of Cecil that inspired so much anger. I find the giraffe hunt photos to be the saddest, myself.
But you only get mad about famous animals, right?
See, the problem is conservation. Keeping untold numbers of wild and endangered animals thriving is a costly effort. Letting some bloodthirsty American hunter fly into town to kill one off in return for thousands of dollars is in large part what keeps conservation operations in Africa afloat financially. That was at the heart of the issue during another controversial animal hunt back in May when the Namibian government let an American hunter kill a black rhino in exchange for $350,000.
For extra explanation, I talked to a friend of mine (her name is Alex; be nice and follow her on Twitter) whose relatives actually own and operate a wildlife sanctuary in Africa. Here's what she said:
"In places like Namibia, where my aunt and uncle run a game farm, they are asked by the government to 'house' some of these animals, spreading out and keeping safe the few endangered rhinos they have. My aunt and uncle had been given five total. For the most part, these land owners who watch out for these animals never hear much else from the government. They just let them live on their land to keep them away from poachers. However, because rhinos are big and dangerous animals, sometimes they get out of hand."
"What the conservationists and government then does is they give one permit to hunt one rhino to a hunting convention to be auctioned off. That money raised is then given back to the conservation efforts. Now the person who wins the bid doesn't just get to pick any rhino. There are months of research and consideration about what rhino is allowed to be hunted. So, in the case of Corey Knowlton, who won that rhino hunting permit for $350,000, they found a specific rhino he was allowed to hunt. The reason they chose that specific rhino is because he was old and cranky and kept killing other rhinos, sort of defeating the whole conservation thing. Knowlton was only allowed to hunt that ONE rhino, no others. Fun bonus fact: Lion meat is actually white meat, has very little flavor, and makes for great marinated fajitas."
OK, so that line about lion meat might be a little provocative, but there are a lot of good points in there. If wild animals being killed for sport is a thing that truly outrages you, there are a lot of problems you need to tackle that are way bigger than Walter Palmer. Arresting one drug dealer doesn't take drugs off the streets, you know? This isn't much different. We may have permanently hindered a man's ability to make a living, but all that outrage did nothing to fix the actual the problem.
James Frey Is Totally Immune To Backlash
Does the name James Frey ring any bells? He was all over the news a few years back after his book, a "memoir" called A Million Little Pieces, started getting attention from critics. It was already selling like crazy when none other than Oprah herself bestowed upon it the highest honor in all the land -- she made it an official selection in her massively influential book club. It topped the New York Times best-seller list in the nonfiction category not long after. The followup, a second "memoir" called My Friend Leonard became a best-seller as well.
Then, disaster struck. Even before Oprah said it was her favorite, at least a few critics had noted that the book "didn't ring true" in some parts. One particularly harsh review straight-up called it a novel. All of those suspicions were confirmed when TheSmokingGun.com published an extensive report that detailed all of the ways in which James Frey had embellished or made-up key details of both books. That's a big problem when you're presenting your book as a work of nonfiction.
No one took the news harder than Oprah. After learning that she'd been bamboozled by a fiction writer, she asked Frey to appear on her show to talk about the situation. What happened next was one of the most brutal interviews in television history.
It was safe to assume at the time that James Frey's career was effectively over. Except it wasn't at all. For one thing, several people, including Oprah herself, eventually came to feel like maybe she was a little hard on Frey during that famous interview. Also, whether the book was completely factual or not, it still showed that James Frey is a pretty decent writer. So it should come as no surprise that he did eventually land on his feet as a writer. It should also not be a surprise to anyone that his most recent endeavor was mired in controversy once again.
After the Oprah scandal died down, James Frey started a company called Full Fathom Five that is, for all intents and purposes, a mill dedicated to churning out young adult novels. Frey partners with young writers and sees them through the process of writing a commercially viable book, which sounds cool. Unfortunately, he also asks them to sign an oppressive contract. Here are some details from New York Magazine's in-depth feature about Frey's post-Oprah existence:
Pink background lovingly added by some blogger.
Once again, this controversy has had zero effect on his ability to succeed as a writer. One of the first books released by his new company ...
Ooh, I hope the teens are rebellious!
... was recently turned into a big-budget Hollywood movie.
Looks like he's pushing 30; that's rebellious for a teen!
You almost certainly didn't see it, but still, I bet a major motion picture was the last thing you thought he'd be working on at this point after that Oprah fiasco, right?
Underage Red Proved People Are Desperate To Give In To False Outrage
Let's do some movie shit and start at the end with this story. For our purposes, the end will be represented by this statement released by legendary tattoo artist and budding makeup magnate Kat Von D, in response to the "outrage" over her decision to name a lipstick color that she sells exclusively through Sephora stores "Underage Red":
This must have been quite the controversy, huh?
I'm not expecting you to read that. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be able to, given how crudely I Photoshopped it together. My main point was just to show you the sheer amount of text she dedicated to defending herself in this situation. In a world that runs on Twitter, celebrities releasing statements with this many words usually means they've been at the center of a huge controversy. If you want to read the entire statement, you'll have a chance later. For now, though, let's power on.
The main thesis of her statement is that under no circumstances will Kat Von D bow to the pressure and criticism she's receiving over her decision to give her lipstick such a scandalous name. Sure enough, several headlines that circulated at the time made it clear that she was under fire for the decision.
In fact, judging from those headlines, you'd think there was literally no other way to describe her situation besides "under fire," but this Jezebel headline should put that concern right to rest.
Nice effort, Jezebel!
So, let's have a look at what started it all. Given Kat Von D's impassioned response and the deluge of headlines, you're probably expecting some long-winded think piece on some high-profile website. Maybe an angry YouTube video by a vlogger with a huge audience? Actually, it was this tweet from a user named @ParkerMolloy.
Went shopping for some makeup. How on earth is this a lipstick color? pic.twitter.com/mJanAVKlAd- Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) March 15, 2015
That's it. You'll note there are no calls for a boycott, no angry exclamation points, not even a celebrity or brand tagged in the tweet. As of right now, it's been retweeted less than 100 times. It's just a simple question. Nevertheless, as Molloy points out in a Medium.com article about the fiasco, the tweet was first picked up by Business Insider as a legitimate news story. It spread from there and, of course, tweets from angry citizens wondering why Molloy wished to stomp all over their First Amendment rights quickly followed.
Not on our watch, Obama!
Somehow, this complete and total non-story was the inspiration for the tl;dr rant Kat Von D posted on Facebook. If you still think it's worth your time, you can read it in full right here.
Campaign Trail Gaffes Don't Matter In This Election
Do you want a really obvious example of how very little Internet backlash actually amounts to in this day and age? Look no further than our current presidential election. There have been gaffes, slip-ups, and missteps from almost every candidate on every side, and not a single damn one of them has done a thing to derail their respective campaigns. This is something that was touched on a bit in an interview with a former Carson campaign adviser that ran on the site recently.
See, the problem is that social media slip-ups are such a common characteristic of our everyday lives now. We've never really had another election where that was the case. Time was, a simple picture of a candidate looking silly in a helmet ...
... making a weird noise ...
... or even something as minor as being caught on camera writing off the importance of a full 47 percent of American voters ...
... one little thing was always enough to help us weed out our potential presidential candidates. That's not the case anymore. Some of it certainly has to do with the fact that we're so accustomed to these kinds of mishaps now, what with how everyone has a camera rolling at all times.
I suspect it also has to do with the fact that there's just so much to choose from. Having too many options can be a bad thing. That's a phenomenon that's been covered by science multiple times. We've written about it on this very site before. Could that be the problem? Do we have so many "campaign-ending" gaffes to choose from that we've just grown disillusioned with the idea of deciding an election that way?
In any other year, that would be a great thing. But when we're talking about a campaign where the Republican frontrunner has advocated for blocking Muslims from entering the country, deporting all illegal (and most legal) immigrants, advocated for the suppression of media, and so many other things, it feels more like the final nail in the coffin of this country as we know it. In past years, just being caught on tape saying those things behind closed doors would've been the end of any presidential run. Now, shit like that just makes the scariest candidate we've ever had even stronger.
The Writer Who Got Justine Sacco Fired Now Wants Her Hired
Ah, Justine Sacco. If there's a poster child for the sometimes-devastating effects of Internet outrage, surely she's it. In case you don't remember, she's the former director of corporate communications at a huge company called IAC who had her entire existence derailed with a single tweet. Here's that tweet:
Hey! She's making light of a thing!
Yeah, it's an ill-advised tweet. That's not a thing anyone can deny. However, a lot of that has to do with her job at the time. She was basically the mouthpiece for one of the largest media companies in the world. That's what prompted Gawker writer Sam Biddle to make a big deal out of it. That link points to the original article that kicked the controversy off. The tweet has since been deleted, so, if you read the article, just pretend the tweet is still embedded there.
What I'm getting at when I say that her job is what prompted Biddle to turn that tweet into news is that I know at least 20 comics who could make that same joke with little to no repercussions. It's not the best joke in the world, but it is a joke. If Louis CK tweeted that, the "outrage" would've come in the form of a Huffington Post article about how he "explained the AIDS crisis in Africa with one tweet."
But thinker AIDS jokes weren't Justine Sacco's job, and generating outrage for the sake of traffic was absolutely Sam Biddle's job, so the two made a perfect fit.
All the news you never knew you didn't want!
Unfortunately for Sacco, this backlash had a unique feature in that, since the offending tweet was sent immediately prior to a flight to Africa, she had no idea any controversy had erupted at all for hours. When's the last time you watched an Internet video that was more than 12 minutes long? Hours is basically a generation in Internet years.
By the time Sacco landed, the hashtag #HasJustineLanded was trending and her life was essentially destroyed. Reason would have it that, given the amount of online hate she received, she's probably homeless and living under a bridge right now.
You did it, Internet!
Except, no, that's not even sort of the case. Keep in mind, Justine Sacco was the top PR rep for a huge media company. She didn't get there because she's terrible at her job. Her first step on the road to rebuilding her case with the public was to take on a couple of jobs at companies that, like her, had received their fair share of mockery online -- FanDuel.com and HotOrNot.com.
This fact wasn't lost on Sam Biddle. Upon learning that, despite receiving the entire brunt of his Gawker blog power, Justine Sacco was employed again, Biddle came through with another article questioning the sanity of a world that just up and lets a person have a second chance at having a normal life after having made a mistake.
Maybe you should alert the media?
See, that's the thing -- Internet justice wants to believe it's final and absolute. Once a person is hated, they're hated. There is zero hope for redemption. But that's not how the world is supposed to fucking work. Sometimes people deserve a second chance. That's something that likely never would have occurred to Sam Biddle, had it not been for a strange dinner invite he received one night. That invite was from Justine Sacco, who simply wanted Biddle to take the time to meet and know the person whose life he was so intent on making sure was destroyed forever over one mistake. The result of that meeting ...
Sick burn, bro!
... was a glowing article from Biddle that detailed all the ways Justine Sacco is just a normal person who deserves a second chance. He went so far as to say she was smart and good at her job and deserved to be hired at whatever company she chose. It was almost as if Biddle, for one moment, was able to see her as a human being who deserved forgiveness instead of an opportunity to drive more traffic to his gossip blog. What a novel approach to "journalism."
Adam is on Twitter; you should follow him there @adamtodbrown. Also, if you're in the Kansas City area, come see him tell jokes with Alex Schmidt at Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club on Thursday, April 7th. Get tickets here!
Read Zoe Quinn's story as the Internet becomes like the villagers from Frankenstein in 5 Things I Learned As The Internet's Most Hated Person, and see how we turned on Justin Bieber in 4 Signs The Backlash Against Justin Bieber Has Begun.
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