It’s so unfair that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev doesn’t look like a terrorist. Outrageous, really. If only he had mad, rolling eyes or a swastika on his forehead, then we would know, in an instant, that he was evil within and without.
Mr. Tsarvnaev, accused with his late brother Tamerlan in the fatal bombing at the Boston Marathon, is on the cover of the current Rolling Stone magazine. This has caused outrage, and there have been calls for a boycott of the magazine. Some retailers have refused to sell the issue, thus protecting consumers from the heinous scourge of reported facts. Mr. Tsarnaev is a handsome young man – “dreamy,” “like a rock star,” in the words of critics who cannot abide an accused criminal not covered in warts and scales.
He looks like a kid your daughter might take to the prom, and the article, Jahar’s World, by Janet Reitman, is a fascinating portrait of a boy who was loved by his peers: “He is a golden person,” said one friend. “He was just superchill,” said another. You’d think that, instead of being offended by an accused killer on the cover, people might be a little curious about how a seemingly golden boy become carbonized underneath – “a whited sepulchre,” as the Bible-quoters used to say.
Nobody seems to be offended by the fact that Mr. Tsarnaev, who has not yet been put on trial and has pleaded not guilty to all 30 charges, is condemned on the cover of Rolling Stone, which calls him “the bomber” and “a monster.” He may well be, but there’s a little thing called “a trial” we might want to conduct first.
Outrage is like a good wine: It’s so satisfying, and after the first glass, you always want a bit more. I’m considering opening a vineyard and calling it The Grapes of Wrath. Just out of curiosity, I picked an arbitrary year, 1996, and searched the Factiva news database for instances of the words outrage, outraged and outrageous: There were 59,479 mentions. But in the past 12 months, there were 213,419 mentions. This is hardly scientific, I know. Feel free to be offended by my specious methods. Start a petition! Your neighbour probably has the forms.
It used to be so much harder to express moral indignation. You’d have to gather a bucket of turnip peelings and march down to the village green to hurl them at the weird old crone who had, almost certainly, turned Widow Smith’s cat into a pumpkin. Now Twitter and Facebook have brought the village green to our fingertips.
Here is just a recent and random sampling of some of the things that have provoked outrage around the world: Barack Obama’s tweeting on Ramadan, seen as hypocritical in light of his drone policy; Andy Murray’s being described as the first Englishman to win Wimbledon in 77 years (och, the Scots didn’t like that); Andy Murray being labelled the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years (Virgina Wade won the women’s title in 1977); Justin Bieber and his pail of wee (no explanation necessary).
Two cricketers in Wales were reported to be so offended they weren’t allowed to speak Welsh during a match that they “knocked the stumps and stormed off” in the village of Crymych. I’d be more offended that my town couldn’t afford vowels, but that’s just me. This week, Japan was reportedly outraged after being accused of lying about its whaling policy. I imagine an entire country with its arms crossed, taking a day of snit leave.
It’s instructive to look at a few of the things that caused temporary hysteria in the recent past: Chick-fil-A vs. the Muppets; LeBron James’s ego; BP CEO Tony Hayward’s complaint that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was totally harshing his mellow (“I’d like my life back,” he said, as his company’s faulty equipment spewed oil into the water). One minute there’s outrage over chemical weapons in Syria, the next over racism on Big Brother. On the wings of social media, they achieve equal hysterical velocity. When everything is infuriating, nothing really is.
I could tell you that the Oxford English Dictionary lists “outrage-monger” as “one who trades in outrages for political ends,” but then I’d also have to mention that the poor OED is also an offender. Last December, its website provoked anger when it sent out “bloodbath” as the word of the day less than a week after the massacre at Newtown. Never mind that it was a complete coincidence; the word of the day had been chosen months in advance. The OED apologized abjectly to its critics.
In the words of that great outrage-monger John Lydon, “anger is an energy.” Yes, it is, and a very useful emotion, too. Sometimes, it’s nice to remember that it’s not the only one.