Leonard: Outrage culture goes too far

As more celebrities are called out for their poor social media history, the comedic line becomes less clear. Oversensitivity has created a culture in which people are offended by almost everything.


David Harmantas

Columnist Braxton Leonard

Braxton Leonard, Opinion Columnist

2018 has been an interesting year for those in the public eye. With various widespread social movements happening and an increase in sensitivity, there has been an uptick in celebrities and other public figures being called out and criticized for their decisions and comments made in poor taste.

Social media has proven to be a gift and a curse for most of society, and for those with much acclaim, it has been a notorious Achilles’ heel.

Most recently, such household names as James Gunn, the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, and Doja Cat, meme musician turned overnight sensation, have faced backlash based on social-media posts they made years ago.

It’s the age of social-justice warriors, which on one hand is great. They make it much harder to get away with being rude, hateful, ignorant, or uneducated. Society has created a space that is more inclusive, understanding, and accepting of people — something that has long been one of America’s claims to fame and something we should expect from ourselves.

However, social-justice warriors have also caused hyper-sensitivity, which I believe to be dangerous. I think that our desire to be viewed as “good” or “conscious” has resulted in a culture of outrage, in which people are so scared of being cast out or criticized for not standing up for something that they end up getting upset about everything. This invalidates serious, important issues because they get blended up into the mess that is outrage culture. 

The new norm seems to be “canceling” people who have said and done things in poor taste, whether or not they have changed, apologized, or even clarified their words or actions. I think this is a slippery slope, because we can’t expect people to be better while also jumping at every chance we get to destroy their lives and careers over something as simple as a tweet in poor taste. Of course, derogatory and hateful things aren’t something that should be excused, but context is an incredibly tricky thing to pinpoint strictly based on a short text post.

In the case of Gunn, his posts were certainly in poor taste, and they simply weren’t funny. As a fan of comedy, I hate what is being done to the art right now. People are more sensitive than ever, and comedy has become so censored and careful that it often completely ruins the delivery.

Many times, I disagree with the notion that jokes in a comedic context should be taken literally or analyzed critically; they are purely a joke. However, someone such as Gunn, who isn’t a comedian, therefore not a master of jokes, must be more careful as his borderline-offensive jokes that just aren’t funny enough to pass the eye and ear test these days. 

People are so scared of being cast out or criticized for not standing up for something that they end up getting upset about everything.

This is where things get interesting. I understand that people must be held accountable for their words and actions. Most specifically, when people take on the role of celebrities, they understand that every move they make will be under a microscope and that they can expect to be held to the highest standard of excellence as workers and as people. I understand that times are rapidly and constantly changing, and certain things that may have been OK to say years ago may be totally unacceptable now. But where do we draw the line on obsessive searching for something to be upset about?

I must admit that I have said, done, and written things that I don’t align with now, and I think that is the case for most of us. I also think that this is OK. I’ve learned that as times change, we must allow time for people themselves to change as well. It’s crucial to allow people to learn and to make mistakes because change rarely happens overnight. People going back years into a celebrity’s tweets to find one or two out of thousands that may contain a sensitive topic is a ridiculous concept to me, and I don’t think that it’s impactful when it comes to helping people in society be better today.