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Patton Oswalt Twitter “Apologies” Reveal Cult of Outrage Hypocrisy

I wrote a series of pieces this week dealing with Privilege and why matters of social protest only seem to be aimed at artists’ these days, specifically comedians. In the context of talking about things like Privilege, art—its intended message and its ultimate impact—are necessary parts of that discussion. However, there is a separate phenomenon that dominates the conversation and destroys any chance for actual dialogue: the Cult of Outrage.

Thanks to the internet—Twitter especially—everyone who can get online has a voice and, wonderfully, everyone uses it. Just like humanity itself, people on the internet are an amalgam of sweet and crude, compassionate and hateful, incredibly smart or blisteringly stupid. For comedians, Twitter is like doing “crowd-work” except the audience members get to respond.

This has given a voice to a select group of people with myriad special interests, who think they are doing the “good work” by taking down artists, actors, and anyone except the actual policy/government people who could do anything about the issue they care about. It looks like a “win” for the little people, but really all it is (as Ferguson put it) the high of “righteous indignation,” that feeling of “better” than someone else.

One of the comedians who best addresses this on Twitter is Patton Oswalt. This week the comedian took to Twitter, according to an appearance on the Craig Ferguson show because he was “bored” during some voiceover work, tweeting apologies for fictitious, supposedly offensive deleted tweets.

“It was fun to see people reacting to what they were creating in their own heads about what I might have said,” the comedian told Ferguson. “They were thinking of something ten times more offensive than anything I could have written by just me apologizing for something that didn’t exist.” The “gag” was that to get the outrage machine started, one doesn’t even really need to be offensive in the first place.

Which, I think, exposes one of the core problems with the Cult of Outrage and perhaps another reason why artists with get most of its ire. Some of the best art and comedy does not just make us think, but expresses something we’ve felt before but never been able to articulate. It connects us to the comedian in a very mentally intimate way. So when a comedian veers into edgy territory, perhaps these folks get so angry because it’s as if the comedian has “made them think” something horrible. Sure they are “offended” but the anger they express seems to go much deeper than that.

Which is essentially what Oswalt’s latest Twitter bit proved: those that were angry with him were so because of what he “made” them think. It seems less about Oswalt’s perceived intolerance and more personal. Perhaps they are lashing out at him because of something someone said to them in the past that they were unable to respond to. Perhaps they themselves had hateful thoughts/feelings about a particular subject and in railing against others they are paying penance for their own intolerance? There’s no way to really know for sure.

Unlike many jokes that become controversial, there is no way that Oswalt’s apologies can be seen as anything other than a joke on the type of people who demand apologies. It seems to clearly show what many have believed all along, that what those in the Cult of Outrage are most angry about is in their own heads.


By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Patton Oswalt  Uploaded by maybeMaybeMaybe) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.