Derek Hunter’s book is a critical look at the culture of outrage where freedom of speech and individual liberties are often subjugated to the Left liberal orthodoxy’s advocacy of political correctness.
Hunter, Derek. Outrage, Inc.: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism, and Hollywood. Broadside Books. 2018. PP 272
Just after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, Left liberal TV host Bill Maher lamented how the Democratic Party has gone from “a party that protects people to a party that protects feelings. From ‘ask not what your country can do for you’ to ‘you owe me an apology” (you can watch Maher’s hilarious but scathing takedown of the PC culture here). There is no denying that the spectre of identity politics today looms large on American political and social landscape and that the perpetually outraged social justice warriors are getting mainstreamed and growing more powerful by the day.
In this context, writer and political columnist Derek Hunter’s “Outrage, Inc.: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism and Hollywood” is an important critical look at this culture of outrage where freedom of speech and individual liberties are often subjugated to the Left liberal orthodoxy’s advocacy of political correctness. The book focuses on showing how today’s academia, journalism and entertainment industry are essentially under occupation from cultural authoritarians of the Left liberal orthodoxy.
Taking the over-the-top response of the left to Trump’s inauguration as the starting point, the author examines the modern day phenomena where journalists have somehow become activists, many times acting as the mouthpieces of the Left liberal orthodoxy. As the author says “media bias is not just how a story is reported, it is which stories are reported”. It is easy to see how this manifestation of bias is near omnipresent in Indian mainstream media too.
Yet perhaps in no other institution the problem of crazy political correctness is as apparent as the American college and university campuses. From setting an entire campus on fire to protest a speaker to forcing a faculty to resign for opining that Halloween costumes need not be regulated by the college authorities, American college campuses are a never ending source of “what did I just read?” type stories. Hunter begins his examination of the academia by analysing the roots of terms like ‘micro-aggression’ and then takes us on the aforementioned “what did I just read?” tour, where universities give grants of over half a million dollars to study “Micro-aggression in Engineering Student teams – Effects on Learning, Performance and Persistence”. The universities are essentially funding studies where racism, sexism and victimhood are already a foregone conclusion. Instead of becoming places of higher learning, these places have become petri dishes of progressive politics, at once draining the exchequer of tax-dollars while burying the students under student loans.
Trivia – did you know that University of Pennsylvania actually offers a course called “Wasting time on the Internet”?
Contrary to what Maher’s monologue in the opening paragraph will have you believe, Democratic Party is hardly the biggest victim of this culture of crazy political correctness. This is the culture responsible for making a brilliant Nobel laureate like Sir Tim Hunt lose his job over a joke told over dinner. This is the same culture that drove a progressive teacher out of job because, believe it or not, students wanted all white people to stay away from campus for one day and he didn’t agree with them. And how did the college administration reacted to this outrage? Why, by adopting a police where every official event at the college would start with an acknowledgement that Evergreen State is on land stolen from native Americans, of course!
Of the three institutions mentioned in the title, the mainstream media (MSM) is the most powerful, with the biggest reach. After mainstream media was pushed on the back-foot by advent of social media, MSM chose to dump the entire fake news business at the door of social media and irresponsible WhatsApp forwards. In the section “who checks the fact-checkers”, Hunter gives many examples of the kind of convenient fact-checking the MSM often does to suit their political agenda. Here again, their skill at not only ‘how to present a news’ but ‘what to not present’ comes in handy as politicians aligned with their ideology keep getting a free pass. Hysteria, another powerful tool used by media mainly to crush dissent and end debates (like Republican repeal of Barack Obama healthcare will kill 24,000 people every day).
Remember all those breathless op-eds that promised riots and bloodbath on the Indian streets everyday if Narendra Modi was made the prime minister? There are many ways in which mainstream media can act as propagandists for the powers they serve, for example terming something as non-partisan (the march for science) when it is, in fact, very much partisan and vice-versa. There is also “misinformation by headline”, another technique perfected by the media in the age of click-baits and falling attention span. So, when an incredibly wealthy Republican politician chose to fly to work on her private jet, it was reported as “ Betsy DeVos used private jet for work-related travel”, making it sound like a case of a power drunk politician misusing government funds for personal luxuries.
Anyone who has ever watched a late night talk show monologue would be familiar with the theme that Republican politicians, especially presidents, are fools while democratic politicians, especially Clinton and Obama are charismatic leaders. As much as I personally admire former president Obama, I didn’t know that he had mistakenly made a statement that America has 60 states. And I didn’t know it because Maher, Kimmel, Colbert and gang, who wrote eight years’ worth of comedy material solely on George W Bush as a bumbling, near-retarded fool lucked into power by family connections, chose to ignore this gaffe by a politician they admired.
I discovered two other somewhat surprising parallel between US and Indian MSM through this book. One is how loyalty to narrative trumps over commercial success, ie how certain talk-show hosts stay in the business and indeed become toast of the journalism circuit in spite of their shows polling very poorly among the viewers. Sounds familiar? The second, perhaps to compensate (or sponsor) the first set, is this trend of mainstream news channels replacing tabloids of yesteryear, by reporting with near voyeuristic obsession the smallest details of celebrity lives (like the possibility of Beyonce having a secret snapchat) while glossing over the real important issues pertaining to politics and economy. Baby Taimur anyone?
Over the years we have grown up watching Bollywood “take inspiration” from Hollywood for everything from storylines to characters and from dialogues to movie posters. So perhaps it should occasion us no surprise that the trend of “celebrity crusader” entertainer owes its origins to Hollywood too. The section about Hollywood focuses primarily on the hypocrisy of high-flying entertainers, from tolerance to environment, never practising what they preach. It also examines the modern day propaganda films about Hollywood pet issues like gun control and global warming and how inevitably these films fail to resonate with ordinary public. The book also points out at the increasing rhetoric of ‘with-us-or-against-us’ in the industry, where even suspicion of a dissenting view is enough for outrage, public humiliation and in extreme cases excommunication.
But it is in the concluding chapter that the author hits his most upbeat and perhaps best notes. As he says “for all the problems I have with modern journalism, journalism itself is incredibly important.” And then again “it’s not my desire that you stop consuming news, it’s my hope that you will consume more of it, from as many sources as you can. No one has a monopoly on truth telling”.
In a similar vein, the author goes on to advise the readers not to shut themselves off pop culture. These are important words coming from someone who has written an entire book showing malignancy in the same institutions of media and entertainment. And I think in the Indian context, where trigger happy right leaning social media stars are passing boycott orders on a new book/film/TV serial almost on a daily basis, these words are sobering and worthy of reflection. Like the late Christopher Hitchens once said “you don’t get rid of the spectre of identity politics by invoking it”.
Similarly, the solution to the problem created by Left liberals demarcating safe spaces, where no arguments are allowed isn’t the right wing marking similar spaces for themselves. It is in refusing to accept the boundaries of safe spaces set by the left to the battlefield of ideologies.
As someone active on social media, I often worry these days about how our political identity is subsuming all other identities and how in pursuit of perfect purity we are at the risk of practising a form of cultural scorched earth. Mr Hunter’s closing words about having fun and how living is far more important than politics are especially noteworthy in this context.
A highly recommended read.