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Beware the outrage without a focus

By Kathryn Crosby - posted Thursday, 29 October 2015

Australia has been an angry country for a long time – since 2010 in particular. Whether you agree or not with the removal of Kevin Rudd, and liked or not the following two extremely unpopular prime ministers, it is hard to deny that there has been a steady torrent of outrage directed at our political leadership in the last five years. Most of it manifested in opinion columns, blogs and the intangible that is the Twitter community; all united in a common enemy.

And there was plenty to be outraged about. Promises broken left, right and centre. Refugees being removed to places of persecution, dying under our care, or never getting here because of 'on water matters' designed to make sure they died in someone else's patch. The continual degradation of our online freedoms and privacy with one moronic policy after another. Actually going backwards on climate change and renewable energy. The entire 2014 budget.

With the shift to Malcolm Turnbull's leadership we see happy people. High approval ratings. Legislation being passed with compromise and nice things being said. Ok, it's only been a short time, but the contrast is remarkable.


What happens though to all that outrage?

A people so *used* to being angry, fueled by outrage, doesn't suddenly become peaceable. If I may use the phrase, 'some men need to war'… and when conditioned over such a long period to be in that state, it seems unthinkable that all that outrage will just dissipate.

We have seen some rather extraordinary outrage storms as people grasp at anything they are supposed to be outraged at.

The most bizarre for my money was the confected outrage that Gurrumul had won the world music ARIA award, a category which he had entered. No praise for winning, no mention of the fact he'd won this same award previously in 2008 and 2011, just a bizarre allegation that it was somehow improper to have an Indigenous Australian artist in a world music category.

Now, if you are say Joseph Tawadros – the oud virtuoso who had won the category for the three previous years – you'd have a right to be outraged, both for losing to a fairly average version of Amazing Grace and a few other nice hymns that are a bit of a stretch to call 'gospel', and the absolute hammering uneducated, ill-informed secondary audience outragers dealt to the very valued craft in both music and culture that is the world music scene. As should any world music artist who works hard at what they do.

Gurrumul's manager commented that he had been taken out of context, it's a non-issue and Gurrumul is happy with his ARIA thanks. Other artists and professionals from the music world generally were somewhat silent – probably as bemused as Gurrumul's people as to what the fuss was about – while this little outrage storm first developed a problem that wasn't there, got angry about it, ranted, and then moved on to the next subject like a locust swarm. Oblivious to the destruction caused and where they are going next, just buzzing frantically at whatever is in front of them.


From the Daily Mail's leaking of The Bachelorette's final choice, to Chris Kenny's reporting from Nauru, the outrage level is both palpable and irrational. If the mass that made up the Twitter/blogger community that drive and sustain most discussion in this country were a single person, you'd be sitting them down for an 'are you ok?' chat and suggesting a visit with a psychologist might help.

The blogs and opinion columns are by far the most visible site of the shift to misdirected outrage; from the rapid response posts to whatever Twitter is talking about to some really strange opinion pieces, such as this one which advocates making singing the national anthem compulsory in schools as the answer to our multicultural woes. It's like these writers don't know what to do with themselves now they don't have a Prime Minister to hate… or perhaps our media outlets don't know what to publish?

With time, hopefully things will right themselves. It would probably speed up that process if we recognise that there is a lot of undirected outrage generally in the community and it doesn't know where to go. If we each react less to the outrage of the day – or at least more rationally as of course there are still real issues to be concerned about – it may speed up the transition to a less angry nation.

The greatest hip-check that needs to happen is in those outlets where there is editorial control: just take a breath and ask 'is this outrage real and do we want to fuel it?'… before hitting the publish button.

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About the Author

Kathryn Crosby is a political and communication strategist with experience on the left, right, and centre including 14 months as the principal strategist for the Australian Democrats. A member of the International Association of Political Consultants when actively consulting, she is currently on sabbatical working on a book and splitting her time between Sydney and Jerusalem. Find her on twitter at @ktxby.

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