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The offended nation, Pt. 1

by Bradley Gitz | March 6, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

Lots of people these days claim to be offended or even "traumatized" by lots of things. The hunch is that the vast majority are lying about it. And lots of the people who claim to believe those lies are likely lying too.

The first group lies about being offended or traumatized by implausible offenses for the same reason little children throw tantrums -- to get attention. The second group lies about believing the lies of the first group to signal their virtue; more precisely, their solidarity with those claiming (usually falsely) to be victims of homophobia, white supremacy, cultural appropriation or whatever else is out there.

Both groups consist largely of phonies engaged in performative theater, the first seeking the mantle of victimhood, the second recognition of their moral superiority.

Because our culture has incentivized being offended, we have created a 24/7 fake outrage machine, wherein an increasing proportion of the population spends an increasing proportion of their time looking for things to be offended by and almost always finding it.

Why is it reasonable to believe that so many people are lying about such matters (apart from the sheer frequency of claims of offense that should by itself encourage a healthy skepticism regarding much of it)?

Because while it is possible -- nay, easy to understand -- that a Black American would be troubled by a Confederate flag flying from a public building or white supremacists marching down the streets of Charlottesville, Va., no remotely reasonable person, regardless of race or gender, is genuinely traumatized by characters in "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," James Bond's casual sexism in "Goldfinger," or Harry Potter video games.

Anyone who claims to be "threatened" or made to "feel unsafe" by a work of art, a book, or a movie deserves derision, not sympathy; they aren't victims but liars trying to put one over on us (and if not liars then almost certainly nutjobs to be avoided).

That such claims of offense are patently absurd is also suggested by the ease with which that which offends thee can be avoided. If you come across characters or language in a novel that you find disturbing, you can stop reading it; if you don't like what you see on the movie screen, you can get up and leave the theater; if you see something on television that doesn't sit well with your tender sensibilities, you can turn the thing off, or maybe just to another channel (TV remotes are especially useful in that regard).

What you don't do -- if you wish to be something other than a little totalitarian goon, that is -- is demand that the book in question ceases to be published (or is cleansed of the passages and characters you disapprove of, to your satisfaction) or that movies and TV programs you find objectionable be suppressed or censored to fit your predilections.

If a speaker whose politics you don't share arrives on campus to give a public talk, you can choose not to attend (thereby sparing yourself the trauma flowing from exposure to new ideas), but you don't have the right to disrupt his speech and thereby deprive both the speaker of the right to speak and those wishing to listen to what he has to say to hear it.

While there is no such thing as a right to not be offended, there is most certainly a right to freedom of speech, which includes the possibility of speech (and movies and books) giving offense, particularly for easily triggered, profoundly neurotic souls.

Any of us with a brain bigger than a pea knows that the real goal of those constantly claiming to be offended (usually via Twitter) is to acquire the "heckler's veto," more specifically, the power to suppress opposing views and cultural artifacts by claiming to suffer imaginary harm from them.

We have thus arrived at a truly remarkable cultural moment, one in which spoiled children masquerading as adults demand to be protected from the routine rough-and-tumble of everyday life and from hearing ideas different from the ones they already hold (and which are invariably held as the result of precious little reflection since, by definition, such reflection would have precluded consideration of alternative views).

Alas, these tendencies have been encouraged over time by our indulgence; more specifically, by our increasing unwillingness to tell such twits to suck it up, get real lives and find ways to make themselves useful.

What everyone should hear -- that not everything is about you and your needs; in fact, virtually nothing is -- isn't heard nearly enough. "Sticks and stones might break my bones, but names will never hurt me" has consequently been replaced by "I'm triggered by life."

If you don't like something, don't read, watch or buy it, and let others make the same decisions. It really is that simple, at least for anyone who doesn't think it is the primary responsibility of the rest of the world to indulge their sensitivities.

As such, perhaps the best response to all the performative outrage provoked by all kinds of fake offenses comes from a movie that has long been a target for the drive-by cancelers, that last line uttered by the character played by Clark Gable.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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