I refused to kiss a guy who’d given me a ride on his motorbike when I was 19 and in retaliation he punched me hard enough in the stomach that I doubled over. I was so shocked that one human would do that to another that I actually did not know how to react.
It was a bit of the same stunned immobility that took over when I was attacked on Monday by a newspaper columnist over my “weird” decision to take my six-month-old daughter to a film premiere dressed in nothing but her nappy.
The column was a piece-by-piece takedown accusing me of being a dodgy mother making a “massive fashion faux-pas” with my infant. An accompanying photo showed me beaming proudly at the camera while holding my surprised-looking baby. (Photographers seem to love a baby. I love a baby! I love nothing more that the rolls of fat on a baby’s legs, than the smooth, downy head, the oversized eyes, the flawless skin.)
The ensuing furore was nothing new. I’ve been at the centre of a furore before and I have an idea of how it goes:
Someone says something that is designed to provoke “outrage”. “Outrage” creates a delightful cocktail of anger and righteousness that gives the beholder permission to spew poison, insults and hate at whomever has provoked the outrage.
So in this case, the columnist created a two-pronged outrage. One – directed at me, for being so crappy a person as to take my child to a fancy event chronically under-dressed. How dare I? The other – directed at himself for being a judgemental douchebag who really has no right to comment. It’s a win-win for the columnist, of whom no one has ever previously heard and whose worth is measured in clicks.
If someone at the centre of the furore weighs in – apologises, for instance, or adds a fresh viewpoint, or stands up for herself, the story has steam that will get it through to another day.
If you ever feel outrage at something you see online, I suggest you look twice. You’re usually being played. And watch how far that outrage goes: sometimes the behavior of the outraged is far worse than that which provoked it.