What is Performative Outrage?
By Brooklyn White
Earlier this year, I was asked to share my thoughts on one of the many instances of Kardashian racism. What I was really being asked for was a sprawling display of anger and Tumblr rhetoric that would get some digital attention. The Kardashian’s latest calculated headline was gross to see, but it was not worth me creating a Twitter thread or a lengthy thinkpiece. I knew that giving in to intense anger that I didn’t really feel wouldn’t really help anyone.
But, this is the world that we live in. One in which any emotion can be stretched beyond the bounds of reality for the sake of a retweetable moment. It is usually obvious when very few people (if anyone), actually has feelings behind what they’re talking about, at least to me. But I fear that some people cannot tell the real from the fake, and thus takes some of the validity away from instances in which people are actually pissed.
Pop culture outlet Clevver TV reported that Kendall Jenner was accused of cultural appropriation following a Vogue editorial that featured her with teased hair. Model Aerin Creer called Clevver out, saying “FYI this is what outrage promotion/marketing looks like. No real conversation was happening around her hair, or her Vogue editorial in general. News outlets will tell you there is one in an effort to create buzz because they know politics is “in””. Creer is right - there wasn’t a big to-do about it. But in an effort to capitalize on large audience of Vogue and Black rage, they made it seem as if Black people actually cared. This is one of the outcomes of performative outrage - people come to expect it and plan ways to gain from it.
The concept of cancelling (which in theory, is the immediate and finite dismissal of an individual and their work upon the discovery of damning information) is linked to eIndignation. Multiple celebrities have been cancelled, the majority of them for rational reasons. R. Kelly is a predator and this has been confirmed multiple times over the past two decades. Therefore, his music no longer has a place in some people’s playlists. Tekashi 69 sexually violated a girl, so his music ceases to exist. The City Girls were revealed to have homophobic and anti-Haitian throwback tweets, and the internet set them on fire for a few days. In a piece about cancel culture for Revolt TV, KC Orcutt wrote, “When it comes to cancel culture as a broad concept,...denouncing support doesn't always equate with...someone's career [being] over. The work is just now beginning, whether it is in how to hold others accountable and achieve restorative justice, or in how the person being "canceled" chooses to move next.” Brother Nature is the most recent person to be cancelled for old, now deleted remarks. However, it did not last very long.
If you are going to be mad, be mad. I am not condemning true feelings. I want people to speak on the things that are awful, But, do not start a fire for the sake of socially conscious brownie points. You are not solving a problem and the attention is undeserved. Fake outrage will not get you, or the masses, far. Let’s keep it a buck.