Manufactured outrage is among the most insidious problems in today’s media.
All it takes is one kneejerk smartphone user with an off-the-cuff reaction to a situation they see but do not understand, railing against the powers that be while shouting down a fury upon the supposed transgressors.
The internets cry out, the media sees an easy way to turnstile the clicks into their site, and away we go; buckle up!
Enter the kerfuffle of United Airlines versus The Pre-Teens and the No-Good, Very Bad Leggings.
The Twitter user, whose name I won’t bother lambasting with my scorn, called out United for the horror of 10-year-old-ish girls having to change their leggings because the Big Bad Meanie at the check-in counter said so.
Never mind that United replied saying that they were flying on passes and therefore were subject to friends-and-family policy. The media largely ignored this rebuttal and focused instead on the Fury of a Bajillion Social Media Users who have no time nor inclination to read more deeply into scandals as they happen.
Here’s the thing, though: The United reply is the story. The United reply is the fact. There is no scandal here.
I Spy a Sexist!
Instead, the scandal should be how we want to turn every little thing today into misogyny or an attack on women.
But if everything is a misogynistic abuse of powers, then nothing is. If everything is a social injustice, then nothing is. The girl who cried wolf must be very tired indeed from all that shouting.
As women, we have greater problems to fight than wrongful ones ignorantly put forth by some bystander in an airport who didn’t even bother to ask for reasons behind the supposed social crimes she witnessed.
Had she approached the father and said “Oh, my god! What’s the airline doing to you?” then he might have said something like, “Oh, my ex-wife works for the airline and the girls are flying free, but there’s a dress code that includes no casual sportswear, so they need to put on some pants or a skirt instead of the leggings.”
Right there we would have learned that he’s a paying customer, therefore can wear shorts, but they’re getting the gift of flights worth potentially thousands of dollars in exchange for wearing Not Leggings, and their mom works for the airline in question, explaining both the dress code and the kerfuffle and why they’re flying free. Or maybe Dad’s shorts are allowed because they’re long enough, dressy enough, and not tight-fitting.
But she didn’t ask. She assumed.
Critical Thinking: It’s a Thing
This is what’s wrong in a world where we’re all camera-packing phone-carrying spectators. Why get the facts first when we can enjoy the vicarious thrill of indignation and share our outrage with the masses, who can then roar angrily at the skies with us, affirming how righteous and plugged-in we are?
The strange irony in all this is that the media have not been ignoring mention of flying on passes. It’s in all the stories. It’s just relegated to one or two lines, usually buried midway through the article, and almost never near the lede or opening.
It is incumbent upon you, the reader, to be more thorough and purposeful as you make your way through stories, because you can very quickly jump over the two or three sentences that make it clear it is clickbaity manufactured outrage.
In a world of “fake news” and nearly-cartoonish, divergent politics in one of the most divided societies of my lifetime, it’s never been more critical for us to be judicious and restrained in how we consume the news.
Look for the replies, the he said/she said/they said elements. Check your gut reaction and take a moment to digest things. Or hey, how about reading the actual story or replies to accusations before tweeting or sharing?
But-But-But WOMEN and LEGGINGS and…
But still there are those who will say, “oh, this is still about women because no men were sent off!”
These people fail to realize men get sent off all the time too. If a man showed up in sweatpants, arguably the male counterpart to leggings, he’d be forced to change before boarding on a pass too. Open-toe shoes and sandals are also forbidden. Jeans often can’t be worn anywhere but in coach, and they can’t be torn or scraggly. T-shirts and tank tops are off-limits as well.
You say it’s a dated policy? Well, when you start your own airline, you can do what you like. These are major corporations who have international images to uphold in cultures beyond just America, and they often seat people flying on passes in First Class or Executive areas. In those instances, the people on passes must blend in. The airline can’t have a $2,000 seat looking like just anyone can ride there, they must maintain appearances. It’s business. And it’s a policy that literally goes back by decades!
Ain’t No Real News to See Here, Folks
This story is a non-story that no editor in the world would have ran as an article had it not been for the righteous indignation of the interwebs. Until Twitterites began gnashing their teeth upon it, this was a joke of a “scandal” with no real claim on injustice.
Oh, the horrors of having to change your pants for a couple thousand dollars in free flights. Some people would stab a granny for a free flight, let alone change their pants.
Stop letting social media untether you. The story isn’t the tweet — it’s the event behind the tweet. There are facts, there are reasons, there are extenuating circumstances. Look for them. In their absence, or their lack of justification, then let the outcry fly.
In an age of racial intolerance, real gender battles, lost freedoms, and unspeakable political corruption, these “manufactured outrage” stories are designed to distract us and entertain us. It’s lazy journalism led by the lowest common denominator — public outcry — and it’s all done in the name of getting eyes on the page so advertisers are appeased.
You’re better than this. Read the story and don’t be party to spreading unneeded, unhelpful outrage that is better channeled toward real controversies that demand our indignation and rage. (Cough — Russia — cough.)