It was bound to happen eventually.
If the 24-hour television news culture didn’t do it to us, the internet was sure to.
I am talking about the phenomenon of Recreational Outrage.
Adapting the definition that one internet forum gives, we might say: “Recreational Outrage happens when a person expresses righteous indignation and outrage over something, usually (though not always) something in the news that is completely irrelevant to their life, thereby deriving (recreational) satisfaction from it, often with a sense of moral superiority. Recreational Outrage is thus to be distinguished from other forms of outrage.”
Examples of things that can provoke Recreational Outrage?
Internet comment boxes (also known as “comboxes” or “black holes of sin and despair”). So-called reality TV shows. Facebook. Television shows that focus on people’s problems, especially strange and unusual ones. Blogs (even blogs run by priests, though surely not this one). Gossip magazines and some news magazines. Books that document the results of so-called investigative journalism. Twitter. Did I mention internet comment boxes?
Recreational Outrage (RO) is not always as outrageous as it sounds. The name may be a bit hyperbolic. For it can take far more placid forms. For example, the very fact of spending time every day reading or watching things that have little to no import for my life, and deriving some satisfaction therefrom, could be an indication of at least a lesser form of RO.
The fact is that we live in a voyeuristic culture where we have gotten all too accustomed to knowing (and seeing) an awful lot more than we need to about other people and things in general. And our fallen human nature readily facilitates the temptation for us to be curious in an unhealthy way about these things, to make comparisons between ourselves and others, to sit in judgment over others, to criticize…
Translation: I don’t have to worry as much about my own problems, my own sins, my own areas of darkness, when I spend so much time focusing on others’!
Having so much information available to us gives us a certain sense of control, but so much of the time it actually gives us nothing but more things to worry and otherwise think about. So it causes us to be detached from reality. One thinks that he is in some way “in control” because he is “in the know”; but that is not the case at all. Think about folks who habitually try to argue issues on internet forums (or in comboxes), as if any serious problem is going to be solved there! Detachment from reality!!
I haven’t watched TV with any regularity for many years now; recently I gave up most internet news sources. I also gave up Facebook, and the number of blogs that I ever check is at a minimum (and yes, to be honest, I occasionally do give in to the temptation to read the comboxes, even though I SHOULDN’T. EVER.).
As a result, have I missed some news items – even big ones? Yes. But do I have a lot more peace in my life? YES. I am not spending nearly as much time reading about things happening in the world, worrying about them, even getting upset by them. And life goes on. We have enough serious issues to focus on in our immediate lives and in our daily sphere of activity; not the least of which is our own task of personal conversion.
Most of you who are reading this can recall a time before Recreational Outrage. You know, when life was simpler. OK, RO has always existed, but at least it wasn’t as common “back then”. One thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot more lately, ever since Pope Francis was elected, is simplicity of life. Eliminating RO and that which can lead to it is a big part of that, I think!