He is largely forgotten today, but ten years ago, a furious, wide-mouthed Kashmiri protester caused a stir in social media. His name was Shakeel Ahmad Bhat, but he became known as “Rage Boy.” Whenever cameras were present to record angry mobs protesting Israel, Pope Benedict, Salman Rushdie, or the Danish Muhammed cartoons, there was Rage Boy, demonstrating, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “his piety and pissed-offness.”
Then he disappeared. No one knew what happened to him. Until now. We now know that Rage Boy emigrated to the United States, cloned himself, joined both political parties, and became the guiding spirit of American opinion.
Thanks to the absorption of Rage Boys into the body politic, rivalries today are less contests over ideas or ideology as they are competitions over who can lay claim to the sincerest, most deep-seated sense of rage. We have become a nation of Rage Boys.
Consider last week’s Roseanne Barr episode.
Looking back on it, her noxious tweet about Valerie Jarrett might have been expected to cause revulsion, embarrassment, or perhaps pity. But it should not have caused outrage. For Roseanne Barr has been doing that sort of thing for years. In 2013, she tweeted that Susan Rice, President Obama’s National Security Advisor, “is a man with big swinging ape balls.” Last August, she called Hillary Clinton’s former aide Huma Abedin “a filthy nazi whore.”
Anyone interested in such things knows that Roseanne Barr lives in a sick fantasy world. She has accused President George W. Bush of masterminding 9/11 to destroy Enron records. She has accused President Obama of contriving the Boston Marathon bombing to abolish the Second Amendment. She veers from issue to issue, from extreme to extreme, like a pendulum of paranoia. She has called Israel “a Nazi state” and accused it of being “inhuman” toward Hamas. She has defended and promoted a Holocaust-denying musician. Then, last month, she changed course and announced that she loves Israel so much, she is considering moving there and running for Prime Minister.
If there were any outrage to be expended over the episode, it should have been directed at ABC, which decided to reboot her television show, knowing that it would give her a platform to amplify her psychotic histrionics. ABC’s conduct was as outrageous as the parents of a teenager with a drinking problem giving their son a sports car for his birthday.
But outrage is the modern default reaction to all developments. So there was Al Sharpton on MSNBC, angrily blaming President Trump for Barr’s tweet for “normalizing racism.” There was Lindy West in the New York Times, contending that Barr’s tweet shows that “racism is America’s defining sickness,” a sickness which “kills people every day.”
Then the Rage Boys on the Right responded. The first attempt was to remind the public that Bill Maher had once explained Donald Trump’s hair by speculating that his “mother had sex with an orangutan.” That didn’t gain much traction because there is general agreement that President Trump, due to his own repeated outrageous comments directed at others, has forfeited the right to claim outrage for himself.
But then the Rage Boys on the Left handed the Rage Boys on the Right a gift, in the form of Rage Girl Samantha Bee’s use of the word “cunt” to describe Ivanka Trump.
Here, let us pause to observe that media commentators have almost universally refrained from repeating Bee’s slur. Instead, they delicately refer to “the C-word,” much as the offensive term “nigger” is demurely referred to as “the N-word.” These exercises in faux decorum are not the product of gentility. Rather, they too are part of the Rage Boy syndrome. Commentators treat these disgusting but common epithets as possessing such awful power that they cannot be safely uttered. That, in turn, allows them to don full Rage Boy Mode whenever others pronounce them.
The “cunt” comment gave the Right the weapon it needed in the media rumble. Now they could compete for outrage with their opponents on the Left, and demand that Samantha Bee be fired from her show to balance the firing of Roseanne Barr. The result has been a debate as to whether comparing an African American to an ape is worse than, better than, or equal to calling a young woman a cunt. A Fox News commentator captured the outrage competition:
Barr’s tweet triggered outrage – as it should have – but there was less outrage to be heard about Bee’s use of the vile, most disgusting word you can use to describe a woman, by someone who would describe herself as a feminist.
To paraphrase a former President who lived in a more serious time: “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing which outrage, the outrage of the Left or the outrage of the Right, can longer endure.”
The tragedy of the Rage Boy culture is the toll it takes on civic discourse. When real adults argue, they muster their facts and apply logic, in an effort to reach a sound conclusion. When Rage Boys argue, they vent. Anger and frustration are their rhetorical weapons of choice. The greater their indignation, they believe, the stronger must be their case.
In a nation of Rage Boys, argument emanates, not from the brain, but from the spleen.