Culture

The Eight Best/Worst Outrages Of 2014

The scandals. The backlashes. The backlashes against the backlashes. We look back at the best and the blurst.

Was 2013 peak outrage? Based on the evidence of those twelve head-snapping, blood-boiling months, you’d have an easy time making the case. After all, it gave us Robin Thicke’s unutterably queasy ‘Blurred Lines’, Lily Allen’s ‘Hard Out Here’ video, the debatable racial politics of Lorde’s ‘Royals’, new seasons of Girls, and Game of Thrones, Lance Armstrong’s doping, a Toronto mayor who smokes crack, an embarrassing Federal election, and (*whispers*) Miley Cyrus.

If you had rolled into January 1, 2014 unsure that you were capable of being offended by anything ever again, no one would have blamed you. But then… it started. Events, global and local. Topics, serious and trivial. The internet, it showed you things. Outrageous things. Soon the hot takes dived down your throat just as fast as, well, hot cakes.

What’s that? You’ve forgotten? The outrage passed as quickly as a summer rain? We can help.

Come with us now as we look back on eight of 2014’s Best/Worst outrages, and set off on a journey to the outer reaches of the human ability to tolerate other people’s crappiness.

With respect to Donald Sterling, Redfoo, the Facebook Mood Study, that weird new lightsaber in Star Wars, anybody published on Thought Catalog, and all of the other very terrible stuff in the world that would actually be inappropriately trivialised by appearing on this list you didn’t make the cut.

#8: Bono Wants To Give You An Unbeatable Deal 

bono

Aging, out of touch rock band doesn’t really understand this whole ‘music industry’ thing anymore, partners with sinister, enormous corporation to foist their new album on anyone with iOS, whether they goddam like it or not.

The Backlash:

People were… not pleased:

Our old friend social media soon turned this weird, would-be coup into a PR disaster. Twitter users worldwide leapt online to complain about the sudden lack of space on their iPhones, the privacy implications of Apple’s conduct, or about the trauma of being exposed to U2’s music more generally.

The Backlash to the Backlash:

The dour, sensible minded among us pointed out that iOS users should stop whingeing and simply delete the album from their devices. But, more importantly, Bono himself owned up to the fiasco on a Facebook q and a, admitting,  “we kind of got carried away with ourselves”.

Who Won?

Well, people who like U2 got a free album. People who hate U2 got to make another notch on their belt. People who’d never heard of U2 got to learn about a new thing! Everyone wins! (Except U2; they just get $100 million)

#7: Taylor Swift Pulls A Miley Cyrus

When Taylor Swift surprise-released ‘Shake it Off’—the first single from her latest album 1989— accompanied by a video in which she goofily attempts a number of different dancing styles, the initial response hinged on Swift’s long-expected turn away from country into full pop stardom.

Would that this oh-so-innocent reaction could have lasted.

Taylor swift dance

The Backlash:

Soon, commentators starting mulling over the depiction of black dancers in her video, and the implications of Swift’s facetious, half-hearted cultural appropriation.

The brouhaha kicked off with a series of tweets from Earl Sweatshirt, of Odd Future:

Other detractors pointed out that despite the video’s silliness, Swift’s aloof, bemused response to the black dancer’s movements strikes an impolitic note. Pitchfork’s Jessica Hopper, in a roundtable for Wandering Sound, accused Swift of playing on the “historic, racist mythology about black women’s sexuality in order to underscore her own”.

The Backlash to the Backlash:

The video’s director Mark Romanek soon spoke out in an interview with Vulture, explaining that the dancers were chosen on the basis of talent, without regard for race or ethnicity, and that while the overall tone is satirical, the video as a whole is “massively inclusive”. Normally, evidence of an artist’s paltry ‘intentions’ would have little effect on a full-blown public outrage flood, but Romanek’s comments pretty much quietened the whole thing down.

Who won?

The critics. If this was 2013, the whole thing might have turned into a Miley Cyrus-style affaire du twerk and none of us would be alive to talk about it. But the truncated cycle on Swift’s gaffe suggests that the public appetite for outrage criticism has shrunk back to moderate levels. Canny commentators might now be forced to think creatively about the best way to re-engage a fatigued public with a moral approach to aesthetics.

#6: Mark Holden Ignites Pure Terror on Dancing with the Stars

When oft-forgotten television personality Mark Holden elected to perform a clowning routine on an otherwise normal week of Dancing with the Stars, the Australian viewing public collectively cringed so hard we bruised our internal organs.

Embarrassment quickly turned to horror as the luridly inappropriate sexual undertones of the act became apparent, and as Holden’s appearance gradually resolved itself in our minds as the living manifestation of Pennywise the clown.

His wife slept in a different bed that night. News coverage the next day was not favorable.

The Backlash:

If many people had the impulse to defend the performance, they had the god-given sense to keep their mouths shut. From Holden’s camp there was nothing but utter, alarmed contrition.

Holden admitted to Mix101.1 that he was “feeling the shame” and clarified that he was not, in fact, “on the turps” (“that was sober Holden”). His explanation that the “clown just erupted and I couldn’t control it” is—if you really stop and think about the implications—just about the scariest thing you’ve ever heard.

The Backlash to the Backlash:

Contrary to all popular wisdom, Holdie has doubled-down on this whole clown business, releasing an absolutely terrible song called ‘If I Was Keith Richards’ from his new musical venture Holden Bros Travelling Circus.

In the video, Holden appears as clown strumming a guitar, legs spread suggestively.

Who Won?

The Australian public. The scourge of Holden’s clowning may not be over, but at least we now know that the spirit of the clown can possess any one of our celebrities at any time. Which poor soul will be next?

#5: Food Suppliers Make Food For Muslim People?

As you might expect in a multicultural, capitalist society, some food suppliers like to make their products available to the broadest possible customer base, even if that entails adjusting their production processes in order to respect religiously mandated dietary restrictions.

Pretty normal stuff.

The Backlash:

That doesn’t stop people getting huffy about it, though, for a variety of specious reasons – including the sneaking, absolutely unfounded suspicion that the costs associated with halal certification eventually, somehow, filter into the pockets of Islamic radicals.

When the news that Four’n’Twenty pies label some—not all—of their products halal filtered slowly through the web, the company’s Facebook page came under a sustained barrage of abuse, to which it responded firmly, if politely.

Four'N Twenty image

Poor South Australian dairy business Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company had a less easy go of it.

Having agreed to engage in halal certification in order to secure a lucrative contract with Emirates airlines—a procedure that alters nothing about their standard production practices—the company soon found itself with the unwanted attention of the Boycott Halal in Australia Facebook group, and pseudo-consumer watchdog Halal Choices website.

Screen shot from halalchoices.com.au

Screen shot from halalchoices.com.au

Concerned for employee welfare, Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company removed its halal certification, with the status of its Emirates contract unclear.

The Backlash to the Backlash:

In a grand bit of trolling, satirical SBS web entity The Backburner published a fake news article about a Brisbane man dying of dehydration after refusing to drink water on the grounds that it is technically halal.

Gloriously, the article was circulated around anti-halal Facebook groups, apparently under the assumption that it was real. Pie met face.

Who Won?

This is a tricky one. On the one hand, unfriending people on Facebook has never been such an easy decision. On the other, small businesses are being pressured into endangering valuable sources of revenue by a maniacal fringe. And oh, wait, Pauline Hanson is back, with halal at the top of her issues list. Just. Great.

#4: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Trump Kendrick Lamar at The Grammys

grammys

The win of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis over Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys in January had all the air of an oncoming semi-trailer plowing into your windscreen: everybody sees it coming; nobody likes it. But there it is.

The well-mannered, white bread, kid-friendly ‘Thrift Shop’ and its album The Heist took the awards for Rap Performance, Song, and Album over Lamar’s actually respected Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.

The Backlash:

Immediate and punishing. Every mildly hip-hop conscious person was able to formulate an opinion on this. The Twitter furor was widely circulated – including, for some reason, this early response from actor Michael Rapaport:

Macklemore’s response was almost pre-emptively apologetic.

He Instagramed a text message to Lamar, claiming “it’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you”, and went on radio station HOT97 the next morning to reiterate the sentiment.

MacklemoreText

The Backlash to the Backlash:

The next salvo revolved around Lamar’s response, which was extremely—dare I say strategically—gracious. Speaking to XXL Magazine, Lamar called Macklemore’s win well-deserved: “He went out there and hustled and grinded. Everything happens for a reason; the universe comes back around, that’s how it go.”

Who won?

In the long run, Lamar, undoubtedly. By being visibly nice and underappreciated, he wins both side of the conversation, and gets to continue his rise as rap’s next big thing unencumbered by early stardom. Macklemore, meanwhile, has to scrape together a follow-up to The Heist under a decidedly curdled level of fame.

The only thing better than winning an award is famously, unjustly losing one.

#3: A Man Would Like You To Pay You A Compliment In A Way That Makes You Uncomfortable

Apparently many human males have not yet learned that physically or verbally interfering with a stranger in a public place is not a good strategy to gain her affection or interest.

The Backlash:

In an effort to raise awareness of street harassment of women, activist organisation Hollaback! produced a video of actress Shoshana Roberts spending ten hours walking through New York City, during which time she receives the frequent, unwanted attention of strange men. The clip pretty quickly went viral, with many publications pointing out that the film documents the insidious, everyday quality of this particular species of sexism in irrefutable terms.

 

The Backlash to the Backlash:

Then it gets complicated.

Keen watchers noted that the majority of catcallers are black and Latino, with white men conspicuously absent. The video’s director, Rob Bliss, hopped on Reddit and claimed that most of the harassment from white men happened “in passing”, and had to be excised from the video (his post has since been deleted).

Enterprising analysts calculated that, in fact, 59% of the shots were filmed on one street, 125th Street Harlem, a majority black neighborhood.

Who benefited?

Ultimately, Hollaback! comes out of this not too shabbily. They’ve raised awareness of their issue—albeit under disputed circumstances—and, more importantly, learned a valuable lesson about how to not misrepresent their cause or insult potential sympathetic parties. Also they got money.

In a statement released shortly after the criticism began, the organisation pledged to use the money raised to develop a more racially inclusive video series.

#2: The Abbott Government

Oh, jeeze. Wow. Where to start?

The Medicare co-payment that was then wasn’t? The attacks on higher education? The budget cuts at the ABC and SBS? The absurd new Work for the Dole measures? The fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of class in this country? The basic disrespect to our nation’s Indigenous people? The implementation of barbaric border protection policies that imprison asylum seekers in inhumane, rights-violating offshore detention centres, and led to the death of Iranian man Reza Berati? The various other horrible stuff?

This thing?

abbottwink

The Backlash:

Persistent and gaining. The Opposition is taking some baby steps to not being a total wallflower. Plus when this kind of thing is happening on morning television, you can sense that a national mood is emerging.

 

The Backlash to the Backlash:

A bullish, mendacious refusal to accept reality (which may finally be easing off).

Who Won?

Umm, hopefully, one day, our children? Someone’s children, at least.

#1: Julien Blanc Would Like To Offer You Dating Advice

Apparently some male humans have not yet learned that physically or verbally assaulting any women in any kind of space—public or private—is not a good strategy to gaining their affection or interest – or even, let’s face it, a morally conscionable strategy. That doesn’t stop some bros from offering how-to classes, though!

Like, for instance, the people at ‘dating advice’ organisation Real Social Dynamics, and their awful ‘executive coach’ Julien Blanc, who travelled to Australia to offer seminars in November and December.

The Backlash:

Thankfully, a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #takedownjulienblanc, led by American activist Jennifer Li, quickly raised awareness of Blanc and RSD’s activities, and forced local venues to reconsider their plans to host any seminars. When Blanc’s assistant attempted to move an RSD event onto a Melbourne River Cruises boat on the Yarra at night, the venue was quickly surrounded by protesters. The boat owners cancelled the event. RSD customers were escorted off the venue by police and slunk back into the night.

Scott Morrison, in an uncharacteristic display of moral feeling, cancelled Blanc’s visa, and the police summarily announced his exit from our shores.

The Backlash to the Backlash:

Blessedly little. In fact, the backlash rolls on, with Blanc now barred from entry into the UK, and Singapore, with more citizens in Japan, Korea, and Brazil now urging their governments to refuse visas.

Real Social Dynamics has allegedly been forced to move their seminars online, out of fear for the safety of their ‘instructors’.

Who Benefited?

All right-thinking people, everywhere. If you treat women like dirt, the world’s tolerance is fading, your cultural capital is shrinking, and there is nowhere for you to hide, on land or sea. Good riddance to shit people.

James Robert Douglas is a freelance writer and critic in Melbourne. His work has been found in The Big Issue, Meanland, Screen Machine, and the Meanjin blog. He tweets from @jamesrobdouglas