I think the indignation machine is broken.
First, Teamsters President James Hoffa suggests that his audience “take those sons of bitches out” — in reference to the Tea Party — in his introduction to President Obama’s speech at a rally this weekend.
Then there’s this online game at TeaPartyZombiesMustDie.com, a first-person shooter targeting Fox News personalities.
And — neither a bang nor a whimper.
The media, by and large, doesn’t seem particularly overwhelmed by news of this video game. “TeaPartyZombiesMustDie.com,” they murmur, bemused. “That would be a good name for a band.”
Where is the indignation? Indignation is one of the sole reliable products of the 24-hour news machine. It’s one of the few areas in which we are outcompeting China. It’s our primary export, right up there with prematurely inane commentary on Mitt Romney’s hair and notes on Rick Perry’s debating style.
A minor newscaster says something vaguely sexist, and all Hell breaks loose for several days. Someone calls the president something anatomical, and everyone debates it on the air for weeks. Someone threatens violence, and he disappears underground, never to be seen again.
And now — there’s sort of a weak straining sound of people trying but failing to be upset. The indignation machine seems to have popped a gasket somewhere.
Except at Fox News, where it is functioning perhaps better than usual.
“I'm personally flattered to be included in this young game-maker’s efforts to be funny, and I even support his First Amendment rights to produce things that are in poor taste or unseemly to rational people, but I do not support the hypocrisy of the left who scream at all offenses they can manufacture toward conservatives, but turn their backs on the same standards when applied to someone of their own political ilk," Mike Huckabee told Fox News.
Is this fair? And are these two incidents parallel?
Well, yes and no.
I tried to get indignant about the game. I really did. This morning, I sat and furrowed my brow and thought dark thoughts for a good half-hour.
But I couldn’t do it. The only time I get indignant about video game violence is if I hear that someone has used a video game cartridge to physically injure a real person. Up until that point, you can do whatever you want to whatever animated hookers you’d prefer. As the Supreme Court noted, this is what the Founders would have wished. Jefferson was notorious for his affinity for Grand Theft Carriage.
Talking about video games reminds me of an Oscar Wilde quip about the whether — “Don’t talk to me about the weather,” one of his characters says. “Whenever people talk to me about the weather I always feel quite certain that they mean something else.”
That’s how it tends to be with video game indignation. The sets of People Who Get Upset About Violent Video Games and People Who Have Played Video Games Even Once Or Twice With Any Enjoyment Whatsoever tend not to overlap at all. The game is a proxy. Too much violence amongst youth? There must be a game we can blame! This isn’t free speech! Free speech doesn’t include zombies!
But the reason people seem so indignant about this video game is that no one is indignant about the video game.
“Come on!” they insist. “You just know that if there were anything like this targeting people left of the line, you’d have a field day.”
Well, perhaps. I checked online, in a search that will no doubt result in my being spirited off to an undisclosed location right after posting this piece, for “first-person shooter Barack Obama.” I found a game where you could use Barack Obama to fight zombies — not treasonous, unless you are as bad at the game as I am and the zombies keep winning — and a few Obama-targeting modifications to levels of something called LittleBigPlanet2, which is not a first-person shooter game.
But what about real speech — such as James Hoffa’s remarks?
“Take those sons of bitches out!”
He called them what? In an introduction to the president? Without apology?
Someone ought to get this guy and Rick Perry together!
Ah, there goes the indignation machine again, whirring back into action.
Experience has shown that it is both flippant and wrong to say, “In general, one never worries about inflammatory rhetoric on the left, as picking up a gun would require them to put down the latte and stop hugging that endangered elm.” It would be needlessly reductive to suggest that “the only time liberals threaten to resort to extremes is when you put a paywall on the New York Times.”
This is both erroneous and oversimplified. People who make inflammatory statements exist on both sides of the line. People who castigate those people exist on both sides of the line, too. In fact, sometimes it seems as though the only hobby of most cable news denizens is either making inflammatory statements themselves or yelling at other people for making inflammatory statements, with a side of failing to yell because they are on vacation somewhere.
Maybe what should make us the most indignant is that people are scarcely ashamed of bad behavior anymore. Zombies Must Die? Hardly what I’d call subtle. “SOBs”? You don’t know that for certain! “We would treat [Ben Bernanke] pretty ugly down in Texas,” Rick Perry? Shouldn’t that be an adverb? From Rick Perry on the “treasonous” Fed to James Hoffa, this unabashed bashing is becoming something of a national pastime.
“Why should I apologize?”everyone asks. “I energized the base! If anything you should thank me.”
“Why aren’t you yelling at Hoffa?” Tea Partyers demand.
“We are saving that energy for yelling at you!” the Teamsters shout back. “Be honest, you would do the same.”