A couple of recent news stories underline a broad problem with our culture. On January 11, ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson gave some drunken remarks at a roast that were laced with profanity and disrespectful of Christianity; she was suspended for a week, but there continue to be calls for her firing. (Hat tip to S. T. Karnick for alerting me to it.)
And over at Fox News a couple of days ago, John Gibson made some tasteless comments making fun of the death of actor Heath Ledger; there were demands that Gibson, too, be fired.
The Jacobson incident provides my template for understanding these controversies more generally, because it specifically involves Christianity. As a professing Christian myself, I think we Christians should serve as a model for others in this culture, and show them there’s a better way than always demanding punishment for slights to one’s group. Being Christian, in my view, is an identity beyond identity politics, so my first thought about Dana Jacobson was not, “how dare she insult my religion,” but “the poor dear, she really needs to confront the fact that she’s drinking too much.” Our culture needs a corrective to the pile-on aspect of public denunciations, in which pounds of flesh are ritually exacted for offenses to the sensibilities of organized groups — and who better than Christians to lead the way?
The alternative is to continue down the road to the institutionalized Two-Minute Hate. Dana Jacobson and John Gibson — not to mention Don Imus and the other Gibson, Mel — say something we don’t like. Shocking! Horrible! They must be fired! In today’s “politics of the Thunderdome,” we’re all encouraged to be little mini-Roman emperors, with our thumbs-up and thumbs-down determining the fate of the gladiators. I look at the gladiators and say, O.K., my opinion (if anyone asks) is, I disapprove, but am I really supposed to get all worked up because somebody, somewhere, is being a jerk? Bill Bennett wrote a book about a decade ago called The Death of Outrage; I think that title describes the exact opposite of our problem today. What we have now is a culture that thrives on 24/7 outrage, with somebody new proposed for our hatred every few days.
I think there is a better way.
– Michael Potemra is National Review’s literary editor.