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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Internalizing our Outbursts

An epidemic of ‘recent outbursts’ has united the traditionally disparate politics, entertainment, and sports sectors of our news media. The statements that Joe Wilson, Kanye West and Serena Williams recently shared with us were unprepared, but have left a greater impression on both journalists and readers than more polished ones, including President Obama’s health care speech last Wednesday, managed to.

Considering how little the three individuals have in common, it seems surprisingly coincidental that they all make similar pronouncements at the same time. But the widespread public response, not all of it negative, suggests that the idea of speaking plainly and passionately to authority is a demonstration of the direction we’ve collectively been moving towards’ for some time. How much do we depend on our public image to communicate?
Between Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, we manufacture an identity with the sole intention of exposing it to others. Public image has eclipsed personal identity. So when we something engages us, we allow everyone we know to have access to the sentiment. Sharing how we feel is simultaneously self-indulgent and universal: we share to reach out to other people’s experiences for sympathy, and’ to achieve a sense of’ release. ‘Getting it out’ for therapeutic effects is also ‘getting it out there.
Resultantly, communication is more self-referential than ever before. Obama’s’ prepared remarks are losing press time to these outbursts: in fact, our President got almost as much attention by referring to Kanye West as a ‘jackass’ off the record, as he did for his health care speech.
These insticts are not restricted to public figures. A lawyer who referred to a judge with expletives on his Twitter page was recently disciplined by the Bar.’ In a way, the ability to share our states of mind with so many people leads to a paradoxical limit on free speech; we have to be private about what we share with everyone.
With easy access to the websites and other media that institutions from our university to our government provide, including their unlikely Twitter and Facebook accounts, the means by which we tell our friends what we want’ have blended with the means by which we tell authority what we need.
The willingness to share our emotions and instincts with everyone coincides with a sense of self-righteousness that is derived from seeing those instincts published. Public figures generally serve as an example to us, but in this case West, Williams, and Wilson were following our lead in expressing what we think at the moment we think it. In this case, the outbursts were not trendsetting but respresentative. Their impropriety and lack of timing make them more human than we are.
All three outbursts were offensive but not unexpected. West has spoken out about politics, music, and politics within music, many times before; his observational commentary rivals his music’ in contributing to’ his persona. Serena Williams, like most athletes, is known to be passionate and success-oriented. Both Presidents Bush and Clinton were exposed to dissent within the government as well as from the public during sessions of Congress, and Wilson claimed after his outburst that he was ‘basically following the instructions of the Republican Party.’ Timing and simplicity separated these three’ outbursts from the rest. All three said exactly what they felt at the time they felt it, like a Twitter blast on live television. All three comments were succinct, unpretentious, and uninhibited, which is why we react more strongly to them than to prepared comments that seem disingenuous.’
Each individual felt personally threatened when they made their comment. Wilson has both Republican and Democratic colleagues who share the feeling that President Obama is taking avantage of our vulnerable national situation to institute measures that are unconstitutional, and that his presence and speaking ability allow him to get away with ‘misstating the facts.’ Williams defines herself by her success. West has repeatedly claimed that issues of race affect the outcomes of all awards and social institutions.
‘Apologizing’ is the next step of the controversy. After Wilson, West, and Williams have apologized to the people they offended, they have defended the way they chose to apologize to the media. How they cope with the aftermath is a genuinely interesting part of the process.
They’ve proven that there is no such thing as bad press. For his political insight, Joe Wilson has been awarded with a million dollars in campaign funds and widespread public support. Although most agree that his actions were rude or poorly timed, many’ acscribe the’ magnitude of their’ effect to their deliver. West has fallen prey to extremely negative feedback; after all, Taylor Swift is an uncommon target for criticism. West has since’ earned the opportunity to’ apologize to Swift publicly, both on the internet’ and at late night talk shows. Williams is using the press she has garnered to get sympathy (‘I am not a robot. I have a heart and I bleed.’) and advertise her recent memoir.
All three have made permanent contributions to their public personas. Each started the type of controversy that we like best: the kind we wish we could be performing. This is not dismissal of authority, or ascension to authority: it’s passion and a confession that what happens affects us. While their speeches were all insulting, they showed ‘ a kind of backwards respect for authority. How we choose to express it’ may have’ changed, but the fact that outside events affect our generation–which people mistakenly describe as desensitized or disinterested of authority–remains the same.
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