The cult of outrage: Offensiveness as a marketing tactic

Time magazine called the joke—made by a 6 year old, remember—“racially insensitive,” because the country holding American debt is China and not, say, Finland. A petition on the White House website calling for Kimmel’s head gathered 100,000 signatures, obligating the administration to respond. The Chinese Foreign Ministry, taking a break from being nasty to Tibetans, advocated that Kimmel “face [his] mistakes head on” and, after the comedian had issued two public apologies, demanded that a third be offered “with a sincere attitude.”

When Kimmel apologized outside ABC studios in Los Angeles, the outraged demanded that he craft contrite messages to parents, children, China, and humor-impaired humans across the country. Standing next to Kimmel, a man held a sign comparing the comedian to Adolf Hitler and claiming that he “promotes racial genocide.”

You see, Kimmel outraged people by mistake—he has no control over this media narrative—and mistakenly engaged in the type of controversy that loses one money. Outrage is desirable when selling records and waving one’s arms in search of media attention—provided one doesn’t trespass certain boundaries or offend organized and powerful pressure groups.