Amid the concerns about the state of US manufacturing there is one sector that seems to be thriving. The manufacture of outrage is booming, and its finding new and exciting ways to propel itself forward. Coca Cola’s Super Bowl ad, in which “America the Beautiful” is sung in several languages became the touchstone for anger in this year’s celebration of the gridiron. As the New York Times would have us believe this ad led to an explosion of conservative anger over the idea that the beauty of America can be expressed in tongues other than English. Their evidence of outrage included an innocuous blog post by one ex congressman, a tweet from a Fox News radio host and a hashtag that allegedly trended as a result of conservative xenophobia. Several outlets have listed as many as 10 or 20 tweets by outraged conservatives as evidence of this widespread hatred of the ad. As is to be expected, The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz jumped into the fray too, mocking the lack of tolerance for non english speakers in his column. But was there really a widespread conservative backlash to the ad? Or a serious threat to boycott America’s soda? There demonstrably was not.
My brother in law works for an ad agency. He recently told me about the Super Bowl “party” at his office. The creative types sit around computers watching events unfold, hoping to capture and create a Twitter event along the lines of Oreo’s blackout sensation from a year ago. Their clients might not be able to buy a million dollar ad, but they can piggyback off of the most watched event in the country. This is exactly what has happened with Coca Cola’s new bilingual attempt to teach the world to sing. Alan West’s post and the tweets from offended conservatives were grabs for attention. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Being paid attention to is the new industry, it is the bread and the butter. But it does not represent any consensus, or even majority among conservatives. As obvious as that fact may be, it did not stop the more progressive media from pouncing and creating their own tweetable moment.
One could almost taste the sweat of Talking Points Memo’s outrage as they railed against the intolerance of the conservative reaction. The supercons at Breitbart then made a half hearted effort to defend the idea that the ad was offensive, adding the gay parents that everyone had forgotten about to the list of its sins. Then Buzzfeed got into the act, listing a handful offensive tweets like bizarre post modern footnotes. As their post ran round and round Facebook the anger increased. Just look at the horrible things @NobodyHasAnyIdeaWhoIAm just said! And so it goes, until the Grey Lady and USA Today and the LA Times all see a story and tell it.
The fact of the matter is that conservative reaction to the ad was by no means consistent, much like the conservative reaction to everything these days. Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of Redstate vociferously defended the ad, noting that “e pluribus unum” is not in English either. And he makes a good point. There is a lot for conservatives to celebrate in the ad. As beat up as America and its values may seem, they still transcend language and culture. There is no cultural relativism in the ad, it is a full throated endorsement of the universality of the desire for freedom. In fact, had the rubric of conservative outrage never emerged, one can imagine a progressive outrage at the conformity of cultures being squeezed into the capitalist American values box.
In this case the sound and fury does signify something. It embodies our discontent. The new media’s passion is for low hanging fruit, for the lowest common denominators that represent everything reprehensible to somebody. It makes every day a day to be outraged. A day to post and tweet and google plus, if one is so inclined. Outrage is a commodity, it commands attention. We crave outrage, outrage at our political leaders, or bosses, or spouses, its a good feeling to be outraged. Its a moment when all that matters is how you feel, how you feel is all that matters. But outrage has its limitations. It does not allow for the vulnerability that serious thought requires. It is a bad angel on our shoulders, whispering self fulfilling prophecies.
In the end everybody got what they wanted from the Coke ad. The company got many free replays, its opponents glimpsed a moment of the sun, and its defenders got to shine their armor.