I’ve long held that our national past time isn’t really baseball; it’s righteous indignation. That’s right, we love to take offense. We’re a nation of individuals, rooted in the ideals of the 18th Century Enlightenment where the notion of the individual really began to solidify. Just look at the concept of individual property rights in Britain at the time – the theft of so much as a loaf of bread was a capital crime. It was righteous indignation that gave birth to our country, and righteous indignation is our favorite hobby to this day.
Let’s take a look at the Paula Deen controversy. I’m not going to weigh in on whether she’s right or wrong, a victim or a villain, whether she should be left alone or hanged by her thumbs. What I will go out on a limb and say is that I don’t think anybody’s really that offended. It’s not like we find the word she said so repugnant that we make wholesale warfare on idiom itself. If we did that, hip hop would cease to exist. We’re “offended” because:
A. We like to feel morally superior whenever a public figure has a crack in their veneer. “Look at me, I’m less racist than Paula Deen!”
B. PR Disasters are our national blood sport, and that makes media ad space sellers happy.
C. We love that freedom of speech that allows us to vamp on an opinion.
When I suggest Paula Deen is a gladiator, I’m not suggesting that she’s some sort of miniskirt wearing swordsman fighting the good fight for truth, justice, and two sticks of butter. The gladiatorial parallel I suggest is similar to what happens at the end of the joust, when she’s standing there quivering and covered in blood, waiting for the thumbs up or thumbs down that will irrevocably decide her fate. Only this time we’re the Emperor, and we’re deciding with a mouse click.
We say “Oh, those Romans were barbaric! Feeding Christians to lions and that sort of thing.” But the truth is, we’re no better. We can’t pass up the opportunity to give our literal thumbs down on an online discussion thread and decide the fate of someone who’s fallen from grace. We’ll cut the cord and then turn our backs and say, “She brought it on herself. If only she were as morally upstanding as I.”
Whether it’s early Christians or celebrity chefs, I guess it’s just human nature to want to see somebody get ripped to shreds at by a horde of beasts.