In celebration of Slate Plus’ first anniversary, we’re republishing a selection of pieces from the past year, including this article, which was originally published on Dec. 18, 2014.
Since January, Slate editors, writers, and interns have been keeping track of outrage in media—that is, what people have been outraged about for every day of 2014. And after almost a year, we’ve published “2014: The Year of Outrage,” a series of essays and an interactive “rage-a-day calendar” that explores outrage culture and how it shapes our world.
In this Slate Plus conversation, senior editor Allison Benedikt and culture editor Dan Kois chat about the creation of the project, and weigh in on the challenges of the yearlong project.
Jennifer Lai: How did the idea for this project on outrage culture come about?
Dan Kois: It was Allison’s idea, and it was a long time in the making, right?
Allison Benedikt: At my old job at the Village Voice, we’d come to the end of the year and brainstorm on year-end packages. We’d be looking back on the big themes and stories of the past year, and every time I would be so mad at myself for not keeping track of the year’s outrages. Because you look back and it’s like, “REMEMBER THAT?? Why was I mad about that?” (Sorry, Hillary Clinton.)
So, I kept telling myself I would do it the following year, but then … if you don’t start right away, it’s really hard to go back and reconstruct. So, I never did it. Until I met Dan. You know the saying, “great minds think alike?” IT’S TRUE.
Kois: So true. Allison brought this up three Slate Retreats ago. We proposed it and people liked it but we never got it together. So then on New Year’s Eve 2013, I emailed her and said, “Let’s just start keeping track ourselves.”
Benedikt: And I said, “I’m drunk.”
Kois: So we made a Google spreadsheet and kept track of them day-by-day. Soon we created a handy outrage email account for Slate staffers to send us their outrages.
Lai: So Slate staffers would email you whenever they felt outrage about a certain thing, or when they realized there was a lot of outrage in the media over something?
Kois: It was rare that they felt the outrage. Or rare that they copped to it. Mostly they were letting us know that something was clearly The Outrage of The Day.
Benedikt: The email thing: Did our colleagues love us or hate us?
Kois: I think they liked it. They didn’t like when I set up slackbot, the auto-replying bot on our intra-office chat system, to yell at people about outrage whenever anyone typed the word “outrage” in a chat.
Benedikt: Hats off to Josh Keating, who probably sent 50 percent of these. He should get a byline. Originally, I didn’t want to do this in calendar form, if you remember, Dan. I thought some days there would be more than one outrage, and other days there would be none. But we always found one! Someone’s always mad somewhere.
Lai: Yes, there’s an outrage a day on the interactive calendar. But that makes me wonder—as Katy Waldman said in her essay, “Signing onto Twitter can sometimes feel like an endless exercise in parsing whose outrage is legitimate and whose is opportunistic or fake. Whose outrage should we be outraged about? Whose ripples should we amplify? Whose should we ignore?” There were probably many days that had more than just one outrage. How did you guys choose?
Kois: It wasn’t usually hard. Even if there were multiple outrages on one day, one was usually clearly more interesting. And outrage would sometimes stretch over several days, or (as in some of the more legit outrages) months.
Benedikt: The more pressing question, to me, was whether or not we should include legitimate outrages, or only track the ridiculous ones. And would we be equipped to know the difference.
Kois: I thought part of what would be interesting about this would be how the ACTUALLY outrageous things, like say Mike Brown, basically proceeded through the seven circles of social-media outrage along the same path as, like, Kate Middleton’s butt pics. So I really wanted to track both, and have it be a little jarring when you go from one to the next on the calendar.
It was also interesting to me that for some people—not everyone!—a dumb joke some Fox News guy made was worth responding to in the same way that I could only get worked up to respond to about, like, the CIA torture report.
Benedikt: Even though a lot of this stuff seemed obvious to us (people get really worked up about dumb shit, and then forget about it and get worked up about something else the next day), watching it all unfold was pretty amazing.
There was a point that I was worried the whole project would turn into a meditation on Gamergate. And now, I already feel like: “Remember Gamergate? What WAS that?”
Then I worried the whole project would be about Cosby. Then came the Rolling Stone fiasco. It’s just … endless! And moves so fast! The cycle is totally exhausting and all-consuming and yet at the same time just POOF air.
Kois: And in between all these real actual news stories are delightful little bursts of only-in-2014 nonsense. Like, Aug. 28: Hello Kitty is NOT A CAT.
Benedikt: That was a good one.
Lai: Ha. I almost forgot about that one. With so many outrages, which did you personally find to be the most surprising to be outraged at? And on the flip side, what was the most legitimate outrage for each of you?
Kois: Every outrage is legitimate to SOMEONE, Jennifer. That’s the real message here.
Benedikt: It’s hard to be surprised about any outrage directed at Lena Dunham, but the outrage over her “sexually abusing” her sister was pretty, um, outrageous. That’s a high profile one that was just idiotic.
Kois: When Bridgegate first came up, we were like, “Wait, this is actually terrible!” Little did we know how terrible the outrages would actually get in 2014.
Benedikt: Oh! My favorite was when people were mad that Barack Obama disparaged art-history majors in a speech. I also liked the poptism outrage. Those kinds make me giggle. Or Mike Daisey naming his show, “Yes All Women.”
Lai: I feel like Jamelle Bouie said it perfectly in his essay: “It feels good to express disgust, of course, and when that comes with social affirmation—favorites, retweets, followers, blog posts—there’s an incentive to show more anger.” What were the biggest challenges of putting together the interactive and the essays?
Benedikt: The biggest challenge with the essays was figuring out what the heck we all think about this. It’s just what we’re stewing in all the time, so it’s hard to look at it analytically.
Kois: Right. Outrage culture is insane, until something happens that hits you right in your outrage-spot.
Benedikt: But going beyond that, to examine … the way … we … live … now, is hard.
Kois: That’s why we let our essay-writers do it!
Benedikt: Totally! What do I think about outrage? Who knows, here’s Amanda Hess.
Kois: On the interactive, one big challenge was staying out of interactives guru Chris Kirk’s way and letting our art team do their jobs without us meddling. Plus, I was a challenge because I kept changing things at the last minute, driving our amazing copy editors (Abby McIntyre led the charge on this) insane.
Benedikt: The biggest challenge with the interactive was really on our awesome interns, who kept it updated. If it had been up to me and Dan, this never would have actually worked out. We would have lost steam in February.
Kois: March 2: Two editors fired from Slate for failing to keep up Google Doc. Who was outraged: Their spouses.