The PJ Tatler

Will the Army of Internet Avengers Ever Get Outrage Fatigue?

Heather Wilhelm wrote a good piece on the “keyboard kops” who patrol the internet, waiting for the “Most Despicable Person in the World” to emerge. This week, it’s that Minnesota dentist who shot the pretty lion, and man — the solipsists of social media went berserk.

This week, Cecil’s story exploded, inciting batten-down-the-hatches outrage. Animal rights group PETA, for instance, declared that Dr. Palmer should be “extradited, charged, and preferably hanged” for killing such a beloved creature. In a heated op-ed, former CNN host Piers Morgan proposed a new sport, “Big Human Hunting,” in which he would kill Dr. Palmer with a crossbow, torture him, and skin him alive, which sounds normal if you just had a brain transplant from, say, Jeffrey Dahmer.

Actress Debra Messing argued for revoking Dr. Palmer’s citizenship; Sharon Osborne, who is married to a man who once bit the head off a bat, called for the eradication of Palmer’s home, business, and money. On Tuesday night, an emotional Jimmy Kimmel questioned Dr. Palmer’s erectile abilities before a chortling television audience, called him “vomitous” and “the most hated man in America who never advertised Jell-O pudding on television,” and then helpfully noted that we probably shouldn’t “start a witch hunt for the guy.” Oh. Okay. We’ll just ignore those first parts, broadcast to millions!

Dr. Palmer, meanwhile, is in hiding. His business is closed, piled with threats and hate mail. Cecil’s killing, the embattled dentist declared in a statement, was a terrible mistake: “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.” This may or may not be true; Dr. Palmer may or may not be an unsavory and unethical character. It’s a sad situation; we’ll have to wait and see. One thing, however, seems indisputable: The world is, as is its eternal wont—and here I shall quote an eminent showbiz bat-biter—going off the rails on a crazy train.

Paying $54,000 to kill a wild, beautiful animal seems like a strange and questionable hobby at best; at worst, it seems downright cruel. On the other hand, some conservationists applaud the practice, at least when it’s done legally. What’s telling, however, is that the great Cecil conflagration of 2015 occurred on the same day undercover operatives released the third in a series of graphic, disturbing Planned Parenthood videos. This video, unlike the former two, featured body parts. Tiny body parts. Detailed, well formed, and unmistakably human.

But never mind. Let’s talk about Cecil, a lion that has emerged as a benevolent, finely sketched cartoon creature in the global moral imagination, setting our hyperactive but wildly misfiring outrage meter into a wild, chaotic spin.

I don’t buy into the theory that Cecil is a manufactured distraction to pull people’s attention away from the Planned Parenthood videos — just a sad coincidence. But given the ideological proclivities of most internet hooligans, they wouldn’t have become outraged at Planned Parenthood anyway. If it hadn’t been Cecil, it would have been something else making the bile rise in their throats.

That said, how much longer can they keep this up? Each succeeding search-and-destroy mission is more vicious, more over the top than the previous one. Each new target’s demolition more spectacular than the last.

To the normal eye, they’ve already become parodies of themselves. I mean, really now. PETA’s suggestion that Palmer be hanged, and the numerous wild, bloodcurdling death threats — these would be humorous if you didn’t know that it is exactly the end result desired by this scum of what should happen to Dr. Palmer.

Eventually, many of them may wander off, their ant brains focused on something else. Many will no doubt succumb to outrage fatigue. Even the most committed activists burn out over a period of time.

Perhaps we’ll learn to ignore them, or tune them out. It’s possible a counter-army will be raised to do battle on more equal terms. Of this I am certain: these ad-hoc campaigns of personal destruction are not going away anytime soon, and they are likely to become more organized and more vicious.