By Matt Smith
Like magicians, opinion writers live under a special code that says practitioners may not reveal the profession's tricks lest audiences lose their sense of wonderment. This code also preserves commentators' valued role as American tribal society's social glue, without which the commonwealth would fall apart.
On Monday, Dec. 15, Scott Nichols of SoMa-based PC World violated that code. In so doing he set in motion a chain of events that may debase commentary, and even civilization itself.
In a piece titled "WSJ Accuses Google of Abandoning Net Neutrality," Nichols expressed outrage that the Wall Street Journal published an opinion column expressing sentiments different from his own. [Net neutrality is technical gobbledygook for something to do with routers and bandwidth; it's beside the point.]
"It upsets me that the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial," writes Nichols, "in an attempt to stir up controversy and attract attention."
He went on: "What saddens me the most though is that in order to debunk its claims I needed to reference the trumped up article, giving the Wall Street Journal more traffic and justification to print more articles that are controversial for the sake of controversy."
Those are dangerous words. By revealing commentators' secret trick of gratuitously generating controversy for the sake of controversy, Nichols sows chaos.
Inevitably, other columnists will jump into the fray, outraged that Nichols would devalue the very staff of life that sustains them - namely, ginning up outrage to attract attention and earn readers.
Battle engaged, the Wall Street Journal will chime in again, denouncing Nichols' proposed regulatory controls on editorial umbrage, while advocating a free market in gratuitous provocation.
This latest Journal screed will further provoke Nichols and similar media moralists.
TV talk shows will pick up the story and invite Nichols and his compatriots to appear -- sneering, snorting, interrupting and insulting -- until the original Journal piece Nichols found objectionable will be amplified a million times.
Sober voices, such as those at SF Weekly, will jump into the fray: "Why can't gratuitously-outraged people get along?" they'll ask.
But it will be too late. Columnists and radio commentators and TV hosts will be beside themselves with outrage about outrage about provocations of outrage.
Cable TV commentators, as is their way, will get so mad they'll cease uttering individual words, and instead let forth extended angry sounds modulated by violent head-shaking.
Bloggers will close their eyes, ball up their fists and type "Dkv/;zcxvDamnDamnDamnZXasdfjk!!!"
Media consumers will stop consuming, and instead venture to parks, playgrounds, museums, libraries.
Newspapers, magazines, websites will fold. Hacks' lives will worsen. Beaten, hopeless, angry wrecks, they'll raise their voices to nobody in particular: "Scott Nichols, you're an outrage."Image via: emptyeye.com