Earlier this month Saturday Night Live’s (SNL) Pete Davidson made a rather crass and insensitive joke about then Republican candidate Dan Crenshaw, now the U.S. Representative-elect of Texas’s second congressional district.
The tasteless joke came just prior to the electrifying 2018 midterms and referenced the now House representative-elect Crenshaw’s eyepatch. The former Navy Seal Lt. Cmdr. lost his eye in Southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Province in 2012 from an improvised explosive device and now uses the patch to cover the sustained wound.
“You may be surprised to hear he’s a congressional candidate from Texas and not a hitman in a porno movie,” said Davidson as he chuckled through his SNL “Weekend Update” segment. “I’m sorry I know he lost his eye in war… or whatever.”
Davidson’s shot at the budding politician and touted war hero set off a firestorm among the nation’s public. Understandably, people across the country grabbed their verbal pitchforks and were ready to defend Crenshaw.
The former Navy SEAL appeared on SNL with Davidson after the incident, who seemed to take the joke in stride. Crenshaw maintained composure and shot back at the SNL cast member with a light joke about Davidson making Republicans look good – a hint that this moment was the coming together of divided parties and insinuating that Davidson’s joke sparked anger across all political aisles.
Representative-elect Crenshaw wrote an article in the Washington Post where he explained his position on the Davidson joke. Like much of America he found the bit distasteful and insensitive to those who have fought for this country but pointed to a much larger issue at hand:
“A lot of America wasn’t happy. People thought some lines still shouldn’t be crossed. I agreed,” wrote Crenshaw. “But I also could not help but note that this was another chapter in a phenomenon that has taken complete control of the national discourse: outrage culture.”
As someone with a similar military background as Crenshaw, it is necessary to recognize the joke as just another opinion. While the statement was distasteful, that is not the fundamental concern at play here.
It is understandable that one might be upset at Davidson’s comment about Rep.-elect Crenshaw’s combat wound and appearance and one has every right to be. But where is the line between being justifiably upset because a poorly made joke and the flipping of the kitchen table that seemed to come from just about everyone following the incident?
There seems to be a certain habit that has formed in our political discourse in recent years where everything is over sensationalized and our personal indignation with opinions of others is unfathomable, and at times, even unforgivable.
The perceived indignations are not solely partisan, they transcend party lines regularly, because they can be subjective. Outrage has found its way into the very core of American public dialogue. There is no shortage of possibilities when looking for something that can personally offend, which is why it is necessary to attempt to rationalize the situation, especially if the offense was delivered as a comedic quip.
Manufactured outrage can and is wielded as a rhetorical weapon. It can add validity to an argument simply because our societal discourse relies so heavily on an emotional base. This tactic is often used to shut down what makes us uncomfortable, which in turn clouds what should otherwise be a moment of rational discussion.