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Turn down the instant outrage!

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
updated 9:58 AM EST, Sat March 2, 2013
Despite the outrage sparked by a joke about the Holocaust, comedian Joan Rivers said she had nothing to apologize for. "It's a joke, No. 1. ...This is the way I remind people about the Holocaust. I do it through humor," she told HLN's "Showbiz Tonight." Despite the outrage sparked by a joke about the Holocaust, comedian Joan Rivers said she had nothing to apologize for. "It's a joke, No. 1. ...This is the way I remind people about the Holocaust. I do it through humor," she told HLN's "Showbiz Tonight."
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: We live in a cultural era of instant outrage, fed by social media, news cycle
  • He says we inflate small things into big deals too easily -- jokes by Joan Rivers, Seth MacFarlane
  • He says we all get mad but why not about really outrageous things such as poverty, abuse
  • Obeidallah: Next time you tweet about a celebrity outrage, direct some ire at something real, too

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report and co-director of the upcoming documentary, "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter: @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- Never have so many been so outraged by so little.

We live in a time of instant outrage. The explosion of social media and the demands of the 24-hour news cycle let us immediately express our self-righteous anger about any incident, while the content-desperate media eagerly report -- and repackage -- our rage.

Outrage has become conveniently instantaneous. In the years before social media, people who were truly outraged would have to get a piece of paper, type a letter, put it in an envelope, stamp it and drop it in a mailbox. In contrast, today you can use your thumb to type a tweet on your phone and simply click "Tweet." Your rage is communicated to the world.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Just this week, we saw instant outrage on full display in response to Seth MacFarlane's jokes at Sunday's Oscars. Amazingly, MacFarlane offended almost every group in America in one show. He was accused of being sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist. (It has to be an Oscar record.) Did Oscar organizers possibly hire MacFarlane to trigger our instant outrage for their own benefit? After all, they knew he'd say outrageous things.

Any chance they wanted the public backlash to make the show, which has seen ratings woes in recent years, more relevant? (And ratings did rise for Sunday's Oscar telecast 11% in the coveted 18-49 age group.) Make no mistake: Our outrage has value.

More recently, comedian Joan Rivers found herself the subject of outrage for a joke she made this week invoking the Holocaust. The media are now filled with people debating the "important" question: Did Rivers go too far? (Will the media ever stop asking that tired question about comedians' jokes?!)

Instant outrage, however, is not just reserved for comedians; it crops up all over the news cycle. We saw it this week over Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's new policy banning telecommuting in the company she's been hired to revive, meaning people have to work from the office every day or quit. Twitter lit up: It's outrageous!

It even happened to me last weekend when I was on CNN with anchor Don Lemon and playfully joked about Canada. Bingo! My Twitter feed was instantly filled with Canadians incensed that I had the audacity to poke fun at their beloved country. Just to be clear, I have nothing against Canada. In fact, it's my third favorite country in North America.

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There's so much more: Beyonce's halftime Super Bowl outfit; Hulk Hogan tweeting a photo of his daughter's legs; Kim Kardashian tweeting a photo of her diamond-encrusted gun; NBA star LeBron James wearing a T-shirt that some claim was about devil worship and/or a symbol for the illuminati.

I get it. We all want to have our opinions heard. When we are mad about something, we want others to know about it. When we are offended, we want to call out the person who has offended us. I'm no different.

But here's the thing: Why not also unleash our collective fury over issues more meaningful than just a comedian's joke or a celebrity's tweet? I'm not suggesting we ignore those -- because even if I did, no one would listen. But in addition to those, take a moment to express your powerful outrage over issues that might tangibly benefit your life and the lives of others.

Joan Rivers' Holocaust joke criticized

Let's get collectively angry that every nine seconds, a woman in the United States is assaulted or beaten. And let's get even angrier that three women a day in the United States are killed by domestic violence attacks.

Let's get really pissed that 22% of American children are living in poverty. And please save some (actually a lot) of outrage for Congress, which has become the political equivalent of Lindsay Lohan: We only see it in media coverage doing bad things.

Sure, go ahead and be outraged over Joan Rivers' and Seth MacFarlane's jokes if you must, but let's show some anger about the fact that almost 10,000 Americans died in gun violence last year and still Congress hasn't passed a universal background check to ensure that criminals and mentally ill people can't legally buy guns.

So let's collectively tweet away about the issues that outrage us, be they stupid comments or Syria, comedians' jokes or the growing income inequality in America. But please don't just reserve all your outrage for celebrities. They simply aren't worthy of it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

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