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Jennifer Beals is the latest victim of outrage overkill

An incident with the star's dog shows just how far Internet rage can go


Mary Elizabeth Williams
July 31, 2015 11:11PM (UTC)

In case you were wondering what the current levels are like: Based on the headlines this week, our supply of out of proportion outrage continues to hold steady at limitless. Current Exhibit A: actress and almost certainly not animal abuser Jennifer Beals.

You'd think we might be approaching indignation overkill, based on how our right wing friends have been losing their damn minds over a series of sting videos selectively edited and disseminated by antiabortion groups in a transparent attempt to attack women's health services. Or the way eager Yelpers have been busy writing death threats and "Rot in hell" messages on a dentist's page, because that's a totally normal and appropriate way to register one's distress over a senseless act of lion killing. No one would suggest that we don't have plenty in the world to be legitimately appalled and horrified about. Just -- how about pacing ourselves a little?

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If you were looking at the trending topics on your Facebook page the past few days, or the entertainment headlines on every news site everywhere, you'd likely have gotten wind of a controversy involving a certain "Flashdance" and "L Word" star and her dog. Jennifer Beals was out in the Vancouver neighborhood of Dunbar on Wednesday when a passerby noticed her car, and her dog in it with the window partially rolled down. In the video — because what's a confrontation without a video of it? — Beals tells the man that "In Dunbar, it's okay," and he replies that he's reporting her to animal welfare authorities. The SPCA Chief Prevention Officer later told reporters that "I believe the sun shines in Dunbar just as much as it shines everywhere else." But the SPCA has also said it is not investigating the incident.

Beals released a statement Thursday saying that "I have loved dogs my whole life. They've been in my life since the day I was born. Every dog I've had has been a rescue. I would never ever jeopardize an animal's safety. Ever…. The morning was a cool 73 degrees. I and others were wearing jackets. I rolled all four windows down and left the car for five minutes to pick up laundry, my car visible to me the entire time. I wondered why two people were congregated by my car taking pictures of my girl. Proud mama thought it was because she's so gorgeous. While I appreciate their vigilance and what must have felt like courage on their part, they were barking up the wrong tree." And dog trainer Laura London also spoke up, saying, "I can say with confidence that Jennifer never put her beautiful dog in danger." Of course, that's not stopping the trolls in her Twitter feed right now, calling her an animal abuser. Specifically, a "washed up, talent free animal abuser." Nor has it deterred numerous headline writers from reporting that she left her dog in a "hot car," without any information on how hot the car actually was. Because you don't want to kill the righteous anger buzz.

Believe it — leaving a child, an animal, or basically anything that breathes in a hot car can become very dangerous very quickly. But the there must also be room in any situation for a reasonable assessment of what's really going on. Not every perceived problem is a cause for a public shaming and berating and posting on YouTube. Not every retail or restaurant or airline service problem is cause for a scathing excoriation on Twitter. Not every overheard conversation, every casually glimpsed texting session of a stranger, is fodder for a moral intervention.

It's crazy making when a relatively minor social infractions — or those that don't actually directly concern the furious person live tweeting it — become major news events. So let's just dial it the hell down. Let's try to keep the frothing somewhat proportional to the perceived crime. Because even though it seems like we'll never run out of things to be apoplectic about, indignation is a really sad means of feeling better about ourselves. When everything's outrageous nothing's outrageous. And how can we change things that really do need to be changed when it's so exhausting — for all of us — if we live in a world in which everybody's rage gun is permanently locked and loaded?


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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