The voicemail system at the Chicago Sun-Times takes messages up to 6 minutes long. I know this because some guy phones me late at night and fills up three or four messages.

He’s been calling for years. I used to listen. Now I dump it the moment I hear his opening sneer: “Mister Steinberg, your ‘column’ is the typical li. . . .” Some people speak so you can hear both italics — a drawl dripping sarcasm — and quote marks: an incredulous stutter-step.

Delete, delete, delete.

While I’m all for hearing other perspectives, “you stink” isn’t exactly a road map for self-improvement.

Then again, a guy doesn’t leave 20 minutes of grumbling abuse for my benefit, but for his. It must satisfy him somehow.

OPINION

There’s a term, “outrage porn,” that seems a handy concept for understanding much that passes for discourse lately. Like porn porn, outrage porn offers up not real life but a fun-house-mirror parody of real life. Life distorted to reflect the users’ fantasies. Outrage porn serves up pat little vignettes of indignation to get the reader excited, leading to the release of full-throated condemnation.  Unlike porn porn, outrage porn is not a private vice but one you invite your friends to share.
Rahm Emanuel New York Daily News
Newspapers sometimes play at it too. Such as Tuesday’s New York Daily News front page headline, “DUMB TRACK MIND,” lambasting Rahm Emanuel. His crime? Writing an op-ed in the New York Times praising the Chicago “L” in contrast to the New York City and Washington subways.

An odd text to hyperventilate over. I read Emanuel’s piece the morning it ran; it seemed a mundane bit of political puffery, some agitprop to buff the city’s tarnished reputation. That’s what mayors do.

The New York Daily News found it earth-shaking news.

“Congratulations to Chicago for having a transit system that’s so popular with its passengers,” the article began. “Now try getting them home without anyone getting shot.”

Zing! Since President Donald Trump weaponized the murder rate in Chicago, it’s the knee-jerk response to anything Chicago does that anyone doesn’t like.

The odd thing is, Emanuel was restrained when addressing the rival subways, merely pointing out that DC’s suffered from “slowdowns caused by repairs to prevent chronic fires.” He might have added, “like the one that killed a passenger in 2015, or the crash that killed eight in 2009.”

Regarding the New York City subway, Emanuel pointed out it is under a state of emergency, which it is. He might have written something along the lines of what New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser wrote last November:

“The subway system, the necessary evil on which millions of workers, students and tourists depend daily, has turned into a snarled mess of traffic, chaos and ultraviolence. The threat of blood on the tracks has become constant as the number of passengers surges to a level unseen since 1948 — more than 1.76 billion rides were tallied last year.”

The Daily News touts that same bigness as proof of superiority — sure, Chicago’s works better, but it’s so small. Then deep in the article the Gothamites acknowledge “the sorry state of the subway” and start sharing  their own horror stories of rush-hour derailments.

In other words, they agree with what Emanuel said. They just don’t like an outsider saying it. Part of outrage porn is dismissing any contrary opinion as the product of bias (I briefly wrote a column in the Daily News, years ago, so obviously I’m a disgruntled former employee raging at my old boss).

And we’re supposed to be provincials.

There are real outrages. The president of the United States being a liar, bully and fraud, either in cahoots with the Russians or just besotted with tyranny comes to mind. That’s truly outrageous, and deserves to be damned.

But even true outrage needs moderation to be effective. A car alarm that always blares doesn’t warn, it just annoys. Outrage porn, like porn porn, is ultimately deadening, boring. The real world, actual nuanced life, is seldom boring, or black or white, and far more interesting and valuable. Why not talk about it?