Tim Walker: Enough with the sparking, please

Tales From The Water Cooler: A quick Google News search suggests more and more outrage is sparked every day, around the world
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The Independent Online

Jeremy Clarkson "sparked outrage" on Wednesday, according to The Independent and the Daily Mail. The Press Association said the Top Gear presenter "sparked widespread outrage", while The Guardian claimed he "sparked a storm of outrage.

A lady shouting racist insults on a tram also "sparked outrage" this week, if you believe the Mirror, which insisted the all-male shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year had "sparked outrage" too.

In fact, a quick Google News search ("sparked" + "outrage") suggests more and more outrage is sparked every day, around the world. Michael Gove sparked outrage in the education community. Reality star Vinny from Jersey Shore sparked outrage in the US. Sepp Blatter "sparked international outrage". Another search, on Google Books, reveals a steady upward curve in instances of "sparked outrage" since 1960, with a marked acceleration since the 1990s and, it so happens, the spread of the internet.

Twitter makes the sparking of outrage a lot more easily quantifiable. One need only study the trending topics, or search for, say, "Gervais", to witness outrage being sparked in real time. Nowadays, complainants to the BBC can register their outrage online the moment it is sparked, without having to talk to an actual person on a phone: thus any outrage sparked is quickly expressed, the better to be measured and reported upon by the media.

Perhaps outrage was always there, like gas leaking gently from the cracks in society, waiting to be sparked by Clarksons and Blatters and Brands. Or perhaps it's not "outrage" they "sparked" at all. Perhaps Clarkson merely sparked a fart of mild annoyance in a lot of bored Twitter users, who just happened to think he's a bit of a knob.