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Friday, August 27, 2010

Rage Is The New Black

I wrote before about Steven Slater’s flight of frenzy as a personification of our own psyche. The Id, Ego, and Super-ego battling for internal supremacy over whether or not to stand up and cry out, “I have had enough.” Slater has been adopted by the media as a working class hero and perhaps he should be. In this brave new world of a sluggish economy and public displeasure over the direction of the government and businesses, rage is definitely the new black. The tea party wants you to be mad at the current government. Consumer watch dogs want you to vote with your dollars as if they were fists. We are definitely becoming a more aggressive and confrontational society.

Along with Slater’s Escape, we’ve had all kinds of “rage against the machine” moments. Most recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner went toe to toe with Republicans over the opposing of the 9/11 workers fund called the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. He was flipping mad over that and it wasn’t Weiner’s first fight in office. He dished out a large helping of criticism over BP’s handling of the oil spill in the Gulf. You can consider this as rage for the cause of good.

Then we have instances of McNugget Rage. Melodi Dushane of Toledo became a viral hit when she attacked a McDonald’s drive through worker over the lack of Chicken McNuggets on the breakfast menu. The video shows her assaulting the worker and damaging the window in her attempts to get herself some McNuggets. That’s kind of on the other side of the spectrum from Weiner and government.

But, like Phil Collins said, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight.” We are becoming an army of Howard Beale’s shouting from the windows and while it’s not always a bad thing, it is the new trend. Maybe it’s the heat of summer or maybe Americans truly are mad as hell. Hey, I can relate to Steven Slater, even though his actions could have gotten someone on the ground hurt. Everyone once in awhile you have to practice a little dissidence. I find ways to just be a little bit rebellious, but my sometimes passive aggressive attempts to stick it to whatever the man is today is far from destructive. Most of the time it’s done with a medium dose of humor as to not be too rage worthy. Like all things, revolution, in moderation, can be good for the soul. Hell, this country was founded on it. But this new Age of Rage may be pushing things too far.
I don’t want to be the one to say it but I kind of blame the media. I’m not calling out movie or video game violence as a contributing factor here. I am suggesting that our attention to the media is quite possibly beginning to damage our calm. Every day we are bombarded by news of the war in Afghanistan, violence in the Middle East, protests around the world, videos of people beating up bus passengers, fighting among political groups and politicians like Anthony Weiner. There is a common underlying thread of anger to all of these. We love reality shows where someone gets kicked off, breaks down, goes postal or just plain loses it. It doesn’t even have to be a violent reaction but it’s an aggressive one. We love it when someone gets busted for something. [Raises Hand] I do, too. This is why I believe John McClane represents one the most perfect everyman action heroes. He has no super powers. He has no cool gadgets. He simply does the job and will kick your ass if you are bad. Not to mention I love the fact that his inner monologue comes out during the beat down. As it should.

But are we addicted to rage? We are a nation made up of a lot of overworked, underpaid, out of shape, tired and cranky people. It’s like Predator 2 out there. A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a story about the anniversary of lynching that took place 80 years ago in Marion, Indiana. I was riveted to the radio which, considering I was listening to NPR, shows how much of a dork I am, proud that I may be in that matter.  The letters from the event were found and recordings of witnesses created such an air of vitriol. It’s hard to believe that this somewhat understood and accepted practice in those times. I felt a sense of shame, yet couldn’t stop listening. And you know what? I became angry. I became angry that people, who could have probably been considered level headed by their peers, would take up such a mob mentality that they felt they needed to storm a jail and destroy the walls to get at these men. After they physically beat them, they hung them from a tree in the square. And if that wasn’t bad enough, one of the men tried to keep the noose from tightening around their own neck, so they broke his arm and restrung him. I also became angry because that scene that played out over the radio was quite possibly not far from where we may be heading these days. It doesn’t have to be racially motivated, either. It could be a group of workers pissed off over their CEO for taking a pay raise while their benefits were reduced. It could be a group of citizens who lynch a business owner for polluting their waters. It doesn’t just have to be because the person being lynched did something to break the law.

As another example, I’ll point the George Cukor finger of shame at myself. I am usually a pretty easy going guy. The other night, however, I found myself getting totally annoyed for no reason. I had maybe an hour of free time, in which I had the idea to come up with the some designs for my shirt stores. It was late in the evening and while I wasn’t wondering what clothes to wear I was wondering how best to capture the spirit of the Slater Escape on a shirt. My wife was sitting on the floor watching the news while my three year old was bouncing around just before bedtime. Well, the little one was annoying my wife who verbally expressed her displeasure with the child and for some reason that seemed to annoy me. Why? I don’t know. It was just a case of I was cranky at something not working and outside factors made things worse. I wasn’t made enough to go postal but I was visibly annoyed. That’s been an unhealthy trend. I get torqued off over something stupid and end up all bent out of shape and mongo-like when I have no real reason. I think a lot of it is lack of sleep and being out of shape. I don’t want to make excuses but it seems my level of crankiness is directly proportionate to weight gain. It’s not a diagnosis, just an observation. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for that behavior and try to be as mellow as possible. I’m also not trying to say that I am a representation of the national sense of well being, but I see it as well as feel it in the air around here.

It’s one thing to be a constant victim, the doormat of the office, and I’ve played it one too many times but just because someone doesn’t want to be a victim doesn’t mean they need to be a bully. No one respects a bully. Yeah, they may submit and fall in line behind their lead but when that person is not in the room they rest of us will dissent in private to each other and that creates an unhealthy environment of passive aggressiveness. My mother-in-law always said, “Don’t be a victim.” The Id wants to not be a victim but the Ego sees far too many reasons that support keeping the status quo. But there has to be a sense of balance between getting what you want and realizing that there are rules and responsibilities to those actions. There can be collateral damage and whether you feel it’s not your problem, it is. It’s like a game of chess or Othello, which is more in my wheelhouse. You need to make your move with the thought of how it affects the next four moves. The Id thinks about the now, never about the future. To go really geek on you, think of the Id as a Sith. Now, while Yoda says to Luke, “All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.” Yoda is speaking of Luke’s inability to see the now, not expect rewards in the now. He’s concerned that Luke is a dreamer and not a realist. The Sith, however act in the now to get rewards in the now. To do it, they use aggression and offensive means. You can have dreams, just be aware of the reality that you have to work with to achieve those dreams and think about the consequences of reaching those goals. There are times to be fools and times to be angels. What we need to do as human beings is figure out what those times are.

We need to get a sense of perspective about our lives. My family has had a rough year and that doesn’t give me license to be cranky, but it doesn’t help me find the happy place, either. That’s up to me to do the work. I would love nothing more than to blame everybody else for the things that are wrong in my life and I sometimes do, to an extent. But deep down, I know I am responsible for my own course. Truthfully, I have it pretty good. It’s not perfect but it isn’t a shambles. For every one thing that hasn’t worked out I can count one or more things that are working. Yeah, it sucks that I have to make do with certain outcomes. I didn’t get this or that didn’t just happen automatically like I wanted it, too. There are for more worse things that can happen to me than not getting a few extra hours to play a video game or watch a movie. Now, over time those little things build up but you have to kind of purge them from the system. Blow off a little steam, once in awhile, but not at the expense of others. Find happier and more productive ways to rage. I know it’s a Dr. Phil, Zen Buddhist cure all that I am selling and it doesn’t work for everyone. I can’t save them all but I’ll try to get as many as I can.

I know people who have it a hell of a lot worse and they aren’t bitching and going all Incredible Hulk when things get rough. Everyone’s life may suck a bit more this year as this country has kind of stalled and become stagnant. It could be worse and it may get worse, before it gets better. But we are way too impatient. We want instant results and instant gratification. If we don’t get it, we get all cranky and ill tempered. It’s like having a nation of three year olds who are up way past their bedtime and coming down off a sugar rush. You almost need to have that serenity prayer on hand for everyday life. Give me the strength to change the things I can and accept the things I cannot. I’m not asking you to accept a life of poverty or abuse or any other thing. I’m asking us to figure out what changes are we able to make, within reason, and improve the way of life, responsibly. If rage is the new black, then lights find a way to shine a little light on it. Have a little fun and keep smiling. That always makes the bastards wonder what you’re up to.



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