The Troggs had it wrong: love is not all around, rage is. At least that’s what it seems when dialing into any form of media of late. We’re a perpetual powder keg, frothing at our keyboards to spew a storm of digitized incendiary rhetoric into the nearest available outlet given the merest hint of provocation. It’s about as ludicrous as that old Simpsons gag where a guy taps another on the shoulder and says “Hey you, let’s fight,” and the other replies “Them’s fightin’ words” and takes a swing at him. We seem to be spoiling for it in our interactions, seeking out opinions (or venturing them) designed to raise blood pressures and elicit profanities and threats of bodily harm. And yet it’s not as though you’re seeing fistfights break out in shopping malls on a regular basis, or a global “Red Hour” – if you remember the Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” – where the collective agrees on a time and place where they may just as collectively lose their shit. Day-to-day society proceeds apace, unencumbered by the simmering monster apparently lurking under everyone’s skin ready to Hulk out at the slightest shift in the breeze.
Why are we so angry all the time? One of the most intriguing arguments is that popular culture, the glamorization of “fame” and the gradual dumbing-down of the education system are to blame for creating a perpetual sense of false expectations amidst the great majority of the world’s population who are fated to live quiet and largely unrecognized lives (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Our concepts of “success” and “failure” have been altered to a state where they barely resemble the truth of what they once were. We’ve seen failure removed almost entirely from schools lest the fragile feelings of the precious snowflakes inside be hurt. (As a parent, I don’t mind when my kid flunks a test, because I’d rather he learn that he needs to try much harder to pass rather than know that no matter how little effort he puts in, he’ll always get by.) Consequently you have a generation of children believing for the first eighteen years of their lives that they are perfect and infallible, and when adulthood arrives and they don’t ace that first job interview, or they come up against any task that is beyond them, they implode, as reliably as a calculator attempting to divide by zero. Failure does not compute.
Success, on the other hand, is defined again and again, in a manner resembling brainwashing, in terms frankly unachievable by 99.9999999% percent of the population: seven-figure salaries, a constant stream of supermodel companions, jetting to the Riviera for the weekend to win the Formula One while top-lining the latest blockbuster action movie. You are invited constantly to compare the dregs of your life with the riches and wonders of the lucky few and find yourself forever wanting, while being indoctrinated with the lie that the only thing you need is belief in your dreams (that doesn’t hurt, but it is most definitely NOT the only ingredient). How many people were in that record-retweeted Oscar selfie, versus how many millions more were only wishing that they could have been standing to Bradley Cooper’s right? Is it realistic to think that we can all be movie stars and sports heroes and retire to Malibu mansions overlooking the sea? Yet ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up and the number one answer is “famous.” The purveyors of celebrity gossip have become rich themselves convincing the rest of us that we’re just a happenstance discovery away from the big time. We don’t actually have to do anything to merit it; we’re owed it.
Yet that golden ticket is not going to arrive, and millions grow increasingly impatient for it. And to paraphrase Yoda, impatience turns to anger, anger turns to hate.
Once again, the boys seem to be the greater offenders here. Given that we are prone to insecurity as it is and the media’s far-fetched depiction of what constitutes “manhood,” it is unsurprising to see that fireball into unrestrained fury. I was made aware of a hashtag that circulated Twitter a few days ago, that blissfully I missed out on, #LiesToldByFemales. Basically, a venue for a cabal of misogynists (who would not dare say any of these things to a real-life woman, naturally) to whine about the endless ways women had done them wrong, either in actual fact or perception (I chance to assume the latter). It hearkens back to the redefinition of a successful relationship for a man by countless movies, music videos and men’s magazine articles as: scoring a smokin’ hot chick who will do whatever he wants and subsume her will and personality to his desires, only as long as he deigns to keep her around. A prurient fantasy, which of course does not exist in the real world, but doesn’t stop men from wanting it anyway. They’re entitled to it, the magazines have told them, and the movies have shown, in any number of stories where the beautiful goddess eventually succumbs to the persistent charms of the unwashed, inadequate nerd. Fade to credits before the inevitable consequences of such an ill-gotten romance take hold. But no matter, the lie has been pre-packaged and sold, and the men who fail to replicate it in their own lives have a perfect justification to assist in brewing their lifelong resentment of reality. The perceived “safety” of anonymous online posting of same then entitles them to let it out, so the like-minded can holler “Right on!” and retweet and feel vindicated for harboring the same sentiments. Regardless of how much damage it may do – and how little in fact their lives will change for the better.
That’s the saddest part of this. Where is all the rage getting us? You have a tremendous irony in that profound dissatisfaction with the status quo has fired some of the most expansive changes in our history, and yet, 21st Century rage is an end unto itself. We are furious, yet benumbed. We’re not starting riots in malls. It is enough now to be angry for the sake of being angry, to make a few heated comments on a message board, and go back to the drudgery of the day. We’re addicted to indignation, seeking it out like junkies who can’t abide the space between the highs. The result? A climate where everyone is on edge at every moment of the day, a perpetual chill where many are afraid to speak up because it’s like lighting a match to see how much gas is left in the tank. Reading highlights from the CPAC conference (for the enviably uninitiated, it’s an annual gripe-fest for conservative politicians and celebrities to blame the world’s woes on liberals and their Kenyan Islamofascisocialist president) I can’t help but be reminded of Woody Allen’s character in the 1967 Casino Royale, whose master plan was to detonate a bomb that would render all women beautiful while simultaneously killing all men over four-foot-eleven. I don’t know what pipe dream of a regulation-free, rootin’-gun-totin’ right-wing utopia where anyone with less than a billion bucks in the bank is deported to Mexico drives these folks, but they seem awfully pissed off that they don’t have it, and that they’re getting no closer to it no matter how many veins they burst in their forehead while they rail about Benghazi at the podium. Sponsors are raking in advertising revenue from the anger that Fox News foments, but those in whom it is fomented are no further ahead. In fact, the stress they’re accumulating is shortening the remaining days they have to get angry in.
So much misdirected energy out there. Just imagine what we could do with it if we could find a way to direct it somewhere else.
As always, dear reader, the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves. So we need to take a page from the Serenity Prayer – accept the things we cannot change. We need to let go of this idea that we have a divine right to sit at Brangelina’s table, and that Gisele Bündchen only stays married to Tom Brady because she hasn’t met us yet. We need to cement in our minds the idea that a relationship with a real person is infinitely more rewarding than empty fantasies about surgically-sculpted, spray-tanned hot bods. We need to stop thinking that we deserve jobs, fortunes or even people that we haven’t gone out and earned. We need to remember Captain Picard’s one-time advice to Data: “It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. That is not a failing; that is life.” So yes, we need to accept that by virtue of birth, talent or plain old dumb luck there will always be those individuals who have things better than we do, and that choosing to resent them for having it is truly like that old saw about drinking poison (or ingesting gamma radiation) and expecting the other person to die. They won’t, no matter how many times we swear on Twitter about it.
What if we tried living life to our own standards instead of what is foisted on us by marketing reps who are trying to sell us things? If we were able to take the energy misspent on rage and resentment, pull it out of those bottomless pits and refocus it like a laser in furtherance of working on ourselves and our lives, we’d find the reasons for those feelings diminished. We wouldn’t envy Tom Brady because we’d know what an incredible partner we have standing right next to us and holding our hand at each step. We would not need to be on movie screens entertaining anonymous masses because the people we know, closest to us, would never question how much we value them. We would find ourselves replenished with accomplishment and joy – the kind of deep inner assurance that cannot be bestowed by thousands of screaming fans. Let’s not forget the cautionary tales of those who seemingly “have it all” yet drown and lose themselves in drink and drugs because standing ovations can’t fix pain. No matter where you go, there are you are. Instead, change how you feel about yourself and realize you could have a pretty amazing life if you just started living the one you have and not the imagined one that everything you read and see is telling you that you deserve.
Endless rage will never get us what we really want in life – namely, to stop feeling so angry. It is the very definition of self-defeat. So no, Hulk no need to smash. Hulk need to calm down, be nicer to wife and kid, plant tree and take up productive hobby. Hulk might find he happier and other stuff not bother him so much. And everyone get along better.