The danger of provoking anger in the masses
“We all know things are bad — worse than bad — they’re crazy,” began the fictional Howard Beale in the film entitled “Network.” An emotionally disturbed news anchor whose life had begun to unravel, Beale revitalizes his career by “articulating popular rage.”
He advises his audience, “I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.”
And then, delivering one of the more classic lines in the history of all cinema, Beale (played by Oscar winner Peter Finch) says, “I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ ”
Eerily prescient, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky delivered a masterpiece with “Network,” foretelling the future of cable news when broadcast stations would make their money on being aggrieved, selling rage to a susceptible audience. For all the credible truth-seeking voices out there (and there are many), this truth remains: Media, politics, and society are filled with the Beale-like “mad prophets of the airwaves.”
They offer no light, only heat. They can produce no solutions, they can only scorch the earth. They offer neither truth nor thoughtful commentary, only divisiveness. “The acts of the flesh are obvious,” Paul said, and among them are “hatred, discord, and fits of rage.” The Proverbs warn that such people, those who deal in the currency of fermenting anger, “Plant seeds of strife … separate the best of friends; and lead their companions down a harmful path.”
We fail to heed the dangers of such paths, drawn as we are into the game of “winning.” If our side can come out on top (whichever side that is at the time), then all means to that victorious end are justified. This “winner take all approach” more times than not leaves nothing for the loser, and very little for the winner; for all that remains is wreckage.
A Southern proverb comes to mind, one I heard often growing up. I would be told, “A dog can kill any hog in the pen, son, but he’ll have to get down in the mud to do it. And the hog likes the mud.”
More times than we wish to admit, that’s where uncontrolled, unbridled anger takes us. We might be the winner in the end, but are so soiled by the victory, it can hardly be counted worth it.
Returning to the furious Howard Beale, how does his story conclude? He winds up lifeless on the floor, struck down by the violence that his own madness produced, with everything he had built on bluster, crashing down with him. Unfettered, weaponized anger, rarely has any other result.