The dan­ger of pro­vok­ing anger in the masses

The Detroit News - - Weekend -

“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.

RON­NIE MCBRAYER

Keep­ing theFaith

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