Chart­ing the loss of ci­vil­ity and rise of anger in mod­ern Amer­i­can life

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Hav­ing a bee in one’s mouth isanold-timer’sway­of­say­ingth­a­toneistalk­ing­toovo­cif­er­ously and too heat­edly. PeterWood,provostofKing’sCol­lege in NewYork City, likes the phrase so muchthatheusesit­for­theti­tle­ofhis latest book de­scrib­ing anger and its uses in mod­ern Amer­ica.

In classical times anger was rec­og­nizedas­partofthe­hu­man­makeup bu­tifnot­con­trolled,dis­as­trous­tothe holder.Aris­totlewrotethatangerun­der­mi­ne­soura­bil­i­ty­to­choose­wisely. The Ro­mans al­ways preached con­trol and noted that while the bar­bar­ian might run amok, a true Ro­man never took leave of his senses. The think­ing­man­woul­dal­ways­dom­i­nate the emo­tional man.

Sto­icismhas­been­partoftheWestern tra­di­tion for over two mil­len­nia and has been preached, prac­ticed and ad­mired through­out Amer­i­can his­tory; that is up un­til now.

In“ABeeintheMouth,”Mr.Wood ex­am­ines pop­u­lar cul­ture in de­tail and notes what you might call the philo­soph­i­cal changes that have taken place dur­ing the last two gen­er­a­tions. At one time the cow­boy moviewasthe­quintessen­tial­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Amer­ica. In “High Noon,” Gary Cooper was the pro­to­typ­i­calAmer­i­can­hero,asoft-spo­ken man, not given to boast­ing or flam­boy­ance, but of ex­tra­or­di­nary com­pe­tence. He was mod­est enough to ask for as­sis­tance, but when it was not forth­com­ing — and he was clearly wor­ried about what lay ahead — he was able, nev­er­the­less, to per­form su­perbly.

In­to­day’sAmer­ica,how­ever,Gary Cooper would not quite fit in. He does not protest enough, he does not wear his heart or his anger on his sleeve. He keeps it to him­self, rather than let­ting it all hang out.

Mr. Wood feels that we now live in an­a­ge­ofwhathe­call­san­gri-cul­ture. Stem­mingfromtheanti-in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism of the 1960s, when ac­cepted norms of be­hav­ior were re­jected be­cause they had been es­tab­lished by “dead­white­men”an­de­v­ery­oneover 30 was an en­emy to progress, it be­came “cool” to be an­gry. It es­tab­lished one’s per­sona as an ac­tivist who­cared­deeply,and­in­many­cases re­placedthe­need­forthought.Be­ing an­gry felt good, and of­ten made one, if only briefly, the cen­ter of at­ten­tion.

The au­thor spends some time com­par­ing cur­rent pop­u­lar mu­sic with what has gone be­fore. Hip-hop is par­tic­u­larly in­struc­tive be­cause itssinger­sare­al­waysan­gry;th­ey­call all women in­clud­ing their close rel­a­tives whores, and con­tin­u­ally threaten vi­o­lence. What are they so an­gry about? The so­cial or­der, pre­sum­ably; the world does not give them the re­spect and op­por­tu­ni­ties they de­serve and ac­cord­ingly they threaten may­hem. Hip-hop, for­tu­nately, will even­tu­ally die but one won­ders whether its re­place­ment will not be equally an­gry, if per­haps a bit more mu­si­cal.

We see how anger has be­come a cri­te­rion of suc­cess in al­most ev­ery mod­ern en­deavor. In ten­nis John McEn­roe achieved celebrity sta­tus de­spite, or per­haps be­cause of, the fact that he seemed per­pet­u­ally an­gry. Pete Sam­pras, who re­placed him as na­tional cham­pion and was a far bet­ter player, was crit­i­cized be­cause he lacked color, mean­ing he didn’t pro­vide copy for tired sports writ­ers by ar­gu­ing with the um­pire or scream­ing at the fans.

It is in pol­i­tics, how­ever, that the newanger has be­come most prom­i­nent. The au­thor states that it is ev­i­dentin­both­thelef­t­andtheright,but the left has the most prac­ti­tion­ers, those who have aban­doned Descartes’ “I think, there­fore I am” for “I am an­gry, there­fore I am im­por­tant.” They avoid dis­cussing is­sues by sneer­ing at the lack of in­tel­lec­tual so­phis­ti­ca­tion of Rea­gan, the twoBush­e­sor­whomev­er­the­yareat­tack­ing,be­cause­whatisim­por­tan­tis not the mat­ter un­der dis­cus­sion but the char­ac­ter of the per­son talk­ing.

On the right there are such masters of the ver­bal put-down as Ann Coul­ter. Each side has its star per­form­ers who are en­joyed more for their par­ti­san­ship than their wit.

Not­toomanyyearsagoatele­vi­sion show­called“Cross­fire”be­camev­ery pop­u­lar.It­con­sisted­o­fa­con­ser­va­tive and a lib­eral ar­gu­ing cur­rent af­fairs, two­lit­er­ate­an­dob­vi­ouslyan­gry­men. The pro­duc­ers wanted noise and anger, rather than con­sen­sus and so­lu­tions. In time the show be­gan to re­sem­ble­mud­wrestling,an­de­ven­tu­ally dis­ap­peared.

As hap­pens in dy­namic so­ci­eties changes in cul­tural modes bring about new in­dus­tries. We now have squadrons of Ph.D.s in psy­chol­ogy giv­in­g­lesson­si­nanger­man­age­ment; pub­lish­ers churn out books on when to be an­gry and when not, and how to make that anger use­ful for you. Anger,astheau­thor­pointsout,isnow embed­ded in our na­tional cul­ture and we are all learn­ing how to deal with it.

But what of the fu­ture? There are a few­straws in the wind that might giveone­hope.“Cross­fire”diedade­served death, and ev­ery year equally shal­low TV pro­grams die. Un­for­tu­nately, they are all re­placed.

Sol Schindler writes from Bethesda, Md.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.