Like most Internet fads, it's been pretty well forgotten, but one of the hottest things online earlier this year was actor Christian Bale’s profanity-laced tirade at a crew member who stepped into a shot during filming of “Terminator: Salvation.”
It was pretty funny and certainly made Bale sound like a world-class jerk. He dropped numerous f-bombs, threatened to walk off the set if the guy didn’t get fired (the moviemakers notified the film’s insurance carrier, just in case Bale did, well, bail) and generally acted like spoiling a take is a worse sin than torturing puppies.
Still, as much as Bale sounded like somebody who should be washed down with a fire hose, I personally had to have a little sympathy for him, having once done something like that myself.
Back when I was working for the local daily, I once lost it in the middle of the newsroom. A certain editor accused me in front of the entire newsroom of blowing off a story. My professionalism being called into question is something I don’t take lightly and … I lost it. I stood in the middle of the newsroom yelling, swearing and generally comporting myself like Christian Bale.
The end result was a three-day suspension without pay and company-ordered anger management counseling.
What was really kind of funny is that as I recall, the reason I got suspended wasn’t so much for throwing a huge hissy-fit. It was for using a certain forbidden word something like three times during my tirade. Ironically enough, I remember very clearly thinking during my screaming episode “don’t swear, you’ll get in trouble.” But apparently, my brain and my mouth had disengaged, because my mouth never got that message. In fact, I asked another editor, a friend of mine who was there, “Did I actually say that?” “Yeah, you did,” he replied with a rueful smile.
I didn’t do anything that every reporter in the newsroom hadn’t at least considered at one time or another – the editor in question was notorious for making those kind of comments – but I was just stupid enough to actually do it.
Still, some good did come out of it. The anger management counseling was a wonderful thing. It was extremely revelatory; I discovered I have a problem with authority, something that apparently I was the last to know. I even knew where that problem came from, which is a whole other story, but let’s put it this way: I’m not likely to do anything as stupid as blowing up at a supervisor again. Forewarned is forearmed. Besides, I’m basically my own supervisor and blowing up at myself would seem counterproductive. And successful counseling is never a waste of time.
Anger is an interesting emotion. It’s what drives a lot of people in, and into, my business. There are many of us who became reporters out of a very basic sense of anger at how the world works. So much of what people do wrong is doubly grating because things don’t have to be done that way. For a reporter, it can be a great motivator to go after truth.
In fact, anger could be a great motivator for bringing the kind of change most of us would like to see. Imagine what an amazing world this could be if people got angry enough to stand up before those who make life so unfair and yelled, “STOP IT! THINGS DON’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY! STOP IT NOW!”
Anger can also bring some good things, like humor. I have this angry guy theory of humor, which holds that the funniest people are angry at a very fundamental level. The two best comedians of their generation, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, were very angry guys in some ways. They worked it out in their art; they didn’t just make you laugh, they made you think about why the world is the way it is.
Not to be pollyannish here, though. In most cases, anger is a terribly destructive emotion. That guy at the end of the bar who’s looking for somebody to bust up is angry at nearly everything, but that doesn’t excuse the havoc he wreaks. That slimeball who cuffs his wife around might have some deeply rooted anger issues he’s working out, but that doesn’t make the blows hurt her any less. That mother who constantly insults her children may be cranky for good reasons, but the kids shouldn’t be paying for it.
And anger can make you stupid, as it did me. For one thing, it’s actually seductive. When the heat runs white, there’s a certain purity to the feeling. It puts you in touch with something primal. There’s an actual adrenalin rush. It isn’t exactly accompanied by clarity of thought, but extreme anger focuses you. For that brief moment, the universe seems to tighten down and all that exists is you, your anger and the object of your anger. It’s deeply unhealthy and destructive, but so are a lot of things people get addicted to. Few things in life are that pure. If you’ve ever had the experience – and nearly everybody has at least once – it’s easy to see how someone could become an anger junkie.
The problem is that in the end, anger is simply poisonous. If you can channel it into self-understanding or comedy, that’s one thing. But if all you can do is nurse it, nurture it, feed it, eventually it creeps into the center of your soul and rots it. That’s a high price to pay for a brief moment of purity.