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Tom Pantera

Tom Pantera
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Fargo, North Dakota, U.S.
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Middle-aged, divorced, liberal; nearly 30 years as a newspaper reporter. Pretty much a walking stereotype. By the way, many will deny it but people in Fargo do talk just like in the movie.

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MAY 4, 2009 2:40PM

The seductions of anger

Rate: 18 Flag

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.

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I've probably only actually allowed full-fledged, white-hot, pure-as-the-crystal-mountain-streams rage to course through my body three or four times in my lifetime.

In those moments, later remembered, I would have been capable of anything. Stabbing somebody through the heart with a pitchfork? Oh, hell yes. And I would have felt 100% righteous doing so.

Rage and anger terrify me. They shut me down emotionally, turn me into a six-year-old who tries to disappear any way possible, but generally by retreating inside.

Yeah, I've known rage.

This was really well written. Thumbed.
I understand. Especially the purity of anger at its peak; I've been there and let it run wild. It felt so good, to completely let go of all control. But yes, seductive and frightening too. Rated.
Been there, not quite the way you were but still. Yes, seductive and addictive and exciting but ultimately so incredibly damaging. So much better to focus that anger in other directions before it eats a hole in your soul.
I sympathize with and belong to that class of people who experience rage--that flash of physical, negative energy that urgently presses for release. These are not the same people as the chronically or more generally angry type. Rage is something different entirely, and it feels organic. I believe it is only destructive.
From someone prone to rages, this rings so true...a good warning to us all.
This was an excellent post, full of truths from experience, the best kind!
A couple of points about your opening example:
The crew member was the director of photography. He didn't enter the frame but crossed Bale's sightline, a no-no for sure, but not quite as egregious.

Bale's tirade included threats of physical violence and from the sounds of things, action toward that end as it sounded as if he had to be restrained at one point.

When the director tried to calm Bale and get the business of shooting the movie back online (as they were burning bundles of bucks with every minute wasted), Bale was insubordinate and undermined it.

The news is slightly more important than another in an endless string of now tired sequels to a hackneyed movie series.

And lastly, you weren't coddled and excused. Bale was. Likely, his knowledge of others' willingness to enable his childish behavior is likely what leads to similar tantrums from the "talent."

As to the rest of your post:
Decades ago, as a younger and far more robust man, my anger served me well when I could channel it on the football field. Now, not so much. I still grow angry but have learned to bite my tongue and find other outlets or contemplations. Like fire, it is a terrible master.
Great post. I once watched a barn burn. I was completely entranced, especially when a tank of propane exploded. I've felt rage that hot. Very scary.
Rated.

I've been there a few times and I still feel bad for my unfortunate victims. This was during a time when I was under extreme stress at work - working 16 to 18 hours a day with few resources and a hair-thin margin for error. On top of that my boss at the time had a hair-trigger temper and I usually bore the brunt of his outbursts.

A few times I simply lost it with my colleagues. I was like a wild woman, incandescant with rage. I hated myself afterwards but while I was in the rage it felt perversely good to be able to blow off some steam.
Jeeze, I have to admit I'm ambivalent about this. While I agree about the potential destructiveness of an angry outburst (who wouldn't?), in the context you cited, I have to wonder.

Blowing up at an editor who'd just called you out was a rite of passage once upon a time. The "F" bomb was about every second word. After all, it was a newsroom: We thrived on conflict outside the building; bringing it inside was second nature. We were SUPPOSED to have problems with authority figures.

Call me a dinsoaur, but it was more fun before newsrooms became insurance offices.
I couldn't agree more. That's one reason I'm no longer at that paper. Well, that and the fact that they eventually fired me.

And it's truly disturbing that newspapers, which once prized individuality, are now run by people who abhor it.
"my brain & my mouth had become disengaged..." most excellent! been there. done that. can't always let the assholes win! Sometimes, somewhere, righteous anger is required.