Anger is a Drug

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It’s been an angry few weeks in America, particularly America on the Internet. FergusonFerguson’s coverage in the mainstream press and the reactions to both on Twitter (and the newly discovered phenomenon, at least by white America, of Black Twitter) and to a lesser degree Facebook and Tumblr. The rapid spread of Ebola in West Africa, the angry reaction of Medecins Sans Frontiers to the lack of response by other aid organizations to this and other crises, and the global media reaction of fear, hatred and “othering” toward immigrants. Then the misogynistic Internet attacks and death/rape threats directed at Anita Sarkeesian (a feminist cultural critic who has created a series of videos critiquing the portrayal of women in games) and Zoe Quinn (a female game developer whose pissed-off ex-boyfriend alleged that her cheating on him with a games journalist led to positive reviews for her games), all leading to the #gamergate word war on Twitter, where gamers allege that games journalists are corrupt “social justice warriors” and games journalists say that gamers are angry white sexist man-children who shouldn’t be allowed to claim control of an industry that belongs to everyone. Then there’s the posting of scores of hacked, stolen, personal nude photos of female celebrities on 4chan and elsewhere, and the reactions to that, and the reactions to the reactions. I could go on, but that’s enough to make it clear what I’m talking about. 

It’s not like I’ve been outside the rage fray on all this. I’ve been doing my own share of posting and reposting of articles on nearly all of these issues (as you can see above), because yeah, I’ve been pissed off about it all too. What liberal feminist woman in her right mind wouldn’t be? Plus, when I repost stuff, I feel like I’ve sharing something important that needs to be said/said again, and when people like or repost the things I post, I feel validated.  

Then, the other day, I reposted an opinion piece from the Washington Post on Facebook called, “Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress.” It was reposted twice: once by a Facebook friend who agreed with me, and once by one who didn’t — in fact, his point in reposting the piece was how ludicrous and wrong it was, and how it was, copying from his post verbatim, “definatelya liberal agenda driven article to insight racism.” Now, that’s an easy quote to dismiss as representative of everything that’s wrong with America right now, and it’s not lost on me that this person, from my perspective, represents exactly the type of “white rage” that that article is about. But at the same time, he’s someone I know personally; a young veteran of the war in Iraq who we filmed with for the documentary, we spent a lot of time with him and his family, seeing how difficult it was to come home from the war he’d fought for his country, which had affected him physically and emotionally, and try to reintegrate into civilian life in an economically depressed part of the country at the height of the recession. While it irks me to no end, I understand why he thinks the way he does, and there was a time when I actually thought maybe we weren’t going to end up on opposite sides of every issue — probably before I got into a Facebook battle with him over the 2nd Amendment and gun control — when I thought maybe somehow he’d read the things I posted from the New Yorker or The New York Times or the Huffington Post, actually give them some thought and come around. Hahahahaha. Instead, this was the second thing of mine that he reposted in order to show what terrible things the liberal agenda is pushing (the first one being, amazingly, a Fox News-attacking piece on Ferguson from The Daily Show How can anyone repost Jon Stewart and not find him irresistibly right???). So in the same way that I’m using this Facebook friend as an example of the angry white right, I’ve become his example of the angry left wingnut. Yay.

How’d we get here? I can jump to blame it (being me) predominantly on the anti-everything sentiment whipped up by the right, using minorities, immigrants, gay people, President Obama, the “War on Christmas,” you name it, as scapegoats for outrage which is essentially built on fear (go back and read that Washington Post piece if you didn’t). But the truth is, I think we’re feeling just as enraged on the left now too. We may not have the talk radio chorus of frenzy or the echo chamber of Fox behind us, or the towering fortresses of misogyny that are sectors of Reddit and 4chan; we might instead have the mass feedback loop of Twitter activism, Avaaz and MoveOn petitions, and the biting commentary of Rachel Maddow, HuffPo and Bitch magazine. But it doesn’t mean we can’t get worked up in the same way about Ferguson, Citizens United, the Keystone XL pipeline, Sandy Hook, Wal-mart, the Koch Brothers, etc etc etc, and want to yell loudly about it, OR AT LEAST USE CAPITAL LETTERS. It’s hard for me to go on Facebook or Twitter or read or listen to the news these days without getting pissed off. You can argue that it’s about time that the left got as worked up as the right, and that we need to finally get that pissed in order to fight back. But is all this crap on the internet actually fighting for something? 

I know that, for me, anger is easy. It’s a place that I just go sometimes if I’m not careful, and not always with that much provocation. I’ve got some temper genes on both sides of my family, of different varieties: my mother yells and gets it out of her system and my father stews. Unfortunately, I think I inherited some of each, because I can get to the yelling easily, but I can also let the rage get in my head and preoccupy me, to the point that it gets in the way of my day. I think getting older has contributed to this on the one hand, mainly thanks to bitterness and hormones, while therapy and Prozac and maturity/practice have helped counter it. Still, it’s hard for me to let go of a Twitter or Facebook battle, even one that I’m not taking part in but am just following. But if it is one that I’m personally involved in, look out. It takes over. The next rejoinder, how to win, how much I want to just annihilate the other person with words and show them how stupid they are becomes all I can think about. 

And judging by what I see out there on social media, I’m far from the only one. Anger makes you feel powerful. It makes you feel right, and righteous. And posting something on the internet in reaction to your anger can make you feel like you’re doing something, and sometimes you are: at the very least, you’re expressing your rage, and likely passing it on to somebody else like a virus, getting them to share it or react to it with their own wrath. At worst, if you’re posting personal information or photos, or smears, or lies, or threats, as we’ve seen more and more people do these past few weeks it seems, you are doing real damage to somebody else (if you don’t believe me based on everything I’ve cited up to now, here’s another example). You may not be accomplishing much of anything else, but the Internet has become a really good way to hurt people. 

So maybe it’s time we all took our anger and got out of the house — and no, I don’t mean in order to bring it to the nearest bar fight. There’s an election coming up, and because control of the Senate hangs in the balance, it’s going to be important even though it’s a midterm. No matter which side you’re on (though I hope you’re on mine), you’ll be doing something more constructive with your ire if you channel it into going door-to-door to register voters. If you really just can’t pull yourself away from your computer or your phone, then instead of using them to post bile, make phone calls to get out the vote, or write your congressperson. And if you’re too pissed off at your elected officials to want to help any of them, then go to an issue protest or march or rally.

Hopefully, we can all find something we care about more than we care about being angry.

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