Anger. It’s all the rage.
Before he went all whimsical-Mary-Poppins-kitsch with his London Olympics opening ceremony, Danny Boyle directed the darkly disturbing zombie flick, 28 Days Later.
In the film the highly contagious Rage virus cascades through society, turning everyone it touches into raving angry psychotics in a matter of seconds.
You’d be forgiven for seeing it as a commentary on modern society, with so much furious spittle flying from mindless mouths. A quick database search of the nation’s major newspapers brings up 609 stories on angry people. It’s not very scientific, but it does show that our community tends to be infuriated quite a bit.
They’re lashing out at the government, at delays in anything and everything, on roads, in hospitals, on the street. They’re angry about prices, and money and jobs. They’re frothing at the mouth about asylum seekers, they’re having conniptions over the carbon tax.
Former Howard Minister Amanda Vanstone told political journalist Laura Tingle that she had “always thought Australians had an inbuilt angry streak” because we have a sense of entitlement and a constant feeling of being ripped off.
But are we actually getting angrier, as a society?
It’s impossible to tell, really. What has changed, though, is how we express our fury. Any veneer of politeness seems to have been stripped away. Rather than underground sewers of bubbling rage, we have open drains, with fetid vapours constantly rising. And the smell makes people even more prone to hissy fits.
Dr Helen Cameron, an expert in anger and aggression from the University of SA’s School of Psychology, says anger has always been around – but anger is the emotion, and it’s the behaviour that’s changed. People are more likely to lash out now.
Online, of course, anonymity lets people rant and threaten and explode at the slightest provocation. Children swim around in that pool of unfettered fury, where cyber bullying is rife and people can abuse others with impunity. Where immediate reaction is everything. And we wonder why there’s a problem with youth violence on the streets.
Dr Cameron says cars also offer a semi-anonymous screen. Emails, social media, telephones, cars - they all offer us ways to vent without feeling personally responsible for the outcome. And alcohol, which is a factor in most violence, offers another sort of protective haze.
Then, the more anger you express freely, the more it becomes just a normal stench, part of everyday existence that children grow up with.
Tingle, in her Quarterly Essay piece Great Expectations: Government, entitlement and an angry nation, sheets much of the blame home to our ‘shouty’ politicians, and voters who are all at sea because the government has over promised and under delivered – and certainly the political acrimony is part of why we are an angry mob. But it’s far from being the only reason.
Parents are ‘teaching’ their kids in the way that they scream on sidelines; at players, referees, coaches. And many schools are stretching just to teach kids literacy and numeracy, let alone how to deal with frustration, and prevent anger turning into aggression. Pop culture is full of angry stars, seething heroes, and there’s rage on Rage.
When we react strongly to something, we automatically switch the dial to pique instead of passion, and lash out personally, attack the individual in the other car or on the end of the phone line or on Twitter, rather than taking a moment to consider whether anger is the best response.
This is not some uncontrollable epidemic, passing from human to human in the blink of an eye, but it is infectious. We can all – and of course that includes the media – pause for thought before our next spray.
You can yell at Tory on Twitter: @ToryShepherd
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