A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now

[Amazon Link]

This book by Peter Wood is an attempt to explore a question much on America's mind of late: why the heck are these people so pissed off all the time? Wood's thesis is that today's anger is a different species from what we've seen boefore. The "new anger" is an emotion that's all about the celebration of oneself: it's self-righteous, and often its primary purpose is it's own display. In a word, tedious. But nonetheless a topic worth checking out.

Wood investigates just about all relevant facets of our culture, driving up and down the entire length of American history. Some are expected: popular music, movies, politics, and (important for us narcissists) the blogosphere. But there are lengthy digressions into unexpected territory, most notably the sociology of self-service storage.

In short, it's great fun. Wood's style is accessible and appropriately light; it wouldn't do to get angry about the upsurge of anger in America, after all.

I'll quibble, however: if you're going to delve into movie anger, you need to have Sidney Lumet in your index, not George Lucas. Lumet's oeuvre includes 12 Angry Men and Network, both angry classics, the latter with perhaps the archetypical angry guy, Howard Beale, ranting "I'm mad as hell, … and I'm not going to take this any more!."

And, while musing on pop music, Wood does mention Elvis Costello. But inexplicably fails to quote:

Oh, I used to be disgusted
And now I try to be amused.

But those really are just quibbles. Wood's book is a good read, and you'll learn interesting things along the way. And if it makes you less angry, all the better.

Last Modified 2012-10-19 3:04 PM EDT


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William H. Macy plays Edmond Burke, a seemingly successful cog in Manhattan's corporate machine. One day, a perceived slight from a superior, followed immediately by a glimpse of an illicitly-canoodling couple in an elevator, sends Edmond to a fortune teller. This, in turn, causes him to walk out on his wife and embark on a short and seedy odyssey of self-discovery, which ends very badly for him and a number of people he encounters.

The screenplay is by David Mamet, based on his one-act play. So (unsuprisingly) just about everyone's dialog is stilted and unreal. It's hard to say what the point of the movie is. Is Mamet trying to paint some broad lessons of masculinity, race relations, corporatism, violence, etc.? That's a tough point to make, since just about everything Edmond and his co-stars say on these topics is preposterous windy claptrap.

Or is the movie really about self-discovery? If so, then the implied answer is unequivocal: that might not be a very good idea, dude.

I noticed that there's only one letter difference between the title character's name and that of Edmund Burke, the great 18th century Whig statesman. Better minds than I will have to dig out the thorny question of whether there are any intentional lessons to be gleaned about Edmond's slide into self-destruction from Reflections on the Revolution in France.

Last Modified 2012-10-19 2:39 PM EDT