Mad As H-E-Double Hockey Sticks
The new American ethic is to celebrate dysfunction. No longer do we honestly evaluate what is right vs. what is wrong, the new moral standard is to garner the most attention. No matter how stupid, evil, or harmful the action, if you get a reality show out of it, good press, or a large census on a Facebook fan page, you did the right thing.
Last week Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant, cursed out a passenger via the in cabin intercom (at least this is what I gather), grabbed a beer, pulled the handle for the emergency shoot, slid victoriously down the inflated slide, and ran away. It was his “Take This Job and Shove It” moment. If you didn’t hear about this you don’t have an internet connection, a television, or any sort of magazine subscription. I would not be surprised if Martha Stewart Living did a cover story. This week’s TIME Magazine included it only as a “Briefing” on page 13.
The writer of the brief article, James Poniewozik, said that Slater’s, “mad-as-hell rebellion struck a chord.” From all the reporting I have read and watched, the chord has been an overwhelmingly positive one. Poniewozik assesses Slater’s actions as not the most “level headed”, yet Slater is heralded as “our new folk hero of the skies.” Wikipedia says of folk heroes, “The folk hero often begins life as a normal person, but is transformed into someone extraordinary by significant life events, often in response to social injustice, and sometimes in response to natural disasters.” This normal to extraordinary transformational path certainly holds true for Slater. Folk heroes are caricatures of the conscience of the people. They are bigger than life versions of what we want to be, or do, but haven’t. We live vicariously through them. Since Slater is our newest addition to the pantheon of folk hero, does this mean we are all as Poniewozik describes Slater, “mad-as-hell?”
Before I answer the question of whether or not we are “mad-as-hell” allow me to entertain this one. Do we want a society which is openly angry, openly vulgar, naturally rebellious, and ever on edge? Are we glad we are about to explode? In a culture that celebrates insanity there will be people who pretend their kid is in a weather balloon drifting aimlessly toward death. There will be television shows that parade sexually aggressive women before Adonis and others that parade sexually confused men before Aphrodite. The largest contracts will go to rookies who have yet to step onto the field. We will come to believe that journalism is five angry women clucking on a couch. We will ignore constitutions, company rules, and rewrite history as if we have the right. In a society that’s newest folk heroes are “mad-as-hell” we will look stupid and like it.
In Matthew 5 – 7 Jesus outlined the kingdom ethic. What is commonly referred to as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is a bottom-up, rather than a top-down approach. A culture of moral excellence begins with brokenness at the grassroots level. I may actually be “mad-as-hell,” but instead of vulgarity over the intercom with no regard for whose son, daughter, or wife may be in the audience, I will instead be careful to control myself and avoid insulting my brother rather than suffer the inevitable consequences of my wrath (Matthew 5:21-26). Forgiveness is more virtuous than insult. In a culture that practices the kingdom ethic, television shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and “The Ultimate Catch” get horrible ratings (Matthew 5:27-30). When people prefer to be moral instead of mad there is less divorce (5:31-32), more truth (5:33-37), authentic generosity[i] (6:1-4), less anxiety (6:25-34), and more social conscience about the way we treat others (7:12). Our culture is standing on its head. The ones who can shock us, scare us, and tempt us; lead us. When we regain our moral bearing, we will call Slater-esque behavior what it is, stupid. Slater lacked self-control, he overreacted. What he did was selfish, not heroic. He could have cared less how his actions affected every other passenger on the plane. Case in point, when asked about pulling the emergency chute Slater responded, “I always wanted to do that.”
So are we “mad-as-hell?” Absolutely. We are mad at everything – politicians, oil companies, economics, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, George Bush, Nancy Pelosi, MSNBC, Keith Olbermann, the weatherman who interrupts our favorite show, football coaches, umpires, referees, waiters, red lights, traffic jams, Windows Vista, dropped calls on iPhone 4 . . . shall I continue? I am not sure we are as mad in the sense of being angry, as we are mad in the sense of being borderline insane. Perhaps there is a happy merger of the two meanings of “mad” here. Because we are allowing our anger to be our ethic, it is slowly driving us insane. At the very least it is causing us to look stupid. We have lost our moral bearing and the result is that we are forging a new, dangerous morality. When I go mad, my wife offers simple advice, “Get a grip.” She means that I should control myself and think before I do something stupid. This is the message of my wife, of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and sage advice for our time, as a people and a culture, we desperately need to, “get a grip” on ourselves and return to celebrating moral excellence rather than dysfunction. If we allow “mad-as-hell” to be the controlling ethic, it will not be long before we get there.
[i] Authentic generosity as opposed to the “cause of the week” being publicized as a knee jerk telethon put together by some celebrity who otherwise has no moral conscience toward those in need.