This was supposed to be another article on the use of humor in art. This is what it morphed into. The article is the boss.
“Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.”
One of my favorite moments in the 2018 God of War game is when Kratos sees his son Atreus lose his composure and senselessly attack a dead troll. After Atreus has calmed down, Kratos firmly tells him that he isn’t ready for their long and difficult journey ahead. Atreus keeps convincing him that he is ready — Though he clearly isn’t — And at one point, he says to Kratos, “It’s not like you don’t get angry in a fight.”
Kratos, who in his younger days killed an entire pantheon of Greek gods in the tireless name of vengeance — And now much wiser and calm in his old age — Simply responds, “Anger is a weapon. If you control it, use it. You clearly cannot…Your anger — You can get lost in it.”
Anger is a human impulse. And that makes it inherently neither good or bad. On a biological level, we all need anger in our lives. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be compelled or dissatisfied enough to improve a situation, or to stop tolerating any form of mistreatment on us.
But without a doubt, anger can be tremendously destructive to ourselves and the people around us if it’s unbounded, uncontrolled.
We were never formally taught about anger — That is, when to be angry, and how. So as you can guess, we had no choice but to model the adults around us. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that most of us didn’t grow up with good examples to follow.
One of Mahatma Gandhi’s many analogies of anger is that it is similar to electricity. He said, “When we channel electricity intelligently, we can use it to improve our life, but if we abuse it, we could die. So as with electricity, we must learn to use anger wisely for the good of humanity.”
Everyone gets angry. We’re all human after all. It’s what you do when you feel angry that determines whether or not you have an anger issue.
Gandhi once advised his grandson Arun, who was a very angry kid and often got himself into fights. Rather than admonishing him with the usual “You have an anger problem” lecture, he told him, “I am glad to see you can be moved to anger. Anger is good. I get angry all the time.”
Surprised, Arun replied, “I have never seen you angry.”
“Because I have learned to use my anger for good,” Gandhi responded. “Anger to people is like gas to the automobile — It fuels you to move forward and get to a better place. Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust.”
In the realm of art, it’s common to find that many of the famous works we know today were made in anger, or in response to what the artists perceived to be some form of injustice. But in art, as in life, anger without knowledge and thorough research is careless and futile.
In the article Arm Yourself With Knowledge, we discussed about Rage Against the Machine and how their rich trove of knowledge made its way into their art. They weren’t aggressive or rebellious just for the sake of it — It might seem like it on a surface level, but the reality is, the songs they wrote and the changes they’ve been able to bring were only possible because they had built a formidable forte in their study of social and political sciences — They weren’t in the least unqualified to say the things they had to say.
Their anger wasn’t baseless, and they knew how to use it commendably well. As they equipped in their song Freedom, “Anger is a gift”.
Before George Floyd, there was Rodney King in 1991. As the nation erupted in anger towards police brutality and systemic racism, Rage Against the Machine released their hallmark song, Killing in the Name. The song compares racist police officers to members of the Ku Klux Klan, claiming that “Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses”, and that the people they kill are somehow justified because they “wear the badge” and they’re the “chosen whites”. The song gained immense popularity as an anthem of resistance, and as the Black Lives Matter movement emerged this year, the song topped the charts again.
Occasionally, in their live performances they would alter the verse lyrics to “Some of those that burn crosses are the same that hold office”.
In 1996, Rage released another notably ferocious song, Bulls on Parade, off of their album Evil Empire — Named after President Ronald Reagan’s term for describing the Soviet Union. The song harshly criticizes the hypocrisy of American politicians, who parade their so-called “family values” or their support of the common people — When at the same time, they’re pro-war and expend a fortune on military weapons. The song angrily poses the question, where are their family values when they’re tending to “weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes, not need”? Just months after the song was released, President Bill Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act.
Though the band hasn’t written any new material for two decades now, they still remain vocal in their political activism. Recently, the band’s guitarist Tom Morello was criticized by a person on Twitter for speaking out against President Trump, saying that “Another successful musician instantly becomes a political expert.” Morello responded, “One does not have to be an honors grad in political science from Harvard University to recognize the unethical and inhumane nature of this administration but well, I happen to be an honors grad in political science from Harvard University so I can confirm that for you.”
Here are a couple of strategies on how we can use our anger towards better ends.
Firstly, trace your anger to its very roots. Only once you have calmed down and have a clear picture of what you’re angry about, you can decide if it’s worth getting worked up on. If it truly is, then you can do something about it. Abraham Lincoln had a habit of writing angry letters to his generals and keeping them in his drawer. Many of those letters were never sent, because once he slept on those issues, he realized they weren’t as bad as he had felt in that moment.
Gandhi advised Arun to keep an anger journal so that he wouldn’t do anything out of anger that he would soon regret afterwards. He told Arun, “Every time you feel great anger, stop and write down who or what caused your feelings and why you reacted so angrily. The goal is to get to the root of the anger. Only when you understand the source can you find a solution.”
Secondly — This especially applies to creative work — To follow what angers you. If you truly believe that whatever you’re angry about is important, go ahead and use the best of your knowledge to speak out. As we’ve discussed, Rage Against the Machine used their musical talents and their abundant knowledge of politics to create a change in the world around them. And there are so many opportunities for you to make a difference as well, no matter how small or big, in ways that only you can.
Here’s another example. One of the earliest videos that the YouTuber Casey Neistat made, called Bike Lanes, points out to the issue of cyclists getting summons for not using bike lanes. The problem is, bike lanes are often blocked by vehicles that are illegally parked on them. The video is a montage of Neistat crashing his bicycle into those vehicles, including a police car.
So that’s our gift of anger. Listen to it, use it carefully. But never lose yourself in it.