500 Words on Thursday | Written by Lee Schneider
I was receiving some sage advice recently from a colleague after showing him a tv pilot we’d made. “TV is turned up to 20 now,” he said. “Everything has to be loud.” True: For television to work you need crying, screaming, fighting and clawing.
As I aggressively bite the head off a chocolate turkey left over from Thanksgiving, I’m considering just how extreme things have become. Ad-man and provocateur Donny Deutsch was doing a show called “America the Angry” on MSNBC and got himself kicked off the air because the show may have angered Keith Olbermann, the MSNBC star, or at least angered Olbermann’s boss, according to The New York Times. You know things are heating up when a television show about people getting angry on television gets cancelled because it made some television people angry. That’s what you call a feedback loop.
Even feedback loops can speak the truth, however. Keith Olbermann is mad. Jim Cramer looks mad even when he’s just crazy. TV weathercasters, usually a sanguine bunch, are edgy. According to The New Yorker, researchers at George Mason University found that 25% of television weathercasters agree with the statement that “Global warming is a scam” and 80% of them don’t trust “mainstream news media sources.” They are idiots and that gets me mad.
I guess mad is catching. A few years ago I was doing a documentary for A&E about blowing things up. For a summer I tip-toed around trip wires and det cord and tried not to explode. I survived to write this, and I learned something. When making the film we wanted to find out if expressing anger allowed you to move on with your life. We gave people sledge hammers and let them bash apart a car and tell us how it felt. (“It felt great! Can I smash your car too?”) Yeah, that was the problem – anger just led to more anger. Psychologists we interviewed confirmed this. Getting mad can be healthy, but don’t expect just one angry episode. Anger feeds itself and it’s not a victimless crime. I’ve gotten mad lots of times and it takes its toll on the people around you, unless you smash things while living solo in your cave, which sounds boring.
I’m not expecting television to be nice, but with everything turned up to 20, much of that angry noise is showing us new ways of rehearsing anger, not reducing it. That’s how Thich Nhat Hanh described angry actions in his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames. He wasn’t talking about television. But he might have been. Some call tv talking furniture. That’s wrong. It’s screaming furniture now.
I’m going to bite the rest of the head off that chocolate turkey and find something else to do besides watch the loud little box.