I had an epiphany the other evening while flying from one airport to another in a world whose contours have grown less and less familiar to me. Far less friendly, too. It may be worth sharing since others, I suspect, may have been similarly struck. Actually, it hit me long before boarding the plane; in fact, the moment I entered the airport I felt its impact—not on the order of Moses and the Burning Bush, mind you, but jarringly real nonetheless.
How shall I describe it? It was one of those Howard Beale moments when, all at once, you feel moved to announce to anyone who will listen how hopping mad you are and that you’re simply not going to take it anymore. Does that resonate, I wonder, with any readers out there? Who hasn’t experienced, in the last year or so, the madness of living in an America that appears to be on its way to becoming wholly woke?
And, by the way, is that even a word? What does it mean? Like most clueless consumers of the internet, I needed to look it up—on Google, of course. There I discovered the origin of it, and an intimation as to why it has come to tyrannize over our lives. It’s a slang term for being alert to injustice in society, especially racial injustice. The premise is left unexamined, of course, so one never quite knows what the woke crowd mean by such terms. Only that by joining “Black Lives Matter,” one would be doing the most wonderfully woke thing in the world.
This allows one, then, to attack “White Privilege,” even as one remains thoroughly white, which has now become so widespread a tendency as to qualify as a medical condition—a mass contagion, as it were. It seems not to have affected ordinary black people, by the way, only huge numbers of highly-pampered, pseudo-educated white people, many of whom live in suburbs where they are being looked after by guilt-ridden liberal parents. The phenomenon certainly suggests the self-lacerating lengths to which the insanely insecure are now being driven.
So, I’m having this Howard Beale moment at the airport. For those fortunate few who actually prefer reading books to watching movies, Howard Beale is a character in a film that came out years ago called Network. In the film, Peter Finch brilliantly portrays Howard Beale, a famous newscaster. In the middle of a meltdown on the air, Beale announces to millions of viewers that the time has now come for everyone to get really mad. “I want you to get up now,” he tells everyone, “…get out of your chairs…go to the window…open it, stick your head out and yell…I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
But we do take it, don’t we? In fact, we’ve always taken it, which is why the exercise I had the other night was the sheerest fantasy. And yet there I was, wishing more than anything to mount some outsize soapbox above the faceless crowd (who moved in mindless lockstep to the safety instructions issued by airport security) to declaim, in the most stentorian voice I could summon, that we really don’t have to take this anymore.
Take what, for heaven’s sake? What could possibly justify my interrupting a thousand busy lives? Was there a particular provocation that pushed me over the edge, something to warrant such full-throated expression? In public, no less?
Before I tell you, I should confess, once again, that of course I said and did nothing. The festering rage and resentment failed to erupt, owing to the usual embarrassment most of us would sooner keep inside rather than face. Besides not wanting to cause a scene, I did not wish to be arrested, either. It is not just death that makes cowards of us all but the pressures of social convention as well.
But if I’d actually had a real, honest-to-God, Howard Beale moment, here are the provocations that would have set it off—which, to be sure, have not gone away and, in my darker moments, will never go away. The first is that most odious face covering we’ve all been relentlessly instructed to wear, the absurdity of which continues to baffle and bedevil any sane person who has tried to follow the science. We don’t need to wear the damn thing anymore, not at airports, not on airplanes. Not anywhere. The time has come to simply lift the mandate, leaving it to the fetishists to wear if it makes them feel safe and snug. As for the rest of us—who have either had COVID-19 and survived, or taken the vaccine, or simply choose not to wear one—just leave us all alone. Everyone is entitled, as Chesterton would say, to be his or her “potty little self.” And never mind what tyrannical little twits like Tony Fauci might say. Tell him to stuff it. He can use my mask if he needs something to stuff it with, too.
And the other? That would be the whole massive state security apparatus that now surrounds us at every airport, intruding ever more obnoxiously upon our privacy. And to what end? In the interest, so we have endlessly been told, of staying safe, of keeping the terrorists from blowing us all up. And so even eighty-five-year-old nuns must submit to close inspection, and God help them if the officious TSA agent suspects an explosive device hidden in her rosary.
Where, I ask, amid all these deprivations by which a once free people now find themselves bound and fettered, do we find even a scintilla of resentment, much less that wellspring of indignation righteously felt in the face of such an enemy? Where is that targeted rage directed at those responsible for upending our lives?
Yes, the Twin Towers fell. Its mastermind was then duly taken out; a long, inconclusive war ensued, and here we are, twenty years later, and we’re still not safe. Are we not entitled to be angry at those forces within Islam that sanctioned the terror? And as to the Pandemic, evidence for which more and more points to China as having exported it to the world, will that result in real, sustained rage at a country so indifferent to human life as to blithely wipe out millions of people across the globe? Not to mention the complicity of not a few powerful and well-situated Americans who both assisted in making it happen and profited from it.
Perfect justice in a fallen world is not possible. I know that. But even imperfect justice would be welcome at this point. It will not happen, however, until enough people throw open their windows and start to shout, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
[Photo Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists]