Stress: it’s a permanent part of modern life, as near as the nightly news, as familiar as the sound of gunfire in a public place. It raises blood pressure and wrecks your health. It calls on the phone during dinner, appears as a pop-up window, an overflowing e-mail IN box, or beeps from some asshole’s belt in the middle of a quiet theater. It has 250 channels on cable and operates 24/7. It blares from the radio as a special bulletin, the Thor-hammer hump of a distant rap song, or this week’s Amber Alert. It rides your bumper and flips you the finger when you don’t get out of the fast lane fast enough. It waits at home, lurks in traffic, and lives next door.
The good news: you’re not alone; these are universal problems.
The bad news: stress usually becomes Frustrated Rage.
The really bad news: we love guns and have easy access to them.
When Stress turns to Rage, somebody usually gets killed. We’ve even coined a term for this new act of social commentary: “Going Postal” —which pays a bizarre homage to the first few “news stories” to appear in the early 1980s: postal workers were bringing 9mm pistols to work with much more frequency than the national average.
Strangely enough, the next demographic category to succumb to this new form of self-expression was the Elementary School Student, followed by the Junior High Weirdo, and the well-to-do High School Outcast with bad taste in music and trenchcoats. Suddenly, middle-class white kids have the luxury to afford outrage AND a small arsenal.
This new rendition of stress is more insidious and disturbing than earlier versions: WE DON’T KNOW WHO THE BAD GUYS ARE ANYMORE. We don’t know who to fear.
There was a simpler time in America—when rage was strictly Black, Latino, or Unemployed. In the old days—thanks to racism, unions, and black hats—it was easy to spot potential problems: They were different from Us. They were color-coded, of low income, or spoke with a strange accent. We simply crossed to the other side of the street–or forced them to; that’s how most of us were taught to avoid danger in society; don’t get near Them.
Nowadays, you just never know. Chances are the guy who assaults you in a parking lot won’t be wearing gang colors and carrying an illegal handgun; it’s more likely that he’ll be in a Polo shirt and beat you to death with a golf club. “Hey, he scratched my Beemer!”
The person most likely to arrive at work armed to the teeth in a camo outfit might be sitting in the next cubicle, some mild-mannered church-going father-of-three who is having marital problems, wrestling with self-esteem issues, or dealing with some other lame excuse for shirking moral responsibilities.
The next body count that Katie Couric tearfully exploits might be attributed to a pimple-faced 14 year old who got picked on by an age-old hierarchy known as ‘jocks.’ (These days, assault weapons have replaced water balloons as a response to a common rite of passage.)
The problem is that contemporary culture hasn’t produced any decent role models for its youth, especially when it comes to killing and violence; earlier generations were raised on murderous legends, people whose crimes often had heroic, mythological elements: Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Bonnie & Clyde, Al Capone–they had class. They killed for good reasons. There was honor among thieves. They had some sense of morality, albeit criminal, but they were Romantic Moralists at heart; The Godfather’s Don Corleone is an admirable example in the context of business negotiations and concern for one’s family–and most important, he would never waste bullets on innocent strangers.
Sadly, those days are gone; your chances of witnessing a classic bank job or train hold-up are close to nil, but your odds of living next door to a twelve year old Timothy McVeigh wannabe are probably about even. Now that’s stressful.