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Angry nation

As always, Hollywood is setting the trend for the rest of the entertainment industry to follow.

James Cameron’s Titanic? A three hour film followed by three months of television shows on the disaster, with lengthy expert debates on whether the ship broke in half before it sank, or split on the way down.

The Perfect Storm? One killer wave spawned hundreds of programs on tidal waves, storms at sea, and the construction of boats.

Even fictional movies send television producers scrambling to come up with shows to leech off their box office popularity. Rain Man? I now know more about autism than I do about cancer. The Matrix? How many shows do we need on special effects and the status quo of artificial intelligence?

The newest flavour of the day is rage, sparked by the imminent release of the new Adam Sandler movie, Anger Management. It’s a comedy, but it’s based on a true phenomena.

Now anger stories are appearing on the front pages of major newspapers.

In a recent London Times, a British doctor named Theodore Dalrymple hypothesizes that the growing number of people in anger management reflects our growing Therapeutic State – which basically means that rage is in the process of being accepted and tolerated as a mainstream illness. People will be allowed to claim that their anger is not their fault, that it’s genetic, or the result of a bad upbringing. They will be medicated, placated, found not guilty of anger-related crimes, and treated with the same reverence we now treat depressed, impotent, hyperactive and overweight people.

Angry people will demand patience and understanding. Any suggestion that someone diagnosed with a rage disorder should calm the *$%# down will be met with cries of bigotry, and probably more rage.

If it sounds implausible, Anne Kingston outlined a number of cases in a recent column in the National Post, ‘Anger management makes me furious’.

For example, take the recent air rage case against a 46-year-old man who lost his temper at 30,000 feet and had to be forcibly restrained by eight male passengers. A psychiatrist testified that the man suffered from a rare condition called automatism, which leads to erratic behaviour when the afflicted goes through metabolic changes or is sleep deprived. The guy was found not guilty, and freed to take the chip on his shoulder elsewhere.

One psychologist is promoting an idea that people who are quick to anger likely inherited the trait – "the family transmission of psycho-social and emotional distress, and specifically anger in males." It seems we’re not responsible for anything we do anymore, even our bad behaviour.

Another popular U.K. psychotherapist was bold enough to suggest that rage is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather an authentic emotion that self-actualized people have every right to resort to: "Being angry can be done in a seriously stylish, non-aggressive way," he said, "You just have to learn the techniques."

The basic premise behind this new age rage is that we all get angry sometimes, and that expressing that anger is a perfectly normal and healthy. Repressing emotions can lead to bigger problems, so it’s better to let them out rather than allow them to fester.

And just as some individuals tend to cry more, laugh more, or worry more than the average person, some people have a tendency to get angry. The sooner we accept this idea, the better we can all get along.

How scary is that premise?

I’m no psychologist, but I do have friends in the service industry who could probably think of a few good reasons why people should keep their rage bottled up the old fashioned way, choking it down until it either goes away or they can get to a safe area to let it out.

The last thing a resort town like Whistler needs is for people to feel self-righteous about their anger, and treat it is a legitimate response that they are entitled to. Who is going to want to work the front lines of the tourism industry if society encourages people to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation? You can only empathize with a customer so much before you want to put him or her in a choke hold. The problem with anger is that it’s contagious, and grumpy customers lead to grumpy employees.

I’m of the opinion that there is too much anger out there already, especially in Whistler.

I’ve watched angry visitors throw fits in bars, restaurants, retail stores, hotel lobbies. I’ve seen people get out of their cars in the parking lot to scream at other drivers. I’ve witnessed people getting into shouting matches on ski runs, lining up at the chairlifts, and waiting for cabs at the taxi loop. Sometimes, on a busy weekend night, the village feels like it’s on the verge of a riot.

It’s no great mystery. A study by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce found that the average visitor to the resort is overworked and time poor because they don’t have any time in their regular lives to wind down, and get less than two weeks of vacation a year. They’re stressed out and on edge.

Our role as resort employees is to take that edge off, ensuring that everything goes smoothly from check-in to check-out, empathizing every step of the way. People need to be reassured that we understand that their lives are stressful, and we’re doing everything we can to help.

At the same time, it’s been proven that it takes more than an open fire and a martini for most people to unwind – people need at least a week away from work before they can even start to feel relaxed, and two weeks to start to feel rested. Meanwhile the average stay is around five days (at least it was back in 1999), which means that many tourists are ticking time bombs of rage and there’s not a lot we can do about it.

Eavesdropping on conversations on chairlifts and gondolas, I notice that a lot of visitors to Whistler actually seem to be going out of their way to find things to complain about. They just can’t let anything go.

That’s what our modern society, this self-righteous age of entitlement, has come down to. All work and no play makes Jack an angry man.

And, if you believe the psychologists, we’re supposed to be okay with that.

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