He’s been stabbed in the back, he’s been misunderstood…
And he likes to be known as the angry young man.
~Billy Joel, The Angry Young Man
Another shooting. This one distinguishes itself as one of the worst mass shootings in US history. This one encapsulates a bizarre tangle of pathologies from homophobia to xenophobia to Islamophobia to obsessive violence and crackling hyper-masculine rage.
This one set off a firestorm of new public rants, social media tongue lashings, and political appropriations. This one induces a new depth of despair around the blood chilling vulnerability of bodies who, by their very existence, threaten the dominion of masculinity. This one surfaces anew the ways masculinity intersects with insecurity, fear, self-loathing, and extreme religio-politics to annihilate the “enemy.”
This shooting plays out the script of the angry young man. Angry young men are the foot soldiers of patriarchy. And we deal with their abrasive and unsettling ways every day.
This script is amplified when it plays out in communities who threaten masculine (and often white) hegemony by their very existence. Two of the most annihilating expressions of this script of the last year now stand out in horrible relief: the massacre in Charleston, an emblem of black community living into and living out its historic strength attacked by an angry young man infected with white supremacy; and now the massacred in Orlando, an emblem of non-binary gender identity and sexuality delighting in itself with joyful revelry attacked by an angry young man infected with homophobia and, possibly, with self-loathing about his own sexuality.
The angry young man obsesses about the object of his disdain, the “them” that makes his life constantly teeter on being untenable. The angry young man meets his tipping point when he is “disrespected” or realizes anew that he is losing traction in the world he lives in or in his own imagination about who he is in the world.
The angry young man plots an ambush to reestablish his dominance and exert his lust for others to conform to his distorted world. His bravado and hostility mask a deep and abiding self-hatred. He needs to destroy those who threaten to blow his cover—those who stand as a constant reminder of his fear of who he might become.
The angry young man goes to the pulse of the communities he loathes with a murderous rage. Those whose bodies threaten the architecture of the identity and world he aspires to must be stopped. It is the hyper-masculine aspiration to control, dominate, erase, silence. It is the impulse of entitlement of male desire to its wishes and it fantasy of a world made it its image.
And then we, American society, begin to parse out if we could have seen this coming. Our dumbfounded search through the residues left behind reveals the normalcy of the brooding, boiling, and alienated angry young man. This latest shooter was said to have a “clean record” in one article I read even though he had been investigated by the FBI for possible terrorist links and had a documented history of domestic violence. The eliciting of mental illness as the cause also helps us avoid the ways the angry young man is all around us and constantly normalized, excused, and even rewarded for his rage.
I went to a vigil last night for the Orlando victims. And, rightly so, strong words were spoken about homophobia and access to guns. And, rightly so, speakers condemned not simply those who outwardly express their hostility to LGBTQI people, but they also condemned institutions and laws that communicate to the world that LGBTQI people should be a different class of people, a people with lesser rights, a people unfit for leadership (e.g. denominations who continue to exclude LGBTQI people from ordination and marriage). There was also, rightly so, strong talk about the pathetic ways our lawmakers continue to avoid reforms to gun laws.
Discourse and legislation around both guns and LGBTQI rights do need continued pressure toward reform. But the mentalities that help to generate our gun laws, our continued restrictions and fear-based legislation around LGBTQI bodies are generated from a place that I don’t hear enough about in our public discourse in times of such violent lashing out: the annihilating performance and mentalities of hyper-masculinity. It is the common denominator in our country’s war with itself and it is showing itself with brash and horrible clarity in this election cycle.
The annihilating script of the angry young man loops its message of hate in our gun culture, our rape culture, our white supremacy culture, our religious fundamentalist culture, and our homophobic culture. And more than that, the annihilating script of the angry young man infects the mentalities of people of all gender identities in our universities, our sports culture, our churches, and in our deepest ambivalences about ourselves. Extracting oneself from the grip of this angry and annihilating script requires excruciating and vigilant work. And the people who resolve to do it can have a hard time finding our way in American culture once we have found a new song for our hearts.
Flipping the script on masculinity in this country requires a collective will to live with and embrace ambiguity, vulnerability, and our deep connection. Living with our true reality is a hard sell in our tough, individualistic American psyche. Until we break the chains of the angry young man’s script, guns and homophobia and white supremacy will continue to infect our collective soul. And we will continue to be bewildered by what feels like a losing battle.
Sure, we can say love wins in the end. But can we cultivate the will to stop asking love to prove itself over and against the ways we live together day in and day out? When will love be the script we teach ourselves in the first place?