Anger motivates me. It makes me pick up my pen. More than beauty or pride of craft or (I'm ashamed to admit) truth and justice, anger sets me in my seat and moves my hand across the page. A jolt of it causes the ideas snap to attention unlike anything else. It's a blessing for a writer, but also a curse. Because for every potent and enduring work that owes its existence to anger, there are dozens of small-minded screeds that claim the same father.
A metaphor might help here. Let's compare rage's children to two insects -- the gadfly and the mosquito. One of the more common kinds of gadfly is the horsefly, a big, black, buzzing thing that likes to circle you all day long with seemingly unending stamina. Yes, it's unpleasant, but while the bug may bite any equine you happen to be riding, its primary danger to humans is annoyance. Not so the mosquito. Sure, sometimes it'll announce its presence with the whining hum of its tiny wings. But your attention really isn't what it wants. No, it's after your blood.
Now an accompanying illustration. There's a folk musician I used to like, an iconoclastic singer-songwriter whose canon touches on everything from religion to race to politics. On his first album, he unfolded a shocking metaphor to describe his relationship to the divine and, by proxy, ours, namely that of an unfaithful wife to her husband. ("I am a whore I do confess, / But I put You on just like a wedding dress / And I run down the aisle.") While it certainly wouldn't have gotten played on mainstream radio, the song surprises more than it offends, because its author implicates us through artistry and subtlety, through telling it slant. But on his latest album, all respect for his audience has disappeared, as has the figurative language and consistent rhyme structure. Addressing the problem of world hunger, he blurts, "We sit just like we don't give a shit / About fifty-thousand people who are dying today."
Respect for the audience -- perhaps that's what separates the gadfly from the mosquito. It's easier to take your lumps when you believe the artist has your good as his goal. Thinking he primarily wants to make you hurt, wants to claim his pound of flesh makes it well-nigh impossible. Of course, respect runs both ways. Gadflies get listened to; mosquitoes get slapped.
(Picture: CC 2009 by eyeweed)