Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Angry Whopper: Sacrament Of Our Day

Burger King has “unveiled” its newest work of culinary marketing – “the Angry Whopper.” Actually, the burger sounds pretty good and I am apt to eat one. As you have probably surmised, it is the regular old Whopper with some spicy substitutions like jalapenos and pepper jack cheese. But here’s what I’m wondering: why is the Whopper “angry”? Why not hot, fiery, spicy, searing, etc.? I gather that BK figures people want anger enough to pay for it, even at lunch. They want an angry lunch.

This isn’t entirely new. Think back to the theme song of the 60’s classic western The Rebel.

Johnny Yuma was a rebel.
He roamed through the west.
Johnny Yuma the rebel,
He wandered alone

(So far it’s just Kant and Kierkegaard’s solitary individual with a sawed off shotgun. But here’s what puzzles me):

Fighting mad
This rebel lad
He packed no star
As he wandered far
Where the only law
Was a hook and a draw.

Ok, “no star . . . the only law was a hook and a draw” -- we are celebrating the heroism of anarchy, living the “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short” life in Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature, bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all – sounds like Congress and sometimes the Church). But what was Johnny Yuma fighting mad about? I watched the series faithfully, and found Johnny to be rather cool headed. But the theme song promised us he would be “fighting mad.” Why did they make such a promise utterly unsupported by the script or the acting? Whenever I wander far “where the only law is a hook and a draw” as is the case in some urban neighborhoods, I am not angry. I’m mostly nervous. So why was Johnny misrepresented in the song as “angry”?

Now even our hamburgers are imbued with rage, which calls to mind the punk rock 90s classic “Rage” by Henry Rollins. Do you recall the lyrics? To this day, I know every line by heart. It went:

Rage, rage, rage, rage, rage.
Rage, rage, rage, rage, rage.
Rage, rage, rage, rage, rage.

My wife teaches Property Law to first year law students. Typically, disputes arise as to the degree to which the individual’s property rights should be constrained to accommodate the needs of neighbors or the common good (e.g., zoning regulations) -- issues over which students differ according to political ideology. The more conservative students tend to get pretty worked up over things like zoning. My wife has on occasion asked them where the anger comes from. They are unable to articulate the cause of their emotions, but the question itself makes them all the angrier. What is this about?

Remember the Gulf Oil Spill. What were people actually angry at the President about – not so much any policy he had or had not adopted – they were angry that he was not sufficiently angry. With each passing year, anger grows more normative. Remember Sean Connery’s James Bond. He used to have a jolly good time blowing up the bad guys and saving the world. But Daniel Craig seethes with hatred. With him, it’s personal.

In the psycho-spiritual model I believe in, emotions are emotions. They are all natural and human. The core self or the soul looks upon those emotions, either inside us or outside us, with interest, patience, and acceptance, balancing our feelings and preserving our capacity to live rationally and in harmony – harmony both with each other and with the various parts of ourselves. But what happens when one emotion is elevated above the others, when one emotion is given the place in life that is the natural province of our serene center?

In Buddhism, there are 6 realms of being. We each live our life predominantly in one of them, but we experience all 6 realms each day as passing passions or moods. They are the realms of:

The Divas – blissed out
The Diva Locis – blissed out but crazy and erratic
Human – rational and choice making
Animal – controlled by sensuality
Hungry Ghosts – driven by insatiability – constant sense of scarcity
Hell Beings – consumed by fear and loathing

In the Buddhist model, it is the lowest realm of being that has become the pinnacle of spiritual aspiration in our popular and – God help us – political culture. When Clay, Webster, and Calhoun saved the nation in 1850 through Compromise, they acted rationally in a way which is hard to do in a society that buys anger for lunch.


Kirk Woodliff said...

Bishop Dan… I know this has made me hungry… not yet sure if it is the hunger of the 5000 who were told to sit in the grass, or the hunger of those who were nourished by the beatitudes on the side of a mountain. The next few months will tell…either way I’ll be fed.

Rick+ said...

I've been thinking a lot about fear over the past few weeks. Most of the times I've been angry it has been rooted in fear: afraid someone will not respect me; afraid I'll be hurt; afraid I'll be rejected or abandoned. Today, I actually did a count and Jesus said something like, "Do not be afraid" or "Fear not" twenty-two times in the Gospels. These are fearful times, and anger is one way it seems to come out, especially since it seems to be almost glorified by the media, political parties, and talk radio. You rarely hear people say, "I'm peaceful as heck, and I'm am going to handle it." I suspect it's also a safer emotion for us tough Americans to express than fear.