I was only twelve years old when I first saw the movie Network. It was 1975 and even though the culture of America was much more liberal than it is today, I was stunned by what I saw and heard. Of course, what everyone remembers from the movie is the mantra "I'm as Mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" but what really galvanized me was the idea that the revolution actually could be televised.
Over the years, the film kept returning to me as a kind of prophecy. I watched as media, wealth and power continued to concentrate, as news became the business of propaganda and entertainment instead of public service, and as we all fell deeper and deeper into the very apathy, indifference and materialism Howard Beale had railed against.
Since then, I have tried to build an entire way of being around the idea of "Mad as Hell." I believe it is the only political power we have left in America. Because what often gets lost behind the shouted slogan we all remember is the reason for getting Mad as Hell. It occurs in the lines right before anchorman Howard Beale stands up and makes his historic call to action. In them, he exclaims:
"You've got to say, 'I'm a human being, God Damn it, my life has value!'"
This is the moment that almost always brings me to tears. Because it is our individual, human dignity we are defending with Mad as Hell. This is the real point of the film -- that we are still human beings and so long as we are capable of defending our dignity with the full-throated force of our humanity, we can survive. Without it, we are doomed and become what Howard Beale calls Humanoids. Beings, he says, "look human but aren't" -- beings that have forgotten their value, surrendered their dignity, and abandoned their highest potential.
This is the central organizing principle for my political talk radio show "Mad as Hell in America." It is still a small show, produced once a week in a windowless room at a Clear Channel studio in Portland, Oregon, but on it we try to think big about what it means to be Mad as Hell. It is not, as the title might suggest, a three-hour shout fest, but a new conversation about how each of us, as individuals, from any side of the aisle, can and must respond to the urgency our times.
We start with an important distinction between anger and rage. The example I like to use is the Tea Party. It looks like a Mad as Hell Movement, but it's really just a Populist Rage Party. And you know when you are in the presence of rage because it is always destructive. And if we look at the Tea Party agenda, it is very clear -- dismantle the government. In other words, destroy it.
Anger, on the other hand, is a different substance entirely. It is an inherently constructive emotion, and when channeled properly can change the world. In fact, it may be the only thing that ever has. But modern American liberals have become squeamish about our anger over the years. We're not comfortable with Mad as Hell because that's the Republican brand. And we don't want to be like them.
The good news is that Mad as Hell is not Republican rage. That is merely the diversion conservatives throw up while their wealthiest constituents rip us off off. And make no mistake -- we are getting ripped off. Deliberately and systematically robbed blind by rich, corporate criminals who make money from war, pollution, exploitation and yes... government. If that doesn't make you Mad as Hell, check your pulse. You might be a Humanoid.
But there is an alternative. The recent revolution in Egypt is a perfect example of a Mad as Hell Movement that resisted the temptation of rage, but never surrendered the principled conviction that freedom is the only way. Mahatma Ghandi's Satyagraha was the original Mad as Hell Movement and Martin Luther King's fight for civil rights in America was the sequel. We need a three-quel in the United States. This time for Democracy.
So listen up Tea People -- Mad as Hell is much more than screaming and disrupting, and it is never about rage or violence. It is about constructing a humane, creative response to the crisis of our world. It is a stand we take as individuals, armed with our own unique talents, rendered in the spirit of dignity and respect. To recognize the power Mad as Hell is to understand that each of us is the franchise of a bloodless revolution, if we will just respond.
"But first, you've got to get MAD!!!"
If we follow the Mad as Hell impulse, it will lead us. If we respond from it, it will create something through us. If we keep faith with it, it will transform us. But we must have the guts to claim it, stick our head out the window and scream it, then come downstairs and change our lives. Because this is not where the movement ends.
It is where we will begin again.