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Jeffrey Overstreet

Hulking Rage

An epidemic of anger at the cineplex

You'd better watch that temper of yours," mutters David Banner to his genetically altered son Bruce in Ang Lee's big-screen adaptation of The Hulk. Good advice. But what precisely should Banner do with all that pent-up anger?

The problem of anger preoccupies an increasing number of artists in an era that overdoses us with rage-oriented news. Turn on CNN: Riots. Protests. Lawsuits. Road rage. Hate crimes. Terrorism. Switch over to the talk shows, where tempers are baited and tantrums exploited for pure spectacle. Wrath reigns on the airwaves: Radiohead rants about government oppression and media manipulation, Metallica's new album is called St. Anger, and bile is the bread and butter of many rap artists. Even Bruce Cockburn is angry again, bringing fury back to folk-rock. Bookshelves are barking as well. Try something by Chuck Palahniuk—Fight Club or Choke. In Salman Rushdie's novel Fury, a Middle Eastern man strolls Manhattan streets, fuming with a foreigner's frustrations over America's opulence and self-absorption. (The book reached stores on September 4, 2001, like a prophet's last-minute warning.)

Rather than offering a diagnosis of these violent symptoms, most entertainers exploit our dissatisfaction, serving up a steady diet of wish-fulfillment fantasies. We cheer angry heroes for striking back at adversaries in ways most of us know better than to imitate. In the last several months viewers witnessed Vin Diesel's vengeance in A Man Apart, laughed at so-called Anger Management, and marveled at comic-book spinoffs in which Wolverine rampages (X2), Bruce Banner Hulks, and Jekyll "Hydes" (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Trampy girlfriends and a disintegrating mother drove 8Mile's Eminem to wrestle his rage into rhyming rants. J-Lo punished her husband when she'd had Enough domestic abuse. Anti-death-penalty activists in The Life of David Gale went to ugly extremes, taking a cue from John Q, who held an entire hospital hostage when his son was denied medical ...

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