Monday, November 12, 2007

Superlatively Angry

Trentonian reporter/columnist, LA Parker, wrote an article last week about the woes of the city, and concluded that folks in Trenton need to practice safer sex and if we stop procreating so much, we wouldn't need more police officers. Again, I am befuddled by my lack of complete disagreement with Parker. I think he tries WAY too hard to make connections between incongruent issues (like cops and birth control), but I think I understand what he's saying: people need to take more ownership of, and responsibility for their own fate, their own success, and their own happiness. Decent advice, no?

While I don't understand why he needed to talk so much about the police to make his point, I do see it. What I got stuck on, though, was his second paragraph, which happened to be his second sentence, too:
"Since this column is not nationally syndicated (yet), just call me the most angry black man in these 7.5 square miles called Trenton."
My mind went back to grade school grammar lessons, specifically, to the one on superlatives. English is a particularly difficult language to learn, because there are so many exceptions to the rules. For instance, you have the tricky "good/bad" trios: good, better, best; bad, worse, worst. But not all superlatives are irregular, though; sometimes we just add an "-er" or "-est" (or "-ier" or "-iest" to the end of a word, and call it a day. For instance, the tomato pie at X's is tasty. But Y's is tastier, and Z's is the tastiest.

But it still can be tricky. Some words take modifiers like "more/most" or "less/least" in front of them to compare degrees of coolness or lameness. For example: the tomato pie at A's is delicious. At B's, the pie is more delicious, but C has the most delicious tomato pie.

So, LA's proclamation that he is "the most angry black man" in Trenton — the city he does not call home, but does spend considerable time in, as he works here — sounded off to me, especially since just few short words earlier, he used the term "angriest" to describe Malcolm X.

I like the mechanics of language, and I don't mind when writers bend and/or break the rules on occasion, as long as it's obvious they know what they're doing, so I wanted to see if "most angry" was an acceptable use of the phrase, based on Parker's intent. So I looked through my grammar books, my AP Stylebook (and Libel Manual), and surfed the web for answers. While LA may have been better off using the word "angriest," it does seem "most angry" can be appropriate. But I'm not here to defend LA Parker. What started out as a bit of research to prove him wrong, even in a very small way, was more or less unsuccessful, but in the process, I stumbled across something interesting.

When I typed the terms "angriest" and "most angry" into my search engine, Google spat up a result for a Men's Health Magazine article, which ranked the nation's 100 angriest (they used the -est ending) cities in 2006. Absent from that list was Trenton, NJ, though there were other NJ cities that made it.

You can read the whole article here if you want.*

(From most to least angry cities)

1. Orlando, FL
2. St. Petersburg, FL
3. Detroit, MI
4. Baltimore, MD
5. Nashville, TN
6. Wilmington, DE
7. Miami, FL
8. Memphis, TN
9. Jacksonville, FL
10. St. Louis, MO
11. Chicago, IL
12. Tampa, FL
13. Jackson, MS
14. Albuquerque, NM
15. Charlotte, NC
16. Dallas, TX
17. Houston, TX
18. Tucson, AZ
19. Indianapolis, IN
20. Wichita, KS
21. Birmingham, AL
22. Providence, RI
23. Durham , NC
24. Altanta, GA
25. Washington, DC
26. Denver, CO
27. Philadelphia, PA
28. Baton Rouge, LA
29. Fort Worth, TX
30. Phoenix, AZ
31. Lubbock, TX
32. Cleveland, OH
33. Greensboro, NC
34. Cincinnati, OH
35. Arlington, TX
36. Los Angeles, CA
37. Buffalo, NY
38. Grand Rapids, MI
39. Boston, MA
40. Columbia, SC
41. Tulsa, OK
42. Aurora, CO
43. Seattle, WA
44. Sacramento, CA
45. San Diego, CA
46. Montgomery, AL
47. Raleigh, NC
48. Yonkers, NY
49. Oakland, CA
50. Fort Wayne, IN
51. Newark, NJ
52. Las Vegas, NV
53. Columbus, OH
54. St. Paul, MN
55. Charleston, WV
56. Kansas City, MO
57. New York, NY
58. Oklahoma City, OK
59. Toledo, OH
60. San Antonio, TX
61. Riverside, CA
62. Modesto, CA
63. Louisville, KY
64. Honolulu, HI
65. Richmond, VA
66. San Francisco, CA
67. Bakersfield, CA
68. Spokane, WA
69. Milwaukee, WI
70. Jersey City, NJ
71. Lexington, KY
72. Little Rock, AR
73. Lincoln, NE
74. Billings, MT
75. San Jose, CA
76. Hartford, CT
77. Minneapolis, MN
78. Boise, ID
79. Anaheim, CA
80. Norfolk, VA
81. Austin, TX
82. Fremont, CA
83. Fresno, CA
84. Anchorage, AK
85. Cheyenne, WY
86. Rochester, NY
87. Madison, WI
88. Salt Lake City, UT
89. Omaha, NE
90. Pittsburgh, PA
91. Colorado Springs, CO
92. El Paso, TX
93. Sioux Falls, SD
94. Des Moines, IA
95. Burlington, VT
96. Portland, OR
97. Corpus Christi, TX
98. Fargo, ND
99. Bangor, ME
100. Manchester, NH

As I scanned the list, and read the article, a couple of things hit me: Maybe no one in Trenton responded to the Men's Health survey? But more importantly: if people are pissed off in Manchester, New Hampshire, maybe we, as a society, really like the idea of being angry? It made me think of another article I read recently in Utne about anger. I won't be able to do the article justice by trying to sum it up on my blog, so read it. But, the basic gist is that maybe, in the last few decades, as it has become socially acceptable to get in touch with our feelings, we linger at anger; maybe anger is more acceptable to share/express than say, vulnerability? When you're late for work, for instance, it seems more legit to have a story about the idiot who cut you off on the road and then drove really slow (which is just a fact of life, especially here in the northeast), than it is to admit when you looked at yourself in the mirror before you left, you hated what you saw, and it made you go back to your closet and change 20 times.

Anger is complicated. Of all our emotions, it's one of the scariest (in its pure form), and unlike other emotions, does so little to affect change, but it can, sometimes. Sometimes anger helps us find answers and become stronger in the face of a bully. But more often, anger alienates friends and loved ones, embitters our spirit, and erodes our dignity. And so, after my curiosity about grammar morphed into a curiosity about the psychology of anger, I wonder — without judgment and jokes — why LA Parker is, or would want to be, the angriest (or most angry) black man in Trenton? I know he'd like to see improvements, particularly among the black community, but I wonder if "most angry" is what he needs to be, when there is already enough unwarranted, reactionary anger, thanks to so-called "respect" or lack thereof. Here, in Trenton, anger gets people shot in alleys and on their porches and in their cars. I don't have the answers to this mess that young, black kids are in today. I'm sure it's part of a horrific cycle that started with slavery, and found its way through cultural alienation, which fed addictions and crime. These young kids come from a long line of people who were pushed to and kept at the fringes of society, who were told over and over that they didn't count, and they didn't matter, and that now it is manifest in these kids: they believe it. They hate themselves, and so they kill each other. No one else seems to care, so why should they? But having some insight as to why this might be happening doesn't provide any answers, it doesn't make the streets safer, it doesn't save lives. So, mostly, it makes me sad, and sad doesn't help anything either.

I think what might make people angry is that we'd like to believe that we have control over our lives (especially at this particular time in human history with the advances in technology and medicine and communication and philosophy, etc.), and that we have the ability to influence others. But we don't. We can make certain decisions that take us down one path or another, and usually things do go more less according to plan. But sometimes, they don't, for a whole variety of reasons that don't make sense and/or are totally random. It is easier to express our anger at the brutal chaos and our impotence to change it, than it is to accept it; it is easier for us to act out in anger, than it is to pick up what we have left and cherish it.

Human nature is messy, and at times, angry. And sometimes we need to be royally pissed off; but more often, we don't. Unfortunately, right now, it's really cool to be angry, which is quite possibly the root of many of our problems. Hopefully, over time, we'll begin to focus on why we're angry (fear, vulnerability, lack of hope, etc.), and maybe that will help us more productively solve our problems. Maybe. I really don't know.

* If you go to the Men's Health page, you'll see there's also a link for an article about stupid cities: 1 being the most intelligent (based on number of universities, number of college degrees per capita, creativity scores, etc.) and 100 being the stupidest. Trenton is also absent from this list, which is kind of distressing: we are too stupid to make it into not one, but TWO Men's Health surveys. Newark made it to both lists, though. It was #97 in the list of Stupidest Cities, with a big ole F, which is pretty lame, but not as lame, I guess, as not even making it into the Top 100. I wonder if Newark Mayor Cory Booker demanded an apology? After all, he made Barry Melrose, an awesomely mulleted hockey announcer, apologize for his comments about the area of Newark just outside the new Devil's arena (Melrose said, "Don't go outside if you have a wallet or anything else, because the area around the arena is just horrible," WHICH IS TRUE. Get a grip, Booker. This is New Freakin' Jersey, and we're dangerous. We may not like it, but we can admit it, for crying out loud. The only reason Melrose apologized to you is because he's Canadian, and Canadians apologize. It's what they do, even though they have nothing for which to be sorry. Read more about Cory Booker being a big baby over at The Bald, The Fat, and The Angry.)

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