Bingo wings and Tampax? Is that all women get angry about?

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The Independent Online

Anger seems to have taken over from sex as the prime subject for the public's slack-jawed, voyeuristic interest. Whenever you turn on the TV, some child that seems to have been force-fed additives for an entire decade is hurling obscenities at its parents, or vice versa. Last week's highlights included Brat Camp, Blame the Parents and Driving Mum and Dad Mad. Meanwhile, in The Apprentice, Alan Sugar bollocked a whole load of curl-lipped would-be tycoons who behaved like surly teenagers, and the angriest one duly got booted out. Anglia News interviewed Karl Roberts, named and shamed on posters for "verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation" after becoming the subject of an anti-social behaviour order. "Do you think you have an anger problem?" asked a reporter. "No," said Roberts, scowling to reveal a large gap where his two front teeth should have been.

Anger seems to have taken over from sex as the prime subject for the public's slack-jawed, voyeuristic interest. Whenever you turn on the TV, some child that seems to have been force-fed additives for an entire decade is hurling obscenities at its parents, or vice versa. Last week's highlights included Brat Camp, Blame the Parents and Driving Mum and Dad Mad. Meanwhile, in The Apprentice, Alan Sugar bollocked a whole load of curl-lipped would-be tycoons who behaved like surly teenagers, and the angriest one duly got booted out. Anglia News interviewed Karl Roberts, named and shamed on posters for "verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation" after becoming the subject of an anti-social behaviour order. "Do you think you have an anger problem?" asked a reporter. "No," said Roberts, scowling to reveal a large gap where his two front teeth should have been.

Everywhere you look there are furious people frothing at the mouth, but the cause of all this rage is never quite clear. It is obvious that these people feel hard done by and yet you, the seething licence-payer, feel in your own irate turn, "Not hard enough, mate." The net result is that the once eloquent force of properly trammelled rage is undermined by all this rudderless ire. On Wednesday's news a BBC reporter referred to Charles Kennedy's "scathing" intervention in the parliamentary debate about the Government's anti-terror proposals. "Good," I thought. "About time the Lib Dems tapped into some fully formed moral outrage." And up popped Kennedy, saying in the tut-tutting tones of a house master urging the tyke who set off a stink bomb to give himself up, that Britons' civil liberties should be put before Blair's pride.

The encounter had all the savagery of an arm-wrestle with Winnie the Pooh. Nowhere is the watered-down variety of anger more apparent than the Grumpy Old Women series where a group of rose-scented middle-youthers attempt to feign outrage at such deadly social evils as shopping and shop assistants. I thought that Grumpy Old Men's cuddly Victor Meldrew wannabes were bad enough, but at least they occasionally tilted at proper subjects. But what do the ladies get angry about? Bingo wings, Tampax and teenagers chatting at the Boots counter when you're trying to buy lippy. It was like watching a bunch of red setters lick a burglar to death. Praise the heavens for this paper's Janet Street-Porter, who was the only bitch whose teeth were filed and in place. Asked to find fault with supermarkets she attacked customers instead, saying that she would like to accost fat shoppers and make them return all the unhealthy products in their trolleys.

This statement demonstrated some of the useful functions of unsentimental polemical anger: it made you exhume and examine similar unpalatable sentiments within yourself, such as the recurrent thought, "If you're buying all that Häagen-Dazs, why should the NHS pay for your coronary bypass?" And it made you question the validity of such outrage, rather than bottling it up and becoming bonkers.

Furthermore, once Street-Porter had articulated her contempt, mercifully you didn't need to. Vicarious rage, properly directed, has particularly cathartic qualities. I am still grateful to Ian Hislop for being ferociously scathing and angry with the Government on Question Time, just after the Hutton report, when all the other panellists had clearly long run out of steam. The impotent howls of this viewer momentarily found a powerful focus in Hislop's rage. Similarly Jamie Oliver's spittle-flecked indignation at the state of our schools' catering has changed the way the entire nation thinks about the poison it routinely serves up to our supposedly treasured offspring.

I used to work with one of the most savagely caustic practitioners in the history of spleen. An ex-RAF man in his early 50s, his list of loathings included politicians, modern poets, the French, Germans, Americans, Arabs, liberals, hippies, gays, vegetarians, Christians, playwrights, novelists, feminists, women, young men, the culturally ignorant and Bonnie Greer. It wasn't that he didn't suffer fools gladly - he didn't suffer anyone. But after an adventurous past, you felt that this erudite, upright man had earned his anger.

But my rage award for the year undoubtedly goes to Robert McCartney's sisters. There is no anger on earth to match the volcanic and purposeful wrath of women defending their loved ones and seeking justice for them.

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