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Welcome to our newest spectator sport - rage.



What's your pleasure today? Watching for the umpteenth time the YouTube video of that Chicken McNuggets woman who melted down at a Toledo McDonald's drive-through, viciously beating on the cashier and smashing a window because it was breakfast time and they wouldn't serve her those crispy, calorie-laden morsels of chicken?



Then there's the woman who arrived late with her posse at a restaurant in East Hampton, N.Y., was told she'd have to wait, and was so incensed she ripped pages from the reservation book before removing her high heels and smashing landscape lighting until her party removed her.

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And, of course, the tarmac rage tale of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who obscenely blasted a rude passenger over the intercom, then grabbed a beer and fled by activating and sliding down the escape ramp was the stuff of Johnny Paycheck Take This Job and Shove It legend minutes after it happened, earlier this month.





What these stories have in common is not the scary and inappropriate rage exhibited by all three protagonists - thank God they weren't packing heat - but how much the rest of us enjoyed them.



Whether it's those outrageous examples or the recent all-over-Twitter news of a college professor who wouldn't follow the ordering rules at a Manhattan Starbucks (you apparently have to say "butter" or "cheese") and just started yelling "I want my multigrain bagel!", we revel in public meltdowns. They go viral almost immediately. We share them with friends and family. (There was a well-played video during the G20 protests in Toronto of an obviously distressed guy banging on the locked doors of the Eaton Centre and demanding to be let in.)



We profess to being appalled, but we laugh our heads off. And it doesn't take a therapist to figure out why. The people who go postal are proxies for our own barely suppressed generalized rage - rage in our personal lives, rage against ineffectual or corrupt politicians, rage against high taxes and unpaid bills, rage against sloppy service.

Some of those miscreants (two of whom have been formally charged with crimes) may be closer to genuine mental distress than we are, but they are carrying - or should I say kicking - the can for all of us.

And so we experience both amusement and relief by vicariously participating in their meltdowns.

You could argue that this is harmless. But doesn't it really mean there is a vein of rage pulsing throughout our society? Who knows when and how it will next erupt?

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Take the rage against the political class. Fuelled by personal stress, ignorance and growing fears that the people we put in charge are not only not fixing anything but also making most things worse, this anger against politicians is getting deeper and more toxic by the minute.

In a revealing exchange in The New York Times, columnists David Brooks and Gail Collins recently examined this political contempt, with Mr. Brooks recounting how he'd just been on vacation in Montana, where person after person expressed to him a disgust with Washington.



While Ms. Collins argued that the media are partly to blame ("we have a right-wing media and blogosphere that will say absolutely anything to convince people in places like Montana that Washington has been taken over by flesh-eating zombie socialists"), Mr. Brooks concluded, rightfully I think, that " the gap between the meritocratic masters of the universe and the rest of the country is just too wide. No one is listening. Minds are made up. The situation is dangerous."



Here in Toronto, much to the dismay of liberals everywhere, loud-mouthed populist Rob Ford is leading the polls in the mayoralty campaign despite the fact that his behaviour at many city council meetings has been obstructionist, that he has admitted to a marijuana possession charge in the U.S., along with a DUI, and that here he was charged with assaulting his wife (the charges were withdrawn, but they left the impression that Mr. Ford has an anger-management problem).



Ironically, that could be a plus in today's political climate. The straight-talking, "I'm gonna do away with wasteful spending" politician has clearly tapped into the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more" crowd.

It's a big crowd. It may even be the majority these days: a crowd of people fuming away, assuming they are missing out on rights and privileges while other, more protected people - refugees, immigrants, civil service employees - are getting sweeter deals.

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I've written about societal rage before, and each time I think, well, I won't have to write about that again because it can't get any worse and people will soon calm down and start behaving civilly toward each other.

Uh-uh. Our anger is only growing.

The question remains, how to tamp it down or at least address it? I don't know the answer to that but I will confess this: Not too long ago, I screeched away in high dudgeon from a public parking lot, like Bonnie without Clyde, after a dispute with the attendant. And here is the worst of it. For one moment, before the shame set in, it felt so good.

Thank God it didn't go viral.

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