Grumpy Old Men and White Hot Rage - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Grumpy Old Men and White Hot Rage

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because if you’re not for them, they’re probably against you.

Donald Sterling, the 80-year-old owner of the Clippers, is currently being held to the flames for attitudes and opinions about blacks and Latinos that, while they may have been holy writ in the Los Angeles of his youth, in today’s league that at last count was 78-percent black are enough to get him justifiably held over the flames. Flames that have now cost him his job via a lifetime ban and a nice $2.5 million fine.

Sterling’s downfall comes on the heels of another scandal starring former darling of the fist-shaking right, rancher Cliven Bundy who, in his folksy homespun way, suggested that Negroes might be better off as slaves versus wards of a welfare state. Curiously, this is coming from someone who receives federal subsidies and still couldn’t get his grazing rights straight. 

While Howard Cosell and Jimmy the Greek got the bum’s rush for their takes on race, neither was particularly angry. Not so the new breed.

And the list goes on, and wearyingly on: a bicycle-riding tech executive beats up a man in traffic, gun-toting Ted Nugent pimps seditious slurs and, on the much darker end of the spectrum, we have George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, whose version of America included both guns and dead teenagers.

If you were of the mind to, there is plenty of exculpatory evidence to argue that these actions and activities are by-products of anything other than race: Sterling, an old man with a wife and a young girlfriend, is just trying to keep up with competitive relationship pressures foisted on him by … Magic Johnson. Cliven Bundy was just being philosophical. Ted Nugent is not remarkably off-base for a guy who wrote “Wango Tango” and “Stranglehold.” 

And more famously, George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn feared for their lives.

Forget about all of that threadbare bullshit for a second, though, and let’s focus on some common factors. Or factor. In this instance: anger.

While both Howard Cosell and Jimmy the Greek got the bum’s rush for their comparatively nuanced takes on race at the time they were in the public eye (and despite the evidence that they were not in fact racists), neither Cosell nor The Greek was particularly angry.

Not so the new breed. 

There’s a red-faced, white-knuckled rage driving their perception that they are righteous men “beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men,” as Jules suggests in Pulp Fiction’s rendering of Ezekiel 25:17. Other men are stealing their jobs, their language, their country and, ultimately, and this is the real reason here (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) — their women — and therefore: their mojo. Such as it was.

Angry white man

Source Getty

Without mojo — the ability to make people love and fear you — they’re left with nothing but a sullen anger.

So in all too predictable ways, they spin into searching for answers — and it’s just easier to find them every place but the right place. Nth-generation Archie Bunkers turn gimlet eyes on women who steal their jobs (despite, paradoxically, being concerned about them being stolen away, apparently, by pro basketball players), on Latinos who steal their right to scream at their help in English, on the president with the dodgy birth certificate ruining their country. And yes, the whole mojo thing which, if you weren’t paying attention you might have just glossed over, but this is the real key.

Hunh, what, why?

Mojo, or the super-elemental, DNA-bound ability to exert the male will via mesmerizing sex appeal, and their flagging ability to do so: This is the key to their discomfort. And the key to this key? Age, their diminishing sex appeal and their clear biological obsolescence. There seem to be very few 80-year-old multimillionaire men who are loved for the “real” them, and even fewer octogenarian millionaire jerks who are. Without mojothe ability to make people love and fear you — they’re left with nothing but a sullen anger. Not coincidentally, there are many more of these disaffected patriots over 50 than you’ll see under 50.

So what we suspect all of the sound and fury is about is real existential dread of shuffling off this mortal coil. Which makes a lot of sense.

Just too bad that it didn’t make sense to the people who were systematically excluded from Sterling’s buildings on the basis of race and nationality. Or who tried to work for him. Or the dead kids who liked to eat Skittles or listen to their music loud while stopping at gas stations.

Because, in the end, those dead kids might have grown up to have existential crises all their own about their loss of mojo and impending exiting from the stage of life. Might. Because in the end we’re just left with a sickness and a panic, confusion about the root causes, and just a few minutes of the national dialogue spent talking about shit that will make no one feel better about anything.

So, yeah, even with Sterling fired, race is really, probably, the very least of it. 

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