Chapter 25 


And why should we feel anger at the world?

As if the world would notice!


In 1939, a young prodigy named Orson Welles was given one of the most unheard-of deals in Hollywood history. He could write, act, and direct in two films of his choosing for RKO, a major movie studio. For his first picture, he decided to tell the story of a mysterious newspaper baron who became a prisoner of his enormous empire and lifestyle.

   William Randolph Hearst, the infamous media magnate, decided that this movie was based on his life and, more important, that it did so offensively. He then began, and initially succeeded in, an all-consuming campaign to destroy one of the greatest films of all time.

   Here’s what’s so interesting about this. First, Hearst most likely never even saw the movie so he had no idea what was actually in it. Second, it wasn’t intended to be about him—or at least solely about him. (As far as we know, the character Charles Foster Kane was an amalgam of several historical figures including Samuel Insull and Robert McCormick; the movie was inspired by two similar portraits of power by Charlie Chaplin and Aldous Huxley; and it wasn’t supposed to vilify, but to humanize.) Third, Hearst was one of the richest men in the world at the time, and at seventy-eight, near the end of his life. Why would he spend so much time on something as inconsequential as a fictional movie by a first-time director? Fourth, it was his campaign to stop it that secured the movie’s place in popular lore and made it clear the extent to which his drive to control and manipulate would go. Ironically, he cemented his own legacy as a reviled American figure more than any critic ever could have.

   Thus, the paradox of hate and bitterness. It accomplishes almost exactly the opposite of what we hope it does. In the Internet age, we call this the Streisand effect (named after a similar attempt by the singer and actress Barbra Streisand, who tried to legally remove a photo of her home from the Web. Her actions backfired and far more people saw it than would have had she left the issue alone.) Attempting to destroy something out of hate or ego often ensures that it will be preserved and disseminated forever.

   The lengths that Hearst went to were absurd. He sent his most influential and powerful gossip columnist, Louella Parsons, to the studio to demand a screening. Based on her feedback, he decided he would do everything in his power to block it from being made public. He issued a directive that none of his newspapers were to make any mention of any RKO film—the company producing Citizen Kane— period. (More than a decade later, this ban still applied to Welles for all Hearst papers.) Hearst’s papers began exploring negative stories about Welles and his private life. His gossip columnist threatened to do the same to each of the RKO board members. Hearst also made threats to the movie industry as a whole, as a way of turning other studio heads against the picture. An $800,000 offer was made for the rights to the film so that it might be burned or destroyed. Most theater chains were pressured into refusing to show it, and no ads for it were allowed in any Hearst-owned properties. Hearst sympathizers began reporting rumors about Welles to various authorities, and in 1941, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI opened a file on him.

   The result was that the movie failed commercially. It took years for it to find its place in the culture. Only at great expense and with great exertion, was Hearst able to hold it back.

   We all have stuff that pisses us off. The more successful or powerful we are, the more there will be that we think we need to protect in terms of our legacy, image, and influence. If we’re not careful, however, we can end up wasting an incredible amount of time trying to keep the world from displeasing or disrespecting us.

   It is a sobering thought to consider for a moment all the needless death and needless waste inflicted over the eons by angry men or aggrieved women on other people, on society, and on themselves. Over what? Reasons that can hardly be remembered.

   You know what is a better response to an attack or a slight or something you don’t like? Love. That’s right, love. For the neighbor who won’t turn down the music. For the parent that let you down. For the bureaucrat who lost your paperwork. For the group that rejects you. For the critic who attacks you. The former partner who stole your business idea. The bitch or the bastard who cheated on you. Love.

   Because, as the song lyrics go, “hate will get you every time.” Okay, maybe love is too much to ask for whatever it is that you’ve had done to you. You could at the very least try to let it go. You could try to shake your head and laugh about it.

   Otherwise the world will witness another example of a timeless and sad pattern: Rich, powerful person becomes so isolated and delusional that when something happens contrary to his wishes, he becomes consumed by it. The same drive that made him great is suddenly a great weakness. He turns a minor inconvenience into a massive sore. The wound festers, becomes infected, and can even kill him.

   This is what propelled Nixon forward and then, sadly, downward. Reflecting on his own exile, he later acknowledged that his lifelong image of himself as a scrappy fighter battling a hostile world was his undoing. He’d surrounded himself with other such “tough guys.” People forget Nixon was reelected by a landslide after Watergate broke He just couldn’t help himself—he kept fighting, he persecuted reporters, and he lashed out at everyone he felt had slighted or doubted him. It’s what continued to feed the story and ultimately sank him. Like many such people, he ended up doing more damage to himself than anyone else could. The root of it was his hatefulness and his anger, and even being the most powerful leader in the free world couldn’t change it.

   It doesn’t need to be like that. Booker T. Washington tells an anecdote told to him by Frederick Douglass, about a time he was traveling and was asked to move and ride in the baggage car because of his race. A white supporter rushed up to apologize for this horrible offense. “I am sorry, Mr. Douglass, that you have been degraded in this manner,” the person said.

   Douglass would have none of that. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t hurt. He replied with great fervor: “They cannot degrade Frederick Douglass. The soul that is within me no man can degrade. I am not the one that is being degraded on account of this treatment, but those who are inflicting it upon me.”

   Certainly, this is an incredibly difficult attitude to maintain. It’s far easier to hate. It’s natural to lash out.

   Yet we find that what defines great leaders like Douglass is that instead of hating their enemies, they feel a sort of pity and empathy for them. Think of Barbara Jordan at the 1992 Democratic National Convention proposing an agenda of “ . . . love. Love. Love. Love.” Think of Martin Luther King Jr., over and over again, preaching that hate was a burden and love was freedom. Love was transformational, hate was debilitating. In one of his most famous sermons, he took it further: “We begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us whether in collective life or individual life by looking at ourselves.” We must strip ourselves of the ego that protects and suffocates us, because, as he said, “Hate at any point is a cancer that gnaws away at the very vital center of your life and your existence. It is like eroding acid that eats away the best and the objective center of your life.”

   Take inventory for a second. What do you dislike? Whose name fills you with revulsion and rage? Now ask: Have these strong feelings really helped you accomplish anything?

   Take an even wider inventory. Where has hatred and rage ever really gotten anyone?

   Especially because almost universally, the traits or behaviors that have pissed us off in other people—their dishonesty, their selfishness, their laziness—are hardly going to work out well for them in the end. Their ego and shortsightedness contains its own punishment.

   The question we must ask for ourselves is: Are we going to be miserable just because other people are?

   Consider how Orson Welles responded to the multidecade campaign by Hearst. According to his own account, he bumped into Hearst in an elevator on the night of the movie’s premiere—the very one that Hearst had deployed massive resources to prevent and destroy. Do you know what he did? He invited Hearst to come. When Hearst declined, Welles joked that Charles Foster Kane surely would have accepted.

   It took a very long time for Welles’s genius in that movie to finally be acknowledged by the rest of the world. No matter, Welles soldiered on, making other movies and producing other fantastic art. By all accounts, he lived a fulfilling and happy life. Eventually, Citizen Kanesecured its place in the forefront of cinematic history. Seventy years after the movie’s debut, it was finally played at Hearst Castle at San Simeon, which is now a state park.

   The events he endured weren’t exactly fair, but at least he didn’t let it ruin his life. As Welles’s girlfriend of twenty-plus years said in his eulogy, referring not just to Hearst, but to every slight he ever received in his long career in a notoriously ruthless industry, “I promise you it didn’t make him bitter.” In other words, he never became like Hearst.

  Not everyone is capable of responding that way. At various points in our lives, we seem to have different capacities for forgiveness and understanding. And even when some people are able to carry on, they carry with them a needless load of resentment. Remember Kirk Hammett, who suddenly became the guitarist in Metallica? The man they kicked out to make room for him, Dave Mustaine, went on to form another band, Megadeth. Even amidst his own unbelievable success, he was eaten up with rage and hatred over the way he’d been treated those many years before. It drove him to addiction and could have killed him. It was eighteen years until he was able to even begin to process it, and said it still felt like yesterday that he’d been hurt and rejected. When you hear him tell it, as he did once on camera to his former bandmates, it sounds like he ended up living under a bridge. In reality, the man sold millions of records, produced great music, and lived the life of a rock star.

   We have all felt this pain—and to quote his lyrics, “smile[d] its blacktooth grin.” This obsession with the past, with something that someone did or how things should have been, as much as it hurts, is ego embodied. Everyone else has moved on, but you can’t, because you can’t see anything but your own way. You can’t conceive of accepting that someone could hurt you, deliberately or otherwise. So you hate.

   In failure or adversity, it’s so easy to hate. Hate defers blame. It makes someone else responsible. It’s a distraction too; we don’t do much else when we’re busy getting revenge or investigating the wrongs that have supposedly been done to us.

   Does this get us any closer to where we want to be? No. It just keeps us where we are—or worse, arrests our development entirely. If we are already successful, as Hearst was, it tarnishes our legacy and turns sour what should be our golden years.

   Meanwhile, love is right there. Egoless, open, positive, vulnerable, peaceful, and productive.





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