Mad in America
You wouldn’t like us when we’re angry
Thu, Oct 23, 2008 (midnight)
Not only is our Diet Coke tastier than the zero-calorie beverages earlier generations had to endure, but you can also get it with vitamins. Thanks to the Internet, we have more ways to entertain ourselves at work than people in the 1950s had to entertain themselves in their leisure hours. In the old days you actually had to pull a slot machine’s lever. Department stores practically give away touch-sensor floor lamps, no-iron dress shirts and whatever else you might require to make life easier. Even with outrageous gas prices, even with subprime-mortgage meltdowns and endless wars, life in America has never been more convenient, better-scented, packed with possibilities—and that’s why a new business called Sarah’s Smash Shack is poised to become the McDonald’s of the 21st century.
The brainchild of a former veterinarian who apparently found the sedative powers of fluffy kittens only moderately effective, Sarah’s Smash Shack is a place where people go to destroy things. Pissed about your suddenly anorexic IRA? Stressing over the extremely loud motorcycle repair shop your neighbor seems to be running out of his garage? Fed up with the aisle-blockers at Trader Joe’s who lurch around like arthritic zombies and make it impossible to shop? For $10, you can hurl six wine glasses at a stainless steel wall. For $45, you get 15 ceramic plates that shatter in spectacular fashion. Sarah’s Smash Shack opened in August, in San Diego, where the weather is beautiful 350 days a year and no one has any good reason to be angry, ever. Naturally, it was a hit right from the start.
When you see it, with its cartoony neon sign and its chic white shelves filled with pretty, doomed glassware, you think, “How come these things aren’t in every mall in America already, in between Yankee Candle Co. and Piercing Pagoda?” Because even though we have so many reasons to be happy, fulfilled, ejaculating with gratitude from every pore that we’re fortunate enough to live in this country, at this time in history, we’re angry. According to a new CNN/Opinion Research poll, 75 percent of the American public is “angry about the way things are going” in the U.S., and feels that “current conditions in the country are stressing them out.” We’re angry at the president, angry at Congress, angry at the media, angry at Wall Street hotshots, angry at the oil companies, angry at tourists who aren’t filling our casinos, angry at the homeless, angry at the excessively homed.
Blame it on the viral outbreak of Starbucks in the 1990s and the rise of the energy-drink industry: We’ve got a lot more caffeine kindling our fury these days. Blame it on self-cleaning cat boxes: Life has gotten so easy that even the most trivial inconveniences make us explode with rage. Blame it on yoga DVDs, Prozac, Jack Johnson: The serenity bar has risen so high now that we can’t feel truly content until we achieve the quiet mind of a stoned koala.
Whatever the cause, we feel ripped off, disenfranchised, cheated out of our due. Conservative Christians want to reclaim America for Christ, as if whatever part of America they possess, it just isn’t enough for them. Liberals want to take back America, as if whatever part of America they possess, it just isn’t enough for them. We live 30 years longer than our predecessors in 1900, but that only gives us 30 more years to complain about our crummy health-care system, the shortcomings of Botox and Cialis and the underrepresentation of old people on reality TV shows. A while back, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm called us “a nation of whiners,” and he was almost correct. We’re a nation of divas, seething with theatrical malice. We have grievances that demand acknowledgement. But obscene, outspoken T-shirts and insane message-board rants can only deliver so much catharsis. We need more. We want to hear the jazzy arpeggio of discontent a giant blue goblet makes when it crashes into a wall. We want to see rubble.
Still, like bottled water, the commercialized vandalism that Sarah’s Smash Shack offers seems in many ways stupendously unnecessary. Forty-five dollars to break 15 plates? When you no doubt have closets and cupboards full of perfectly good breakable stuff you don’t use anymore? When you could spend less than half that on a case of Budweiser and deploy the empties wherever you see fit? Of course, if you go that route, you could end up in trouble with the cops. You might feel compelled to clean up your mess. At Sarah’s Smash Shack, you’re not spending $45 to break stuff. You’re spending $45 to avoid the consequences that come with breaking stuff. Even more importantly, you’re spending $45 to publicize the fact that you are so sick of your idiot boss, or your passive-aggressive landlord, or the other party’s candidate that you are willing to pay a generous premium just to dramatize your dissatisfaction.
This is a performative age, after all. It’s no longer enough to be quietly angry. Or even loudly angry. We want to be stylishly angry. We want our anger to be entertaining, festive, noteworthy. Our mentors are Amy Winehouse action-painting the walls of her Munich hotel room with a plate of spaghetti bolognese, Naomi Campbell christening her latest housekeeper’s head with a cell phone. Only a lucky few can afford such luxury tantrums, though; Sarah’s Smash Shack provides an affordable alternative for the rest of us.
Before customers break anything there, they don bright red jumpsuits, protective gloves and Darth Vader-style helmets. From a safety perspective, this uniform is probably overkill, but aesthetically, it’s perfect, a simultaneous nod to Teletubbies and riot cops, sartorial permission to indulge in your most infantile totalitarian fantasies. Mess with me? CRASH! Mess with ME? BLAMMM! Not if you don’t want a face full of pottery!
Black Sharpie pens are on hand for scribbling significant names or messages on plates before ceremonially demolishing them. Ready-to-smash picture frames await photos of hated adversaries. But does anyone really need to get that specific, that rational, about their anger these days? Isn’t it enough that we have to live in this shabby little universe, with its lack of fossil fuels and its totally annoying hurricanes and its criminally deficient supply of drugs that make you feel good with absolutely no harmful side effects?
Once you’re done decimating the handiwork of emerging-economy goblet serfs, the Sarah’s Smash Shack staff cleans up the debris and donates it to local schools and nonprofits for art projects. This attempt to turn recreational wastefulness into a virtue of sorts is the Smash Shack’s major flaw: Ideally, the shattered aftermath of one’s smash sessions would be scattered on the last remaining habitat of the Pacific pocket mouse or some other endangered species.
Because, really, isn’t that the kind of selfishness we’re longing for? Isn’t that what finally might make us happy? A few precious moments of complete irresponsibility? In Mad Men, AMC’s series about an early 1960s ad agency and the growing dissatisfaction its employees feel as they help usher in a new era of abundance and self-expression, there’s a scene in which a suburban family picnics in some pristine park. The grass is impossibly green. Mom and Dad and the two young kids are impossibly beautiful. When they leave, they dump their trash on the grass with such casual Edenic innocence it’s jarring—more jarring, in fact, than a Saw V dismemberment.
These days, even the most environmentally incorrect among us couldn’t replicate that scene. We might dump our trash emphatically, defiantly, but there’s no way we could dump it so carelessly, with such faith in the future’s infinite providence. The Mad Men litterers were blissfully ignorant about the potential ramifications of their actions. We, on the other hand, are angrily over-informed. We have so much, we have it so easy, and yet we also know the party’s ending. Or at the very least changing. We know that our actions have consequences. We know that even our simplest pleasures are fraught with annoying complexities, and it pisses us off. Why do we have to contemplate the politics of global T-shirt manufacture every time we get dressed in the morning? Why do we have to contemplate the unsustainability of cheeseburgers whenever we eat lunch at McDonald’s? Why can’t we smash a dozen brand-new plates against a wall just because we feel like it? Expect a Sarah’s Smash Shack on every corner by 2010.