Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

Sweeping Mad

There are a number of things that happen regularly on television and in movies that rarely, if ever, happen in real life . . . mostly because they make no sense.

There’s the criminal who reveals his evil plans—in detail—to the hero, just before bungling an attempt to kill said hero, thereby enabling said hero to thwart said criminal’s said evil plans.

There’s the argument that ends with someone heading toward the door, then turning back to deliver one last cleverly cutting remark before walking out, slamming the door behind him.

There’s the phone call in which characters agree to meet without anyone providing an address, or the scene in which characters agree to call each other without anyone providing a phone number.

And then there’s the inane action that really makes your Curmudgeon want to hurl his copy of The Chicago Manual of Style right through the offending screen. It’s when a character is angry—oh man is he angry; he’s steamed; he’s livid; he’s boiling mad and how! He is so angry, in fact, that he loses control and sweeps everything off his desk in one anger-demonstrating gesture. Just wipes the whole thing clean; phone, pen set, papers, files, name plate, family photos—off they go.

Well, that’ll show the bastards. If anyone thought this man was merely miffed, bothered, or irked . . . well . . . now they know how very wrong they were. He’s mad, folks.

Every time it happens—and it happens with obnoxious regularity—it raises a number of questions. First of all, I’m puzzled about the effectiveness of the gesture. What does it do, precisely? Does it make one feel better? Does it exact some sort of revenge? Does it prove something? It seems to me it does none of these things. But perhaps that's not the point when it comes to sweeping everything off a desk in one anger-demonstrating gesture.

Still, I wonder, too, about the consistency. While I’ll grant that people who are enraged are rarely thinking rationally or practically, I’m still left questioning why this is the move that always seems to occur to the character in that irrational moment. It’s not knocking over a lamp, or tearing out one’s hair, or shredding a decorative throw pillow, or lying on the floor and flailing. It’s not yanking down the drapes, or dumping out a plant, or howling out the window. It’s always the big desk sweep.

I’m also perplexed that the actor, director, or writer—whoever has elected to depict anger in this painfully hackneyed way—didn’t realize how painfully hackneyed it is. Aren’t they as tired of it as I am? Or is it just too artistically appealing to resist, like a kick-line at the end of a big chorus number?

And then, of course, there’s the big question: Who’s going to clean that up?

I have never witnessed an actual person clear his desk in a fit of rage, nor have I ever heard of an actual person clearing his desk in a fit of rage. Perhaps I just don’t know that kind of person. At the very least, I feel safe in assuming it’s a rare occurrence in the real world. On screen it’s as common as strangers falling in love.

It’s gotten so I can see it coming. I always pray that it doesn’t. But when I see a character getting angry near a desktop full of things, I cringe preemptively. “Don’t do it,” I find myself thinking, “Please, it’s too obvious.” And then he does. Now everything is on the floor and no one is the better for it.

Doesn’t the world have enough problems without perpetuating illogical clichés? I think the people who make movies and television should declare a moratorium on sweeping everything off a desk in an anger-demonstrating gesture. The practice should be banned. In fact, there ought to be a steep fine. Because if I ever see it again, it will be too soon. And that’s my final word on the matter.

Oh yes . . . one more thing before I go. Something cleverly cutting. And now, I’m slamming the door behind me.