December 14, 2010

Original Article On

By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY

If the often banal state of television programming (“Coming up next, The Real Housewife Chefs of the Jersey Shore“) sometimes finds you seething, National Geographic Channel begs your indulgence.

Born to Rage, airing tonight (10 ET/PT), plumbs a question that rests at the core of the human experience: Are all humans predisposed to violence, or are some particularly inclined because of a DNA glitch dubbed the Warrior Gene?

rollinsOver the course of an hour filled with distressing images of human conflict, we visit with gang bangers, Hells Angels types, mixed martial artists and a Navy SEAL. Most of them tell harrowing childhood stories while submitting to a saliva-swab test that will determine whether they have lower levels of an enzyme known as MAO-A, whose critical job is to mop up excess rage-associated adrenaline.

“By age 10, I pretty much concluded that I was someone who was going to be angry all of the time,” says Henry Rollins, 49, the tattooed punk rocker who serves as special correspondent for this installment of the channel’s Explorer series. “This (show’s) idea intrigued me. Ultimately, I’d rather feel like I’m a product of the things I experienced than of some annoying gene.”

Rollins, too, gets tested. Suffice to say, the show’s big lure is finding out which characters have the Warrior Gene. But that’s about the only concrete answer provided by Born to Rage, admits writer/director Philip J. Day, who initially was intrigued by the behavior of soccer hooligans in his native England.

“We raise more questions than answers, because we are really at the very beginning of studying what genetics tells us

about our race,” Day says. “It is possible to have a gene abnormality and yet control your behavior. But it’s also safe to say that if you mix the experiences of a difficult childhood with this Warrior Gene, it can be incendiary.”

Rollins’ own upbringing isn’t exactly the stuff of preteen gang initiations, but it was enough to move him to the darker side.

“I was the only white kid in a (Washington, D.C.) school where everyone there blamed me for, you know, Martin Luther King’s death and all,” he says. “So I had to fight back, and when I changed to a calmer school setting, suddenly I was the one shaking kids down for their lunch money.”

Years later, that rage was channeled into the group Black Flag; concerts often found the frontman physically abused by and abusing the audience.

Part of that extreme form of self-expression is rooted in American culture, Rollins says. “Let’s face it: As a nation we are often a rough room full of hotheaded people, all under the flag of the First Amendment, of course,” he says.

“But I guess I would say that if you’re one of these guys who do things and later feel like a jerk about it, maybe taking a test for this gene isn’t a bad idea. If you have it, it’s not an excuse. But it can help you watch for triggers.”

In fact, Day acknowledges that the gene “is really mistitled, because Warrior Gene has a sort of nobility to it when we may not often be talking about a noble sort of violence. But then again, if you called it the Devil’s Gene, I’m not sure people would want to see if they had it.”