America, the avant-garde upstart country, the heart of the world. In technology, education, politics, and war we dominated. By the 1800’s we had become an industrial power house; not so long ago, everything said, ‘made in USA’; not China. After WWII we had cemented ourselves as a super-power, and our culture had many in the world envious.
No longer, it seems, does the word America bring up these flashes of thoughts. Instead people the world over think, “Police of the world (when was the last time you truly liked a cop? Never?), crappy reality tv, megan fox/britney spears, etc.” America has unfortunately degraded into a status of ignorance, and the juxtaposition of our ideals seems to tear away at the fabric of society.
On one hand, we have our strict belief of political correctness. Tv announcers, radio hosts, politicians have to watch what they say more than ever, or risk being shunned by the masses. We have become so locked into this idea that we must appease everyone, that we have to check with a p.r. agent just to talk to our parents.(Okay, so I’m being hyperbolic, but you get what I mean.)
Then, on the other hand, we have this complete and utter fascination with raunchy, say-anything/do-anything attitude that many of our celebrities adopt. The more outrageous, the more ‘fulfilling’, and the more we can’t stop watching. There are literally hundreds of examples of this, and the number climbs everyday. Just turn the tv onto MTV, or even A&E, or look in the magazine section of your local grocery stores. Reality shows fill their content up with loud, ignorant people, attacking at each other for fame. Tabloids harp on the smallest action of these ‘trainwreck celebrities’, and people can’t get enough.
We’ve been called the greatest civilization since Rome, while this is debatable, we’re a lot like Rome. As with any civilization that leaves a large footprint in the sands of time, we wax, and wane as time persists. Now, though, more than ever, people are worried that we are beginning a decline leading to an eventual downfall.
People often wonder, what lead to this? Why is our culture reduced to watching other people’s plights, and ignorance for amusement? The fine arts are still here, but they are much less appreciated, than they were not so long ago. There are a myriad of reasons for the deterioration of our culture. I propose one of the larger reasons.
Take a look at our schools, and you’ll find, that it’s mostly a social experiment. This isn’t a cry for help regarding our school systems, so I won’t dwell on it too long. The relation between our schools, and the decline of American culture, is clear. ‘Tracking’ is a system that most public schools employ; it entails taking the top percentage of kids, and moving them to advance subjects, while the bottom percent is forced to get a one-size fits all education. If you really think about it, do you remember being engaged with school? Excited to learn? The answer is almost always no. Though, you will notice, it’s strikingly similar to the way a 9-5 job works. It is getting us ready for a monotonous job, which 50 years ago, that worked, but it doesn’t anymore. It creates a country of button-pushers, not innovators.
How does this apply to our culture? So what, school prepares us for boring 9-5 careers, what’s the big deal? The big deal is, that people who have to deal with assholes all day, serving burgers for customers, don’t really have the energy to go home and read Shakespeare. They don’t even have the energy to engage their mind with television shows/movies with intricate plots, deep characters, and intelligent, witty dialogue. Instead, they turn on the tv, and vegetate. They watch simple things, to make them laugh. Programs that don’t require a real investment of thought. Shows like Jersey Shore, or Keeping up with the Kardashians, Storage Wars, fill screens around the country, and people eat it up.
These people, get home, warm up a quick dinner(or buy it from McDonald’s), sit down on the couch, and watch a reality show/celebrity news for a few hours, then go to bed. They do this day in, and day out, and it’s understandable. The job market in America is so bad, you are lucky to get a job at Wal-Mart, or Burger King, and those jobs don’t require people to think, to innovate. So it becomes monotonous, and it drains a person’s energy, without a foreseeable end to the monotony. That’s why people don’t have the energy to cook complicated dishes, or create works of art on the side, or even watch engaging stories.
People don’t do interesting things anymore. The most interesting thing someone gets to do nowadays, is go on a 2 week vacation to Hawaii. Not even out of country, since many Americans don’t even have their passports. So they want to watch people who’s lives are interesting, everyday is a battle to them. At least, that’s the way the media delivers it to us. What did Britney do today? Is Lindsey Lohan back in Rehab? She does what in the Jersey Shore today? Our lives are filled with monotony, and we look to television to offer us a plate of interesting, with a side of outrageous.
I mean, look at the reality television programs two decades ago, doesn’t it seem positively tame compared to today’s shows? It starts off with small things, like a woman sleeping with three guys in one house, all of whom are trying to win her heart, to now, women being punched in the face, and brides screaming, and crying like children until they get their way. As time goes on, these things become monotonous; cue the producers, and writers of these shows to make them interesting to us again. They do so by simply upping the ante. Instead of adding depth to these people, they simply pump more and more outrageous stunts to appease us, to keep us watching.
Does that remind you of something? Rome, the civilization we constantly compare ourselves to, is more like us than we realize. You can see a sharp change in Roman culture near the end of the empire’s life. The culture epicenter moved from great plays towards viewing gladiators stabbing each other in front of thousands. They crowd demanded more and more outrageousness, more blood, more violence, etc. The people in charge of the games, acquiesced to their demands, giving them more.
The common Roman people lived monotonous lives, picking fields, and such. The entertainment of the games, and their fascination with the noble population of Rome, kept them distracted as the empire fell. So that when it happened, many of them were left wondering, “how?” They cared more, and more about being safe, well fed, and entertained than what was happening to their country. As Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” The same is happening in our once proud country; politicians rape the country, at every turn we give away freedoms for ‘security, and luxuries’. Eventually we’ll see that our country is headed towards its end, but by then, we’ll be unable to stop it.
We have to ask ourselves, is reality television worth it? Is it worth not paying attention, as the country continues to enter wars, take away constitutional rights, etc. How much farther can this go? The more we shut our minds off, the less we learn. The less we learn, the less we can put up a fight, as our country runs down the track towards its downfall. We need to start at our schools, but that isn’t the end to this, only a start. People need to start engaging, and innovating. Without innovation, a culture, and ultimately a society, stagnates.