American Culture


beaviscornholio.jpg We live in sad and stupid times.

Our government seeks to outsource all its functions, including those necessarily secret, to people who’d make it a theocracy. Corporations seek nothing less than monopoly while they serve a government that spies on its own citizens while allowing America’s technology to be siphoned off by foreign governments. And the media preens and poses while failing to ask the hard questions of trained thugs government officials who think of waterboarding as an acceptable means of persuasion for persons who act recalcitrant toward extraordinary rendition.

But the masses yearn for Britney, Eva Mendes, the NFL, and whatever half-assed, processed, corporate committee approved noise is passing for “hit music” from their local Clear Channel outlet. Or yukking it up at the jejune, tasteless, and occasionally costly antics of Howard Stern, Opie and Anthony, or Don Imus.

Makes one want to reach for the Soma, doesn’t it?

Todd Gitlin, sociologist and founding member of Students for a Democratic Society, has just released a new, revised edition of his classic, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives. In a recent interview with Buzzflash, Gitlin muses on the media cacaphony we’re drowning in:

The all-embracing, ubiquitous, omnipresent quality of media was maybe not only an obvious fact, but also a determining one. Maybe it was really pivotal. Maybe it was the big story. Increasingly it came to me that it was the big story — that people in our time are taking a long bath in media, one medium after another. So the first big story would be omnipresence. (italics mine)

The second big story would be speed. The degree to which the images and sounds — because the importance of music shouldn’t be underestimated — are moving with alacrity and jamming up against each other, and taking up a growing proportion of human time.

Gitlin lays it out pretty clearly. We’re overwhelmed by overexposure and it’s taking up way too much of our time.

Let’s face it. All the time we’re trying to decode sounds and trying to process images we’re not doing much in the way of critical thinking. For instance, merely trying to keep up with the myriad machinations of the Bush administration to accrue power to corporate interests and the executive branch of government gives this blogger headaches.

It’s much easier, and perhaps more satisfying, to follow gossip about Britney revertng to her trailer trash mentality or wonder about the motivations of the runaway bride. Gitlin nails it here:

It seems to me that mostly what people derive from media is a certain quality of experience which is both emotional and sensational. It’s a quality of your senses, and it’s a quality of satisfaction — a little wow, a little pleasure in a picture or a musical snippet, and so on. And the sensations are also coupled with emotions. We want to feel something. We want to feel a certain quality of emotion that has, as one of its chief characteristics, that it’s disposable.

Of course going for that “life of sensations rather than of thoughts” sets us up to be the patsies of evil people who would take away our civil liberties, steal our incomes, rob us of our work and dignity.

But the powers that be would have you believe that it’s all about choice for you.

So. What’s your choice?

9 replies »

  1. Nicely done, Jim.

    But I disagree: It’s so nice to have knowledge so artfully pre-digested for me. Thinking is too hard … It takes away from my “me” time … ‘Scuse, me, cell’s ringing … hate it when it rings during a cut from Britney’s new album …

  2. Nice.

    I think that many people lead such sad lives, they just mop up celebrity gossip to satisfy whatever urge they might have. I know a woman who talks about celebs like they’re her own acquaintances. My lovely wife and I dread whenever she comes over for a chat, as we just don’t keep up or care what Britney, or J-lo (I couldn’t pick either of them out of a line up) do.

    Celebrity gossip must be big business, otherwise it would go away. If I could stomach watching one of those programs, I’d look to see who the advertisers are. That would say a lot.

    Is celebrity gossip mainly watched by women? The reason I ask, is that none of my buddies do, or ever have talked about celebrities. Well….maybe when we’re out fishing or hunting and some hot female celebrity comes up, the “Would Ya?” question comes up. Do guys share the same fascination with celebs?


  3. Do guys share the same fascination with celebs?

    Of course guys do – they’re just called sports stars instead of celebrities. And, in my experience, most men are crazier about their sports stars and teams than most women are about Val Kilmer, Natalie Portman, or Oprah.

  4. Jeff wrote: “Do guys share the same fascination with celebs?”

    Have you SEEN that picture at the Eva Mendes link? 😉

  5. All this lack of critical thinking and avoidance of hard news, which is epidemic, even in Manhattan, where I work, is good training for when we become a complete police state.

    We’ll already have learned how to keep our heads down and not look out the window when they come to take our neighbor away.

  6. Brian said:
    “Of course guys do – they’re just called sports stars instead of celebrities. And, in my experience, most men are crazier about their sports stars and teams than most women are about Val Kilmer, Natalie Portman, or Oprah.”

    Wow….I must be having a senior moment…..I didn’t even think of that.


  7. Jeff wrote: “Do guys share the same fascination with celebs?”

    I’m [insert male-oriented celeb here] and I’m a member of the RAW Fan Nation(TM?).

    Sadly, that doesn’t stand for Robert Anton Wilson 😉