As the quality of life continues to decline in America, I’ve been wracking my fevered brain for the single, perfect image to represent our downward spiraling dystopia. Like the “Grand Unification” theory sought by physicists.
There is a dark, comic film called Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) directed by Goran Dukic based on a short story by Etgar Keret entitled “Kneller’s Happy Campers.” In the film suicides face an afterlife that is familiar yet diminished in quality. If they off themselves again, it just keeps getting worse. Think shopping at Walmart for clothing and jewelry instead of Neiman Marcus.
In the land of sub-Walmart and rusted-out trailer parks, people sew up their own gashed knees because they have no access to health care. Wait: we have this last one in the here and now (see Michael Moore’s Sicko, 2007). Anyway, in the post-suicide realm, when pizzeria workers drop a pizza on the floor, they simply pick it up and put it back in the box. Isn’t that pretty much how things work these days? The problem is not dropping the pizza. Anyone can make a mistake or have an accident. But in the New Mediocrity we just put it back in the box and hope the next person won’t notice.
Just a few examples come to mind:
- BP’s rig explodes and ruptures the oil pipe, not a pure accident. When you factor in the safety violations, it’s more like a time bomb. But BP puts the pizza back in the box with deep dish media spin and a Tony Hayward topping.
- Wall Street is back on its feet with billions in profits but won’t create any jobs for Americans. Ooops, there goes the extra cheese. We put it back in the box when we blame the job market on low consumer confidence.
- With First Amendment rights, Fox News cheapens the objectivity of professional journalism and inquiry with biased and slanted coverage. There go the Beck anchovies and Palin pepperoni. The pizza goes back in the box when American viewers accept it as gospel with no critical thinking or questioning.
From Kindergarten through the 12th grade and beyond, we have lost our schools to apathy, bureaucracy, and political correctness. When state budgets are in trouble, cutting teachers is often at the top of the list. That’s burning down the entire pizzeria.
The list could go on, but I’ll end with the concept of “customer service” which is now represented by automated voice messages and maze-like “phone trees” which do little if anything to assist us. If customer service were an argument, it would be of the reductio ad absurdum variety. How long before a monotonous voice responds, “If you require assistance, please hang up”?
Endnote: The New Mediocrity is not so new and its origins may be traced to the 1970s. The fictional “mad prophet of the airwaves,” Howard Biel (in Network, 1976) called some attention to it in his famous “I’m as mad as hell” rant, but his outrage and indignation only led to higher ratings—for a while—before being cancelled (assassinated) “live,” a prototype of today’s reality show.
I think I’m turning into Howard Biel.
Joe Domino is currently an Adjunct Professor of English at Palm Beach Community College in Boca Raton, Florida. His classroom instruction and methodology emphasize critical thinking, cultural awareness, and a sense of history. Joe is also a published fiction author.
Categories: American Culture, Politics/Law/Government, United States
In that spirit, saw a news tidbit this morning about a crosswalk in front of a school in North Carolina. The giant block lettering in the crosswalk reads S-H-C-O-O-L.
I think the crosswalk was meant to say “Shhhh – cool,” with the obvious implication is that school is cool, but most people don’t know it. Clearly a “stay in school” message.
someofparts: Okay, I’ll probably regret this, but where in NC? Please don’t let it be my hometown.
You know, seriously, this was a very fun rant, but I wonder if it’s actually true. Over the years, I’ve had numerous occasions to research various things that are “new and worse,” e.g., the state of political discourse, quality of life, LA air quality, etc, etc. And every single time I’ve done it, it’s turned out that it is empirically better than it was before.
The examples you cite are bad, but the BP disaster is certainly no worse than Chernobyl, and it was handled better. In fact, decades ago no one would have even tried to clean it up, they just would have shrugged. And Fox news is certainly no worse than the libelous newspapers of early America and the papers of the Hearsts. What they do is bad, but I am just not sure it’s worse.
Is it terrible that there’s an epidemic of Confederate flags and neo-racist talk radio in response to a black president? Is it worse than a hundred years ago when you had hundreds of lynchings each year. I don’t think so.
There is a clear bias to romanticizing the past (see Russia) and toward unduly optimistic and pessimistic predictions about the future (see Club of Rome.)
Not trying to be too chirpy here, because I certainly acknowledge that it’s possible that things are getting worse and we just don’t have all the data yet. But I do think there is a bias by the Chamber of Commerce types to declare things better without much data, and by the rest of us to declare them worse, and on balance over the last 300 years in this particular country, they’ve been more right than we have.
I fully expect stones to rain upon my head for this one.
Interesting points, Sam, and I wonder how we’d evaluate. No doubt that the past had bad actors, although I’d argue that FOX is worse because of the their reach. There were nut jobs on each corner with a penny paper, but fucking FOX is in EVERY living room. In other cases, you’re probably more than right. We certainly didn’t invent crazy and corrosive.
It remains to be seem whether we’ve perfected it… 🙂
Is it true? Or are things really worse? We’re living through it. Thta’s the difference. How do we know how racism felt 100 years ago? All things being equal, it was worse, but we had 100 years to evolve and improve. In some ways we seem to be going backwards, Progress cannot and should not be measured by I-pad, etc.
By the way, I should have written in the original post about the Howard Biel rant. If you listen to it, the only thing mentioned which is dated is something about the Russians. Everything else could be about today. I suppose we could substitute terrorists or Al-Qaeda for the Russians.
Obviously, it’s impossible to know the answer unless things have gotten so much worse and have gotten worse in ways that lend themselves to measurement, e.g., infant deaths per live births. If it’s something more subtle, like mediocrity or lousy English, it’s hard to see how you could really be sure.
Barbara Tuchman had an interesting observation about the Dark Ages when she said the people living in them did not consider them dark at all. There were some awful times in the Middle Ages to be sure (I think she points out either the 14th or 15 century,) but the longer period was named the Dark Ages by us because their was no scientific advancement, and that happened because the best minds of that time were obsessed with religion. The most brilliant work being done was analytical work around how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. A bit of a tangent, but it reminded me how hard it is to judge your own time against others. It’s like sitting at the old Comiskey Park–lousy sight lines.