Thursday, August 18, 2005

You’re not your khakis!

Some people don’t like being brow beaten over how lazy and apathetic our culture is. It makes us uncomfortable because we all know it is the truth, whether we admit it or not. They say I should do something about it instead of “bitching” constantly as one anonymous reader put it. You are right dear phantom reader. I should do something about it and I do. I don’t watch reality television. I never have and never will. I choose to lead by example. I choose not to fall in with the lowest common denominator. I choose to focus on television which does have redeeming artistic or educational value. In addition, I choose not to read crap magazines, unless I am in the doctor’s waiting area and there is nothing else at hand. I choose my books carefully, I am a snob about movies and music, and I absolutely never watch network news. I only watch cable news to educate myself about what the mainstream sees on a daily basis.

Any derivation from this strict pop-culture diet is done only in an attempt to understand the appeal on the mainstream. I don’t get it. I cannot fathom the appeal. In fact, I am the most un-hip person you are likely to ever meet. I am not cool, stylish or any of the other pimply hyperboles that you can come up with. And I’m ok with that. Make no mistake about it, I am not special, I am not individualistic. I don’t want to stand out, because I realize that is a fruitless pursuit. With over six billion people on this planet, individuality is a pipe-dream.

My personal take on popular culture is similar to what Henry Rollins says: “There are no dumb people, just dumb [television] shows”. For us to say that this crap is what we want is a cop out. It isn’t what we want, I refuse to accept that. It is just all that we are given. So how do we get out of this pickle? I honestly don’t have an answer, and that is not for lack of thought on the matter. I have some ideas though.

We are caught in a catch-22. We have designed a culture for ourselves which punishes you for not buying in to the hype. The hype expresses an urgency to be an individual while defining what that individuality really entails. We are not cool if we don’t have the new style of jeans, the newest hip album by 50-Cent or the Youngbloodz, and we don’t watch the latest “show” that everyone is talking about at work. That show is of course endorsed by a number of advertisers who show us scantily clad men and women who look good in the new style of jeans, listening to the newest hip album. It is a messy cycle that spins like a Frisbee in flight. Of course all this is a pursuit to be the first one to find a new style, to be a trendsetter. The truly hip people in our culture are the ones who set the trends. That isn’t Kanye West, it isn’t Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. It is the people, who are far less beautiful, who pick out their clothes. Celebrities don’t set trends. Publicists and PR spin-doctors do.

Cross promotional modern marketing is the new Salem witch trials. They used to burn witches at the stake for being different. Now we scorn them for not being hip. The amount of “hipness” that you possess can, depending on your career path, directly impact your professional success. So, how do we repossess our culture? It is hard because it used to be that apathy about what is hip was the escape, but the Madison Avenue crowd has caught on to that ploy and now apathy is hip… ARGHHH!!! Where do we run and hide? Mountain Dew tells you to express your individuality by drinking Mountain Dew and dressing like a skater. Extreme sports started out as a way for all the nerdy kids who didn’t want to play football, baseball or hockey to get exercise, but they ruined that by making it mainstream with the X-Games and other events. A millionaire skater is an oxymoron! Tony Hawk, you’re a sorry sell out! A videogame? A clothing line? You used to be punk rock! Now you’re just a punk!

Our society has changed since the 60s. Our parents didn’t sell out totally. All the emphasis on feelings and happiness survived the cocaine and money of the 80s. Now everyone is in therapy talking about why we are all so miserable. We are miserable because everywhere we look there is someone telling us that we should be in touch with our feelings and aiming for constant bliss. We put too much emphasis on following our hearts and finding happiness. We are taught to never repress our feelings.

Does anyone else note that our grandparents didn’t follow that path and they seem a lot happier for it? Our grandparents came from what Tom Brokaw refers to as the “greatest generation”. They came of age during World War II and learned that nothing comes easy. They learned that you put your head down, you work hard, you do your job, you buy a house, you raise a family and you pay your taxes. They all seemed ok to me. Not happy, but not miserable on nearly the same epidemic scale as now.

Even our parent’s generation seems to handle life fairly well, but that is because they were raised by our grandparents without the touchy-feely emphasis on happiness and individuality. But we were raised by and large by people who taught us to mind our feelings and be in touch with our emotions. Do you think kids went to school with guns in the 40s to shoot the school bully? No, the Trench Coat Mafia is a direct result of being taught that we all have to be happy all the time. It is impossible. Some kids get teased in High School and it sucks at the time, but you know what? If they survive that, the rest is a cake walk. They are the Bill Gates’, the John Lennons’, and the Kurt Cobains'.

Our pop-culture is an impossible quest for individuality which we believe will make us happy. Of course no one is an individual. So I guess the solution is, worry less about what is cool. Whatever you do, don’t worry so much about being special. I’ll save you the mystery, you’re not. Once you find that realization, happiness will be less elusive. You know what, you may never be filled with glee, but that is OK, whatever you are… be it with pride. I mean, I am listening to Huey Lewis and the News while I write this. Think I’m lame? So what!

So, phantom reader, you want to know the solution? Realize that it isn’t all about you, it isn’t all about how you feel and what makes you happy, or sad, or mad. Focus less on yourself and more on how you impact society. Once you realize that you are part of something bigger than you and your feelings, you will realize that our pop-culture and all the hype can and should be a source of amusement. But amusement should only be one facet of our life, not the sole defining center. We have lives filled with love and family, jobs and activities. In addition we have a social responsibility to contribute to society. The contribution that you make to society, I cannot define for you. Your contribution need not be monumental. We are not all destined for greatness, but our individual contributions to society are all important, regardless of scope. It can be creative or just being a caring person aware of the world around you. That would make you special.

1 comment:

Eric the Papa said...

There has been a definite "dumbing down" of popular culture, but there was plenty of criticism of the popular culture in the 1950s and 60s. Newt Gingrich still hasn't recovered from 1968!
Conformity was seen as a problem in the 1950 "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suite" and portrayed humorously in the film "The Apartment" with Jack Lemmon. The British had their "angry young men" writers and plays like "Look Back in Anger."
One really can ignore popular culture, but not its effects on society.