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Economy of the Banal

May 5, 2009

by dna strands in my hair

I want to know why there is such an economy for sensationalism.  How did we get to the point where there is an economy for really boring stories about celebrities, celebrities who happen to be horrible entertainers?  We’ve switched to financially profitable services to the ego, like, “Ooh, doesn’t it feel good to laugh at someone’s failures?” or even “How pathetic this person is because of such and such.” The list goes on.

We’re truly Greek derivatives—we love our drama. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my internship at a major network talk show it’s that a lot can be learned from high school’s caste system and its segregation of groups—you can make a lot of money off of perceived differences, hierarchy and gossip.

The high school dynamic certainly can continue on into adulthood, especially in the entertainment world.  We are a country that has put science in the trunk, social responsibility in a box of ‘things to burn’ (unfairly) along with Marx and Mao. Machiavellian politics has been voted to command the forefront of capitalism. Produced gossip becomes highly profitable. The country screams for idealism, but we remain askew when our ideal is high school.

High school is placed on a pedestal in our society, rather than collegiate education (many TV shows occur in high school, for example).  That is our (country’s) desired outcome: the ideal of a suburban high school, if not suburban then the ideal of the Upper East Side private school such as in Gossip Girl—the crux of banal.

If we look at the mainstream mimesis of college, it’s not at all treated as a place that fosters intellectualism.  Curiosity, yes, but not academic, social, or intellectual curiosity.  Rather, it’s nihilism. It’s curiosity in the lack of morality, lack of standards, and curiosity in what life is like without responsibility. Leadership classes do not raise adequate leaders, but rather sticklers for rules—rules created for no other purpose but to allot control to some party; rules that determine hierarchy, not progress. This is the mentality we teach our children.

There’s this great article in Harper’s February 2009 “Notebook” section in which author Mark Slouka does a reality check on change and American intellectualism. Titled “A Quibble,” Slouka wrote:

“One out of every four of us believes we’ve been reincarnated; 44 percent of us believe in ghosts; 71 percent, in angels. Forty percent of us believe God created all things in their present form sometime during the last 10,000 years. Nearly the same number—not coincidentally, perhaps—are functionally illiterate. Twenty percent think the sun might revolve around the earth. When one of us writes a book explaining that our offspring are bored and disruptive in class because they have an indigo ‘vibrational aura’ that means they are a gifted race sent to this planet to change our consciousness with the help of guides from a higher world, half a million of us rush to the bookstores to lay our money down.”

We’re a country that gives the movie Wendy and Lucy an R rating even though there’s no sex, drugs, or violence, but still believes it deserves an R because it’s a movie about how sometimes things in life just don’t work out.

What are we afraid of exactly?  That parents are so willingly ready to vote for leaders who go to war to defend “our” freedom, and yet those same parents throw away Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and want to ban school libraries from carrying Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, “going through [the book] with a blue highlighter and highlighted the words ‘crap,’ ‘shit,’ and ‘damn’ every time they appeared on every page.  Those same parents whom Laura Bush supports in banning the books ‘didn’t really go in for reading, [themselves]’”—they were not interested in literature, but in policing content.

We are a sensational country because we love to feel disgusted.  Whether we know it or not, we’re taught to fear, isolate, scoff, judge, and idolize from the time we are young.  We elect leaders who support an economy that is not based on value, innovation, creativity or genius, but an economy that inspires gut reactions.  We’re not taught to think or analyze or explore possibility, but we are taught that “bad consequences” await us if we don’t believe in something greater than ourselves.  We are not taught that we are great ourselves.

When we are all just apes mimicking each other, our media reflecting us, all there is to echo are the notions of all the ways we refuse to transcend.

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