Sean Davis takes a searing look at ten things in 2015 contributing to the death of American intellectualism.
If this nation had a Doomsday Clock equivalent for the slow and painful death of the American Intellectual, we would be somewhere around three minutes to stupid. Let’s take a look at the top ten things that attributed to the dumbing down of our great country this year.
Number Ten: Top Ten Lists
Clickbait has killed journalism. In June of 2013, my local paper, The Oregonian, decided to focus on their online presence and become an Internet news source instead of a daily periodical. Since then, they’ve laid off over a hundred employees, most of them reporters, editors, and photographers. In November of this year, they laid off an additional 20 percent of their news staff. Now, three-quarters of a reporter’s job performance is measured by how much they blog on OregonLive.com. Pick a topic about what matters most today in the world or Portland and then go to their site. You won’t see it. Instead, on their homepage you will find three stories about the weather, Top Ten Best TV Shows, Top Ten Awful Moments, Notable Deaths of 2015, 7 Cool Kitchen Gadgets That Will Change Your Kitchen Game, et cetera. Why? Because multiple clicks pay more than a Pulitzer.
Number Nine: Hashtag Protesting
#BlackLivesMatter, #JeSuisCharlie, #IStandWithAhmed, #BringBackOurGirls.
There, I got them all out of the way, so now I’m a socially conscious person, right? But did I do anything by re-posting a hashtag? Black Lives Matter started at the acquittal of George Zimmerman in 2013. Since then, we’ve had 16-year-old Kimani Gray shot 11 times, Eric Garner killed for selling untaxed single cigarettes, unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, Jamar Clark, and literally hundreds of others. We were all Charlie during the terrorist attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, and then we were all Paris during the next attacks. Do you still stand with Ahmed now that he’s moved to Qatar and is suing for 15 million dollars? As it turns out, the bring-back-our-girls girls are still gone. We found 200 other kidnapped girls, but they weren’t the same ones Boko Haram kidnapped. While I applaud people for having the need to do something when they see social injustice, a hashtag is pretty much the least you can do. Figure out how to actually help. Think about a solution and enact it in your community.
Number Eight: The Kardashians and Their Extended Family
They have oozed into people’s minds like a persistent and aggressive STD. From Kim’s “Kimojis” (now you can text photos of her ass covered in milk [?] or her taking a selfie) to her book Selfish which is over 400 pages of cell phone pics she took of herself (this was a NYT bestseller). Kanye’s no better with his annual disturbance at the Grammys or his disturbance at … anywhere. Here’s a recent quote of him talking about himself in third person: “I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture,” or this quote about himself, “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.” Then you have the other sisters, the mother, and the other mother. I’ll just throw this out there and you tell me if it’s true: the majority of people in this country can name more Kardashian family members than politicians, than contemporary artists, than scientists (of any era), than … well, anything else.
Number Seven: The Two-Party Mentality
If a person says they’re for gun control, does that automatically make them a Democrat? Does a conservative have to leave the GOP if he or she believes we should protect the environment? If someone believes we should take the risk of letting Syrian refugees into our country, then, obviously that automatically makes them a weed-smoking, gay-loving liberal who wants to go around having abortions all over the place, right? We’ve allowed ourselves to be divided, put into one of two parties. It’s just easier that way because people don’t have to think about where they stand on each issue. They are assigned their beliefs.
Number Six: Corporate Greed
Apple. Yes, the maker of your iPhone and the MacBook Pro I’m typing on. Their sales have topped 200 billion dollars for the first time this year. This is great for our economy, but it would be even better if 90% of that money wasn’t held overseas. CEO Tim Cook has been in front of Congress a number of times defending his company against tax evasion. After the birth of their baby, Mr. and Mrs. Mark Zuckerberg announced they will be giving 99% of their fortune away, but instead of giving it to charity or even starting a foundation, they are creating an LLC, which can make money and even employ lobbyists. This is another case of the ultra-rich making more money just by having money and getting everyone else to believe they are benevolent so we won’t force them to pay their share of taxes. This year, the big-pharma juggernaut Pfizer bought a small company in Ireland and moved their headquarters out of our country and, according to their own very conservative numbers, they will save 1.2 billion dollars that would have otherwise gone to U.S. taxes their first year, but economic experts believe it could be almost triple that at 3.3 billion dollars. Pfizer is the latest of a long line of billion-dollar companies that are taking taxes that could be used for infrastructure, job creation, and our public education system, billion-dollar companies like GE, Boeing, Verizon, Bank of America, Citigroup, FedEx, Honeywell, Merck, Corning, and too many others.
Number Five: Political Campaigns Run Like Reality Shows
Many would claim the U.S. version of the Cult of Personality was started with Reagan and continued by Arnold, but no one would doubt that it was Sarah Palin who found herself a politician who would make a great reality television star. There is no doubt that she has “it.” After her run for vice president of the United States, she turned to the small screen. Her IMDB page has over a hundred entries that span from 2008 to the present and gives her credit for acting, writing, and producing. Today, this phenomenon continues with Trump who was a reality TV star who figured he’d make a great politician. Instead of focusing on the real issues, Trump has successfully hijacked our news shows by hating Mexicans, war veterans, women, cripples, Muslims, and recently he’s redefined the word “schlong.”
Number Four: Superhero Movies
While I enjoy a new Avengers flick as much as the next guy, the onslaught of what was once a series of cartoon panels for children has become what every new movie producer or writer aspires to reboot, taking their focus from new stories or from anything with emotional depth. We are in a state of developmental stasis and suspended maturity. People wear pajamas to college, they stay on their parents’ insurance and cell phone plans until their mid- or late-twenties, and we have become a nation of kidults.
Number Three: Social Media that Caters to Kidults
Yeti Campus Stories is a new app that is based out of different colleges, mostly in the South right now. It’s purely anonymous and the photos that are posted “disappear” after a day or so. Randomly chosen admins control content, not anyone from Yeti. This app is filled with kids smoking A LOT of pot, cute dogs, and “pre-smash” photos of some coed’s ass or side boob. Snapchat, Wickr, Telegram, Wiper, and so many more of these apps are designed to erase all photos sent or received. When websites first started, anyone could use HTML to build a site and put whatever information they wanted on there for anyone to view. Myspace made it easier yet more specific, but a person still could put up all types of photos and music and posts about anything. Facebook made it less personalized, but you could still post photos and text. Twitter came along and gave users only 140 characters to express what they wanted to express, and now we have these new social media apps where anything you send or write just disappears. The internet began as a media to share ideas and express creativity, now the biggest and most used apps are designed for sexting.
Number Two: The Disregard for Language
Twerk, bukkake, koozie, papsak, tweet, and vape are now words according to the Oxford English Dictionary, 2015. And while creating words is nothing new, creating words or portmanteaus like thighbrow or Kimoji and putting them into our culture affects the way we think. Oxford University Press replaced around fifty words in their 10,000-entry children’s dictionary. They removed acorn, buttercup, and conker, and put in attachment, blog, and chatroom. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, L.A. Sherman was a famous reading professor who was concerned about the dumbing down of his language. He noticed most sentences in Elizabethan times were 50 words. In his time, the average sentence was 23 words long. Today, our average sentence consists of emojis and letters in place of words. Why is this important? Well, like Orwell said, “Political chaos is connected with the decay of language.” What does this mean? They don’t have to tell us how to think; all they/we have to do is remove the words needed to think subversively.
And the Number One Nail in the Coffin of American Intellectualism: You
We aren’t reading enough. Instead, we’ll wait for the blockbuster movie version. We don’t listen to enough music. Instead, we tolerate the jingles the music industry releases. We don’t learn the material. Instead, we learn the test. We don’t care enough. When someone says, “What is the use of voting?” we shrug our shoulders instead of having a healthy debate on the responsibility of citizens. We’ve forgotten that all the change we don’t think we can accomplish actually starts with our community. We’ve been seduced by the quick and easy sweet parts of everything.
All this is fast food for the brain and, while a bacon cheeseburger once in awhile won’t kill a person, that type of food isn’t healthy. People need to be reminded that it’s okay to think. Political hashtags might show someone cares, but direct action changes the world. Caitlyn Jenner’s transgender struggles are interesting, but learning about history or government is practical, rewarding, and easy now. Trump is a trainwreck, hard not to watch, but people need to care about the major issues and vote accordingly.
Hey, I get it. It’s fun to be distracted. The good news is that the poison is in the dose. Moderation is key. Let’s make some changes going into 2016.