Sean Davis

Top Ten Nails in the Coffin of American Intellectualism, 2015

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 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.


In Conclusion

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.


Sean Davis

Sean Davis is the author of The Wax Bullet War, a Purple Heart Iraq War veteran, and a community leader in Northeast Portland, Oregon. His latest stories, essays, and articles have appeared in various magazines and media sources such as HUMAN the Movie, the international fashion magazine Flaunt, Forest Avenue's forthcoming anthology City of Weird, and much more.

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  1. Elizabeth said:

    Interesting how you suggest Trump, (albeit subtlety), is the “bad guy” in your article. You make good points except for your obvious attack and dislike of Trump. Me thinks you are afraid of the guy and his tactics ~ maybe they strike a ring of truth?

  2. Pingback: 2015 Year in Review: Top Articles from The Big Smoke America - The Big Smoke

  3. Jeff said:

    Correctly transliterated from Japanese, it’s “bukkake”, not “bukakke”, and if you’re going to object to it you might as well complain about fellatio (Latin), ménage à trois (French) and a host of other loan words in the same vein.

    Predicting the demise of intellectualism, virtue, or what have you is a hoary tradition: pull out the family Bible and consult the Book of Jeremiah if you want a ready example. Where’s your sense of irony?

  4. Wednesday said:

    “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 was 50 words.”

    What unfortunate placement for a grammatical error.

  5. Jared Prophet said:

    Kanye West is a national hero who risked his own career to save lives in New Orleans when the news was calling white people survivors and black people looters, and black people were being shot by police for looting. And when the show kept going as if he had said the scripted lines, he said the very true statement that George Bush doesn’t care about Black People.

    For risking his career to save lives, Kanye West deserves a pass on every stupid thing he does for life.

    But every “Disturbance” that Kanye does is him criticizing the way the Music Industry treats its black content creators. He could be civilized and write a blog post like you did here, but this page has been sitting on my desktop for days waiting for me to read it and only 2 people have commented on it before me. So Kanye grabbing the Big Mic to make his statement is the way to go.

    The only questionable thing Kanye has done is marry Kim, but he seems to be a great influence on her as not everything she says or does sounds moronic.

  6. Jared Prophet said:

    I would say Hashtag Protests have given the voiceless a voice in a corporate owned media landscape like no other. Black Lives Matter got to meet with Presidential Candidates. And if Democrats have learned the lesson of Ralph Nader, at least one member of BLM will have a job in the new whitehouse. (Better to have the people inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.)

    Much the same way the assassin of George Tiller felt he had all of the world’s Christians on his side, the Black Lives Matter protesters have a Twitter count to tell them who supports their protests. Not everyone is a leader. Supporting leaders through hashtags is good.

    On the other hand, I feel everyone mixing their Facebook icons with the French flag emboldened Trump and others to take extreme stands against Muslims. It felt like giving into fear. Isis gets lazy and does NRA-style shooting soft targets terrorism in Paris, and Republicans will steal more of our freedoms in the name of security. Though none of those lost freedoms will involve making it more difficult for the wrong people to get guns.

  7. Jayarava said:

    No 2 is disappointing. This ignorance of the nature of language seems to be a symptom of sclerosis on the part of intellectuals. They seem to believe that the language that *they* speak is the ultimate version of the language. But each generation invents and discards words. This is just how languages work. Imagine if Shakespeare had never invented any words or phrases – how poor would the language be now? The last thing American intellectuals should do is let grammar Nazis dictate how they use language.

    Shorter sentences are a sign of intellectuals getting better at communicating, not worse. The last thing I want to read is some rambling, multi-phrased, digressive sentence. Long sentences are obscurantist. The only reason to deliberately use long sentences is elitism. Some intellectuals have the desire to be seen as a particular kind of thinker (like the French philosophers or Hegel for example) or to make the work inaccessible to a general audience and thus help to establish one’s credentials as beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. If one cannot write clearly, it’s a sign that one cannot think clearly.

    I might use an emoji in an email to a friend or a tweet. On the other hand I’ve written 450 essays, 8 journal articles, and four books over the the last 10 years and I’ve never used an emoji in any of them. Emojis have expanded the range of language to express emotions directly – a picture is worth 1000 words, remember? Now we can type in pictures. It is one of the single most important developments in writing since the invention of the alphabet. How can anyone claiming to be an intellectual not see this? Emojis democratise writing by making it easier for everyone to express themselves. But then one thing many conservatives hate is the democratisation of anything in their province.

    So this particular complaint just looks ignorant, anachronistic, elitist, conservative, and curmudgeonly.

    • Correct me if I'm wrong said:

      Pictographs are older than the alphabet, so there’s that, too.