Are we Mediocrity Junkies?
On lowest common denominator culture
No one epitomizes America’s relentless pursuit of entertainment more than the current White House incumbent.
Like him or loathe him, he isn’t without supporters who gawk every time he appears on the screen and proudly parrot his sentence fragments.
As long as you can string four words together, you too can be an accomplished Trumpist, Trumper, Trumpet. And if that’s too hard, there’s always the baby talk acronym.
As seen on TV, of course, America’s favorite agent of enlightenment dispensing endless streams of mediocrity 24/7.
Televisual offerings are so compelling they generate think pieces across the media spectrum. The omnipresent pull of the glowing screen is so strong people even go to bat when “their” show gets canceled, petitioning networks to bring it back.
This is what passes for a civic act in America.
Writers only have one goal these days: to get their masterpiece optioned so it can be turned into a movie, or better still a TV show.
Reading a book in America has become an act of rebellion, ditto refusing to have a TV because you don’t want to join the brainwashed masses.
Not that it makes you a discerning badass though, just a snotty asshole. (Hi!)
Such is the opprobrium associated with non-conformity that if you dare stray from the norm and reclaim your brain, you stand to be othered. Worse even, you might discover you’ve become impervious to pop culture.
Good luck trying to conduct a conversation when you’re missing all the frames of reference. At first, you might oblige and read up on what’s being discussed so you can make some vaguely knowledgeable mouth noises.
Do that for a while and you’ll eventually remember why you weren’t interested in the first place.
Not that TV is necessarily a lesser art form.
Some countries regularly produce thought-provoking content rather than trough filler. Think of Britain’s BBC for example, or public Franco-German TV network Arte.
But America is a dab hand at flooding the market with hypnotic claptrap that encourages bizarre bulimic behavior in viewers.
Setting aside one’s life to merge with the sofa for an indefinite amount of time is an activity now.
And so binge watching becomes a way of parking one’s brain and making entire days disappear. Other than escapism, there very rarely is a purpose to this. (Unless you’re learning a language and watching subtitled content, in which case your synapses are firing on all cylinders.)
Although American life calls for intense self-soothing, how smart is it to turn to the very tool that empowered Trump for comfort?
Critical thinking isn’t really America’s strong point, nor is challenging lifelong habits. If you were raised by television, chances are it won’t ever occur to you to pull away. You’re unlikely to seek alternative forms of entertainment, let alone of enlightenment.
And so the weapon of mass distraction continues to hijack your brain, year after year.
One day, you wake up and realize life has passed you by. If only you’d switched off the TV, you would have lived more, you could have had firsthand experiences rather than vicarious ones.
You could have been an actor rather than a spectator if only you’d gotten off the couch.
Being on the sidelines of life feels comfortable.
It’s an easy, low stake way to exist without too much effort. You won’t reap many rewards that way, you won’t learn much either but it might just sustain you and there’s no thinking required.
Should you get bored, you can just change the channel and spectate the lives of people who’ve built their success and fortune off your attention. Those are not the many hardworking actors, writers, and directors making you dream but those people who are famous just for being famous.
Are reality TV stars so aspirational they’re worthy of worship? Well, the answer is in the White House.
America’s endless appetite for televisual garbage despite the elevation of Trump continues apace. And the question persists: What if he were the most honest representation this country has ever had?
Because we’re hooked, we can’t look away, we shout at the screen…
“Stay tuned!” he tweets regularly, and we the people obey him with nary a whimper.
We remain a nation addicted to mediocrity asking for seconds and thirds because it’s easier than asking ourselves how we ended up this way.
Or what part our apathy may have played in the downfall of a country once hailed as a worldwide beacon of freedom, hope, and democracy.
But it’s not too late to switch off the TV, or is it?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.