I can’t help but assume President Trump thought being the POTUS would be just like on TV. No, he says, it’s harder than he thought. He “thought”? I see no evidence he thinks very much.
There are some days, like today, where I have this sickening, swirling anxious feeling that makes me constantly want to take a breath. We are led by doofuses. How did we get here?
One opinion is that we have been so busy amusing ourselves with jokes and distraction that we fail to think deeply about real issues in the world. We get our news from satirical talk show hosts. We communicate in funny memes. The Atlantic has a piece that reflects upon Neil Postman’s 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. I read it several years ago and recall it being the kind of book you angrily fling across the room and then cry into your hands because it’s true.
Postman’s warning is even more prescient today when we are almost constantly looking to be distracted and entertained. Society still generally frowns upon intellectual pursuit. Instead of reading nonfiction or literature we are expected to be caught up on the latest TV shows and to indulge everyone’s pointless trivial posts (and memes) on Facebook. Even news is provided in short briefs. They are shared around the world and often opined upon with the smallest amount of information available. This is not good.
…as Postman would have it, we are still operating in the paradigm created by the telegraph—one that is extremely good at creating in-the-moment diversions and extremely less good at instilling in its consumers a sense of continuity, meaning, and wisdom. It’s no wonder, in Postman’s reading, that, today, “fake news” has thrived, that “alternative facts” has become a thing, that so many Americans both absorb and express political opinions via memes. It’s no wonder that Malcolm Gladwell would produce an argument against contemporary American satire that would point to jokes as the masses’ new opiate. It’s no wonder, too, that some of the favorite entertainments of those masses involve a fictional genre that goes by the name of “reality.”
I really worry about the kids. They can’t seem to concentrate on anything for more than 10 minutes. They think they must have the TV or music on to do homework. And they wonder why they don’t get it. Reading a book is torture. My kid wanted to skip school because of an assembly where she would be honored for being in the top of the class for GPA. She was embarrassed, embarrassed to be smart. This is devastating. Our society doesn’t value intellectual effort. We value sports teams, celebrities opinions, and being entertained.
How often do we disconnect and do nothing but think about things? There is no substitute for working out what are the facts and using relevant facts to form an educated opinion. Then, use that opinion to vote or influence society. Instead, we just listen to what others are saying via their jokes, memes and outbursts and fall right in line, thoughtlessly.
Jokes, satire and political comedy are great. I sure enjoy them. I hardly watch a movie that isn’t a comedy or has a monster in it. Sometimes that method of delivery does lead to greater understanding and influence. But it is not a suitable substitute for careful critical thinking, contemplation, and reasoned debate. Entertainment can not be the main means by which we obtain information. What is going on in the world is serious stuff. We will have to do serious work to deal with it. Our president is not equipped. Our society is not equipped. We are in deep trouble when we think a funny meme, a TV show, or social media exchanges are going to fix our very complex social, economic, and scientific problems.