Popular Culture

I have written recently about how the movements that begin within the hallowed halls of academe tend to find their way outside those halls much like a scientific experiment that went wrong in a science-fiction movie. The most recent example of this is the notion of “alternative facts” that almost certainly is the bastard offspring of the postmodern movement born in Germany and France and now in ascendency in American Universities that stresses such things as the denial that there is such a thing as truth.

One of the heads of this movement that would reject all “modern” academic courses of study in history, literature, philosophy, and sociology is what is called “popular culture.” This is the study of such things as movies, television shows, comic books, and the like. This movement, in addition to rejecting the notion that history should be written without footnotes because it’s only a matter of subjective opinion anyway, has given birth to the following sorts of phenomena — as recently reported by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni:

• Rice university offers a first-year writing intensive course titled “Star Wars and the Writing of Popular Culture.”

• Appalachian State University requires its freshmen students to take a first-year seminar to help them develop “creative and critical thinking abilities.” Seminars this spring include “Death (and Rebirth?) of the Hippie.”

• The English department at the University of Pennsylvania — an Ivy League School — offers a course on “Wasting Time on The Internet.”

And this is just a tiny sample at a time when a recent poll of college graduates revealed that:

• 34% could not identify correctly when Election Day is held.

• 25% could not identify Tim Kaine as a candidate for vice president of the United States.

• 50% could not name Franklyn Roosevelt as the last president to win more than two elections to the presidency.

A number of colleges and universities now offer not only courses in Popular Culture, but also majors in that field as well as PhDs for those who want to go on to teach in that  academic “discipline.” And, A.C.T.A. concludes, “When many of our colleges and universities treat popular culture and entertainment as subjects worthy of serious study, it surely isn’t surprising that so many college graduates can’t identify key civic leaders, events, and their significance.” Indeed.

So what? you might ask. The answer is, of course, that this is coming at a time when we need young people who can think, and who can think critically. The recent election should have proven how vital that is and how far short we are falling as a nation. In this regard, there are two major problems that lie at the heart of this movement. To begin with, courses in Popular Culture emphasize information at the cost of thinking about information. I shall return to that notion in a moment. Secondly, the movement shoves aside other courses in the college curriculum that actually might help put young people in possession of their own minds, make them intelligent, critical thinking adults who can discriminate between a well-qualified candidate for president, say, and a complete fraud.

To return to the first point, it has been shown in tests conducted years ago that there are certain academic courses that help young people to think. This is reflected in tests such as the LSAT that students take in order to enter law school. Law requires critical thinking skills and the fields that do well, it has been shown, are mathematics, economics, philosophy, engineering, English, Foreign Language, Chemistry, Accounting, and History (in that order). The fields of study that score lowest in the LSAT are those that stress information and memorization. I shall not mention them out of respect to those who wasted their time and money earning degrees in those subject areas. But Popular Culture would certainly be at the top of that list if it had been offered at the time these studies were conducted.

The point is that the sorts of shenanigans that are going on behind the hallowed halls of academe have consequences for those who pay little or no attention to what is going on there. The graduates who have shown themselves to be badly informed about American history and government and also unable to think critically grow in number while those that cannot use minds filled with drivel increase accordingly, fostered by colleges and universities now being run as businesses, catering to the whims of their “customers.” And this at a time when our democracy desperately needs intelligent, well-informed, thoughtful citizens.  Courses in such non-fields as “Popular Culture” are the sort of things that guarantee that this will not happen.

 

The Test

Tomorrow the great American experiment will be tested as it has never been tested before. We will find out if popular democracy is good idea or a mistake of the first order. The test is fairly simple: do the American voters want a woman of proven experience and judgment or a vulgar man who has shown himself to be a bigoted, narcissistic megalomaniac? The latter likes to identify himself with the “common man,” whereas the former likes to present herself as a woman of the world who has the intelligence and experience to run the country — a woman who, while flawed like the rest of us, many regard as the most qualified candidate ever for this job. In a word, will the voters make informed choices or simply turn this race into a popularity contest?

The Founders, in their wisdom, did not trust the common man. They adopted the Roman model of a republic on purpose: representative democracy. They wrote a Constitution that required minimal property requirements of (male) voters who were only allowed to select their representatives to the House for two-year terms while requiring that legislators of the various states elect the Senate and the President.  The electoral college was devised to assure that the important offices would be reserved for those well qualified and the determination of those who were well qualified was reserved for those who presumably had the breadth of judgment to select the best qualified candidates. In a word, intelligence was considered a prerequisite for all the important votes. Jefferson founded the University of Virginia to educate citizens of the young republic.

I confess, I am not a populist. While I do not think that ownership of property should be a requirement to vote, I do think that the voters of this republic should know that the number of Senators in Delaware is the same as the number in Texas and that there are nine Supreme Court judges (as a rule). The evidence reveals that many college graduates today do not know these simple facts!  In a word, I think the voters should have had a course in civics and know at least as much as those born elsewhere must demonstrate they know in becoming American citizens. The Founders did not envision a country in which the average Joe or Jean, with virtually no education whatever, should be allowed to decide who is best qualified to run this country.

I do realize that much has changed since 1776. I do also realize that in the spirit of egalitarianism we hesitate any longer to judge any one person better or worse in any sense of those words than anyone else. But the fact is that some people are brighter and better able to make informed judgment than others. Some, at least, have taken the time and trouble to vet the candidates carefully. We have taken the egalitarian ideal to its extreme and the result is that we now have a baboon running for the highest office in the land and he has garnered a blind following that numbers in the thousands. This is not how it was supposed to be.

In any event, in November we shall see if enough people in this country have the intelligence (or is it simply common sense?) not to elect a man demonstrably unqualified for the job and reject a woman demonstrably well qualified. We shall see whether the American experiment is a success or a failure. As Bernie Sanders has noted, this is the most important election in our lifetime — perhaps ever.

Suffrage

The British fought with the issue of suffrage for much of the nineteenth century. How many people should be allowed to vote? It seems such a simple question, but it has numerous ramifications, twists, and convolutions. At the outset, when this nation was first founded, we followed the British example: men with property can vote, but no one else. The idea was that men with property had a vested interest in what their government did or didn’t do. It seemed to make sense. But like the English, we also fought with the issue of suffrage.

One of the best sources to read about this issue, oddly enough, is novel by George Eliot: Felix Holt The Radical. It focuses close attention on the issue of extending the vote in Great Britain to many who were disenfranchised at the time. But the key issue, which the hero brings into sharp focus, is why the vote should be extended to the illiterate and unpropertied (the question of extending the vote to women was shelved until later!). Leaving aside the issue of ownership of property, the question is central to any meaningful discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of democracy. After all, why should those who cannot read and write, who cannot possibly become well informed about the issues of the day, be placed in a position to vote on those who make laws? In Eliot’s novel, Holt takes the “radical”position that all male citizens would be allowed to vote, since everyone has a vested interest in the laws his government passes, whereas his conservative opponents argue the contrary position: only those with the demonstrated ability to understand the issues should be allowed to vote on those who will decide the fate of the nation. As Eliot has one of her Tory clergymen say in the novel:

“There’s no end to the mischief done by these busy prating men. They make the ignorant multitude the judges of the largest questions, both political and religious, till we shall soon have no institution left that is not on a level with the comprehension of a huckster or a drayman. There can be nothing more retrograde — losing all the results of civilization, all the lessons of Providence — letting the windlass run down after men have been turning at it painfully for generations. If the instructed are not to judge for the uninstructed, why, let us set Dick Stubbs to make the almanacs and have a President of the Royal Society elected by universal suffrage.”

In this country we insist upon testing those from other countries who wish to become citizens, but we allow that any child born in the United States can vote upon coming of age, regardless of any other qualifications. In days long gone by, young people growing up in this country took a civics class as a normal part of their high school curriculum in which they learned about the machinations of the government. But no more. In fact, many high schools have gone away from any requirements whatever and allow the students to select most if not all of the courses they want for the four years they are within their hallowed halls. Civics is no longer taught and as result, the young not only do not know how to read and write, they know nothing whatever about the history of their own country or how the government works — the government that they will help select when coming of age.

The situation is complex, but the issues it raises are worth pondering at a time when the democratic system we are all so fond of is beginning to show signs of breaking down. It becomes more and more apparent each day that large numbers of disaffected people simply don’t want to have anything to do with politics (for  good reasons, in many cases) and that by default the wealthy who have hidden agendas are placed in a position to “call the shots.” This hardly amounts to a democratic system; as I have noted in past comments, it is more like an oligarchy, government of the wealthy.

The problem of suffrage, therefore, gives birth to the interesting question whether everyone should vote and if so what qualification they should have, if any. As things now stand, in the interest of –what? — equality, we allow anyone at all to vote as long as they were born in this country or have passed their citizen’s test. That, in itself, is a problem. But added to it is the thought that despite the fact that it is so easy to vote (too easy?), more and more choose not to do so or vote based on the promises, soon to be broken, of some clown who has no qualifications for office at all.

Buck Up!

In the superb sit-com “The Big Bang Theory” when Leonard turns for help to his mother, a renown psychiatrist, she will tell him: “Buck Up!” If he asks for more, she will tell him to “Buck Up, Sissypants!” If that doesn’t work, she will tell him to read one of her books available on Amazon.

One of the basic rules of participatory democracy is that we get involved in elections, vote for the candidate of our choice and if that person doesn’t win we accept the consequences. One of the unwritten rules in Civics 101 is that participation necessitates acceptance of the results. The same rule applies in sports. We can’t agree to play and then get pissed off when we or our favorite get beaten and then crawl into a corner and sulk. It is obvious that this rule has not been explained to a great many voters in this country who are pissed off and sulking. Some have become downright nasty. We read about John Schnatter, millionaire owner of a pizza franchise, who threatens to raise the prices of his products and cut back his workers’ hours because of the election; we read about the owner of a coal mine who lays off 50 of his employees — taking his frustrations out on those who would work for him; we read about thousands of people who sign petitions to have their states secede from the Union. To all of these people, I say with Leonard’s Mom: “Buck Up, Sissypants!”

But the following story takes the cake. You can’t make this stuff up!

PHOENIX (Reuters) – An Arizona woman, in despair at the re-election of Democratic President Barack Obama, ran down her husband with the family car in suburban Phoenix on Saturday because he failed to vote in the election, police said on Monday.

Holly Solomon, 28, was arrested after running over husband Daniel Solomon following a wild chase that left him pinned underneath the vehicle.

Daniel Solomon, 36, was in critical condition at a local hospital, but is expected to survive, Gilbert police spokesman Sergeant Jesse Sanger said.

Police said Daniel Solomon told them his wife became angry over his “lack of voter participation” in last Tuesday’s presidential election and believed her family would face hardship as a result of Obama winning another term.

Witnesses reported the argument broke out on Saturday morning in a parking lot and escalated. Mrs Solomon then chased her husband around the lot with the car, yelling at him as he tried to hide behind a light pole, police said. He was struck after attempting to flee to a nearby street.

Obama won the national election with 332 electoral votes compared with 206 for Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Arizona’s 11 electoral votes were won by Romney.

To be sure, the Republican strategy during the campaigns was to keep hitting the “jobs and economy” button, trying to scare people into voting for their man who was said to be the only one on earth who could fix things that had gone wrong under the sitting President. After the election, one religious zealot actually said that Mitt Romney’s loss was a good thing because if he had won people would have thought him another Moses come to lead his people to the promised land!

To be sure there is some fear at work in Holly Solomon’s damaged mind along with rage and deep disappointment. But, let’s face it folks, there is also a good dose of racial hatred in this as well– along with some pent-up anger at her husband, no doubt. Combine these powerful emotions and you get aberrant behavior that starts at the low end of mere petulance and goes to the extreme of running over your partner with the family car. To these people I say: “Buck Up, Sissypants.”