Entertainment?

I have suggested on occasion, sometimes generally sometimes pointedly, that the entertainment industry has been one of the more pernicious influences on the development of such things as intelligence and character that have been seen of late. It’s influence is felt everywhere and since we know that animals, including the human animal, learn from imitation it follows that the ubiquitous television and the social media (of late, especially) have had a tremendous effect on the development of young minds and hearts.

Robert Hutchins once pointed out that the invention of  television held out the greatest of possibilities for humankind. It could be an educational tool like none other and could bring about the elevation of minds and the enlargement of experience among all those touched by it. But we know that has not happened. Not only does public television — which was the last bastion of hope — struggle against the tide of political interests that lie elsewhere, but even when its programs are seemingly beyond criticism they still raise deep questions about their effect on young minds. I speak of such programs as “Sesame Street,” which has always been held up as a paradigm of the best that can be hoped for in television programming. And yet, television is a passive media and does not involve the viewer fully, and this applies to children’s programs on P.B.S.. Furthermore, such programs as “Sesame Street” — as good as they are in many respects — lead the young to expect to be entertained by those who would be their teachers later on. I know this from first hand experience, but it is fairly easy to deduce. Given the fact that the young spend hours each day in front of the television waiting to be entertained, it follows that when in a classroom they will expect the same stimulation. Again, television is essentially a passive media and that’s the key. It does not involve the give-and-take that is required for real learning to take place.

I speak in general terms about television as the main culprit in the drama I am attempting to expose, but in addition to the programming itself, which is beyond banal, there are the dreaded effects of commercials that are designed to capture and hold the minds of the viewers and lead them to buy items they certainly do not need and probably do not want. But one cannot deny the pernicious effects of the frantic series of pictures drummed into the heads of passive viewers hour after hour that present him of her with examples of human behavior that are anything but exemplary. I speak of the commercials, especially, that advertise everything from feminine hygiene products to pills to cure erectile disfunction, and God only knows how many drugs designed to make our lives easier and more pleasant. But much of what I say can be placed at the feet of the programming itself which presents innumerable examples of what was once regarded as deplorable behavior — such things as chronic lying, for example, not to mention the common practice of shouting and interrupting, and the repeated message that YOU are the only thing that matters and violence is the way to solve conflict.

There has been much attention drawn to social media lately, and with good reason. But it simply exacerbates the problem I allude to, since it reinforces the message that the self is paramount and others are there to be used and discarded. Many young people admit that in addition to being addicted to social media, they are driven to present themselves to those who read and follow in such a way that they will be “liked.” It’s not a question of whether or  not a person is a good person, a virtuous person as once was, but if one is well liked. How many followers do we have? Has my latest post been “liked”? How can I make sure that I never hear again from that fellow who just criticized my latest post?

I carp, of course, and grind a favorite axe, one that many  would prefer to ignore or even deny altogether. But we might do well to think about the impact of the entertainment media and the effects it has had on generations of people with diminished attention spans and lowered intelligence who seem to be withdrawing further and further into themselves and less and less inclined to become involved in the world around them except in so far as it affects them directly. It is not something that is likely to change — and certainly not because of this blog post. But it is a phenomenon that deserves serious attention if we are to better understand the current cultural malaise, the growing incidences of violence, and the widespread apathy among growing numbers of people who could not care less about the world around them.

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Spectators?

Is it possible we are becoming a society of spectators? Is it the case that we are so removed from the world that we have become passive observers of the scene around us as though we are watching a movie? I do wonder sometimes. I have gone on (and on) about the danger of the electronic toys we all seem to be addicted to and the damage they are doing to our collective brains. There is hard evidence that this is the case, but it doesn’t seem to deter anyone. We walk through life with our eyes down, fixed on the toys in our hands and checking social media to see if we have new friends — or if the old ones still “like” us. Meanwhile the real world around us becomes less and less real as the pictures we are fascinated by become true reality. This detachment from the real (REAL) world is a sign of mental imbalance, folks. Just ask Freud who talked a good bit about the “reality principle” that governs the gradual maturing of the young child as he or she grows and becomes an adult. The make-believe world of the child is supposed to be replaced by the (at times painful) world of things and people that the child slowly realizes is the real world. Things seem to have become turned upside-down. The real world is now for so many the world of make-believe: the world in our hands that we can control, not the world “out there.”  Worse yet, we have become emotionally detached, many of us, and see tragic events as simply another episode in a drama we are not really a part for. We have become a nation of spectators, it would appear.

A story in Yahoo news recently brought this possibility home in a rather graphic way:

Shocking surveillance video shows the moment a Pittsburgh woman was knocked out cold by a man on a busy sidewalk — but that’s not the worst of it. The footage also shows the woman being beaten and robbed by bystanders — who proceed to take pictures of her, including selfies — as she lay unconscious on the ground. “They don’t treat animals like that. They wouldn’t treat a dog that way,” the victim’s mother told KDKA on Thursday. “It’s disgusting. My daughter needs help.”

I suppose the woman being knocked down and robbed shows us a side of ourselves we have always known was there. Recall the Kew Garden incident in 1964 when thirty-seven or thirty-eight people ignored the cries of a Kitty Genovese being stabbed to death outside their bedroom windows. In a crowded world we tend to become a bit more callous and robbing and beating a helpless woman seems like yesterday’s news to a people who have become jaded and over-exposed to violence and mayhem. What is unique about the Yahoo story is the observation that people were taking photos, including “selfies,” as the woman lay there beaten and suffering on the sidewalk.

We need to keep our perspective here (speaking of the reality principle). This is not about all of us and it is only an anecdote. There are good people out there doing good things every day. But there are growing numbers of people who seem to have become inured to the suffering of others, as though it’s not real but something to watch and get their own emotional high from. We don’t experience the woman’s pain, only our own emotional reaction to the incident, “getting a rush.” This seems to be what it’s all about for many, indeed for an increasing number of people, in a world of detached spectators who “get off” by watching  rather than becoming truly emotionally and intellectually connected with the events taking place. Taking a photograph freezes the event and allows us to see it as something happening in our own little world where we are in control and sympathy and empathy are no longer part of the equation.

Get A Life

How sad it is that the social media have taken over the hearts and minds of our young people. We have seen it coming for some time. The evidence suggests that the electronic toys themselves are damaging the brains of those who use them, but the fact that they are addictive is also of major concern. In a recent interview with Katie Couric comments by the author of a book that studied the effects of social media on teen-age girls are most revealing — and disturbing. An article on the internet (speaking of social media) tells us about the problem:

These dangers are just one of the topics journalist Nancy Jo Sales explores in her new book, “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.” She sat down with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric.

“One of the first conversations that I had with some girls in Los Angeles really set the tone for the whole book to me,” Sales told Couric, recounting a specific exchange she had with one of the girls. “She said, ‘Social media is destroying our lives.’ And I said, ‘So why don’t you just go off it?’ And she said, ‘Because then I would have no life.’”

Ponder, if you will, the final remark of that young woman. If she abandons social media she will “have no life.” Aside from the grammatical mistake she makes (“media” is a plural noun) — which has become common with those who tweet and have forgotten how to read and write — this is a terribly sad comment on today’s youth. I assume that this remark was not random but fairly typical of those whom Sales encountered in her research. Without social media this young lady would have no life. Her entire self-concept is wrapped up in the positive reaction of her peers to what she posts on social media. If what she says and shows is not “liked” then she is not liked.

Some years ago I brought up in class that willingness of parents to buy presents for their kids that they know might be harmful. One of the mothers in the class held up her hand and asked “what are we supposed to do? All their friends have those toys.” This is peer pressure in  a society in which acceptance from one’s peers counts for much more than it is worth. But the parallel is almost exact: if my kids don’t start to immerse themselves in social media as young children they will be left out. The schools encourage this as they frequently provide students with the toys and/or assign work that requires that they use them. Thus parents must succumb to the pressures their kids are already subject to, even if they know the electronic toys they subsequently buy for their kids will do them harm. We seem to be caught in a spiral from which there is no escape. At least, none that I can see.

A conspiracy theorist would see behind all this an insidious plot: the powers-that-be want worker-drones and what better way to produce them than to capture their minds? I am not a conspiracy theorist and reject this interpretation. But I do worry that our young people are entering adulthood with serious damage to their self-esteem (despite our best efforts in that direction) and to the left-hemisphere of their brains — that part that does their thinking.  Since this has been going on for some time now, it may go a long way toward explaining the popularity of the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. It is not a minor problem by any means. As I say, I don’t see a way out of the downward spiral. Do you?

Selfies

If there are still doubters out there who insist that this is not the most narcissistic age ever, they should consider the “selfie.” As we all know, and which the always reliable Wikipedia affirms, a “selfie”

” is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken [seemingly endlessly] with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. Selfies are often [seemingly endlessly] shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They are usually flattering and made to appear casual. Most selfies are taken with a camera held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by using a self-timer.”

Indeed, according to the statistics I just made up, 93.7% of the information on social media is about the person himself or herself. Issues are largely ignored and other people only enter into the discussion if they happen to have some important relationship to the person posting the information. It’s all about “ME.”

Or consider the “self-esteem”movement about which I have blogged previously (seemingly endlessly) which has taken over our schools and which parents have swallowed hook, line, and sinker — despite the fact that all the evidence (which I didn’t make up) suggests that the self-esteem movement actually LOWERS a child’s self-confidence, their sense of who they really are in relation to others around them. But it raises their idea of how accomplished and bright they are and in recent studies of students around the world (which again I did not make up), despite the fact that test scores show that our students trail much of the rest of the world in subjects like language and mathematics, the students themselves are convinced they are the best and brightest. They have the highest sense of self-importance in the world. This is narcissism that borders on self-delusion. And, as we know too well, it has led to the sense of entitlement that pervades this culture in which a growing number of people expect to be handed things because they have a nice smile or are pleasant to be around. Or, simply because they can still breathe in and out. In addition, as Christopher Lasch has pointed out, narcissism can readily lead to violence as those who expect to be handed everything on a platter find their desires thwarted.

In the light of this, it was refreshing recently to read about James Harrison, a professional football player, who returned two very large trophies his sons received for merely participating in an activity. It was not only refreshing because it wasn’t another story about a professional athlete beating his wife or sweetheart, but about a professional football player who is practicing good parenting skills. As Harrison himself said about the awards:

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!” wrote the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker on Sunday in an Instagram post to his 180,000 followers. “While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they earn a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned, and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best … cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better … not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut you up and keep you happy.”

Is it possible that this professional athlete knows more about child rearing than the so-called “experts” who dare to give parents and educators misleading advice? Imagine, thinking that praise should be earned and not simply passed out until it means nothing! Harrison just uses his common sense and gut feelings to do the thing he knows is right. I can’t help but believe that we would be much better off if parents and teachers followed Harrison’s lead than they are in raising and teaching their kids “by the book.”