Sunday, November 20, 2011

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them

Why am I supposed to care about Suri Cruise?

Or Brad and Angelina's Rainbow Coalition of adoptees?  Or (dear God) Kourtney Kardashian's two-year old son, Mason?  (I think it's actually probably spelled Kmason, with the "K" silent, as is in "knife," but what do I know?  Consistency, as Emerson said, is the hobgoblin of small minds.)

Photo of Suri: Splash News, and they're proud of it.

So what's with all the celebrity sprouts?  As far as I know, none of them has come up with a cure for malaria or been shortlisted for the Booker Prize or even earned straight gold stars on her spelling tests.  And yet, certain kinds of media pummel us with them, and I don't get it.

Or, if I do get it, it makes me very unhappy.  I mean, I suppose I'm pleased that Angelina and Madonna and other great white earth mothers snatch multicultural children out of poverty and turn them into fashion accessories (I know, that's mean), but the children themselves are -- well, they're children.  They don't have provocative ideas about greenhouse gases or solutions to economic inequality.  They haven't devised a plan to help Americans elect politicians who haven't been bought and paid for by the financial sector.

These kids should be no more interesting to people whose children they aren't than the third little girl in line for the slide at any elementary school in America.  And yet, some folks can't get enough of them.  They sell hundreds of thousands of magazines, they pile up millions of page views online.  Splash News puts its name on their images.

So here's where my opinion gets me into trouble.  Anyone who buys a magazine because it's got Suri Cruise or any other celebrity spawn on the cover is, by my personal definition, an idiot.  She or he is living a life so devoid of a center, so deeply lacking a worthwhile value system that not only are celebrities (even Kardashian celebrities) objects of an almost religious regard, but the as-yet-unformed, as-yet-accomplishment-free children of celebrities are also worthy of awe and wonder.  Reflections of reflections of reflections, but still apparently worth reverence -- and hard-earned dollars.

I have to credit this nonsense to a popular culture that shamelessly panders to the lowest common denominator at the same time that it helps to build the lowest common denominator by giving them feasts of crap to bottom-feed on.  And the rise of this thought-free -- indeed, anti-thought -- popular culture coincides with the precipitous decline of the American public education system.

Back when people who graduated from high school could read a compound sentence, the Suri Cruise category of content-for-mouth-breathers used to be reserved for the supermarket tabloids, but as we've gotten closer to the end of the world (the world of ideas, anyway), it's spread into magazines, television, even the occasional book.  And I blame this spread of mindlessness on the fact that the American public is, literally, getting dumber with every class that graduates from high school.

We seem to have an ever-growing segment of the population in which a critical synapse has collapsed, rendering them susceptible to the notion that people who make fools out of themselves on reality television are "celebrities."  Here we are, we proclaim to the world, here stand the brainless who can't tell the difference between famous and interesting, between empty and worthwhile.  There are those among us who would ask Hitler for his autograph.  After all, he was famous.

And these people, God help us, vote.  They're the audience most campaign rhetoric is designed down to.  They and the cynics in both parties are responsible for campaigns that focus on reproductive issues and prayer in schools instead of plans to reduce the deficit or to free government from corporate domination.  They shape the issues of the election.

They fiddle with magazines with Suri Cruise on the cover while home burns.  They dwell heedlessly in the ruins of an empire of thought, in which men and women were once considered to be citizen philosophers who could be entrusted with choosing their governments.  And, to be candid, they scare me silly.

Does this sound elitist?  Well, the hell with it.  What we want right now, I think is enlightened elitism, which is a good description of a meritocracy.  Meritocracy sounds really good to me at this point.  I'm having buttons made up that read MERITOCRAT:  I VOTE FOR BRAINS.

We need a good, solid futile gesture at this point.

Grumpy old Tim -- Sundays


  1. You vote for brains? I've seen them listed on menus but the idea of eating them is disgusting. Meritocracy? Did you mean democracy? I have heard of that and I think there is a cigarette called Merit. Is Meritocracy a fan club for people who smoke them?

    This post may leave a lot of people angry and confused. When they peck Suri Cruise into their search engines and this post shows up on the list, they are going to be angry because it isn't about Suri Cruise at all.

    You use some vaguely familiar expressions but you don't use them in the right way. Hobgoblin doesn't make sense but goblin is about Halloween and that was three weeks ago. Precipitous? The weatherman uses that word when he is talking about rain; this isn't about rain. Synapse: those things in your head that cause problems if people have allergies. Does Suri have allergies? You don't say, the article isn't clear on that.

    Then, you get into some really ridiculous stuff. How can a magazine sound like a fiddle? Did someone play a magazine on one of those talent reality shows? And then you blame the little girl for setting house fires! Her father could sue you for alienation of affection even though she was born in this country.

    If this wasn't bad enough you use lowest common denominator (everyone knows that has to do with math so who cares) and short listed. Are you referring to her father?

    I read somewhere that her father said her name means "princess" in Hebrew. Someone who speaks Hebrew said, "No it doesn't". What is he, some kind of expert?

  2. Wow! Now I bet you wish you'd never written that post, Tim :) I agree the media should not sensationalize children just because their parents are La La celebrities. But so many people (not moi) live vicariously through celebrities, it's too bad...

  3. Sadly, I think celebrity is the new opiate of the masses. It's been proven you don't need a high school education to become rich and famous. Makes me grumpy too.

  4. BETH, that's brilliant, which I am using metaphorically to suggest "intelligent" and "creative" as opposed to wanting to provoke you or anyone else into squinting protectively when he or she reads the word. And indeed, the world's pathetic reliance on "experts" to answer questions of fact is nothing more than a slap in the face (metaphorical for "insult") to good old Amurrican common sense. Good to know you're with me on this.

    LIL, my question, in part, is whether livingh vicariously through celebrities, and especially vapid celebrities, qualifies as life at all, or whether it's sort of zero-aspiration vegetable consciousness that is, in the long run, something unwholesome that grows on the real world (by which I mean the world in which people actually DO things) in an unwholesome way, sort of like mold on bread. In the long run, it's bad for the bread.

    Colleen, there was a time when people thought artists and writers and the OCCASIONAL actor were celebrities, but the only qualification these days is to be photographable in four colors and be willing to wave your arms long enough to attract attention. You're right about its being the new opiate of the masses; instead of the churches being packed in response to the miraculous appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe, magazines fly off the stands in response to the appearance of Suri Cruise.

  5. Tim is grumpy, and Beth is funny, and the voters are scary. I don't watch the Republican debates, but they know exactly who they are targeting, and it isn't people who read this blog. Anyone who has brains is suspect, and snobby. The children are being raised in an environment that produces Kardashians, and I'm afraid that I still don't understand what makes them news. (No explanation needed).

  6. Yea, John, and everyone's Garmin was set for the Land Ideas Forgot.

    I'm PROUD of being grumpy. I think grumpiness is justified without being self-defeating. The alternative, despair, is definitely unproductive.

  7. It may be distasteful when celebrities hawk their children, but it's not necessarily a new sign the apocolypse is upon us. Mia Farrow, multicultural nut mum times 10 was in the tabloids before Tom Cruize was potty trained. (Please refrain from reminding us that the world's not entirely sure that's yet happened.)

  8. Grumpy is good. Grumpy is life afirming. Grumpy means you are paying attention.

  9. Beth, I don't know who you are but you just made me spew coffee on my keyboard...

  10. Thank you, Luisa and Angela, for that affirmation. I feel validated in a way that has nothing to do with free parking. Sometimes you have to let your inner grump out for a romp to find out who your friends are.

    Lisa, I'm with you about Beth's post. And Beth, you owe Lisa a new keyboard.

  11. My trip back from Miami would have been far more interesting had I realized this would be the day Grumpy let Snow White take over.

  12. Tim, I am not brilliant or creative but today you gave me so much to work with. It was impossible to let the opportunity go by.

    Lisa, I am someone who has too much time on my hands because Tim hasn't published anything recently.

    Jeff, if by Snow White you mean white as snow then you must be referring to my hair.

    Tim wins something for being very funny while aspiring to grumpy.

  13. DeAnn, it may not be a sign of the apocalypse . . . but then again, it may be. And Mia had all those kids, but the world didn't go all drooly over them (except for Woody), because back then -- what? Twenty years ago? We still thought celebrities were supposed to be actual people who had actually done something. (I except teenage stars from this because teenagers are SUPPOSED to be shallow.)

    Thanks for the laugh, Jeff. Grumpy was actually regretting this post by the time he woke up this morning, but was he ever steaming last night.

    And Beth, you are too brilliant.

  14. This dumbness seems to be spilling over. I am a scientist by training (at least self-proclaimed) and love to wallow in data. But I have friends, who are smart and successful, who blithely ignore hard facts, corroborated data, and anything else that smells of reality. Instead they live their lives and cast their votes on the basis of ?? (who knows what - and I haven't been able to figure it out). It is no wonder that the US (and other countries too) are in such bad shape. I think reality is too depressing and impossible to deal with for so many people.

  15. Yeah, a lot of people are hooked on celebrities and all the news related to them, including their children. The phrase "get a life" is applicable. But life is kind of glum for many at this point.

    However, I notice that the worse the economic crisis gets, the unemployment, and the budget cuts in education and more -- and a lot worse is coming -- the more entertainment news is on the air, online and in the print media -- even "prestigious" newspapers."

    The morning tv "news" shows are about celebrities and human interest features, but many days there is NO NEWS! I tune in to get humor in the morning, but maybe one real news story is included. One wouldn't know there is a recession or unemployment or that millions lack health care, that college educations are becoming impossible for many, that childcare slots are being drastically cut and HIV/AIDS treatments, too, and more.

    People want distractions from all this, but at the same time the media is encouraging all of this celebrity hype -- gossip, children, fashions, feuds, etc.

    Also, the backsliding in curriculums, and textbooks in science and history, starting with Texas is incredibly calculated and obviously, detrimental. It is so much a part of the "dumbing down of America," and it is deliberate.

    And scientists, historians and reality based teachers, parents and organizations have to defend themselves and their ideas and fight it out.

    A PBS program studied troubled teens in Eastern Kentucky. I was shocked to see a "science" teacher in a public high school refuting evolution, and spouting such unscientific points.

    A relative reminded me that there is no national science curriculum here, as there is in many highly industrialized countries.

    The Republican debates alone are enough to stupefy anyone who watches them. What reality are these candidates living in or promoting? Facts are turned upside down, real issues are distorted, science or history is demolished, etc.

    So people who watch these programs, follow these candidates, have children going to schools which are anti-science and reality, what's happening here?

    These are such steps backward, at a time when actual science and technology have advanced so far.

  16. Don't forget, too, Kathy, that our society is shaped by numbers. We have had it slammed into us for the last few months that 99% of us are living in precarious financial situations while 1% control all the money. What is sad is that it isn't 1% who have the outsized share, it is the 0.01% that determine the fortunes of the rest of us. Some man who has his own samll business, works 6 days out of seven, puts in long hours when he is working,thinks himself into the 1%, forgetting that his wife has to work to get the families health care.

    It is insidious that the top level of the economic structure has so little respect for those who have less that they try to convince the 1% that they have it made. The people who have real money aren't standing in a group in a public place showing people they are the 1%, Real money doesn't advertise.

    With education becoming a bad bargain, too costly with no hope of a job, those who can afford to pay the tuition will send their young off to college, while the some of the more intelligent and innovative thinkers are kept down.

    This is most definitely class warfare.

    If this post is full of typographical errors it is because I hit something and the font, on my end at least, has shrunk to pinpoint.

  17. Beth,
    I absolutely agree with you on this.

    It is horrible that so many young people are graduating from college with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and no chance of getting jobs in their professions, or even close.

    I hear of so many stories about this.

    I am dismayed that Occupy Wall Street was closed down in many cities -- and, of course, that pepper spray has been used, including against students sitting quietly, doing nothing, as at UCDavis. It happened in NYC, too, including to an old friend,a woman.

    I forgot in my rant about the dumbing down of America a bit contributor to this: FOX News. Yow, what distortions, and that's the news. That "talk show hosts" is bringing dumbing down and much worse to millions of people.

    Let me not despair on this lovely day when people are with their families trying not to think about this, the economy, lack of jobs and health care, etc.

    Enjoy your holiday, everyone.

  18. I meant to say FOX is a "big" contributor to the dumbing down of America.

  19. Gosh, here it is Thanksgiving Day and look at the seam of discontent I've opened up.

    But you know, the real sin in this situation is NOT to think about it and NOT to speak up about it. I mourn the fact that the Occupy people couldn't come up with a coherent, focused message, because I think without that people tired of them. But it's a major crime, I think, that they were dispersed like that. We'll look back on that a year from now, I think, and mourn it.

    And there was a wonderful poll that showed that people who watched Fox News as their primary news source knew less about current events than people who didn't watch any news at all.

  20. Well, I am glad that the majority of people around the country support the Occupy Wall Street movement, and what they stand for as representing the 99% as opposed to the top 1% super-rich.

    They plan on keeping on going with different venues and creative tactics. Some are still up, as in L.A., but they're still meeting and planning, as in New York.

    They had a General Assembly on Nov. 18 at a union hall, and discussed a lot of types of tactics. They want to push for bank regulations and more.

    I heard of something awful in New York when the police cleared Zuccotti Park on Nov. 15 and Nov. 17. Not only were laptop computers, expensive medical equipment and camping gear thrown into sanitation truck compactors, but so, too were musical instruments and people's i.d.'s and other personal documents.

    I saw a young man with his former banjo, now only one metal strip, having been thrown into a compactor. But what really got to me was that people's pets, mostly dogs were taken away to Animal Care and Control, but many ran away in fear. And some folks don't have the money to get their pets back from the center.

    I'd chip in for this but have no idea where to send a donation.

    This will keep on going. The march of 35,000 in NYC was amazing, people from all over, the Oakland march to the port was huge, and all kinds of people, including us former student activists from years ago, are being energized.

    Ah, youth and students, they do get things going once again.