Tuesdsays With Maury

If there is any bit of television that makes me think that deja vu is real, it’s the Maury Povich Show. Every time I tune into the show I swear I’m watching something that I’ve seen before: some bird has dragged in a number of equallly morally suspect young men (some of whom are related to each other) to have Maury erveal which fine specimen of erudite gentlemen is the sire of her child. By the time they figure out which one is, Maury has DNA tested half the guys in BFE Kentucky. Although I find the whole matter disgusting (I mean really, if there’s one thing that a woman should be keeping track of, it’s how many guys that she’s balled in one week), I can’t tear my eyes of the spectacle. And I’m so delighted when some dude is on who insists that he’s never even had sex with his cousin’s girlfriend ( he’s usually the one hurling the most insults about her easy virtue) turns out to be the father. Spectacular! Watching the moment of revelation almost beats the fact that I’ve spent an entire afternoon not doing anyting even remotely constructive, like working for an actual paycheck. It’s not that the entire experience is without shame –at least on my part. All the while I’m watching, I keep asking myself “why are you watching this crap?”. When did Maury Povich’s bi-weekly “you are NOT the father” show become something that is acceptable to air on broadcast television? I look at the parade of trash talkin’, baby makin’, semi-illiterates on Maury and I ask, from under which rock did these people crawl?!? Now, I’m not calling these people substandard to be insulting, I’m sure that when they’re at home, some of them are really wonderful people. But what gets me mad is the fact that these people aren’t just cartoons that entertain and then disappear as soon as the show is over. They’re real people, who exist among us. And if that’s the case, I think, then we, as a species, are in a bad way. I think while I’m watching, that there is no such thing as dignity anymore. Or modesty, or decorum, or shame. And I say shame on myself for watching the show in the first place. They wouldn’t be there airing out all of their dirty laundry if there weren’t an audience to watch. In an interview on NPR, Chris Hedges said that our culture has been emptied out and replaced by fantasy. He says that the worse that reality becomes for us, the more we run to distractions; what Hedges calls “pseudoevents” like, gossip, trivia, celebrity breakdowns, and the eroticization of our culture. When I was getting my poly sci degree, I had this professor who would go on rants from time to time about how things like Girls Gone Wild are ruining society by breaking down the barrier between the public and private spheres. He said that when we take our private business into the public arena, we make things that shouldn’t be acceptable to do in public (like showing your boobs and other areas) acceptable. Once we’ve broken down that barrier, he said, there’s nothing that is inappropriate. That’s degrading to the culture, he concluded. I gotta say that I don’t disagree. Everywhere is casual friday. You don’t have to look around too hard to see it, either. Cell phone calls that are way too personal and way too loud, prominently displayed undergarments, people wearing pajama pants everywhere, celebrity sex tapes dominate what we see in the media and on the street. I used to think that eventually things would get back to “normal”, that is, people wouuld see that they’re making fools of themselves in public and start to behave. So far it hasn’t happened. I used to think that acting stupidly on television would be an embarassing enough experience that people wouldn’t do it. Apparently it’s not. Because every week there’s a new batch of ladies on Maury gene testing another batch of suspected fathers. They seem happy as clams up there on the stage. The point it seems, is that the important thing is to be on TV. So long as cameras are on them, they don’t care why — it’s just to be on TV! They can go back home and watch the show when it airs and be local celebrities for awhile, jsut like all the other floks who make their living being professsionally famous. This seems to be the point of the whole thing. It doesn’t matter how you get on the boob tube, so long as you get on. We get so fascinated with ourselves that we don’t see what all of our narcissism is doing to us. In the movie Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle called it “morbid self-attention”. It’s getting so wrapped up in yourself that you fail to see that you’re destroying yourself. Because when we look at ourselves we fail to see the world around us. And if you’re always looking at yourself, then you’re never looking at what’s going on in the world. I remember when the whole President impeachment thing was going down, and Monica Lewinsky was making the rounds on the talk shows. Did it matter to anyone that she got famous for putting the president’s weenie in her mouth? No, it didn’t. Least of all, it didn’t seem to matter to her. She never said “gee, I wish I had gotten famous some other way. This was is something that I should really be ashamed of”. In our fame-based culture, you used to actually have to do something to get famous — invent something, be good at something, cure some disease, act, dance, write, or sing (or all if you’re a quadruple threat, like Justin Timberlake). There was an idea that notoriety had to be earned. Now it seems all you have to do is get on TV. Unfortunately, this is extremely easy. All you have to do is be freaky enough or better yet, have someone post your freakiness on YouTube, and you’re set. You can be famous. So you can give the pres oral, it doesn’t matter. Monica Lewinsky was going to be famous, and we were going to see her being famous no matter whether we objected or not. So is every other freak out there. That makes me think of a character in the movie The Ring, who tells a reporter to ind her own business and stop trying to find out what happened to his daughter. She tells him that she’s trying to help. his response is one that I think applies to the Mauryization of our culture. He tells the reporter that they “take one person’s tragedy and force the world to experience it… spread it like sickness”. I think that shows like Maury Povich’s have the same effect. I would think that Maury, if you asked him, would come up with some reason why having these people on his show benefits the public. He wouldn’t realize that what his show does is spread an infection. It’s a culture destroying infection. One that makes the obscene reasonable and feeds us nothing of any use for our minds or souls. Its’s all bread and circus. And we all know what that did to the Roman Empire. Chris Hedges says that our culture has devolved into a culture of moral nihilism. Funny, that I think that ultimately Hedges and the founder of nihilism (that being Nietzsche) would conclude that our culture is headed on the path of destruction. Nietzsche says that our society is so screwed up because of the “plebian bias of the modern mind”. Nietzsche laments the triumph of the common and the vulgar over the Noble and the Good. For Nietzsche, the ruination of society is in the triumph of the slave over the master. Nietzsche blamed the shift on Christianity, which places compassion among the most desired qualities of man, as the “slave” morality that has weakened the power of the master class over the rabble (that is, over you and me). Christianity elevated the poor, the weak, the meek (you know, all those inferior people who deserve to die), to the status of equals of the rulers. They did this, he says, because they had grown resentful of those who rule. So the slaves had to create a god that would tell the rulers that they must treat the slaves as equals, have compassion for those who cannot do for themselves. For Nietzsche, this is the wrong way to go. Although I don’t connect Christian ethics to the cultural degradation of society as Nietzsche did, I think he is right on one point, that is, that our culture has bee overrun by appealing to the lowest common denominator. When people get famous for blowing the president, there is something wrong with us. If we don’t have something that is the “better” morality to show us what is morally right, we’ll continue to slide down towards the abyss of the Maury P0vich show as a way of life. A little overstated, but it’s true. Back in the 60s, John Lennon famously said that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”. He was blasted for what he said, but in a way he was exactly spot-on. He was repeating what Nietzsche had said about God. For Nietzsche, we had killed God by replacing him with science. For John Lennon, he noted that his fans were more into the music of the Beatles than they were into gong to church on Sunday morning. Lennon was right in suggesting that celebrity often fills the role of god. When we talk about celebrities, we call them “stars”. Stars, of course, are in the heavens, where God lives. We look t the TV to see the stars — to see our cultural gods. This is the victory that Nietzsche was talking about, and what Chris Hedges meant when he says that our culture has been triumphed by spectacle. The victory (in our case) of the pseudo-famous and the fame wannabees over those who really should be looked at (meaning people of fine moral standing). Unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you want to see it, I’m no Nietzsche. I’m not terribly eager to throw off all this spirit-destroying slave morality and live according to the will of the masters. I’ve got a feeling the the Ubermensche show wouldn’t be all that entertaining. I mean, there would probably be no chance of a fist fight breaking out on stage between a couple of two-timing lesbians.

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