This Post Does Not Have A Name

I watch a lot of movies.

Maybe too many movies.

I must say, however,  I’ve never seen any of The Fast and the Furious franchise.

I’m more of a horror/sci-fi person. Not much of an action fan.

On November 30, 2013, one of the stars of The Fast and the Furious franchise, Paul Walker, died in a car crash.

He was only 40 years old.

 

paul walker

 

There’s something funny about movie stars. You never really think of them as having an actual age. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have spent one second thinking about his age. But now that I’m older, the first thought on my mind when I heard the news was the fact that Paul walker was only a few years older than me.

And even if he wasn’t so close to me in age, his death would still be tragic. He was a person. He has family and friends. And many fans who are now mourning his sudden and violent death.

I don’t know how many R.I.P. pages popped up on Facebook.

And, of course, his death made for plenty of programming on TMZ.

TMZ posted video of the car Paul Walker  in in flames.

 

paul walker accident scene

 

A few days after the crash, TMZ aired their  “last known video footage” of Paul Walker.

 

tmz last shot of paul walker

 

You know, when a famous person dies, there’s no shortage of sensational coverage of a person’s life. Death, whether a person is famous or not, is often treated like an entertainment event. I guess if you’re famous or  unfortunate enough to die in a spectacular fashion, the news and entertainment show vans and their cameras aren’t too far behind.

Unfortunately for Paul Walker, he was both.

But sometimes, it gets us thinking about those things that we otherwise often put off – like the inevitability of death. That death, no matter whether a person is 9 months or 99 years old, is an unpleasant and often unwelcome reality we all must face. But as tragic and uncomfortable as the subject of death (even the death of a famous person) is, it’s also an opportunity to ask philosophical questions.

Naturally, when someone dies,  our minds often drift to questions about our own lives – what our lives mean. We ask if our lives have meaning. Have we accomplished all with our lives that we wanted to do? What will our lives mean to others after we’re gone? Have we made a difference?

When a celebrity dies, especially if there were others killed along with the famous person, we ask what is the true value of a life. Paul Walker was a famous person but he was not the only person killed in the accident. Walker’s friend, race car driver Roger Rodas, also perished.

I’m certain that many people were shocked and saddened by the death of Rodas, but if you spent any time watching the Hollywood-centered media, it’s likely that you may have had the idea that Paul Walker was the only occupant in the car.

 

roger rodas

 

 

That’s because in our media-driven culture, the lives of the rich and famous are often more valued than the lives of average people. We want to believe that our lives, that any life, is important and if tragedy befalls anyone, what happens to us will be treated as important as if it had happened to a famous person.

Look, I’m not downplaying the situation. Lives, whether the lives are famous or not, are equally valuable.  That’s why it is so upsetting when any life is treated like it is less valuable. It’s why the fact that Roger Rodas’ death was virtually ignored by the entertainment media affects our moral sense on the value of life.

 

 

Why the death of Gore Vidal is worse than you think

When people ask me what I do I often pause before I speak. I know that everyone thinks, but I always feel strange telling people that I’m a professional thinker. I find it hard to admit that I am a philosopher. Sometimes I think that people would rather hear that I’m on parole for armed robbery, sell kidnapped house pets to laboratories for medical research or run a Right-wing, anti-government militia group rather than to hear that I’ve made a career out of thinking.

Although given obvious factors it might be a little difficult convincing people that I’m a member of a Right-wing militia.

But now, I’m declaring this loudly and proudly: I like to think for a living. I am a philosopher.

Dare I call myself an intellectual.

I’m not trying to brag on myself or anything. I’m really not all that smart. I say this because we lost a brilliantly philosophical mind this year when Gore Vidal died.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

* If you haven’t read any of Gore Vidal’s stuff, I suggest that you stop reading this blog post right now and hustle your butt to a bookstore… or your could hustle your fingers to Amazon (or Wikipedia)… or better yet, just go to YouTube and type “Gore Vidal” in the search bar.

Don’t forget to come back and finish reading this post, though.

I suppose everyone has their first time stories about everything (get your mind out of the gutter!), and I certainly remember the first time I realized that there were people out there who liked to think.

Here’s what happened:

My radio had lost the signal from the local urban/hip-hop station I usually listened to every morning, and so I had to search the dial for something to listen to while I brushed my teeth (you see, there’s a Spanish radio station that has a signal that obliterates every other radio signal within a 1000 mile radius). It was the first time I had journeyed to the far left of the radio dial. That morning I stumbled on to Amy Goodman interviewing Gore Vidal on her radio show Democracy Now!.  This discovery was pretty amazing to me. I was convinced that the only people who got on TV or the radio had to be on MTV or on the cover of People magazine or good-looking — they certainly weren’t old or thought deep thinkers like Gore Vidal. And none of the people on MTV seemed to have a clue who Gore Vidal was.

Maybe Chris Hardwick did. He studied philosophy at UCLA.

You don’t have to think too hard to know that there’s something wrong with this. There was a time, long ago, in a galaxy far, far, away when people (called public intellectuals) did appear on daytime television.

This is a picture of the philosopher/logician Bertrand Russell being interviewed on British television in 1959

 

This is a picture of Barbara Walters interviewing the Kardashians in 2012. Need I remind you that Barbara Walters is an award winning journalist.

 

With a mainstream media that would rather cover celebrities like Kim Kardashian or Dina Lohan than to interview public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Peter van Inwagen, to say that the quality of participants the public discourse has declined is a bit of an understatement. Here is television host Bill Maher on why Americans are stupid:

The public complains that the American people are “stupid” and “uninformed”, yet we state that this is so knowing full well that an informed public requires an informed leadership.

Listen: Our Founding Father and 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, knew that a successfully democratic government requires an informed public. Jefferson wrote, “. . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government…” and “that democracy cannot long exist without enlightenment. ” Of course, in Jefferson’s time the town crier shouted the day’s news in the streets — but the fact that no one physically stands in the public square does not mean that the public square is vacant, nor does it mean that the public does not need to be informed.

We tend to think that we have a choice between two extremes: brains or looks.* Ask anyone which they prefer. If you’re not anywhere near a philosophy class, the answer you’re sure to get is that people, on whole, prefer looks. In our celebrity-driven age, the choice is amplified: being smart is well and good, but what you really want is to be super hot. We aren’t shown people who are famous for being smart (or worse yet, intellectual). What we are shown is people who are famous for being famous or famous for their external qualities alone.

Valuing a person merely for one’s looks may be beneficial to the individual who is being valued for their looks, but it does nothing for the public as a whole. Being aware that Halle Berry is “super hot” does not enhance my capacity for rational thought. Nor does the fact that Channing Tatum has washboard abs make it any easier to understand modus ponens. The fact that intellectuals like Gore Vidal, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn are dying off after spending many years not on network television makes the fact that professional thinkers are no longer welcome invited even worse — once our aging public intellectuals are dead they will be replaced by Snooki, the Richards sisters from Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and girls from The Bad Girls’ Club.

I’m going to guess right now that unless the topic of conversation is getting drunk or fighting, the level of intellectual thought won’t be very high.

I mean, really. For Pete’s sakes people, Noam Chomsky is 83 years old for goodness sakes! He hasn’t much time left!

Get that man on Watch What Happens Live right now!

 

* Ok, I’m not suggesting that a person cannot be both hot and intelligent. These qualities are not mutually exclusive. What I am saying, however, is that as a culture, we tend to value one quality over the other; which explains why a fellow like Bertrand Russell would not be chosen as one of Barbara Walters’ Most Fascinating People, and why the Kardashian family was.

A Friend Indeed

It’s happened to everyone.

…Well, at least everyone with a Facebook account.

You know what I’m talking about. That moment when you’re looking at your Timeline (still despising Mark Zuckerberg for changing a perfectly reasonable layout) when you suddenly realize: you’ve lost a Facebook friend.

No matter how cynical we get, friendship is still a pretty big deal. We need friends. Without friends there would be no shoulders to cry on after a bad break-up, no one to tell secrets and start rumors about other friends to, and more importantly, no wingmen (or wingwoman) to “jump on the grenade” for you when your head to the bar to get your “f**k on”. Friendship is so important that this TV show not only existed, but made its stars very famous:

Philosophers as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers recognized the importance of friendship. Aristotle wrote,

“Friendship is a virtue, and the most necessary thing…Nobody would choose to live without friends even if he had all the other good things of life.”

The philosopher Epicurus also wrote,

“Of all the means which wisdom gives us to ensure happiness throughout ours lives, by far the most important is friendship.”

Having friends allows us to take adorable pictures like this.

… and groupshots like this.

… and watch this on Saturday mornings

We know that our friends not only comfort and support us, but also teach, guide, and influence what kind of people we are (which explains why our parents never wanted us to play with those kids). Our friends are our mirrors; they reflect the kind of people we are and want to become.

NOTE: If you’re really interested in what professional philosophers have to say about friendship (and I seriously hope you aren’t) you might want to skim over read this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/

But of course, when we read what Aristotle, Epicurus, and philosophers in general have to say about friendship, the kind of friends they’re talking about are the ones we actually interact with — the people we say that we know. This, of course, is the distinction between our real world friends and the friends we have online. Our online friends increasingly are people that we’ve never met. Many of our online friends are people that we will never meet.

You might want to add a “thank god” after that.

So what’s so troubling when we realize that we’re the victims of a Facebook extraneous friend purge? It obviously can’t be that we will feel the sting of our 308th Facebook friend’s absence. We won’t lament the lack of the intimacy that Aristotle argues is necessary for authentic friendships. So what is it? Why does it still hurt to lose a Facebook friend?

Ok, it hurts me. I’ll admit that.

I think that I know the answer.

We don’t really miss the friendship. That was non-existent to begin with. What we miss is the number. We’re a species that tells itself that bigger is better and the number of our Facebook friends is no exception. Most of my Facebook friends have 100 friends or more. A couple of my Facebook friends have maxed out their alloted friend capacity. Until this afternoon, I had 69 friends. (yeah, I know. A painfully pathetic minute number). Right now, I have exactly 68 Facebook friends — because one of my “friends” unfriended me. Now, I didn’t know the person personally, so I know that Aristotle would say that this person and I were never really authentic friends to begin with. And really, I wasn’t too terribly upset by the unfriending (ok, maybe a little miffed), but what was really on my mind was now I only have 68 Facebook friends.

This, of course, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It’s not that I’m losing real friends. I’ve still got those. But the reason why I was so upset about losing the friendship of someone who I’ve never met and most likely will never actually meet is because that number, my Facebook friend number, means something. It doesn’t count your friends, you know. You know what that number does? It tells the world how popular you are. That’s why everyone else can see it. In a world where fame is considered the most addictive drug of all (wait, I think that was a quote from the opening credits of Politically Incorrect. But hey, it works) our Facebook friends list becomes our own Me Appreciation Society; an exact count of our admirers who view and respond our posted pics like we gawk at the pictures of high-profile celebs (and the cast of Jersey Shore) in checkout counter tabloids, and literally “like”what we have to say, whether we’re commenting on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign or announcing what we’re cooking for dinner.

If this our Facebook friends are really about our need for adulation, then we’re in some deep philosophical poop, my friends. George Santayana wrote that the “Love of fame is the highest form of vanity”. And like Narcissus, if we spend too much time admiring our own reflection, we’re likely to drown.

Of course, I realize that although I may have lost a Facebook friend, I did not lose my sense of irony.

After all, what better platform to deride the philosophical dangers of internet friendships and narcissism than a blog?

A hickie from Kenickie

I used to be a fan of Dr. Drew Pinsky. I used to listen to him on Loveline. That was back when Adam Corolla was the co-host (or was he the host?). That was years ago. Nowadays, Dr. Drew’ got a TV show. Well, actually he has a few of them. He’s got Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers, which, if I was asked to describe it, I would say that it’s a smash up of an episode of the Jerry Springer Show and a counseling session with a high school guidance counselor. You know, that one. There’s Dr. Drew’s basic cable TV show (I guess that’s for the high-brow, well-informed, politically active demographic… but then it does follow the Nancy Grace show). And then, there’s VH-1’s Celebrity Rehab.

A better name for this “TV show” would have been The Marginally Famous Bottom of the Barrel Variety Hour.

I know, I’m hatin’.

The thing that gets me about this show is the fact that a) it’s on TV, and b) I was under the impression that proper rehabilitation requires, what is that thing called — anonymity. Ok, I realize that famous people need to be famous, even when they are systematically destroying their lives and the lives of their family and friends with their chronic drug use. And the show never said it was an AA meeting. These things are almost forgivable. What’s not forgivable, however, is the fact that no one on the show ever seems to get sober. Former Guns N Roses drummer Steven Adler and famous for being his daughter’s father, also known as Michael Lohan, are series regulars. I looked up Dr. Drew’s celebrity rehab success rate (because I’m curious about stuff like that) and the show’s FAILURE rate is 76%. Worse yet, three celebrity rehabers have died.

Alright, so far, they say that Rodney King (may have) drowned.

That can’t be a good thing.

I know that I posted some time ago about The Bad Girl’s Club and the fact that I could not (I still can’t) find a reason to justify this show existing. But, what Dr. Drew is doing is a worser kind of philosophical crime. You see, he thinks that he means well and that he is performing a public service. If the audience can see how drugs screw up the lives of people who have everything (fame, fortune, etc.), we can see that drugs are bad for everybody.

Jeff Conaway went from looking like this

to this

If this is what Dr. Drew’s intention is, then his intentions are good. But what about the “celebrites” on the show? Their (the “celebrities” on the show) intention (I’m assuming here) is to get sober. If Dr. Drew’s Celebrity Rehab failure rate is above average, then perhaps what his celebrity clients need isn’t to be on TV but to get effective treatment. If we think about Dr. Drew’s show philosophically we have a fairly strong Kantian justification for disapproving of the show — no matter what intention Dr. Drew claims that his show serves.

Television, at its heart, is meant to entertain. And we, the audience enjoy a good show. We enjoy watching the “celebrity” rehabers at their worst. And really, the entertainment happens when they screw up. We eagerly await the relapses. We want these people to fail so we can see them back again next season.

And with Steven Adler that’s almost a 100% guarantee.

But, if we are watching for mere entertainment, aren’t we just using these “celebrities” as mere means to our ends? We want to be entertained; not to help. We aren’t watching to see that drugs are bad; our watching is purely exploitive. We watch to laugh, to ridicule, and for the pleasure of saying “I’m not surprised” when one of them dies.

I realize that the TV is there to entertain, but really, is Dr.Drew’s kind of entertainment really what I (or we) need to see?

 

NOW I HAVE TO BE A FASHION ICON?!?!?!?

The great Coco Chanel once said, “Beauty comes when fashion succeeds”. The key to doing good is looking good. That’s because every girl’s crazy for a sharped-dressed man. It seems that everbody has to look good these days. I mean EVERYBODY. I’m not that old, but I recall a not-too-long-ago when one’s looks, at least one’s fashion sense, wasn’t subject to so much… scutiny. Really. I live nowhere near the fabulous Hollywood lifestyle, yet, even I feel that I have to a maintain ready-for-paparazzi wardrobe.

One never knows; I might end up on YouTube.

What’s really bugging me about our 24 hour runway look is that I know that we weren’t always like this. Sure, one is incouraged to look good (that means no wearing pajama pants at the bank), but there were at least sometimes when you could let your looks “go”. As a person of the female persuasion, I was especially grateful that women, who are often held to an impossibly high standard of feminine beauty, are given a pass on at least two occasions: pregnancy and weight gain.

There was a time — long ago in a galaxy far, far away — that once a woman put on weight or had another person growing inside of her body could “get away” with not paying so much attention to how she presented herself in public. After all, until recently, fat chicks and those with child elicited more “ewws” than “oohs”. I don’t know exactly when food or pregnancy-induced plumpness stopped being a viable excuse explanation for one’s less than fabulous fashion choices (I blame Demi Moore) but the fact that I’m not a size five is no longer an option to excuse explain why I choose to wear men’s shorts and a 2x T-shirt to pick up tomatoes and air freshener the supermarket.

In my defense, I gotta say those shorts are comfortable.

You see, there’s more to this than we think. What we wear isn’t just a matter of looking good versus looking frumpy. How we look, and how we present ourselves, really has more to do with who we are than wearing the appropriate color palettte for the season (this Spring’s colors include Tangerine Tango, Sodalite Blue, Cabaret, and Starfish). What we wear has deep philosophical meaning.

Anyone who has ever seen anyone wearing (at a local Starbucks) or sported a Che Guevara T-shirt knows that our clothes can be used to convey what we believe. Clothes can tell other people our politics, religious convictions (or lack thereof), our sense of humor, or that we’re with stupid. Our clothes often tell others whether we are rich or poor, where we were educated — and especially our gender. When we see a person wearing a dress, even if we cannot see the person’s face, we assume that the person wearing the dress is female. Likewise, if we see an individual wearing a 3-piece suit and hat, we’d assume that Don Draper has just entered the building (that is to say, we assume that the wearer is male).

The problem I think (when I think about it) that I have with the pressure to always look like I’m ready to shashay down the runway is that our clothing defines us, but our clothing can also confine us. My inner feminist philosopher feels that the necessity to look as glamorous as a supermodel or celebrity traps me in an ideal of feminism that is more of a social construct than it reflects who I authentically am. When I dress according to how Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine says I should dress, am I truly being me? Am I representing who I am or am I just conforming to a social convention created by the sexist, heterosexual, patriarchy intent on, as Simone de Beauvoir says, perpetrating “a myth … to confine women in their oppressed state”?

The Price of Hemlock

I was watching The View this morning. Rebbie Jackson, Michael Jackson’s sister was a guest. She talked about her new album and her work for bi-polar awareness, and of course she talked about her brother Michael. After The View went off, the local news at 11 came on. News of Charlie Sheen’s hospital visit. I know that, even before hearing the details about what happened, somewhere in the story, the words “porn star” or “stripper” are sure to play a part in the drama. While I was watching, I wondered, why am I so interested in this man’s life? Why do I care about about the Conrad Murray trial? If I think the man had anything to do with Michael Jackson’s death, it doesn’t matter. And my disgust with Charlie Sheen isn’t going to do a damn thing to change his behavior. It’s really a sad commentary about priorities. I know who these people are; I know about what drugs they take, who they’re fooling around with, and occasionally, via a sex tape, their O-face. Not too lng ago, Time magazine issued its list of the “100 most influential people in the world”. Alongside Brazillian president “Lula”, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and Barack Obama was Taylor Swift, Ashton Kutcher, and Lady Gaga. No doubt that Taylor Swift, Ashton Kutcher, and Lady Gaga are famous. And in their fields they may be influential, but are they truly among the 100 most influential people in the world? When we think influence, are we really talking about popularity or are we saying that these people affect life across the globe in an actual quantitative way? Or, if they are influential, could it be that their influence is heading us in the wrong direction?

Socrates was condemned to death for urging people to question the established orthodoxy. The Socratic tradition, the pursuit of truth, is embodied in the ideals of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, or Age of Reason, was the 17th and 18th century political, scientific, and philosophical movement wherein Europe emerged from the dark age of ignorance and superstition. Enlightenment thinkers, such as Hume, Kant, Adam Smith, Rousseau, and early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, believed that rationality was the key to progress, and re-evaluated the sciences, education, economics, the laws of nature, ethics, and philosophy to fit their new view of humanity and its relationship to the natural world. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said that the motto of the age should be “dare to know”. When the Enlightenment hit U.S. shores, the concept of natural rights influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. American statesmen such as Thomas Jefferson believed that a properly informed public will make rational decisions. Ok, what am I getting at? It’s this: we make decisions based on the quality of the information that we get. This is especially important in the area of politics, since whoever is chosen to lead affects the lives of the nation. But it’s difficult to get the right kind of information if my local news choses to cover Charlie Sheen’s hernia than cover something important, like explaining exactly why our economy continues to collapse or informing the local voting public as to who their congressional representatives are and how to reach them. The sad thing is, is that this reality, if you will, isn’t new. It’s been like this for years. And this fact has led me to ask, have we reched the end of the Enlightenment? Sure, we’ve got the Internet, I’m using it right now, and the Internet can deliver information at the click of a mouse. But, having lots of information readily available does not necessarily mean that I can say that I have knowledge. And it’s not just me… I live in a culture full of people for whom an abundance of information does not lead to knowledge. In fact, one could make the argument that our culture values knowledge less than we value trivial information.

The stuff that I as hearing on The View and about Charlie Sheen on the news is information. More to the point, it’s trivial. It’s the type of information that Chris Hedges says is a part of our “junk culture”. Junk culture, according to Chris Hedges, puts its emphasis on celebrity. It is shallow and unconcerned about questioning about life’s meaning. Academia, Hedges says, is a target of junk culture as junk culture is an assault on academia. I think that Chris Hedges is right. I remember when Al Gore was running for the presidency against George W. Bush, a frequent criticism of Gore was that he carried himself like a smarty pants. Is being smart and knowing it a bad thing? Is showing other people that you’re smart something to be held against you when you run for the presidency? I’m more than aware of the fact that there are people who are fans of Sarah Palin because she’s not a high-falutin’ Ivy leaguer like Barack Obama. Is this good? I’m certain that if we held Jefferson or Madison to the same standards that we hold now they would have never been elected to the presidency. But here’s the thing: The Enlightenment might have undid itself. It just may very well be the case that Enlightenment thinking is much like Karl Mark said of capitalism. That is, the Enlightenment might have within it the seeds of its own destruction.

Follow this closely: The Enlightenment emphacized reason. Through the use of one’s mind, one can discover truth. Philosophy spawned, among other things, the field of psychology. Psychology asked not what we reason, but how we reason. Freud’s psychoanalysis detailed certain fundamantal laws of human behavior, including the influence of subconscious drives on human behavior. The field of public relations (one of the founders of public relations was Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud), using psychoanalysis, demonstrated how behavior can be manipulated by appealing to drives such as fear or sex. Public relations is closely associated with advertising, which is essential to a capitalist economy, which leads to a consumer culture, where product is associated with celebrity, which is by nature, shallow and decidedly un-academic. Altthough there is plenty to lament about the end of the Enlightenment, the end in itself may not be a bad thing. Let us not forget that some of the evils of history were also products of the Enightenment, namely the enslavement of Africans and the birth of eugenics. Let me explain how that works: 1) reason + science –> theory of evolution 2) evolution + reason (theory that some groups of people have better use of than others) –> social Darwinism 3) social Darwinism –> eugenics –> genocide, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, etc. Perhaps what is going on is a paradigm shift, a time when the orthodoxy is challenged and ways of thinking is changed drastically. Maybe what is to come is not so much of a dark period than a dim one. We might be heading towards an era where we start to correct unhealthy thinking, to lose elements of our culture that are destructive or counterproductive. The end of the Enlightenment isn’t necessarily an end to intellectualism, as Europe’s Dark Ages was an age when the works of the ancient philosophers were unknown to all but a small group of people. We might be in the process of shrugging off our relentless fascination with the self and celebrity that has until now passed for deep examination of the self and knowledge. We’re getting rid of the cult of the self that emerged when Enlightenment ideals were distorted. And who wouldn’t like to turn on the news and nothear the name Snooki?

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.