Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Comment on Western Culture

Today, everyone demands to be entertained, and they expect to be entertained all the time. Business meetings must be upbeat and slick, with bullet lists and animated graphics, so executives aren’t bored or bogged down in details. Malls and stores and websites must be engaging, so they amuse as well as sell their products. Rather than read a book, people use Facebook and Twitter and a thousand other iPhone apps to amuse each other. Schools must be careful not to bore young minds that were reared on the speed and complexity of television and video games and the Internet. Students must be amused—everyone must be amused or they will switch—switch brands, switch channels, switch parties, switch loyalties. This is the intellectual reality of Western society at the beginning of the new century.

In past centuries, people strived to be saved, or safe, or improved, or freed, or educated or secure. But in our century they only want to be entertained. The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom. A person who has nothing to do is a person who is not amused, and hence, not happy. Corporations constantly bombard us with images of happy people, and tell us we should be happy too, all the time, every waking minute.

Where will this mania for entertainment lead? Will people ever get tired of television and movies and posting pictures of cats on social media? There are of course the participatory activities: sports, theme parks, traveling to other countries, and, dare I say, reading. Structured fun, planned thrills. Again, these are packaged by corporations and spoon-fed to people for their amusement.  Eventually, I trust, the artifice of such activities will become too obvious, and people will realize they are being constantly manipulated.

I believe that soon people will realize the hollowness of this need for entertainment, this being manipulated for profit, and they will seek authenticity. Authenticity will become the buzzword of the twenty-first century.  But what is it? Anything that is not structured to make a profit. Anything that is not controlled by the almighty dollar (corporations). That was the genius behind Facebook at its inception. It started as a great way for friends and family to communicate. Then corporate greed stepped in and now it’s a circus.

The question I’m wrestling with as a writer is where can people turn for the rare and desirable experience of authenticity? Where can they go where everything isn’t planted, fashioned, and arranged for effect by Disney and Murdoch and MGM and Sony and Apple and all the other shapers of our day? 

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