Where did it all go so wrong?
Was there a time, in the hazy, distant past, around 1971, the year of my birth, when being an American meant something other than attempting to die with the most toys? Someone please enlighten me. I don’t profess to be the most educated person, the most lucid thinker, the best rhetorician or even an expert on any given topic. But what I have, I think, is a decent grasp on reality and a logical enough mind to discern that something is rotten in America.
Let’s start with a bit of human nature (in present day America) as I see it.
I think we can safely assume that the average American desires certain things like food, housing, a car, tv, internet access, and a few extra bucks for the niceties of life like a dinner out or new piece of jewelry. I mean everyone knows that tv and the internet are needs, not wants. So from this modest list we can divine that the food might be pizza or Olive Garden, the house could be a Central Park Trumpesque penthouse or a Beverly Hills Mansion, the tv, though, has simply got to be a flat screen – minimum viewable area: 42 inches. And internet access has to be ultra-high speed cable or DSL; that dial up NetZero-type access is SO 1998.
Aren’t we told every-so-often about the “Greatest Generation”? Those World War II veterans and their compatriots who were so full of integrity, so honorable, so American? Where did they go? Or, more appropriately, what happened to their children’s children? Can we point to the civil upheaval of the Vietnam era or the unrest of the lunch counter sit-ins and Brown v. Board of Education? Perhaps. I think it goes deeper than mere ideology or political bent, to something more base, instinctual.
I can remember watching cartoons as a youngster, and if memory serves, the commercials during those cartoons were fairly innocuous. I even once convinced my mom to purchase a glass cleaner other than Windex because there was a commercial for it that featured a really cool robot speaking in a mechanical, prototypically robotic voice that I found fascinating. Reminded me of the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, which I loved. The effectiveness of the product, to me, was immaterial. We had to have it because the commercial was so good.
As media forms have developed and evolved, we are exposed to more and more advertising. Just this evening I was watching a prominent television opinion show host who featured in one segment of his program, an enormous and risqué billboard some half a city block long. The question he posed to his panel of guests was did the risqué appearance warrant a reaction and if so, would it be positive or negative. When I was watching robots sell glass cleaner, I don’t remember ever seeing a commercial anywhere near as blatantly sexual as that billboard. But today I am barely notice them, they are so prevalent. How many times have we watched a television program during prime time and seen a Viagra or Cialis commercial? Opened a magazine and seen beautiful, young individuals in extremely suggestive poses exuding sexuality? Sex sells.
But its not the commercials I’m driving at as being the problem, its an attitude. The reason I’m seeing more and more commercials like that billboard and the Viagra spots, is because we are constantly marketed to. Everywhere. And what is the point of advertising and marketing? To sell something. To make money. And what does money do? It allows one to afford a house with 8 bedrooms and a 5 car garage for a family of four. It lets one purchase a $200,000 car, or several. Is there anything wrong with that? Not necessarily. If someone has the money and chooses to spend it thus, OK by me. Its their money and therefore their right. I have no problem with rich folk, provided they came by their wealth honestly – even if they did inherit it.
Politics has always been a dirty game. Maybe it seems worse now because events are so well-covered, what with 24-hour cable news, the internet (Thanks for inventing it for us Mr. Gore! You’re a SWELL guy!), tweeting, and all the other forms of instant communication/information dissemination available to us. Except that there really seems to be a huge disconnect between our elected officials in D.C. and us. I recently read about a poll, don’t remember which organization conducted it, but it asked Americans whether or not they approved of the job that Congress was doing. Over 80% disapproved of the job they’ve done. The same organization asked members of Congress what they thought of their own performance. Only 6% disapproved. So 94% of Congress thinks they are doing well, less than 20% of the American people think so. Seem like a bit of a disparity?
The recent events in the Senate involving Ben Nelson are telling. Harry Reid bribed him. How’s that going to make Nelson’s polls look? Principle is a mirage, ethics ethereal. I’m reminded of an article in the November, 2009 edition of National Geographic about animal mummies. According to the author animals were associated with the myriad gods of ancient Egypt. In order to curry favor from one of the gods, an Egyptian would mummify whatever animal was linked to their god, and donate the mummy to a temple. Much like our modern tradition of putting money in the plate at church. Apparently some of the Egyptians were scalawags. “…x-rays have revealed a variety of ancient consumer rip-offs: a cheaper animal substituted for a rarer, more expensive one; bones or feathers in place of a whole animal; beautiful wrappings around nothing but mud.” That appears to be what our elected officials have become. The pejorative “empty suit” has been used to describe politicians for some time now, and it is largely deserved. I’d liken them more to those mummies though – fancy wrappers full of mud. Very few still contain guts.
So is this what America has come to? Our elected officials, put in place to serve us, have sold their souls for a few hundred million in benefits for their districts. Or maybe not even that much. Could we please go back to the 1940’s and 50’s in our ethics? Get a Shop-Vac®, suck the mud out of the pretty clothes, and fill the inky void with some substance and spine–before its too late.