Every week I write a parenting column that appears in 12 newspapers across Canada, and in several in the States on a monthly basis. Here's this week's, about how fragmented our culture is becoming.
People used to care about the Academy Awards. Not only that, but most could offer thoughtful opinions over who deserved what, instead of simply the clichéd “it’s his turn”. Everybody had seen virtually all the movies up for Best Picture, and everybody knew all the performances. In those days, everybody went to the movies.
Today we don’t. My aunt and uncle quit frequenting the theatres when they began to be overrun by teens, rather than people of their own age. We gave up when they stopped making movies we actually liked. Now I just watch decorating shows off the internet, with the occasional rented movie to spice things up.
In some ways I applaud this new culture. Instead of only having a few choices, we can all find the little niches that serve us best. But this increasing fragmentation has its downside. We don’t all share the same culture anymore. Gone are the days when everybody saw Howdy Doody. Now we don’t even know who anybody else is talking about.
In the midst of this, Hollywood is becoming increasingly irrelevant, as was evident by the lack of concern over the writers’ strike. And ponder a moment on this statistic: about 31,000,000 Americans watched the Oscars this year, the smallest audience ever. More people tuned in to the season premier of American Idol a few weeks earlier. But the Treadmill Video on YouTube, with four geeky guys performing choreographed moves that involve six treadmills (you have to see it to believe it; it’s awesome), has been viewed 32,000,000 times, too. Forgive me here for comparing apples to oranges, since the YouTube video could have been viewed all over the world, whereas that Oscars statistic applies only to the United States, but I still think this illustrates an important trend. People are tuning out Hollywood and looking at the stuff they find entertaining, and increasingly it’s stuff that people just like themselves have made.
Perhaps this is one reason celebrity culture has taken such a dive. Those who grace the covers of magazines—Tom and Katie, Brad and Angelina, or the famous Britney and now Jamie-Lyn Spears—do so not because of their incredible talent, but simply because they are, in some way, freaks. Does anybody really believe that Tom Cruise is the greatest actor that ever lived? Or that nobody can beat Britney at singing? Of course not. They’re not famous for their accomplishments; they’re famous simply because we find them somehow odd, in a glamorous sort of way. I’m not sure that’s something to be particularly proud of.
The end result of these cultural changes, though, is that we have become increasingly narcissistic. We watch reality shows to see people just like us. Our entertainment, especially for the young, is focused on self: video games, Facebook where you talk to your own friends, MySpace where you post videos of your cats, and so on.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these trends. I enjoy Facebook, though mostly for the nineteen Scrabble games I have going right now. But what it means is that we are constantly spending time with ourselves, or those just like us. We aren’t participating in anything that unites us as a community. We don’t listen to experts; we don’t even trust them. We rarely talk to anyone outside of our own generation. We find people who reinforce our own views on the internet, and we huddle in that little bubble.
This technological revolution is the true democraticization of media. Anyone can now be a producer, instead of only a consumer. And that is profoundly changing how we relate to one another, with the result that we all function and walk in parallel cultures, instead of inhabiting the same one. Most of us have lost church, we’ve lost community, we live far from our extended family. Instead we find our solace in our own entertainment niche with our expensive screens and stereos and computers. I can’t help wondering what all this will mean.
Maybe we should all just switch them off for a night and invite our neighbours over for coffee. What do you think?
I sometimes worry that I'm developing this habit by hanging out mostly in the blogging world, or a particular political orientation of it. Do any of you ever feel that way? It's nicer to be with people who understand you and agree with you, but every now and then I think I just don't get what the rest of the world is thinking right now. I often wear that as a badge of honour, since I think the rest of the world is often insane. But it's not always a good thing to coccoon. There has to be a balance.
I'm just not sure where that balance is...
But I do know where that treadmill video is! Watch it here.
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About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.