Dumbing Down


Are we a country of dumb asses?  This question seems familiar.  Maybe it’s generational.  My Grandpa might have been asking the same thing back in the 60’s.  Easy Rider and Woodstock and My Favorite Martian might have been too much for him to handle.  I mean, he might have been thinking, what kind of bull crap is this?  He used to have Sinatra and Benny Goodman, now he’s got Tiny Tim on the Tonight Show with a frigging ukulele.  What, he must have thought, is the world coming to?

When I turn on the TV these days, I experience the same kind of epiphany.  What the hell is going on?  I used to have the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Now I’ve got Mario Lopez on Extra.  I used to hear news about moon landings and assassinations and Viet   Nam—stories of substance about life and death, of triumph and loss, all delivered in serious tones that befitted their importance.  I get the same weighty tones on Entertainment Tonight, except now its some cookie cutter bobble head blathering breathlessly about Angelina Jolie’s baby bump—with a soundtrack.

It’s like a car wreck.  You happen on it; it’s not something you look for.  You’re thinking, holy crap, I don’t want to see this, but…you look anyway.  Invariably you see what you don’t want to see:  abused paparazzi, love and hate, beach bodies, star studded shopping trips, happiness, misery, stories of birth, death and betrayal, all told breathlessly with MTV quick cuts and danger music.  You are bombarded with an avalanche of trivial information that goes nowhere and ultimately means nothing.

Do I really need to know if Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt accidentally made eye contact at a car wash?  Is it imperative that rumors of celebrity romance be confirmed or denied?  Is it news that Tom Cruise was seen standing around in jogging pants with a coffee cup in his hand?  Why does the irrelevant minutia of the daily lives of pampered people warrant such importance?

Maybe we can’t help it, this fascination we have with celebrity.   You’re sitting there on your couch, your feet are tired, and you’re pissed off at your boss, whatever.  You’re flipping channels, and there’s Halle Berry fighting her ex for custody of their child, or Charlie Sheen getting drunk and acting like an idiot again.  You’re thinking, hey, I’ve been drunk a few times.  Or maybe your kids live with their mother.   These people have money, they have fame.  But for all that, they still have to deal with the same life crap that you do.

So maybe I’ve had it wrong.  Perhaps watching celebrities screw up does actually serve some greater purpose.  Maybe when we see two dimensional people experiencing three dimensional problems, it serves to reconnect us with our basic humanity:  that no matter who you are or where you are, life is the same for all of us.