“(On Television) all of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality.” – Paddy Chayefski
In 1974, news reporter Christine Chubbuck took a .38 revolver and committed suicide on live television. Her network station quickly filled the vacant time slot left by her departure with reruns of “Gentle Ben,” a TV series starring Dennis Weaver and a tame bear. This bizarre incident was the inspiration for screenwriter Paddy Chayefski’s sardonically satirical movie Network. That film appeared outrageous in 1976, but has since proven to be alarmingly prescient and, in light of today’s TV fare, totally believable and not in the slightest as outlandish as it once seemed.
Human beings have always had a predisposition for amusement as a means of a momentary escape from reality or boredom. During our more literate past, these diversions would include reading books, playing parlor games, and doing jigsaw puzzles, or playing cards and board games, to name a few; all of which were mentally stimulating and, in the case of parlor games, socially interactive.
Unfortunately, thanks in large part to television and the computer and its techno-offshoots, people are becoming semi- agoraphobic and socially moronic, their social skills blunted by an auto-suggestive virtual reality dished up by a myriad of electronic simulacra, leading them dazed and compliant like the Pied Piper’s children into the ignorant, captive darkness of Plato’s cave.
And like the delusional captives in Plato’s metaphorical cave, they believe the flickering shadow shapes on the wall are in fact reality. It is this vicarious mode of living, this addiction to a false, flickering reality, that is helping to create a generation (or generations) of perpetual adolescents, who are easily manipulated and who seek a new kind of logic in incoherence.
It is a generation of abbreviated intelligence that finds meaning in the meaningless, like the meaningless promise of Hope & Change. It is a generation that has rediscovered the limited vocabulary of smoke signals through texting and tweeting, which rely upon abbreviations, initials and symbols. How long will it be before this electronic “newspeak” becomes our everyday language? Einstein’s fear that there might come a day when our technology overlaps with our humanity and the world will have “a generation of idiots” is coming to pass.
In 1984 we were breathing a sigh of relief and congratulating ourselves on having heeded George Orwell’s grim warning; Big Brother had not arisen to oppress us with his iconic, soul crushing presence. The dreaded world government of Kafkaesque ministries and censorious newspeak (albeit Political Correctness comes close) and the bleak society it engendered were no longer a perceived threat, and had become as unrealistic as the monsters lurking under a child’s bed.
However, a book was published in 1984 that set out to remind the reader of another dire prophesy, a foretelling that had been overshadowed by Orwell’s palpably realistic work. The book in question was Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, and in it Postman reminds the reader of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, Brave New World, which was set in a future mind-numbed, distracted society given over, and controlled by, drugs and pleasure.
Unfortunately Huxley’s vision is coming true. Huxley had imagined an artificially created caste society of Alphas and Betas on the top rung, filtering down to Gammas, Deltas and, on the lowest rung, the moronic Epsilons. In this brave new world the old viviparous days, the days of producing young from within the body, are long over, “… the warmth of the womb replaced by the cold glass of the demijohn.” The scientists have applied the principles of mass production to biology; Henry Ford is their God and inspiration. People are created in test tubes and instead of being born are decanted. The elite female Alphas and Betas are expected to be promiscuous; men cannot exhibit uxorious tendencies. Monogamy in either sex is looked upon with suspicion by the authorities and even considered perverse. The populace is kept pacified by interactive movies called ‘feelies’, and made compliant with a drug called ‘soma’. Everyone is forever young, so it never occurs to anyone to ask a person’s age. There is no need to ban books because no one’s interested in reading them.
In Huxley’s brave new world people have come to “love their oppression and to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
If any of this sounds too familiar, one has only to look around at the emerging new culture that is supplanting the old. Our young people are bombarded with sexual images. Young girls are sexualized at a disturbingly young age (enter Miley Cyrus and Beyonce). Young boys are made to feel insecure and confused about their masculine roles. Marijuana is becoming legal. Hard drug addiction is a growing problem. There are distractions aplenty, yet boredom is endemic. Narcissism is rampant, giving rise to the cult of “selfies”, which now has its own guidelines on the best way to capture yourself and the preferred angle to flatter your image.
It is the age of Dorian Grey, so aging is a sin and cosmetic surgery is a growing industry catering to people of all ages and sexes. Solipsism is the new norm, the spirit of the age, from the White House on down. Emotion has replaced logic, so people get upset about all the children starving to death in the third world, but shrug off the continuing genocide of late term abortions in their own community. We have become desensitized to the brutality in the world because we’ve seen worse on TV and in the movies.
Mediocrity is the new standard of the emergent world. The common rust of the ordinary is eating away at the foundations of our lives; its perverse appetite is devouring our future. It is a culture of the crass that is inimical to our better interests. Proof of our burgeoning silliness is that many viewers believe that reality TV is actually real.
LOL everyone, because it’s all grotesquely funny. Not funny ha-ha; funny peculiar and unreal. Society is at its nadir. Look around you and see a culture in decline.
Of course, many people are not responsive to jeremiads, they only want good news. But it’s getting harder and harder to find the good news in today’s headlines. Besides, the drive-by media has a vested interest in bad news. It makes for good copy. It also depresses the masses and makes them easier to manipulate. We have been lied to for so long now that the truth doesn’t matter anymore. President Obama and his cronies lie constantly; then, when they are called out on it, they either blame someone else, or flat out deny they ever said it, even though it’s preserved on tape for all to see.
Welcome to the brave new world. A world that is an empire of lies; a world in which sex and sensation have replaced genuine feelings of self and self-worth; a world in which the words Morals and Ethics are deemed oppressive and in which the barriers to bad behavior have been kicked down and the lines in the sand smudged. Are we perhaps under a spell? Have we all fallen asleep and is this just a bad dream? No. It’s real. We know that because it’s on TV.
O brave new world that has such people in it!
D S Miller is a writer, playwright, composer and lyricist.