2009-04-29

Society, celebrity, and not thinking for ourselves.

Due to a couple of things I've read or heard about recently, I've been thinking about celebrity and why it is we in America have such a weird, voyeuristic interest in celebrities, and also why we have such a desire to insert ourselves into what we perceive their lives to be like.

I think in many ways in American culture, we are not encouraged to think for ourselves, and in fact, we are encouraged not to think for ourselves. This happens in politics, as we are told to simply "vote Democrat" or "vote Republican" with the implication that anything/anyone from that party is good, and anything/anyone from any of the other parties is inherently bad.

This happens in religion. Among Christian circles, for instance, things are grouped into "Christian" and "secular" and then one group is blindly accepted and the other blindly rejected.

Our country has a great desire to be focused on automobiles as the primary form of transportation. So, when a bunch of people want to ride bicycles instead, rather than actually looking carefully at how to make it safe and convenient to do so, we paint the picture as if cycling is highly dangerous, only athletes would do it, and we start telling people to just wear a helmet and you'll be fine. This propaganda has gone so far as to cause many people to use leg injuries in cyclists as a reason for wearing a helmet, media outlets to emphatically state, when reporting on bicycle/car collisions that a cyclist wasn't wearing a helmet even if the cyclist wasn't injured or suffered only non-head injuries, and even doctors to exclaim that a helmet saved someone's life when all of their injuries were to the face. You're not supposed to think about it, you're just supposed to wear a helmet. You tell me how that makes sense.

All of this kind of behavior (these are just a few examples) is encouraged, we are told that it is the appropriate thing to do, that it is perfectly fine and right to do so. I think this leads to a society where we make mass generalizations based on labels, we judge large groups of people wrongly based on preconceived notions and assumptions. We feel perfectly comfortable, for instance, calling someone a "liberal" based on a particular view, and then simply laying out every other belief the person must hold, because surely all "liberals" believe the same things. It happens both ways, and all over the place in American society. We use these mass generalizations as excuses to not actually deal with issues, to not think carefully about things, to not really address problems.

So, how does this fit into celebrity? In a society where we are encouraged to live on the surface of life and not dig deeper, we begin to see that as actual life, we think that's all there is. We are trained not to think and make decisions for ourselves, to look into who we are and what we feel we need to do with our lives - we just pick the paths that are accepted because they are accepted and play along for our whole lives. So to me, it's no big surprise that we have this obsession with celebrity. They are people who, on the surface, look healthy, happy, successful (based on the definition of success floated about by society) - we are happy to accept that at face value (in fact, we do it without even thinking about it), and then wish we could simply step into that idea of their lives - as it would save us the trouble of having to figure our own lives out. Worst of all, it doesn't seem at all unusual, because this is just how life goes here. It's become so usual we don't even think about it anymore.

So there you have it. Just some of my thoughts on the subject, musings and such. Feel free to comment if you have any other thoughts on the subject. Cheers!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Dave, some good thoughts tonight. I agree, we as a country (or "civilized" world, perhaps) are obsessed with celebrities, and we believe life should be like what we think their lives are like, and we believe that we ought to have what they have, and our houses out to look like theirs--and everyone (ok, mostly everyone) strives to this end...to live out an artificial picture that's not even real! Martha Stewart can't make brillaint food, art projects and have the most perfect kitchen all on her own--or keep a marriage together, or a stock portfolio honest, for that matter. :) Tom Cruise has a beautiful home (saw it on Oprah) in an ideal setting, a cute little wife and adorable daughter, but he's got freaky beliefs and a wife he got bored of or tired of, or whatever, and 2 kids who suffer because of it. And the list goes on!!

    Regarding bikes and transportation: I'm not at all opposed to bike riding as a mode of transportation, I think it's great to whoever wants to do it. The only issue I see is how our roads are set up, and how they were set up to start with, and what the majority uses them for. It would cost a lot to expand roads (and possibly wipe out homes and businesses?) to add safe bike lanes to every city road...and yet, traffic is already congested/busy enough, so we can't just take away from the lanes that are already there. So it's a big dilemma. I see a need to make it all safe for bikers, and no, a helmet isn't going to protect them from a moving vehicle! What a joke (that isn't very funny!)! I have thought a lot lately about this: for my family, with 4 kids (and maybe more eventually!), bike riding isn't really a great option. We've got 3 out of 4 on training wheels, 1 in a tent-like bike trailer (imagine that being hit by a car! yikes!!!), and 1 who is painfully slow (he loves to enjoy the view!). I wish, if we had land, that horses + carriages were still an option--seriously. It would be an environmentally friendly, leisurely mode of transportation for a large family (in comparison to a suburban, for example!). But roads aren't set up for this anymore...cars drive so fast...so how would we do that? I wish it were an option, but it's just not...

    I agree that we're encouraged to not think for ourselves. I mentioned Cass Sunstein in a blog post last night. It really, really worries me that he thinks that Republicans being able to talk to other Republicans online about their thoughts can be a dangerous thing (because they could become too radical, he claims). There is no such think as unbiased media, it will always be biased as long as human beings are running it, writing it, filming it. I think the fact that people are allowed to talk to each other (over the internet, via e-mail, over the phone, in person, whatever) is what helps us digest what we've heard or read. I think this kind of freedom is important and vital to us being a thinking country. "Radical" is anything outside of the "norm," the "mainstream," etc....if we don't think, don't have a chance to communicate or read or listen to opinions other than what the "mainstream" media is saying, we will all become "norm," and we will be followers, and we will not be thinking individuals (even more-so than now).

    I hope that makes sense! I'm tired! ;) Anyways, thanks for getting me thinking!

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