Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Slate Magazine Discovers Idiocracy But Misses The Point Completely

I've said before that I always find it amusing whenever someone residing deep inside the Hologram wakes up momentarily, looks around, and is horrified at just how grotesque our popular culture has become. Just this past week, writer Simon Doonan of Slate Magazine had such an epiphany, but managed to completely misconstrue the meaning of it all. Here's Simon:
My face bears an expression of extreme gravitas. I would appear to have the weight of the world on my shoulders. Want to get inside my head? Want to hear a snippet of my internal dialogue?

Here goes: Blah. Blah. Blah. How long will it take Jessica Simpson to lose the baby weight? Blah. Blah. Is Brangelina tying the knot just to upstage Jen and Justin? Will Kim drag Kanye down the aisle? Blah. Blah. Blah.

Yes, my head is filled with pathetically stupid thoughts about inconsequential people, and so, quite frankly, is yours. We are all in the same boat. And why on earth do we privilege the most superficial idiocies of popular culture over more substantial fare? The answer is simple: We have lost our fascination with accomplishment.
Whoa...I have to stop you right there, Simon, and chastise you for presuming to know what is inside my head. Maybe YOU spend your time obsessing over such garbage, but that doesn't mean everyone else out there does. In fact, the only reason I pay attention to our mindless pop culture at all is to use it as a measuring stick for just how far into the shitter our civilization has descended. That's what you would do as well if you were half as smart as you seem to think you are.

But please continue:
Superficial vamps and tramps and bimbos are nothing new, but, back in the day, they were forced to share the spotlight with more talented folks, exceptional folks. Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller, remember! Successful individuals from all walks of life were feted and garlanded and propelled into the spotlight. We were interested in their accomplishments. During the last century, consummate skill was HOT! Accomplishment was a veritable aphrodisiac. Now it would appear to have become a giant turnoff.

A younger person reading this might well roll his or her eyes and assume that some old gay codger is merely having a menopausal things-ain’t-what-they-used-to-be moment. But let me ask you this: When was the last time you saw a nuclear physicist or a world-class geologist on the red carpet? There was a time when it was not such a preposterous notion. In the past, accomplished people from a wide variety of disciplines were central to the culture. This is an objective truth.
I'll concede Simon's point here, and skip over his given examples in the interest of brevity. So why, Simon, do we find ourselves in this current state of affairs?
And what exactly do we celebrate today?

Today we celebrate all the crap I mentioned at the beginning of this article, which basically means that we celebrate audacious women with impressive racks. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not hating on audacious women with impressive racks. I am a big Russ Meyer fan and have, in fact, something of a soft spot for audacious women with impressive racks. They are just great. However, audacious women with impressive racks are like cupcakes, and man cannot live on cupcakes alone. Sometimes you crave the crusty whole meal of an accomplished person. But today, alas, we are on a cupcakes-only diet.

The question is, why? Why have we shoved all today’s accomplished people onto the back burner? Yes, we have Adele, but I am looking beyond the popular-music realm to the broad areas of accomplishment alluded to above and asking where, fer chrissakes, are the glamorous neurophysicists? Where are the charismatic, overachieving innovators and inventors? Steve Jobs? A unicorn! A lone example. You are going to have to do better than that if you wish to upend my hypothesis.

After extensive conversations with my inner Bertrand Russell, I have, of course, come up with a theory about the origins of this dire situation. Et voilà!:
We are living in an everyone-is-special-and-there-are-no-losers society. As a result, we are fearful of accomplished people because they can do stuff that we cannot do, and giving them the spotlight would un-level the playing field. We are, as a result, much more comfortable with the famous-for-nothing paradigm, because then, we, the great unexceptional masses, still have shot at celebrity.
What a load of GAR-bage. Simon seems to have not noticed that this trend he has documented so well in his article has occurred during a time when most of the American media has become consolidated among a handful of big corporations. The corporate media relentlessly pushes lowest common denominator entertainment as a distraction for the masses so that they won't pay attention the very real evils being perpetrated by their corporate masters nearly every single the (ahem) multibillionaire who put up the dough to found Slate magazine.

The billionaire elite who run this country are not stupid. During the Vietnam War and Watergate eras they saw quite clearly how dangerous to the centers of power television in particular can be when the medium is at least partly in the hands of real journalists and other people who care about objective truth. Abby Hoffman knew it, which is why he once said, "A modern revolutionary group heads for the television station, not the factory. It concentrates its energy on infiltrating and changing the image system." That's what this relentless glorification of vacuous celebrities is all about. Corporate America cannot risk the media focusing on serious issues like our hollowed out economy, our rapidly changing climate, the degradation of the environment and wars being fought in the name of profits, so it gives the masses glitz and spectacle to keep their minds occupied instead.

All of this is the very essence of the Hologram. It wasn't created overnight, and it actually took the media moguls several decades to perfect it to the point where it now effectively stifles all opposition or even serious protest. These days, you can pretty much assume that anything you see on television is at a minimum being placed there as distraction. The truth is still allowed to be disseminated on the Internet and occasionally in print because those of us who actually read and are capable of critical thinking are such a tiny, atomized minority of the population. The truth of the matter is that the Hologram has grown so powerful that it can now, as Simon Doonan himself admits at the beginning of his article, overwhelm the critical faculties of anyone who has not completely removed him or herself from its influence. Yes, Simon, the truth is out here, but you've got to shut off the goddamned television once in awhile if you really want to see it.

Bonus: From my new You Tube music channel, you've got to stop before you lose it all


  1. Winners & losers, what do we win as winners? I suppose he considers himself a winner and special.

  2. Great post Bill, one of your best. None of this is really new the great political principal in ancient Rome was to keep the masses quiet with bread and circuses. There is no doubt that the establisment can keep the circuses going, but at some point the bread supply may break down and then no amount of “audacious women with impressive racks” will distract the masses from the rumbling in their bellies. We are pretty much there in Greece and it seems Spain is getting closer to that point. Then the sparks will fly.

  3. Beautiful post, Bill! I too am freaking sick and tired of the mainstream media knuckleheads assuming that all their readers are as stupid as they are, and that we are all glutted on a diet of pop culture shit. Maybe the consumers of the mainstream media are absolute knuckleheads, though. It is certainly funny, in a gallows humor kind of way, to peruse magazines when waiting for the doctor or mechanic (if I can focus over the din of the braying televisions) because they reveal just how banal and insipid the regular readers are (or are assumed to be).

    I also got rid of cable television fourteen years ago (still watch some programs online but only "on demand") after realizing I was literally an addict. (I put off going out for beers with friends so I could finish an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. When the implications of that decision sank in, I called the cable company and cut off service. True story.) I guess the decision to go without the aptly nicknamed idiot box immediately put me outside the cultural mainstream. It also gave me a hell of a lot more free time to READ (and not just pop culture pap either, but classics, serious nonfiction, etc.)

    The author also apparently doesn't know much about American pop culture from before 2000, either, if he lumps Marilyn Monroe in with Jessica Simpson and the Kardashians. (I assumed she was a dimwitted bimbo too, until I watched a couple of her films and realized that she was quite a talented actress, especially in comedic roles. The difference between me and Simon Doonan, apparently, is that I have actually watched some of her films, and so have actual evidence to go on, rather than baseless assumptions.)

    And what is with the author's obsession with "audacious women with impressive racks"? How many times does he use that phrase? Sheesh...

  4. "Yes, my head is filled with pathetically stupid thoughts about inconsequential people, and so, quite frankly, is yours. We are all in the same boat. And why on earth do we privilege the most superficial idiocies of popular culture over more substantial fare? The answer is simple: We have lost our fascination with accomplishment."

    I've been reading about al Ma'mun, (September 13, 786 – August 9, 833) (an Abbasid caliph), and Alī ibn Mūsā al-Riḍā (commonly known as, ‘Alī al-Riḍā, Ali Rezā, or Ali Rizā) (ca. December 29, 765 – August 23, 818) He was the eighth of the Twelve Imams, according to Shia Islam.

    I can see why the Slate author might confuse the relative importance of these individuals with Jessica Simpson's baby weight.

    Oh hang on, no I can't. Thanks for assuming to read my mind, you MSM fuckwit. (Oh, maybe your densitude is the reason why you're the one working for Slate, and not us mere mortals).

  5. I started to read this post. Then I got distracted by an itch on my ball sack. Then, I skipped to the comments. Then, I wrote this. Now my ball itch has moved and I need to go get some talc. You can follow me on Twitter.

  6. Well, it's Slate, isn't it?

    Only pre-approved thoughts are allowed there.

    -- Dave