Entertained to death

I will not hide it: I'm something of a pop culture maven. Not, perhaps, through active participation. But being at all aware in this culture it does tend to seep into you, if only through osmosis. And as a librarian, I make a concerted effort to keep abreast of things high and low, so that I can converse with and serve my patrons.

I'm certainly not one of those scolds who thinks pop culture has no place in the world. Most of us have grown up enmeshed in it, and have, for the most part, come out no worse for wear. I enjoy my sports, and I enjoy my movie spectacles.

However, we have entered a period of convergence, where the juggernaut which is popular culture collides with and circles around a concerted 50 year effort to make the electorate uninformed, apathetic, and downright hostile to its prime duty, which is to pay attention, educate itself, and govern itself.

An electorate which is more enthralled by the minutiae of Sunday's football game than the ponderous intricacies of policy debates may be understandable; however, no one said self-governance was easy or not time consuming. The Founders posited that a free people needed to be informed to govern itself effectively. 

Noam Chomsky, in a documentary, wondered at listening to a local sports radio station. Callers would call in and give the most intricate exegesis on arcane sporting subjects, as informed as any of the "experts" paid by the networks. But that care and concern doesn't extend to matters which impact them more deeply than whether or not their team won the game.

This is not by accident. The media—our Fourth Estate, whose independence is enshrined as first in our Bill of Rights—has degenerated to another purveyor of spectacle. Media consolidation has accelerated this trend. Newspapers are shuttering, bureaus are closing down, and no one has the time or inclination to stay informed on the day's issues. We are descending into an idiocracy, where a carnival barker, multiply bankrupt "billionaire" is leading the field of a major party. He is tailor-made for our entertainment-saturated country. Yes, he's a racist, a homophobe, a misogynist, but he's been beamed into our homes for years. He's as comfortable as bunny slippers.

The state can not exist for much longer. A supposedly free society can't remain free if its citizens don't expend the minimum amount of energy to govern themselves. We are reaching what oligarchs and dictators in other eras have also achieved: a docile populace kept complacent with bread and circuses, and strategic amounts of terror. 

You don't know who the Koch brothers are? If you like your Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment insurance, then maybe you should educate yourself. Otherwise, bread and circuses are all you will have to look forward to.

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Freedom From Consequence: The Abandonment of Truth in 21st Century Politics

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