As we come to the end of 2008 and also to the end of the 1972-2008 period of conservative America, I’m feeling increasingly disconnected from our popular culture and from our pulpy national headlines—and feeling just a little hopeful that the future might bring a small renaissance of earnest thought. Maybe 2009 will usher in a new era that values ideals America once stood for, at least in the eyes of those who thought we lived in a nation founded on democratic principles.
It would be pleasant to turn on the television and once again see debates between popular thinkers, wouldn’t it? As children of the 1960’s, we were treated to Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley on the tube, slugging out the meaning of the Chicago convention in primetime and to Dick Cavett interviewing writers, directors, actors, and politicians with some time on the show actually reserved for their ideas. Try doing that on any but the most obscure cable channel or public television today—and see how fast your show will be cancelled.
I’d prefer to think that we’d be better off learning about the history of Palestine than the haircut of Governor Blagojevich this morning, when we’re faced with a choice of whether the continuing carnage in Gaza or show time at the Illinois Governor’s mansion gets top news billing. I know… it’s depressing to think about massive rocket attacks using our weapons, focused on people without an escape. It’s more diverting to get irritated at a psycho Governor who’s facing indictment, toughing out his final days.
But it’s the way that novelty and kitsch almost totally trumps reality in our news (and in our entertainment— since they are now one and the same) that makes the increasing vapidity in our culture feel so hopelessly dominant. Is it any wonder that celebrity Caroline Kennedy scores more New York Times headlines than any of several congressional candidates for a Senate seat appointment that could as easily go to a veteran legislator like Carolyn Maloney or Nita Lowey as to a political novice who’s touring her own state for the first time—with national paparazzi in tow?
Well, here’s to 2009. Let’s hope it brings some grey matter back into our daily news over our morning coffee. We’ll certainly need it if we’re going to crawl out of the poorhouse and bring something of value back into a world that our financiers and politicians have spent so much time pulling apart. It would be a small pleasure at the end of another year to think we were making some headway towards reminding our children that America once stood for creating something more worthwhile than CDO’s and “Survivor.”
(See Memorandum for discussion)