Category Archives: social commentary
Under present conditions, people are preoccupied with consumer goods not because they are brainwashed but because buying is the one pleasurable activity not only permitted but actively encouraged by our rulers. The pleasure of eating an ice cream cone may be minor compared to the pleasure of meaningful, autonomous work, but the former is easily available and the latter is not. A poor family would undoubtedly rather have a decent apartment than a new TV, but since they are unlikely to get the apartment, what is to be gained by not getting the TV?
Ellen Willis, “Women and the Myth of Consumerism”, Ramparts
I first published this about eight years ago on my LiveJournal. I re-posted it to this blog about three years ago, and it got more hits than any other post on my blog at that time. I think it’s sill relevant, so I’m re-posting it today. One thing that is a bit consoling to me is that in the eight years since I originally wrote this, the jinogism and enthusiasm for war that I describe seems to have waned substantially. Witness the opposition to action in Syria and the president’s backing away from his previous stance. We can only hope that it stays that way, and that we don’t get sucked into yet another unending conflict. Anyway, the original post follows:
I wasn’t going to write anything for the anniversary of 9/11, and I’m still not going to do so, per se. I was, however, struck by this provocative article at The American Conservative (always an interesting magazine even for a liberal such as myself, as long as I ignore Pat Buchanan) and this one at Salon.com. In that vein, I decided to post something I wrote back in 2005 regarding a 9/11 memorial I went to that year. I have edited slightly for clarity and length, but it’s substantially as I wrote it six years ago, including a little heated prose against what I saw as the then-Administration’s policies. I wish I could say the policies regarding the Infinite and Eternal War on Terrorism, on foreign policy in general, and on civil liberties and the surveillance state had changed since then, but much to my disappointment and disillusionment, they have merely got worse. Anyway, here’s my piece: Read the rest of this entry →
Only the Christian Church can offer any rational objection to a complete confidence in the rich. For she has maintained from the beginning that the danger was not in man’s environment, but in man. Further, she has maintained that if we come to talk of a dangerous environment, the most dangerous environment of all is the commodious environment. I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest — if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this — that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy. Christianity even when watered down is hot enough to boil all modern society to rags. The mere minimum of the Church would be a deadly ultimatum to the world. For the whole modern world is absolutely based on the assumption, not that the rich are necessary (which is tenable), but that the rich are trustworthy, which (for a Christian) is not tenable. You will hear everlastingly, in all discussions about newspapers, companies, aristocracies, or party politics, this argument that the rich man cannot be bribed. The fact is, of course, that the rich man is bribed; he has been bribed already. That is why he is a rich man. The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to kill the rich as violators of definable justice. It is not demonstrably un-Christian to crown the rich as convenient rulers of society. It is not certainly un-Christian to rebel against the rich or to submit to the rich. But it is quite certainly un-Christian to trust the rich, to regard the rich as more morally safe than the poor.
–G. K. Chesterton, The Eternal Revolution, courtesy of Wikiquote
In the last installment, I discussed how excessive bandwidth leads to what I called “junk genres”; that is, genres of TV show that require as little overhead, planning, writing, etc. as possible. This is necessary because the amount of quality TV—or quality anything—is relatively fixed, whereas the 24/7 structure of availability that is now the norm has increased the amount of time to be filled. I enumerated some examples of these genres, to be expanded on later. This is what I want to do now, regarding what I consider one of the worst TV-related phenomena of the last decade or so: reality television.
To clarify what I mean in this discussion by the term “reality TV”, I refer (briefly) to my previous DAFOTV post:
I include things like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, The Biggest Loser, the recent shows Jamie Oliver has been doing, and the various shows about hoarders, home makeovers, bridesmaids, etc. on TLC, Discovery, and such under the rubric of “reality TV”. I even include Dick Clark’s old Bloopers shows and America’s Funniest Home Videos. They may not all purport to be documentaries (as An American Family did) or have an explicit game-show aspect (as Survivor does), but the basic principle of just letting the camera roll before “real people” is essentially the same. Also, I realize that it’s not all “real”–there’s jimmying and manipulating—but it’s still easier and cheaper than writing an actual drama or researching a documentary.
So what’s the problem with reality TV? Read the rest of this entry →
Last time I essentially argued that the 90′s were the best decade, objectively speaking, of the 20th Century, perhaps of all human history. I’d like to try to finish it now.
Basically, I argued that pretty much every decade except perhaps for the 1920′s had some major negative thing going on–world wars, depressions, social turmoil, the Cold War, and so on. Those of us who came of age in the 60′s and 70′s (in my case, the latter, having been born in the same year as President Kennedy’s assassination) had it easy in a lot of ways–we never knew real privation, there were no draft and no wars to speak of, and it sometimes seems that the 70′s and 80′s served as backdrops to our parties.
Nevertheless, as I tried to point out in the earlier post, it’s hard to get across to those born after about 1970 or so just what it was like to live even during the tail end of the Cold War. Maybe I was oversensitive, but the possibility of the Big One was always at the back of my mind. Every time there was a news flash, a little knee-jerk reaction deep inside screamed “Omygod! They’ve launched the missiles We’re all done for!!!” One of my most distinct memories of this sort occurred in the late evening in December of 1980. The newsflash logo came on, my innards twisted in their usual fashion, and when the announcer came on, it was not the beginning of Armageddon, but the murder of John Lennon. Tragic, but considering the alternative, a relief, relatively speaking. Read the rest of this entry →
Several years ago, when my daughter was about three or four, I was rocking her to sleep, and as is often the case, my mind was drifting around randomly. I was thinking about the last century and the way things have been going in this one so far. Having a child makes one think about such things, I guess (being forty-something probably contributes, too). It was both interesting and tragic to think that I may have lived through the greatest and most hopeful decade of our country’s history, perhaps of the world’s history. That decade is over and has been for many years; wherein the tragedy.
If you consider, the 20th Century was pretty much a mess: the two bloodiest wars in human history, the increasing prevalence of full-scale genocides, the worst pollution the planet has know, global warming, &c. &c. &c. We all know that already. There were also good things, too–I’m aware of that. Think of it, however, by the decades (a very 20th-Century way of looking at history, in fact, so appropriate here!). Read the rest of this entry →
Since I started back to regular blogging in May, I’ve mainly been working on a couple of theological/philosophical series that I’d long wanted to do. When I did the posts on martinis and Manhattans recently, it reminded me that I don’t want to be too ponderous and abstract all the time. Some culinary stuff and some just plain fun blogging has its place, too. Thus, I am reblogging a piece I did last summer at Alexandria. Hope you like it.
The things that come out of thinking about pop culture. Last summer (2010) I took my daughter to a free movie at our local library. It was Flipper–the original 1963 movie, not the TV series of the following few years. I vaguely remember the latter, but I don’t think I ever saw the former, released the year I was born. It is, of course, about a boy living in the Florida Keys who takes in a wounded dolphin against the wishes of his fisherman father, played by Chuck Connors. In any case, it was OK, to the extent I could concentrate with all the milling, restless kids and the mosquitoes. However, I did notice one very trivial thing. The Chuck Connors character is a rough-hewn, tough, capable sailor—a man’s man, as is typical for the way he was cast at that time. Anyway, in one scene the family is having breakfast and Connors reaches for coffee—which is served in a tiny, delicate white china cup! Read the rest of this entry →
Arthur C. Clarke famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Some things I’ve been reading lately reminded me of how we ourselves, for all our supposed high-tech sophistication, have a habit of viewing it magically. With this in mind, I’m posting an essay I wrote for another website about six years ago, with minor edits made to reflect the passage of time.
About five or six years ago, when I was teaching high school science, I attended a two-day conference on the uses of technology in education. As with most conferences, there were parts that were interesting, parts that were boring, things that were useful, and things that were crap. That’s the way most things are, isn’t it? Anyway, the second session on the first day dealt with the use of podcasts in education, and it was in this session that something interesting transpired. Read the rest of this entry →