I might be going off on a tangent this week, but it's apropos in the light of what passes for culture today. Comparing past and present iterations of TV, movies, music, books and pop culture in general, it becomes clear that we've really made a turn for the worse as far as society in the 21st century goes. You've seen it. The ridiculous TV shows, the vapid movies, the sensationalist books - the torrid, superficial lives of our celebrities. They all point to a society constantly looking for ways to dumb itself down. Why is that? Well, maybe it has something to do with the fact that the celebrities and media icons we idolize are getting younger and younger with each passing year. And not surprisingly, society as a whole keeps getting dumber and dumber right along with that trend. One could argue that these two things are related and a good indicator that our obsession with the younger message of today is sinking culture as a whole to new lows. Does this mean everything that comes from youth culture is dumb, its contribution to society worthless? Of course not. Still, you're not likely to really broaden your mind with the average teenager's media choices. That's not even the issue anyway. Kids are going to enjoy silly, ephemeral shit because they're kids and it's fun for them. The issue isn't with the kids. It's more about multiple generations of adults entirely beholden to the ideas and naiveté of youth, even to their own, eternal mediocrity, and a media that treats these obsessions like a commodity they can sell for profit.
This youth culture emphasis we see today wasn't always the norm. There was a time when the most respected, beloved figures in society were the old guys with the long beards and the wrinkled brows, writing poetry and political manifestos. Youth was a folly, better left ignored and relegated to children who were in a hurry to grow up and become the grizzled old men of respect themselves. It wasn't until the 20th century rolled around that the once ignored youths and their view of the world started to make an impact on society and popular culture. The chaos following WWI and the Great Depression injected a lot of youthful vim and vigor into popular culture, as previous generations were left wasted under the ruins of a society they built and destroyed. WWII only furthered this rise of youth culture. Yet it wasn't until the baby boomers and the economic boom of the 1950s that the true rise of the youth culture began. This was when companies and marketers started to realize that there was money in advertising to kids, rather than trying to woo a fickle mom and dad. Suddenly, youth-oriented stuff was everywhere.
Those baby boomers became the first generation of kids living within what we might call today a "media bubble," wherein they were made to think and believe that their lives and desires were paramount. What they were and desired was all that mattered. Clever marketers of the time made sure that these needs were answered with endless advertising campaigns, movies, TV shows and more - all making them out to be the superior demographic at the center of society. That mentality endured, even after the boomers' youth faded away and a new generation was born, themselves surrounded in an even more reality-clouded bubble. Thus, as every generation has progressed into the mainstream since those early days, we seem to lose a bit more respect for maturity over the glitz and glamor of youth.
It's not surprising this happened. It's not a whole lot of fun to be an adult anymore. Who doesn't love video games and goofing off over bills and work and mid-life crisis? Still, there comes a time for all of us when we have to grow up. Or rather, there used to be. Nowadays, it seems like people are willing to stay dumb kids forever. We used to mock these people. We'd point our fingers and laugh and pity them. Now they've become our idols. We make TV shows about families made up of nothing but stunted children in grown up bodies, fumbling around making fools of themselves for our entertainment. We pay these people ungodly amounts of money for their trouble, which draws in even more stunted, ignorant people who never bothered to mature. We spend billions of dollars to see movies where things going boom and bang, ignoring those movies with genuine plot and substance at our theaters. All that money then goes into creating more flash over substance movie-making, and the days of artistry in cinema get a little bit more distant. All the while we're on the edge of our seats, fretting and moaning about the lives of celebrities and their interchangeable relationships, reducing ourselves to playground gossips and tattletales in the process.
None of these things is a coincidence. As more and more people remain hypnotized longer and longer in life by the admittedly tantalizing glow of youthful witlessness, there are less and less people left to maintain a minimum level of maturity in society. As a result, we get dumber and more dismissive of the education and sophistication we need and should have once our youth is gone and the entirety of the rest of our lives lays out before us. Thus the tale of the burnout 20-something, who takes to heart the legendary lyric by The Who, "I hope I die before I get old." These are your Lindsay Lohans or your Amy Winehouses and the whole lot of pathetic fools who never consider what might be necessary to sustain themselves outside their myopic view of life in the now. We make media icons of them too, because many of us think exactly like them now.
So where do we go from here? We've made such a mess of it all, alienating ourselves from ourselves and our future. It's hard to see how one veers away from that cliff. Can we as a people ever get over that time in life when we talked like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child? Can we truly become men and women, putting childish ways behind us? Or shall we continue to indulge in our prolonged childhoods? Shall we dismiss those few people left who have something worthwhile to say, opting for the overweight, mentally stunted, Ritalin-dosed children of rednecks when we want to know who should be president. How long until we just cut out the middleman and just vote those kids in? Don't laugh. We're halfway there as it is, and the well of stupid doesn't appear to be drying up any time soon. I think we all suspected that IDIOCRACY was just a matter of time. So no second thoughts when the morbidly obese former child star, dressed in a track suit with her muffin top hanging below her crotch, steps to the podium for her mumbling inaugural speech on her first day as President, advocating for more Mountain Dew at maternity wards and less book learnin' at the elementary level. President Boo Boo will be the culmination of what we've been building toward. And ultimately what we deserve.