It’s by far worse than our dire opioid crisis.
In fact, I’m nearly trembling as I’m typing these words because I know it’s highly likely you’ll hardly buy a word I’m saying here … which is actually a major symptom.
Nevertheless, here we go …
We’ve got a serious problem in America and it’s so insidious that while visibility is nearly always its major component, the fallout remains basically invisible. It grabbed hold of us decades ago and hasn’t let up since.
There are so many signs and symptoms that it would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.
Let me start with a conversation I had not long ago with a woman who shared with me something from a chat she had with another woman visiting from another country. I’m not mentioning the visitor’s home country because I want to keep us focused on the true point of this story.
The woman told me they were discussing America’s eroding education system. During the conversation, she told me that the woman stated something about our country that rocked her – and me upon hearing the story – to the core.
“You guys have plenty of entertainment here, but what you don’t have is education!” said the woman.
Doesn’t that feel like a bullet?
I think that what hurts so much about that perfectly-friendly observation is the fact that it doesn’t massage our American ego. It goes straight to the gut because it wasn’t designed to make us “feel good” about ourselves ... something that we crave, hence the problem.
We often want foreigners to fawn over us, but this was like a cold drink thrown into our collective face.
You almost want to say …
“WE don’t have education? HOW DARE YOU!”
But like it or not, it was that woman’s honest assessment of us as a nation and it’s partly why I’m sitting here chatting with you.
Years ago, I was watching the Ellen DeGeneres show. During the program, Ellen was doing a game show-type segment in which she asked a young female guest to name ONE – just ONE - justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
With that, the woman incredulously looked back at Ellen and asked …
“Are YOU serious?”
This young woman couldn’t name a single judge on our high court. Meantime, Ellen, always the professional, clearly chose to keep a non-judgmental expression on her face. Still, it was clear that Ellen – a very evolved and insightful woman - was stunned by this.
By the way, have you noticed that many television quiz shows are replacing many of the standard history, math and English questions with more questions centered on entertainment and popular culture? What do you reckon that’s all about?
I recently saw a commercial that’s part of one of the best media advertising campaigns I’ve ever seen. It’s so beautifully effective, yet so symbolic of who we are and where we seem to be right now as a nation. We know it all too well …
“What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.”
This campaign is genius because it latches right onto our determination to be entertained at any cost. Entertainment has become a near obsession. So much so that it comes with the hope and promise of all out debauchery.
It’s no longer good enough to go out and merely have a great time. These days, we MUST also get wasted, tear up stuff and even break the law in the process. Worse yet, we do it with the idea that secrecy will allow us to do whatever our base, animalistic natures demand.
Yes, it seems we’ve become addicted to entertainment. So much so that the entertainment itself has become dark, subversive and twisted.
Look, let me just admit that while I’m chatting here with you, my TV is tuned to “America’s Got Talent.” I mean, let’s be real here. Not only are we as Americans obsessed with being entertained … we’re so “possessed” by entertainment culture that many of us – lacking even a lick of talent – are dying to be entertainment celebrities. We want to be “superstars.”
Numerous TV shows attest to this: “American Idol” (the reboot nonetheless), “The Voice,” “The Four” and so on.
And then, let’s not even get into the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, baseball, the World Series, the World Cup, the Stanley Cup, the PGA and so on.
And then we’ve also got HBO, Hulu, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon, Roku, Sling TV, Pluto TV, Apple TV, YouTube, video games, apps galore and more.
Let’s not forget our ever-present handheld devices, laptops and home computers.
We’re soaking and sopping wet with entertainment outlets and venues for immediate gratification. Entertainment has become an acceptable type of crack or heroin. And in more and more states, you can watch while smoking your newly legal pot.
In short, we’re entertaining ourselves to death.
Here’s proof … just like drug addicts, we won’t cop to any of this.
Fess up (although I know you won’t). Doesn’t it feel like we’ve got a serious entertainment addiction? And I haven’t even mentioned music apps and our almost constant use of earbuds. Many of us use earbuds to avoid engaging with others.
We can barely put down our handheld devices long enough to have a conversation with anyone in our Attention Deficit Disorder world.
Could ADD be a form of withdrawal?
And like drug addiction, if we want to be cured, we MUST first admit that we’ve got a problem. I highly doubt this will ever happen. We’ve got a wicked case of denial.
Want yet more proof?
How about your five-hour “Game of Thrones” marathons? How about the fact that you must be snatched away from your handheld device? How about the fact that if you took away everyone’s cellphone for two days - mine included - they’d probably scream bloody murder?
These days, entertainment has gone far beyond entertainment. It has become pure and prolonged escapism. We’ve got an entire generation of young men and some women who psychologically live in these virtual worlds of entertainment. Highly-attended conventions like Gen-Con and Comic-Con pull in tons of money and pay tribute to them … costumes, makeup and all.
Nothing against Gen-Con and Comic-Con. I’m just sayin’.
Look, I totally get it. We all want and need stress outlets. No doubt about it.
I mean, who doesn’t want to come home to a comfy telly? Who doesn’t want to listen to their latest Spotify downloads?
But this goes MUCH deeper.
Did you know that Orlando, Florida, home of Disney World (who doesn’t know that?), is the top – bar none – tourist destination for Americans? I could stop right here, but let me make a few more quick points …
We’ve long been at the point where we care much more about Tom Brady and LeBron James than whatever the Federal Reserve Chair or Supreme Court announced today. We have no clue about the significance of the first Monday in October (the Supreme Court convenes), but we definitely know when the NFL pre-season kicks off.
I think it’s because we just want to escape. Life is hard. We want to relax. It’s all we can do to get through a day’s work let alone deal with the immigration crisis.
Let’s leave that to Congress. How’s that workin’ for us?
We clearly don’t believe we have the power to change anything in the real world and we’re certainly not inclined to try - so we focus on the virtual world instead. Besides, aren’t the Big Ten and the Kardashians much more fun?
Isn’t entertaining ourselves to death much easier than actually facing the real world OR our own problems?
There’s nothing wrong with having fun … especially after putting in a 50-hour work week. Why not blow off some steam? We all do it. Don’t we DESERVE it?
But here’s the problem.
We’re so engrossed in our entertainment that we’re not paying attention to the Russian hacking or school shootings or Roe v. Wade – regardless of where you stand on these issues and more.
Do we even know about these issues? We may have heard about them “in passing.”
Our infrastructure is crumbling, our schools are failing, and our government is thisclose to chaos.
In our society, entertainment is escapism to the point of pathology. We simply don’t want to deal with tough life issues, so we escape into a video game or NBA final. We’re so busy “looking the other way” at the TV screen “over there.”
I mean, has our entertainment industry ever made more money than it is right now?
It feels as if we’d rather tune out as we lose so many of the privileges that once came with being American. Hideous things are happening while our eyes are closed during the broad daylight of a work day.
We’ve become so entitled that we believe things are always going to remain here for us. We’ll always have freedom. We’ll always have privacy. We’ll always have choices and we’ll always have civility … even if we shut our eyes and ears to everything happening around us. We think it will all be here.
Our ear buds are clearly making us tone deaf.
Would you like a Hollywood example (what else?) as an illustration?
I keep thinking about Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” film in which Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette blissfully frolics on her royal estate and shuts out the entire world as the French Revolution gets hotter and grows closer and more threatening. The film depicts her (and Louis XVI played by Jason Schwartzman) as being completely dismissive and perhaps willfully ignorant – even as advisors tried to get them to … get this … do their jobs.
Like them … have we become willfully ignorant? Isn’t willful ignorance extremely dangerous?
Are we upset with the press because they’re “party poopers” who are bringing us down with their “bad news” reporting (also known as, what’s merely happening) while we’re trying to have fun – or at least forget about what’s ailing us?
This is a very slippery slope.
Once we’ve lost all the things – and we will - that we now take for granted, won’t it be too late to get them back? Will we even be awake to know it? Will cruel reality cut through our earbuds and virtual headsets?
Won’t the loss of our freedom be akin to going to the guillotine?
Our entertainment addiction is by far worse than our opioid consumption. And when you think about it, isn’t the opioid crisis an extension of our entertainment addiction?
Isn’t it part of our civic duty to at least remain aware? And speaking of civic duty, let’s not even talk about voting. Aren’t many of us too drunk or high to vote?
Do we not care?
There went democracy.
No worries. We’ll watch the dramatic re-telling of it … on E! Of course.