Saturday, February 24, 2007

The "Jerry Springerization" of America ... or ... Celebrating Stupidity

Columnist Kathleen Parker in her column, Dying to be Divas, introduces a new term to the growing vocabulary of our declining American culture—Jerry Springerization.

Yeah ... he's still on.

Springer's show is likely the lowest of the lowbrow when it comes to television's talk show format. A platform for anyone to garner his or her "fifteen minutes of fame," guests frequently end up in shouting matches, brawls, and even chair throwings as their dark sides and bad behavior are exposed on television.

Springer celebrates stupid people, who have done stupid things, talking about the stupid things they've done, and then reacting stupidly in front of a television audience. It's just plain stupid.

Over the years, our national interest in stupidity has grown from a backwater lagoon, to what is now a mainstream, celebrated pastime. We are presently engaged in following the sordid details surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith, the custody of her decomposing body, and the paternity of her infant daughter.

And sad little Britney Spears. We are apparently witnessing her public meltdown. I feel bad for her, don't you? She needs help.

America has become a voyeuristic nation. Paparazzi stalk celebrities, hoping to catch them in an embarassing moment. After all, there's big money to be made. Who knows, maybe the picture taken today will be on the cover of The Enquirer tomorrow?

Cable news channels show clip after clip of famous, and not so famous people doing dumb things. Remember the "Runaway Bride?" How about those ridiculous, "News Alerts" for car chases? But such things are good for ratings. They drive up the cost of television's advertising slots.

We've seen mug shots of Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, and our favorite, wacky astronaut, Lisa Nowak. Television has taken us into the dysfunctional home of the Osbourne family. A couple of years ago, Anna Nicole Smith had her own cable television show. Many Americas derived a kind of strange pleasure out of watching her bimbo antics.

The television show C.O.P.S. brings us yet another another example of the celebration of stupidity. Every week we get to watch a new episode of "real" policemen arresting "real" bad guys (as opposed to actors pretending to be policemen and other actors pretending to be bad guys). Most of the folks arrested on C.O.P.S. aren't hardened criminals. They are basically just stupid people.

Was there something wrong with that Florida judge, conducting a hearing to determine who received custody of Smith's decomposing body? I did not watch much of it, but everyone seems to be talking about how he was putting on an act for the cameras. He wept as he delivered his verdict. Some say that he was auditioning for his own television show. Sounds stupid to me. But hey, maybe he was just making the most of his "fifteen minutes of fame."

For some reason, we Americans can't seem to stop "rubbernecking" as these sordid stories enter our homes and our lives. They have become a part of our everyday, American culture, woven into the fabric of our common experience.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines the word, stupid, this way: "Slow to learn or understand; obtuse; tending to make poor decisions or careless mistakes; marked by a lack of intelligence or care; foolish or careless."

Some say that the world lost little with Anna Nicole's death because she did not contribute anything of value. While this way of thinking makes sense, it comes up short.

I think there are a couple of lessons we can learn. One comes directly from her death and its aftermath. The other comes out of a story about the celebration of stupidity from long, long ago.

First, few would argue that Anna Nicole's death was tragic. But so was her life. Impaired as she may have been by drugs or alcohol or fame or money, the dictionary definition above does describe Smith's life fairly well. She made poor choices, surrounded herself with the wrong kinds of people, and sought after things that could never bring her peace or fulfillment. She used people, and people used her. She was famous not only for being beautiful, but probably even more so for being stupid.

The lesson we can take away from Ms Smith's death is this:

Stupidity is NOT cool, so, let's stop celebrating it.

Second, we can take a step back into history and learn a lesson from the Bible. After Noah (yeah the guy who built the ark) found dry land and had a chance to re-orient himself and settle back into a daily routine, he planted a vineyard. Later, he made some wine but drank too much of it, and passed out naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, discovered his father and told his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. Not wanting to shame their father, the two men grabbed a blanket, walked into the tent backwards so as not to see their father's nakedness, and covered him up. When Noah awoke and learned what Ham had done, he pronounced a curse on him. (read Genesis 9: 20-27)

Noah did something stupid. But two of his sons respected him enough to cover up the shame of his stupidity.

The second lesson comes from Ham's story:

Uncovering the nakedness of others brings a curse upon us.

Our attention to the constant noise about the Anna Nicoles, the Britneys, the Paris Hiltons, the Lindsay Lohans, the wacky astronauts and runaway brides—and their male counterparts—is bringing a slow death to this nation. Our job as Christians is not to point at, or gawk voyeuristically at the foibles of others. Our job is to think on good things, to speak kind words, and to do what we can to help others escape both stupidity, and the shame it brings.

Such a course will require our constant attention. May God give us the grace to behave as he would.

Perhaps if enough of us stop celebrating stupidity, the stupid people will eventually get smarter.

stupid. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved February 24, 2007, from website:


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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Reading: River of No Reprieve

Jeffrey Tayler is more than just a travel writer for publications like Condé Nast Traveler, Harper’s Magazine, and National Geographic. He is an adventuresome risk-taker.

In his book, River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia's Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny, Tayler writes of his harrowing 2,400 mile journey down Siberia's Lena River from Lake Baikal to the town of Tiksi on the Arctic Ocean. Guiding him is a hardened and curmudgeony Soviet-Afghan War veteran named Vadim, whose love of Siberia knows no bounds.

As their journey commences, Tayler begins an ever-unfolding narrative of the region's intriguing history. From the Cossacks of the 16th century who conquered this vast expanse for the Russian Tsar "Ivan the Terrible," to political prisoners sent to the Soviet gulags, to the most recent Russian transplants (20th century) who came for the high pay offered for harvesting the region's rich resources, the area is a true melting pot. Poles, Germans, Finns, Balts, Ukranians, Mongolians, native peoples such as the Yakuts and the Evenks, descendants of Russian intellectuals and plain old criminals have all been thrown together by choice and by oppression.

Not only does Tayler describe the landscape in vivid detail, he relates many stories of the colorful characters he meets along the way. Tayler is compelled to stop at every town and interact with the residents. But Vadim treasures solitude, often remaining with the boat while Tayler visits with the locals. This leads to occasional tension between them.

The two men travel in a custom-made, seventeen foot raft, camping most nights along the river's banks. But occasionally Tayler stays in a hotel in one of the many towns along the route, or occasionally as the personal guest of a local he has met.

Perhaps the most interesting component of Tayler's story is the consistent yearning of many Siberian residents for a return to the days of the old Soviet Union. Some even speak longingly of "Papa Joe" Stalin, a leading mass murderer of the twentieth century, who nonetheless kept the "machine" of socialism running. Sadly, without the Soviet government to manage things—as inefficent as it was—local economies are nearly bankrupt. Unemployment and alcoholism run rampant. And the young especially seem without purpose and direction.

River of No Reprieve artfully blends the stark physical beauty of this region, with the stark reality of life without meaning. It is a compelling, though heartrending story.

Tayler, an American, has lived in Moscow with his Russian wife since 1993. He speaks eight languages.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cultural Declination

American life and culture have been visibly deteriorating for most of my lifetime. But in the last ten years we have witnessed an alarming descent.

Fornication, divorce, and the murder of the unborn have been relatively routine since the ‘70’s. Now, the push for normalization of homosexuality is in high gear. Police “stings” on child pornographers are often in the news. And we have been hearing rumblings of polygamy as an accepted lifestyle.

Colorful tabloids with scandalous headlines assault us in grocery store checkout lines. Cable news loiters on celebrity misfits. One of our most popular television programs is American Idol, a celebration of the vaunted self. The lyrics of some of our most trendy music are riddled with degradation and debauchery.

Fewer and fewer families regularly share meals together. Family members now take off in their own directions, pursuing their own goals and pleasures.

The American landscape is deluged with the wreckage of relationships and psyches. Institutions supporting healthy, normalized behavior are waning. Human integrity is being disassembled, one person at a time.

The gods of our age are diversity, tolerance (of all but those with a Judeo-Christian Worldview), and the “right” to not be offended. Our Constitution is seen as a malleable document, changing as needed to validate our ego-centered lifestyles.

A generation has now risen to adulthood with little understanding of our unique, American, gift of freedom. Reaping its fruits, these souls remain essentially clueless and disinterested in freedom’s origins, its guiding principles, and its need for preservation.

I have had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that America is now a post-Christian nation. I suppose I have been in denial. I have long seen myself as a defender on the wall. But I am beginning to realize that our wall was breached long ago.

Some might say, “What took you so long?”

I think it is because I love my country so much. And the thought of losing it is very difficult to accept. As Lee Greenwood sings, “I am proud to be an American…”

I was raised in the fifties. We were fresh off a stunning American victory over Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Hirohito’s Imperial Japan. I grew up on Davy Crockett, Superman, and Walt Disney. I recited the pledge of allegiance every morning in school, and listened to the Star Spangled Banner on the radio at the beginning of the Cincinnati Reds’ baseball games at Crosley Field.

As I’ve grown older, I have read and studied American history, contemplating our rich undergirding ideology, so much of which is rooted in our Judeo-Christian heritage. And I’ve studied the church in America, our revivals, our foibles, our victories and failures. America would not exist today if not for the Christian church and the Protestant Reformation.

We are now on the cusp of losing much of what has made our nation good and strong. Our decline is primarily self-inflicted. We embraced slavery for two centuries. We stole land and broke treaties with this land’s indigenous peoples. We welcomed Darwin’s insidious ideas, giving room to those who would cast off God’s authority.

This Saturday morning, as I laid in bed, I pondered these things in the moments between sleep and wakefulness. My heart ached.

We have somehow come to think of liberty and license as synonymous. They are not. Freedom for many has become a common, accepted, expected, and almost guaranteed fact of life that, in a self-deluded way of thinking, will never disappear.

But freedom is not forever guaranteed. Over two hundred years ago, Benjamin Franklin warned us that our Republic would need to be “kept.” He essentially said that the freedoms we enjoy are not automatic, nor are they guaranteed to endure forever. At the closing of our nation's Constitutional Convention in September of 1787, a woman reportedly queried Franklin as he exited the convention hall, asking him what type of government had been chosen by the delegates. The American sage responded, "We have given you a Republic, if you can keep it."

I fear that our generation, and the generations to come, unless awakened by a kind and tender-hearted God, will not be able to keep our Republic.

Yes, I know, this is a sobering post. The good news is that God is still in heaven, and that He still answers prayers.

May God have mercy.

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