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 Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/stupid

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1 Comments:

At 9:23 AM, Blogger Brian Francis Hume said...

Mark,

Great post! It makes me think of the need for Wilberforce’s “reformation of manners” in our day and age.

Brian

 

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