by Julia Buckley
On so-called "Black Friday" this year the media reported several incidents of violence, including one in which a woman pepper-sprayed a crowd waiting for deals at a California Wal-Mart. It is not yet clear why the woman did it, although the assumption at the time was that she wanted "an advantage" in getting a cheap X-box.
Certainly one could look at these store skirmishes and read them as morality tales. At the very least, they suggest something about our society. Yes, we are materialistic; I suppose that's always been an offshoot of our capitalism. But were we always this selfish? Have there always been crazy stories like this, or are we watching a growing trend in self-absorption?
If you vote for B, then you can probably see an example of culture perpetuating culture in the influences all around us. Some of the most popular television icons for young people (the pepper-spraying woman was in her 30s) are the narcissistic Kardashians and the amoral inebriates of Jersey Shore. A recent study by The Girl Scouts of America found that shows like these have a measured negative impact on the behavior of young women (and, I assume, young men), especially in terms of bad language, sexual promiscuity, and a lack of respect for others.
"Everyone surveyed thought reality shows promote bad behavior: 86 percent felt the shows often set people against one another to increase the dramatic value; 73 percent thought reality shows depict fighting as a normal part of a romantic relationship; and 70 percent believed that reality TV leads people to believe it acceptable to mistreat each other."
Another troubling offshoot of the study, according to the Bozell blog link above, was that the young women assumed that all of this "reality tv" was actually REAL and unscripted. Their imitation of it, then, is thought to be organic when in fact it is orchestrated. One of my students admitted to being manipulated by reality tv, but assured me that she wanted to one day be "A mob wife" anyway, because she was simply "obsessed with the show about mob wives." When I suggested that their lives were immoral, she laughed and said that she would be rich. She was, I think, only partly kidding.
In addition, one in four of the survey takers expected to eventually be famous. But in today's world, the distinctions between "fame" and "notoriety" seem less and less clear to young people who might not appreciate the ironies behind nuanced definitions. Fame is fame, and the media panders to those who want their fifteen minutes of it. Talent is obviously not in the equation.
As adults, should we be concerned that our young people are immersed in a media culture of narcissism at a time when they feel particularly narcissistic? Can we blame young people for increasingly gross feats of selfishness when thinking adults make the choices about what goes on the airwaves?
Culture perpetuates culture, they say, and our popular television culture offers little in the way of inspiration and a whole lot in terms of a damaging world view.
However, I may have the short-sightedness of one person looking from only one window of time. Has it always been this way? Am I just taking the curmudgeon's role of castigating youth culture, or is there something destructive at work?
Photo link here.