In recent months, I’ve been branded a “serious” person. I suppose it’s because, in spite of myself, I get turned on by big words and political debates. I watch documentaries about World Wars and the commercialization of food — I use phrases like “the commercialization of food.” I think I can comfortably assume that when folks characterize someone as “serious,” they do so with little or no ill-intention. They mean to distinguish you from the masses for whom everyday life out in the world is serious enough — the people who choose not to compound their personal problems with foreign peoples’ shit or U.S. Congressional back and forth over some arbitrary issue. Life is hard out here, y’all. And folks really just wanna be entertained.
But entertainment in lieu of information comes with a hefty price tag. If we were capable of both, I’d bypass my soapbox and turn to The Bachelorette to keep up with pop culture. But we aren’t capable of both. How else do you account for Flavor of Love? Soulja Boy? Kim Kardashian? And what the fuck is a Bad Girls Club? What’s so special about them that they get to be on tv? Who are these
hoes “bad girls”?
I firmly believe that life and art are symbiotically related; they feed off one another, for better or for worse. There was a time when artistry was defined by the voice it gave to the reality its artists lived. Jazz from Black musicians during the 40s was syncopated rebellion against inequality and discrimination, and upbeat swing that might lead you to believe shit was actually cool for folks. Likewise, the condition of urban life in some of America’s best known cities gave birth to hip hop music and hip hop culture. Brothas and sistas rapped about selling dope, and about “gang banging” to survive and to establish some semblance of family and protection, because this was the life they knew — the only life they knew. There are some contemporary moments that hearken back to that era, too. On Say Hello from the American Gangster album, Jay-Z’s like:
We aint thugs for the sake of just bein thugs/nobody do that where we grew at, nigga duh/the poverty line we not above, so out come the mask and gloves cause we aint feelin the love/ we aint doin crime for the sake of doin crimes/ we movin dimes cause we aint doin fine/one outta three of us is locked up doin time/you know what that type of shit can do to a nigga’s mind…
There was once substance in what also entertained us. And where there was substance, there existed the potential for information and education. It appears that what drives us now is our need to be entertained. We live to see manufactured drama unfold, to watch cats shuck and jive for our limited attention spans. “Reality” tv shows, for example, aren’t even shows about real people anymore. Their casts are now chock full of caricatures of personalities, which must include: the promiscuous gay guy; the kinda sorta lesbian that will do it to a dude given the right vodka proof; the bitch; the Black; the loose white girl; the one who’s a little off and might have some undealt-with mental/emotional situations, and the white boy (who is either country-boy-virginal, or frat-boy-asshole — there are no in betweens in reality tv). This isn’t the real world; it’s a real-type world created for our amusement.
Last week, someone tweeted this Daily Show clip of Don Lemon lamenting that the news network he reports for — the “most trusted name in news” — severely shorts its trustworthiness with attempts to entertain intermingled with its job to inform.
I get Lemon’s irritation. Because it’s all fun and games until you get hoodwinked by the shuck and jive. And that’s the price we pay. We get exhausted at the notion of learning something new, and disenchanted with intellectual curiosity. We get so wrapped up in what happens in fake life that we can barely come up for air when real life lays in the balance. I’m a political scientist, and I have a fetish for learning so I admit to being a bit biased. However, I don’t have to be either of those things to notice that what I don’t know, can most certainly hurt me.
I wrote last week about the debt ceiling debate that had been unnecessarily holding our economy hostage. Let me be clearer about that: it was Republicans holding the economy hostage, and it was a Republican ideologically-oriented “deal” that was passed to avert another economic disaster. It’s important to know this because the economic forecast as a result of the passage of the “bipartisan” deal is cloudy than a muthafucka. Yesterday, the markets plummeted in reaction, and today our nation sits at the precipice of recession 2.0. If and when the shit hits the fan is too late to remember that you voted for the people who made these decisions. Or that you didn’t vote for the people who would have made different ones (which, in essence, was a vote for your opposition).
Either way, the lesson going forward should be: you can watch what happens live, but you must also watch what happens — to our lives — when our collective desire for a court jester supersedes our collective desire to know shit.