Today marks three years since we moved back to the United States after living eight years in Central America. Reconnecting to American culture over the last three years has been challenging at best as I’ve suffered many cultural shocks, and oftentimes found myself feeling like a foreigner in my own native country. Upon arrival in 2008, my biggest problem was in finding this vast, anonymous society too litigious and too rigid. My impressions were that people seemed less authentic and less trusting than folk back home in Latin America.
Since that tenuous time of reintegration, I’ve learned to adapt to the prevailing reality and adjust my focus and interactions accordingly. No biggie. It’s no longer an issue.
However, there is a rapidly-growing trend that has me sick to my stomach--- namely, the popular television programming options. I ceased to be an avid fan of television after early childhood, and since college, mostly tuned-in for movie specials, live concerts, or documentaries. Oftentimes, I’d stay up late to watch a favorite comedian perform.
But, today, each time hubs turns on the tube, my disgust rises to previously-thought inconceivable levels. Maybe it’s attributed to being away too long, disconnected from American culture and entrenched in another. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, an intellectual snob, or simply no longer fit in, but it distresses me to no end what people these days will do for media attention, and what ultimately captures the viewers’ attention.
The excess of new, trashy reality shows that seemingly emerge weekly is astounding. Hoarders, polygamists, violent repo-guys, and more. I get the normal human fascination that warrants a one-time glimpse into these people's unconventional lives and odd behaviors, but does every known and unknown pathology require a program of its own? By spending our precious time watching such shows, we inadvertently promote and help monetize such dysfunctions. And what’s even more appalling is what we, as a nation, have come to define as “entertainment.” What ever happened to programming that educated us, that enlightened us, or simply entertained us by showcasing stellar artistic talent?
How many more times do we have to re-live the finale of Kim Kardashian’s sham of a marriage? Why must she and her sisters continue to blanket the glossy pages of major national publications? What do they contribute to the overall well-being of our nation, or to the world-at-large? How come we don’t see more frequently featured the rich and famous that are making a difference in this world through their intellectual contributions, charity-work, and philanthropic endeavors? And, what’s most disconcerting is, what message are we sending to our children about our values as a nation?
Today’s phony “celebrities” such as the Kardashians, the Duggards, and the Gosselins---just to name a few---are recognized not for their singing, acting, or musical talents, but for their disturbing, peculiar or irresponsibly, lavish lifestyles. In fact, today’s most popular TV icons don’t offer anything valuable at all.
And as a side-note, Mrs. Duggard may very well be the loveliest lady that’s ever walked the planet, but how much quality time could she possibly have spent with each of her "nineteen and counting " children over the years? Is she really an American hero, or one worthy of our adulation?
And while these TV stars continue to laugh all the way to the bank, I wonder: Are we so bored with our own lives that we find it amusing to peer into other people’s dysfunctional worlds or obnoxious, ostentatious lifestyles? Why are our needs for culture and diversion so easily satiated by the consumption of such shallow, faux-entertainment?
Communicating with a writer-friend in England days ago summed it up well. He asked my thoughts on the Kim Kardashian divorce ordeal and what her soon-to-be ex could have possibly gotten out of the entire relationship-marriage stint.
The reply came to me intuitively. “Certainly Kris Humphries wanted a quick ascent to fame, fortune and a platform for his future, (ghostwritten) tell-all book.”
“Oh, yeah,” he mocked. “That’s right, it's the American way.”
This was not the first time I’ve been embarrassed by the truthfulness of such words spoken from friends abroad.
Are you proud of the American image beheld in the eyes of the world? I certainly am not.
I do hope one day someone, preferably a team of sociologists or cultural anthropologists, will explain the allure of all of this garbage because I just don’t get it.
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