Their Eyes Were Watching American Idol

May 25th, 2008

I understand, from what friends and others tell me, that I was supposed to outgrow this stage, the same way I outgrew believing in the tooth fairy, a benevolent God, or that whole “it’s what’s inside that really counts” deception. Maybe there was supposed to be a revealing shock somewhere along the way — similar to the shock of seeing my eldest sister put a dime under my pillow, or having my childhood letters to God returned “undeliverable as addressed”, or seeing a well-qualified woman turned away from a job interview because my boss didn’t like “lazy Indians” — that scraped away another layer of optimistic naivete and replaced it with cynical skepticism.

Come to think of it, there have been plenty of revealing shocks, and I’ve written or talked about them with all the exclamation points and disbelief they were due. Did thousands of people really send Oral Roberts money when he said God would kill him if he didn’t raise $10M dollars? Yes! They did! Did Tammy Faye Baker, thief extraordinaire, really go on to become a minor celebrity and gay icon? Yes! Did Hal Greenwood, a banker who bilked thousands of retirees out of their pensions, get to keep his multi-million dollar home? Yes! And after he got out of a very short prison stay, he actually ran for Mayor of Grand Marais, MN! And he had lots of community support!

Closer to home, did a family-owned real estate business really steal funds from their client’s trust accounts to pay credit card bills, get plastic surgery, and buy stuff at BabyGap? Yes. Did the state take swift and thorough action? No. They pulled the license of the business owner, but let the actual thief (her daughter!) take over for her. Did I once have a boss who said he didn’t want a woman working for him? Yes. Did the corporation see this as a problem? No, but they did have him attend an EEOC seminar, so that he could learn “more appropriate language”.

The apathetic reactions of the blindly self-involved Me generation I was born into seems to be keep trying to shock me into complacency, but somehow I just get more and more outraged. Somehow the lessons the greater part of society is trying to teach me — like how useless logic is in an illogical world, and how senseless it is to beat my head against the same brick wall, and how really, I should just worry about myself and not worry about all these things I can’t change — continue to pass me by. I keep trying. I keep believing that my generation of human beings, as a multi-billion strong entity, are smarter, more alive, and more passionate than we’ve shown. . .yet.

I thought maybe the reign of King George II, America’s first Imperialist president, might be just the shock this country needed to get off of its collective ass and do something. I was partially right. Many people have spoken out, written letters, gotten involved — yet an amazing 34-36% of Americans still approve of George W. Bush. Meaning that in a group of 100, 34 to 36 people have their heads buried in the sand, or have been brainwashed beyond redemption. That’s certainly a revealing shock, but then again so is the Democratic race this year, in which those who stand united against Bush have chosen to excoriate each other in damning, and often hateful ways, instead of drawing together to ensure a race of reason and integrity.

When Exxon Mobil reported the highest quarterly and annual profits ever for a US company, twice in recent history, I was pretty sure Americans would take to the streets — meaning that they would rebel against the glut, greed, and lies of oil companies, and start walking wherever they could, boycotting gas whenever possible. Instead, the story came and went, and most of middle America shrugged. Welcome to $4 a gallon gasoline. Exxon salutes our apathy.

Outside and inside of politics, child abuse remains the subject that no one wants to talk about anymore. Not even a world-renowned author who has written decades worth of amazingly insightful books. She doesn’t want to answer any more questions, and she doesn’t want to talk to the general public anymore outside of what she puts on her website — which means she’s limiting herself to people who already know her, and who are already in search of answers, instead of possibly educating those who have had no cause to even ask the right questions. In a recent email to me, she said, “. . .everybody who WANTS to know and understand can do it reading in the internet. For people who are afraid of understanding what I am writing I can’t do anything. Even hundreds of interviews will not do.” This is a woman who was once a pioneer, a fighter, an intelligent, guiding voice to thousands trying to escape a dark void. She has grown tired. Apathetic. Comfortable in her ivory tower world, where silence rules, and the unwashed masses are abstract theories and subjects, rather than intrusive, always hurting, slow to heal, not-quite-there-yet, constantly seeking, human beings.

There’s some solace in knowing that the author above “paid her dues” — that she did so much, for so many years for the cause of children — but it’s an empty comfort. There is no one on the horizon to take her place. There are no more Alice Millers. She will leave behind a prolific body of work, but who will there be to add to it, to keep it alive not just in the broken spirits of victims, but in the higher consciousness of the public. Who will continue to wake up the living dead in her absence? Who will be the public voice for the children who cannot speak for themselves?

Alice reminded me of something, though, and that’s about “want”. Those who “WANT” to understand, she said to me. I know, however, that want actually plays a very minor part in this extended play of reality. There was a time most people did not want to believe the world was round. A time when most did not want children off the farms or out of the factories, or women or minorities to vote. It wasn’t that long ago that most Americans wanted a society where men earned more than women, and where women’s choices were extremely limited.

Want is, more often than not, a creation. A person, small group, or other entity has an idea, complaint, or belief, and pushes forward to promote their concept. Other people catch on, and the concept grows and is expanded. Eventually, the “want” of that particular something forms among a majority or a well-backed minority, and laws, systems, products, or other things change to fulfill the want that was created.

Had television never been invented, I doubt we would have ever wanted Tila Tequila or the housewives of Orange County in our living rooms. I doubt that we could have even envisioned a time when, on average, our children would be exposed to 50,000 commercial messages a year, with 1/4 of those ads being deceptive in some way. Not only would we have never envisioned it, we probably would have never approved it — but now our want for television has grown by literally hundreds of channels. The want continues to be created daily by popular culture, charismatic personalities, and marketing companies.

The world around us is struggling and failing in so many ways. From fundamentalist religions to corrupt superpower governments — from genocide to genetically engineered food crops — from gross war profiteering to bad parenting — there is plenty to keep us engaged, busy, and passionate for decades to come.

Unfortunately we, meaning the majority of my generation, have largely failed to create the “want” to better the world. We’re sitting at home, watching American Idol, cheering for one of two new age Davids, and paying little attention to the Goliath of apathy.

I want a worldwide revolution. I want the televisions turned off and the heat turned up. I want passions ignited, and the potential of billions of minds fully realized. I want to scream into the ears of the living dead — wake up! Look at what has happened in your absence! Let’s get busy and change this! Move the food trucks, educate the kids, teach ethics and logic from kindergarten to college, open the doors, let freedom ring, and the sun shine in. It’s not impossible. We just haven’t fully created our want for the best possible world yet.

13 Responses to “Their Eyes Were Watching American Idol”

  • I think we could start by putting Civics class back in high schools. Civics taught us our roll as citizens and what we have the right to expect from our leaders. But we can only teach compassion by being compassionate.

  • Sadly, for me- it comes down to my belief in the human condition. Are people basically good- or are people destined to fight their self-centered nature?
    Sadly, my conclusion is the latter. Yes, we’re capable of good or bad- but what makes one person sacrifice for another?
    History is bleak. IMO- human beings are not the highest form of life. But then, my experiences would have to dictate that depressing view.

  • Jane,

    Reign not rein. He may be a horses ass but he’s not a horse with reins in his mouth.

    Don’t you hate having someone like me read and proof your blog?

    No, I don’t mind! I correct other people’s work sometimes when they ask, but it’s always harder to edit and proofread your own! Witness, “horses ass” instead of horse’s ass. ;-) - Jane

  • Marcie, I hope you won’t do this to other bloggers here. I have always felt comfortable here, expressing myself freely and however suits the mood. I don’t want to feel like I’m in English class!

    Jane, it must be frustrating to be a writer.
    And to have the kind of passionate spirit you have, which really cares about what goes on all over the world. I am definitely more of a backyard woman. If I see it firsthand and in person, I care more. It’s hard for me to feel involved in what goes on in Tibet or Darfur or Iraq, maybe because the culture of these places is so different than what I know and am familiar (okay comfortable) with.

    I do better with local issues, and more so now that I’m older and don’t have the same agenda that I did when I was young. I did trade in my jeep for a hybrid Ford!

    It’s a shame about Alice Miller. I have only read one of her books, and it was years ago, but loved what she had to say and the absoluteness (that’s a word, right? Darn. I’m checking myself now! ) with which she said it. I know that you’ve admired her a great deal, but remember….there’s always someone around the bend. It may not be Alice Miller, but there will be someone else, and maybe even someone who will push the envelope on the issue of abused kids past the point where it is now.

  • Jane,
    I’ve always had difficulties with plural and possessive and “s’s” (ses?). I also can’t do fractions and still have some problems with decimals (had to look that up in the dictionary). I also cannot for the life of me remember what a participle is much less a dangling participle. Yet another reason I didn’t go to grad school.

    No, I’m not so anal or rude that I’d correct “everyone”! But Jane is a professional writer, she needs a good editor. I’m not good at everything but some things I’m fair at.

    It’s sort of like Ann says above, we need to put Civics back into schools. Well, I think we also need to put grammar back into schools. English is so full of synonyms and homonyms that it’s easy to use a word that sounds correct with the incorrect spelling which can easily change the meaning of what you’re trying to say.

    And texting has really put a spanner in spelling!

    Quietly falling off my soapbox.

    Whump! Thud! Whimper.

  • You make me think.

    Thank you.

  • “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world, and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
    -E.B. White

    there is a saying in the rooms i occupy sometimes that goes like this….THOUGHT with ACTION is FANTASY.

    now, i just feel like i need a leader. i need a call to action sort of. i’m not organized enough to gather the masses, but i’m itching to march!

    does that make sense?


  • There was a time. and it was not THAT long ago because it happened in my lifetime, and I’m not THAT old, when Americans would boycott and bring prices down. It happened with coffee (in the 70s or 80s, I can’t remember) when American woke up one morning to find that their java had doubled in price — the markets, you know — so they stopped buying coffee and drank tea instead. Coffee prices came down.

    Today’s world though is another story. All the things you mention in your post occur to me, and I have moments of despair, but I don’t accept all the excuses. It is not the human condition: It is what humans choose.

    Take TV for instance: the networks are overloaded with crap shows that reward people for behaving badly. Why? Because that’s what the public wants. Oh, really? I think not. You feed the public something crappy, the public gets used to it, and a vicious circle is created. And so you cancel intelligent shows and pander to the lowest denominator, then whine about people switching to cable.

    There’s a lack of ethics, for sure (where did it go?). Do something bad to others, and maybe pay a little price for it, then go out and become famous.

    And I could not end this without mentioning the incredible sexism that exists in America. America, land of Abzug and Steinem, can’t even accept the idea of a woman president. So much calumniation of the more qualified candidates, and while I’m not paranoid, too many attacks on her stink ofsexism.

    I’ll get off my lectern now. Thanks for letting me speak!

  • Colette,
    I do not think of citing the human condition as an excuse.
    The human condition that I was referring to -was that IMO- people are basically self-centered- it is our nature. And in order to think beyond ourselves- we have to fight our self-centeredness.

  • When you are trying to survive - day to day it is difficult to care about what goes on in this world. I’m tired, tired of the war, tired of our president and his cronies, tired of the crap dished out to Hillary, tired of seeing young people not giving a damn, tired of …….you get the idea. I live in a very liberal area. I see people holding up signs and marching to end the war - but what good does it do? Really? So a group of citizens in upstate NY want the war to end so they march…….I don’t, I don’t think it does any good. So……..what can people like me…….who are tired of it all…… what can we do to change it? Vote? yes I do. What else? The corporations run this country, it’s the bottom line and I don’t think we can change that. UGH is how I feel right now……

  • Collette, with a six year old in the house, I decided no more TV, period. I gave it away to a coworker and haven’t missed it at all. If I want to watch a movie, I do it on my DVD player. There’s no way I want my daughter growing up looking at all the stupid crap on TV and thinking that’s the way people should really act. It’s disgusting.

    Even the cartoons! I was at my sister’s house last week, and she had a cartoon on that had this cow and friends. The dilemna was that they were putting on a play about Little Red Riding Hood, and two of the girls wanted to be her.

    Instead of being realistic and showing how things work out in real life, this cartoon had the characters come up with the solution that the play would have TWO red riding hoods. Everybody was now happy, and that was the lesson. In other words, the world will bend to your will, everyone should be or can be accommodated always, and if you want something, you get it by whining.

    I was disgusted, and I’m so glad I took TV out of my house!

  • My goodness you have sparked one heck of a conversation. excellent!

  • Jane … really enjoyed this one! I too, feel ready for a worldwide revolution. I have felt lately that we have become a very lazy, mediocre society filled with limited awareness persons. When I start down this path … I immediately go to: how can we not be??? We seem so inundated with information and passwords to remember; overloaded with causes to be responsible and expectations to be accountable for. Really … being human is hard work right now. The last 8 years have left me feeling beaten down and unheard. What gets me out of the victim energy/pool of self pity is a gentle reminder that learned from an uncle when I was a child … “If you can’t be a tree, be the best little twig you can be!”

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