Because America just hasn’t been infiltrated by enough stupidity, a six year-old Southern white girl who frequently parrots Black stereotypes, complete with exaggerated gestures and finger snaps, just got her own reality show. That’s right, “Honey Boo Boo” was plucked from the cast of Toddlers & Tiaras, and will now be appearing on TLC weekly, along with the rest of her redneck kinfolk.
Not to repeat #3 in this article from June, in which I lamented America’s growing vulture culture, but seriously? How long are Americans going to tolerate this almost non-stop dumbing down? Are there even enough rational people left to fight the growing popularity of ignorance and spectacle? Or have too many of us been lured so far down the rabbit hole, that we just don’t care about the consequences anymore?
We’ve got political leaders — presumably educated people — calling voters retards. The amazing Gabby Douglas wins gold at the Olympics and the news blows up with talk about her hair. Reading the comments on this HuffPo article, it’s clear that a whole lot of people don’t think that referring to an Asian customer as “lady chinky eyes” is a problem. Then there’s GOP politics, which continues its dizzying, downward spiral into becoming the party of mind-blowing backwardness.
One of my favorite writers, Jamaica Kincade, once said that the world is not a finite pie — that the pie is as large or small as society wants it to be — but I’m not sure that’s true in today’s culture. When “Honey Boo Boo” gets a show, who does not? What’s the ripple effect of that for those who make their careers in television, from creating to writing to producing? How much creative talent is being lost or forfeited? How many wonderful ideas go unheard? When Simon & Schuster invests in ghostwritten books with brands like “Snooki”, which real talents are they rejecting, including those inside their own corporation? When gates of opportunity — the chance to make a social impact — are opened for fools like Sarah Palin, what kind of intelligence is being shut out?
I know that some people might accuse me of failing to see the humor in all of this, or of taking life in general “too seriously,” but I’m not humorless, nor do I spend every hour of the day wringing my hands over prevailing social issues. I am a dot connector, though, and incapable of feeling apathetic about the pattern of devolvement that I see.
Like many people, I was raised on the American Dream. Unlike many people, I clung to its tenets as a life preserver because it was the biggest thing I had in the way of hope. Maybe that’s why I take its continued disintegration so personally. In my years, I’ve seen too many pathways narrow and even close, particularly to those already lacking in resources. It’s hard to believe now, but when I was in my early 20s, a college degree wasn’t necessary to get a decent entry level job — if a person had the ability to learn and the drive to excel, they could overcome their lack of formal education with experience. Today, people are being excluded from job opportunities for a host of reasons that, once upon a time, would have been considered outrageous, such as not having an acceptable credit score, or for having been unemployed “too long”.
In fact, my ability to escape a bad situation and partially reinvent my life at 16 (the story’s in my book) would be impossible today. Instead of being able to get a job and rent an apartment, I’d have been on the streets. Of course, there were problems then too, like colleges not accepting students without parental permission, but at least I was able to support myself when I had to — a privilege that many teen runaways today don’t have.
To bring this all back to the horrors of “Honey Boo Boo” (and other cultural dives into the cesspool of inanity), we need only open our eyes to the pattern. To the thick lines of anathemas that are steadily crossing out the American Dream: Reward Without Hard Work. Success Without Talent. Talent Without Opportunity. Intelligence Without Means. Means Without Value. Untapped or Lost Potential.
Whatever metaphor we use, whether it’s in slices of pie to be handed out, or gates to be walked through, it is indisputable that American idealism is in a phase of schizophrenic self-immolation. As we tell ourselves that hard work and talent will get us that white picket fence, we’re making millionaires of people who don’t work and aren’t talented. As we try to impart the value of education to our children, we are in a culture that popularizes and rewards ignorance. In a rare event of shared national awe, we may watch the Mars rover land, but at the same time we shrug our shoulders in that, “oh well, can’t do anything about it” sort of way when stupidity rears its head — like the factions in Texas that want to ban critical thinking, and the governor in Louisiana who wants thousands of children to forego science for the Bible, and learn that most slave owners were really nice people.
The only way to revive the American Dream, and resuscitate the intelligence of America, is to stop providing oxygen to the stupid. A difficult task, since we’re not really the ones in charge of what major media corporations put out there — and it’s hard to support horses that aren’t even put in the race — but if we can make a household name and millionaire out of Snooki, why can’t we do the same for people we might actually respect? Why can’t we support those in the underground — those who talents have been overshadowed by spectacle, or that have gone unnoticed for lack of resources — and rise them up to prominence?
It’s an idealistic concept, for sure, but we could make it happen if enough of us were willing to forego the lure of train wrecks, and roll up our sleeves for more valuable, rational, dignified, and life-affirming causes.
My hopes are faint, though. In a culture where three and four year-olds are practicing booty pops to the applause of their parents, and where well-informed journalists like Anderson Cooper are forced to interview the cast of Toddlers & Tiaras for the sake of ratings, it’s hard to invoke the same kind of naive, wide-eyed passion for the American Dream that I once believed in so strongly.