Paul Andersen: Fair Game
December 11, 2011
I recently discovered another perfectly good reason for avoiding the thrall of mass media: Kim Kardashian. If you don’t recognize the name, you’re as out of touch as I am, which is saying something.
On a recent trip to Chicago, the friend I was staying with asked what I thought of Kim’s 72-hour marriage. “Who is Kim?” I asked innocently, “and why should I care about her marriage?”
“Because she’s all over the media,” said my friend with some surprise.
“Oh, I hadn’t noticed.”
“That figures,” he said.
Curious, I Googled Kim and discovered a voluptuous vamp with a Hellenic face of olive skin, sultry eyes and a forbidding, “Come hither” pout. Her prominent, pneumatic breasts protruded like twin torpedoes coming straight at you with full frontal plasticity.
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I suddenly wondered more about my friend’s sanity than about Kim Kardashian’s caricature, which is paraded across the covers of tabloids. Can American culture fall any deeper into the abyss of irrelevance than with its titillation over this tawdry sideshow? How shallow can we go?
Kim is the figurehead for a sinking ship called the USS Delusion. When a buxom bimbo captures the adoration of popular culture, that culture has hit a murky bottom, tangled in the weeds of oblivion.
Looking for answers, I went to “The Shallows,” a book by Nicholas Carr, who describes a culture in peril. Carr’s book warns that a constant bombardment of Internet and social media is reducing our collective attention spans until we’re unable to hold a complex thought for more than a few seconds. Kim Kardashian could be the poster child for Carr’s study because it is the Internet and social media that have put her in the klieg lights.
Carr blames it on the computer, which started out as “a simple tool that did what you told it to do.” Over time, he explains, “it exerts an influence over you.”
TV with a keyboard is the way I’ve defined computers since they went from tools to entertainments. Now that Internet content surpasses TV in scope and scale, its addicts are devoted to shallow thinking, submitting themselves to painless techno-lobotomies.
“The most avid TV viewing fans (those watching 35 or more hours of programming a week),” Carr writes, “are also among the most intensive users of the Net (those spending 30 or more hours online a week).” If you adopt both media, he says, your time in front of screens becomes a full-time diversion from things of actual meaning and importance.
Not only do addicted viewers become absorbed in fast-paced “entertainments,” but the barrage of media to which they pay obeisance directs what they think and how they think. The result is an industrial-scale brainwashing with conformist tendencies. Independent thought and judgment are devalued by group programming – not imposed by dictate but willfully desired by the victims.
Carr warns that our collective memory is being hijacked by systems managers and software agents whose value judgments are immaterial when compared with the power and influence they derive from command of mass media. “This doesn’t just threaten the depth and distinctiveness of the self,” Carr points out, “it threatens the depth and distinctiveness of the culture we all share.”
This comes at a time when Steve Jobs is being deified for his creative prowess. Even in the face of his irascible personality and sad performance as a human being, popular culture lionizes Jobs and his ilk for their contributions to mainstream influences through the mind games of interactive technology. If we dare to challenge this direction, we are labeled Luddites or contrarians and are made to feel out of step for performing arcane functions like reading a book or communing with nature.
“The seductions of technology are hard to resist,” sums up Carr, “and in our age of instant information the benefits of speed and efficiency can seem unalloyed, their desirability beyond debate. But I continue to hold out hope that we won’t go gently into the future our computer engineers and software programmers are scripting for us.”
Kim Kardashian is part of that script. Why? Because the superficiality of her saga cultivates a base, materialistic claim on life. Once a marketer has you gawking at Kim’s high fashions and bomber boobs, it’s easy to link to the real goal: the commercial strategy of entrepreneurs who create consumer desires for the purpose of selling their products – any of which Kim will happily endorse.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.