- Increasingly, the collective attention of our nation
is 100% focused toward sheer inanity. The World Series, The Super Bowl,
the criminal trials of celebrities, the Academy Awards -- all garish celebrations
of meaninglessness that unfailingly succeed to dominate our lives. The
great bard must have seen into the future all the way to the 21st century
when he wrote that life "is a tale told by an idiot filled with sound
and fury signifying nothing."
- Even those who have no investment in our media-generated
shared illusions have little choice but to hear about them. For the last
couple of weeks, I haven been unable to work out at the gym or stand in
line at the grocery store without overhearing some mind-numbing gossip
about the decomposing body of a former Playboy Bunny. And although I abstain
almost entirely from TV, I am still visually assaulted by screaming headlines
on this pseudo-story in another electronic medium, the internet -- the
"news" services provided by AOL, Comcast, Yahoo, Google, etc.
are even more tabloid oriented than the celebrity obsessed cable "news"
- I cannot mention Fox "news" without pointing
out (as have many others) that it was Rupert Murdoch's brainchild that
set the pervasive cable "news" trend of 24/7 tabloid coverage.
Although the OJ Simpson trial had already gotten things moving in the wrong
direction, Fox has pushed unrelentingly over the invisible line that separates
news and entertainment. One can be certain that with cold-blooded calculation,
the Fox execs measure in minutiae which stories reliably create ratings
spikes. They obviously found that the ones that perform best are lightweight
celebrity gossip (Anna-Nicole Smith, Britney Spears, etc.) and titillating
true crime mostly involving extremely attractive young women (Laci Peterson,
Natalee Holloway, Debra Lafave, etc.). And CNN and MSNBC have predictably
followed suit, abandoning even a pretense of dignity in their desperate
effort to keep pace. The primetime line-ups of every cable news network
now consist of talking heads discussing lightweight courtroom drama, showbiz
fodder, and for more "substantive" banter, divisive and banal
political debates straight down the demarcated lines of neo-conservatism
- Whether or not media drive the culture or merely reflect
it, the sad reality is that they would not succeed in marketing meaninglessness
if the public wasn't buying. All media -- TV, film, radio, internet, video
games, and even print -- display less and less moral and ethical restraint
because they have no incentive to -- taking the high road is not a reliable
way to make money in Entertainment. Several weeks ago a woman actually
died in a radio "water drinking" contest. When warned by callers
of the contests' potentially lethal consequences, one DJ replied, "They
signed releases, so we're not responsible. We're OK."
- Bored minds unfamiliar with meaning can only seek amusement
in the base and the profane. In the U.S. the underground video series "Bumfights"
features pre-meditated physical violence toward and between homeless people.
The producers of Bumfights claim to have sold HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of
copies. And evidence exists that these videos have inspired real-life murders
of the homeless. CNN.com reports that teen "sport killings" of
the homeless are on the rise: "Criminologists call these wilding sprees
'sport killing,' -- largely middle-class teens, with no criminal records,
assaulting the homeless with bats, golf clubs, paintball guns....Some teens
have even taped themselves in the act. Others have said they were inspired
by 'Bumfights,' a video series created in 2002 and sold on the Web that
features homeless people pummeling each other for the promise of a few
bucks." Story: (http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/02/19/homeless.attacks/)
- When the "news" channels spend 45 minutes of
an hour discussing a celebrity's dead body, they have nearly sunk to Bumfights
level of sickness and depravity. Not only are they failing in their duty
to inform and educate the public, they are sinking a knife into a cultural
wound and twisting the handle. And this wound is our shared obsession with
the inane, moronic, grotesque and murderous.
- But for clarity, this essay is not solely intended as
an indictment of media. From my perspective, media are feeding, worsening,
and profiting from deep-seeded sicknesses endemic to our very Way of Life.
With or without media, mainstream American culture is so fundamentally
damaged and malformed that life within it is no longer tenable.
- If the culture can be compared to a machine, it can be
said that ours is malfunctioning with key parts missing, broken and/or
misaligned. It is no longer a question of "if" the cultural machine
is going to implode and die, it is already hiccupping smoke and the sparks
are flying. To rage against this dying machine or try to keep it alive
are now both futile. All that's is left to walk away before it's too late.
- Our culture is fated to die because every official institution
directing it has irredeemably failed us. Religion has failed us -- in our
allegedly Christian nation, the actual teachings of Christ (unconditional
non-judgment, charity, lovingness, pacifism, and devotion to a purely benevolent
Father) are barely a rumor amongst Christian leadership. Public education
has failed us -- even the increasingly embarrassing raw statistics (pathetic
test scores, abysmal graduation rates) provide but the barest glimpse into
the apocalypse of intellect that consumes American youth. The sciences
have failed us -- models built on unsound or refuted theory (namely the
Big Bang and Darwin's theory of evolution) are routinely paraded as inarguable
facts, while alternative models that are easily proved through the scientific
method -- models that could significantly improve our understanding of
the Universe and our quality of life -- are dismissed by scientists out
of narrow-mindedness and self-serving interest. "Our" government
has failed us in ways too countless to enumerate -- elected and unelected
officials have abandoned their most fundamental duty, to ensure the safety
of its citizenry, i.e. protect "national security." The deliberately
unchecked illegal alien invasion has permeated our land with criminals
and untold numbers of possible terrorists. And all the while, young Americans
and innocent Iraqi citizens are still dying every day in "our"
government's self-styled attempt "to keep America safe."
- Speaking of the failure to keep Americans safe, no one
has failed the public trust more outrageously than the folks at the Food
and Drug Administration. There was a time when mainstream news media characterized
the "alleged" unholy alliance between the FDA and Big Drugs as
a kind of conspiracy theory (certainly, most talk of the aspartame epidemic
has always been in this vane). This characterization was abandoned by most
after the very public Vioxx scandal of 2004. Not much can be said in defense
of the FDA when someone like Dr. Richard Horton, editor of the medical
journal The Lancet, writes, "...with Vioxx, Merck and the FDA acted
out of ruthless, short-sighted, and irresponsible self-interest."
And it is because of this "ruthless self-interest" that our grocery
stores and our pharmacies are latent with brain damaging, cancer causing
and otherwise deadly chemicals that have poisoned and possibly killed untold
millions. Any talk of personal freedom in our nation is irrelevant when
"our" government actively prevents us from knowing what we are
putting into our own bodies!
- If my point isn't clear to you, let me sum it up as neatly
as possible: any person who follows the seemingly normal, mainstream American
Way of Life is heading down a path toward devastation and death. A child
in the U.S. whose well-meaning parents simply do what is currently considered
acceptable -- send him to a public school (where he'll learn nothing and
likely be feasted upon by bullies), feed him an All-American diet consisting
of the "four food groups," diet soda, and fluoridated water,
take him to a church where he'll be told that he's going to hell, feed
him his doctor prescribed ADHD medications, and plop him in front of the
TV for his daily "entertainment" -- is condemning the child to
a lifetime of agony. Premature death is of course also possible, and in
some instances, this may actually be a mercy.
- If I seem angry, I insist that I'm not. I abandoned anger
years ago because it is inherently futile, impotent, and feeds the anger
of others. But I am exasperated and offended, because many of the solutions
to our collective miseries seem so obvious. In my opinion (and the opinion
of many naturalistic health experts) most of our national health epidemics
-- obesity, heart disease, cancer, depression, addiction, and even criminal
violence -- could be virtually eradicated through simple nutritional changes.
In the hit documentary film "Super Size Me," director Morgan
Spurlock presented the eye-opening case of an alternative high school that
all but eliminated the problem students' behavioral difficulties through
improved diet and exercise.
- When the school (Appleton Central Alternative Charter
High School) first opened, the only "nutrition" available to
students was typical vending machine snacks and beverages. When the school
staff noticed an apparent connection between the kids' poor nutrition and
their behavior problems, they chose to develop a relationship with Natural
Ovens Bakery, a producer of foods and beverages free of preservatives,
partially-hydrogenated fats, dough conditioners and bromated flour. They
began offering students a healthy breakfast and lunch, while simultaneously
removing all vending machines and replacing them with water coolers. Additionally,
the students were encouraged to exercise, gaining access to fitness equipment
and YMCA passes. The result: a reported marked improvement in student behavior
and performance. (A case study on this nutrition and wellness program can
be read here: www.greenearthinstitute.org/nutrition/Documents/ ACACaseStudyFinalVersion.doc)
- So why doesn't EVERY school implement the changes that
apparently worked so well for the Appleton school? As with many things
in life, the answer is simple: the vast majority of schools feel dependent
on revenue from the sales of lunches, snacks, and beverages that have no
- Of course, if Washington lawmakers had any real integrity
or consciousness, they would find a way to mandate the national implementation
of similar nutritional and exercise programs in all public schools. But
they won't, because the big food and beverage companies have billions at
their disposal to employ high-powered lobbyists. And some lawmakers may
even think they're doing the right thing. I suspect that in what passes
for President Bush's mind, growth for companies like Coca Cola and MacDonald's
is wonderful for America. Our economy is ALL about growth -- if a company
earns billions of dollars in revenue, fattens its stockholders, employs
a gazillion low-wage workers who otherwise might be jobless and homeless,
and sends the government a king's ransom in taxes, in one sense they are
causing the economy to grow. But if the product from which they make a
fortune is sickening and killing people, the long-term economic cost will
be catastrophic (as demonstrated by the burdens the obesity, heart disease,
and cancer epidemics have placed on our health care system). And no dollar
figure can measure the cost to human life.
- Did I state just a moment ago that I'm not angry? OK,
I take that back. I feel myself surrendering to an impotent rage because
I think all this misery is so unnecessary. From my perspective, the lives
we are living are not "normal," they are aberrations of nature.
Our favorite national pastime in the 21st century is not outdoor recreation
or reading or gardening or painting or any activity that could reasonably
be described as constructive to life. It is vicarious titillation and ego
empowerment through celebrities on television. We have all succumbed to
this shared illusion at some point in our lives. And if that's not collective
insanity, I don't know what is.
- Trudging through a suburban social mecca like a shopping
mall, a movie theater, or (God forbid) a sports bar, I feel little or not
possibility of connection with my fellow humans. We are so contracted into
our personal hells that we can barely look each other in the eye anymore.
Most of us are so diminished by the toil of work (generally with too-low
pay and no sense of meaning), our unhealthy lifestyles (no exercise, poor
nutrition), the weight of familial responsibilities, no sense of community,
the mind-numbing effects of electronic "communication" and entertainment,
and the total deprivation of beauty in the surrounding culture that we
feel unable to extend to one another a bridge to fellowship.
- Of course Anna-Nicole Smith fascinates us. To focus our
attention on something good and meaningful might remind us of the void
where our souls used to be.
- But please forgive my anger, because I don't wish to
inspire it in others. I wish to inspire the only action for which (in my
opinion) there remains any reasonable justification. And that is to walk
away. Let our cultural machine die its natural and inevitable death and
refuse to let it claim you as another casualty.
- How does one walk away from this machine? Obviously,
the degree to which one is prepared to remove oneself from mainstream culture
varies from person to person. It is no secret that many people have successfully
abdicated the mainstream existence, selling most of their personal assets,
quitting their jobs, moving themselves and their families to secluded natural
environments, home schooling their kids, and sustaining themselves through
private business (such as private farming). Increasing numbers of Americans
are also exploring eco-communities and co-housing projects that exist completely
off the grid, and live entirely on their own organically grown foods. These
actions may seem too extreme and/or infeasible to many, but everyone can
take steps to protect themselves and their loved ones from the cultural
- In my case, I have amputated myself from the cultural
machinery to the absolute best of my ability. I watch virtually no television
(I would watch ZERO if I did not live with a person who still occasionally
enjoys it), I eat a diet that is almost 100% organic (a task nowhere near
as difficult or costly as I had once believed), I no longer buy tickets
to Hollywood movies shown at multiplexes (the flicks are mostly soul-poisoning
garbage, and the theaters earn most of their revenue from sales of junk
food and junk beverages), I am vigilant to contribute NO money to the companies
that I believe inflict suffering and death on innocent people, and I earn
money (not a lot, but enough) from creative endeavors that I believe will
contribute in some way to the betterment of humanity.
- And perhaps most importantly, I abstain from unprotected
sex, and will not consider having a family unless or until I am no longer
a citizen of the United States. I am sorry if that resonates as "un-American,"
but even disregarding overpopulation, I cannot imagine a more reckless
act of negligence than bringing another soul into this unending nightmare.
- The cultural machine generates our nightmare, but we
will not awaken by raging against it or fighting it with force. It's irrational
to hate a machine but one should certainly be wary of it, because it can
maim and kill when it spins out of control. Just bid it adieu and WALK
AWAY. Turn to it your back, shun it, and you won't even hear its faint
sputtering and death rattle as its pointless existence winds to an inglorious