Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Culture Crisis in America (According to Our Media)

Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech...Thousands flocked to the National Mall in Washington D.C. to celebrate this monumental event in our nation's history.  Thankfully, in terms of race relations and equality, we are certainly better off today than we were fifty years ago, (though some current events may indicate otherwise).  Yet, I wonder what Martin Luther King Jr. would think about America today.  What would he say about our nation's current character barometer? Are we better off in terms of cultural advancement, national stability, peace, and prosperity?

In some ways, perhaps yes...but in others, sadly, I do not think so.

What is happening in America? Why is our nation becoming a landfill of ugly behavior, devoid of any respect for human life and an irreverence for the blessings that come with it?  At least, this is the picture of America the media (sadly) portrays.

Not to get all preachy or Bill O'Reilly (at the risk of sounding righteous or prudish, of which I am neither), but seriously, is it not embarrassing to witness such evolution during our journey into the 21st Century?  Please bear with the dark/depressing nature of this post....I know I may sound like a cliche-spouting old fart, but I just have to get this off my chest...

First, let me say that I fully recognize that our media sensationalizes dramatic and extreme events, often over-reporting the bad and under-reporting the good.  There are plenty of inspiring and encouraging stories of heroes, good Samaritans, positive role models, and good people in America.  I am certain of this reality because such people happen to be family, friends, neighbors, and relatives.  I am equally thankful and proud to live in this country for countless reasons.

Yet, I can't help but feel outrage over recent media/news reports highlighting an erosion of culture in America....from the ridiculous near X-rated MTV performance by once-upon-a-time-Disney-sweetheart Miley Cyrus to the seemingly random acts of violence.  Who are our children looking up to? Our little girls are bombarded with media and marketing images, clothing, and products of over-sexualized, over-materialized Barbies, pop-stars, and princesses.  Our boys are bombarded with increasingly aggressive/violent characters, shows, and video games.

There exists a hyper-competitiveness when it comes to materialism, academics, athletics, and other extracurricular performances and achievements, while we are increasingly apathetic to character development, good citizenship, empathy for others, and service to the communities in which we live.  At least, this is what I gathered from reading Madeline Levine's interesting book, The Price of Privilege about her work with countless American teens, as a clinical psychologist.

Please note, I am not referring to my experience from the communities in which we have lived in recent years (i.e. Cleveland (OH), Atlanta (GA), Charlotte (NC), Overland Park (KS), Newburyport (MA)).  I have witnessed countless acts of service and good citizenship every day among my neighbors and friends.  I feel lucky to have found such a warm and welcoming community with an environment in which I am thrilled to be raising our family (current town of Rocky River, Ohio).  Rather, I am referring to the vibe of American (media) culture in general.

In addition to the cultural commercialization/media wasteland influencing our youth, shocking and horrific crimes are taking lives of innocent citizens.  Australian collegiate baseball player Christopher Lane was randomly targeted by two teens who were reportedly 'bored' and sought entertainment via killing him, a stranger jogging through a residential neighborhood in Oklahoma.  Next, we hear reports that Delbert Belton, an 88-year old WWII Veteran is brutally beaten to death outside a bar in Spokane, Washington, after a botched robbery attempt.  How ironic and sad that this selfless war veteran risked his life to fight for and defend the same country who later produces a generation of thugs who take his?  Can it get any more appalling or shocking? Don't even get me started on the random shooting rampages on hundreds of innocent children in our schools, the places intended to be the bedrock for the future stability, advancement, and success of our nation? Our news headlines are littered with such stories on a regular basis.

There are various external influences present as much today as in the past, putting our youth at risk: gang warfare, bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as factors outside our control such as mental illness, poverty, discrimination, etc.  Yet, one basic underlying value is deteriorating....our respect for human life, its sanctity, and preciousness.  When you hear these stories, it seems our respect for ourselves and empathy for others has literally gone up in flames.  And our children are suffering the consequences.  

Many say children are becoming desensitized to sex and violence through excessive exposure to video games, shows, and movies.  Some studies show that the more children watch violent scenes play out, the more they believe the world is inherently unsafe, and they are therefore more accepting of violence toward others to resolve conflict.  Others argue such media violence, for example, does not lead to violent behavior.  Rather, they suggest these games, comics, etc., offer a safe outlet for such aggressive impulses.  Interestingly, Japan has a relatively low level of violent crime, yet violent comic book entertainment is a cultural norm.

Some studies have shown the 'Tom & Jerry' effect produces higher levels of aggressive behavior in children who watch this cartoon while other studies have shown the opposite effect....that children are actually MORE calm after watching Tom & Jerry (perhaps vicariously getting their 'crazies' out by watching the crazy antics of this famous cat and mouse duo)...As a side note, I was a big Tom & Jerry fan as a kid, and admittedly let my kids watch it today....but I suspect intangible factors such as context in which it is consumed, a child's predisposition/temperament, family moral/ethical upbringing, and balanced vs excessive exposure are key components in determining the impact on children.   I am not an expert to debate this subject, but I certainly find it intriguing.

Regarding the media frenzy over Miley Cyrus MTV 'twerking' performance (apparently this is a real word), Kardashian ridiculous family drama, reality show 'stars', etc....these are all 'real' people in the spotlight often for bad, embarrassing, and disgraceful behavior.  But, they are giving Americans a bad name.   I fully admit to the guilty-pleasure watching of Real Housewives episodes for the moth-to-a-flame sort of entertainment value.  It is like watching a train is so bad and destructive, but you can't help but watch it play out....

Let's stop wasting our time critiquing these young, likely-just-going-thru-a-phase, attention-seeking pop-stars (Miley Cyrus)... and rather celebrate inspiring, courageous, hard-working people and stories deserving of our time and attention...such as Martin Luther King, Jr.  There are countless others like him, who are wonderful role models for our children.  Let's focus on these people and their uplifting stories instead.

I know our nation can become a better place in which to raise our children.  We owe it to them (and to those who have gone before us, sacrificing so much to give us so many blessings) to make it happen...

My favorite MLK Jr. quotations...

"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope."

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."

"I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education."

"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

ADDENDUM:  It seems I am not the only one in a frenzy over the social culture of our teens today...Talented blogger, Erin Gates, of Elements of Style, put her own eloquent, charming, and humorous spin on this topic in her recent post, "Lets Talk Teenagers"....Enjoy!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I am on the go at the moment, but my name is Tonya (not anonymous :)) Anyway, thanks for posting this. I completely agree! I don't know if I am just being sensitive but I have been in tears over all the sadness, tragedy and loss of hope evident today. I am a mom and I even contemplate if I could move to another country, how I could do it and where. Along with the childish behavior of our leaders and politicians it is depressing. I have to keep being grateful each day and show my children through my own actions and behavior to be hopeful. Sorry this didn't sound more eloquent but I am speaking off the cuff and probably with too much emotion right now.

    Thanks again!