Ayn Rand was Right.

I think most people go through life paying attention to their own specific interests, all the while blotting out what’s happening around them. They only wake up when something dramatic happens, or when it’s too late to do something about whatever it is that’s suddenly captured their attention.

9/11 is a case in point.

Aside from CIA, FBI, and NSA people, most people living in the pre-9/11 world had no concept of the danger we face from Islamic fascism.

That’s human nature, I suppose. We tune out most things that happen around us, because, frankly, we just don’t have the bandwidth. But that’s a dangerous habit when it comes to personal safety/homeland security. I’ve also come to believe that it’s equally dangerous when it comes to society and culture – specifically pop culture.

When we don’t have some single, tectonic event that causes us to sit up and take notice, our reactions are rather like the anecdote regarding how to cook a frog. If you’ll recall, when you want to cook a frog, you don’t start with a pot of boiling water and then drop the frog in. He’ll detect the danger, and hop out. No, you put the frog in a pot of room temperature water, and turn the fire on low. As the water slowly heats to a boil, the frog remains blissfully unaware of his impending doom.

This week, as I was busy not paying much attention to society around me, a couple of seemingly innocuous things happened, and it suddenly occurred to me that the water all around is is starting to get hot. To wit:

  • I saw a promo for The Late Show with David Letterman, where Dave was welcoming his guest, Ludacriss.
  • A promo for the upcoming season of American Idol showed a girl with a killer body (in a bikini, natch) and a voice that could strip paint. Said wench was somehow “miraculously” green-lighted to go on to the next round.
  • Mrs. Digital and I watched M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening.

Seems like a bunch of harmless pop culture non-events, doesn’t it?

Let’s take them one at a time. How many truly talented, interesting people can you name? I know I can come up with hundreds – maybe even thousands. Even if you limit the discussion to a particular field – acting, music, art, whatever – I could still name hundreds of people that are worth my time to hear what they have to say. These are people who have worked hard to learn their craft, paid their dues coming up from obscure nobody to recognized talent, and generally have more than one interest/skill/talent. And yet, Letterman chooses to use precious minutes on national television to interview somebody like Ludacriss. If you’re not familiar with this rap “star” (now there’s a word that has been devalued for you) he’s got a triple-platinum album of rap “music” that traffics to lewd sexuality and foul language. I wondered, how a guy like Ludacriss made it big, and was worthy of a slot on Letterman, when I could think of so many others would had actually accomplished something important, and that would be interesting to watch. Who makes the decisions to put some hack like Ludacriss on network TV, and laud and praise him? In the promo, Letterman acted as if it was some great honor to have Ludacriss on his show. In my book, it takes little talent to posture and pose, curse, and talk about sex in crude terms.

Take American Idol. In my previous life as a music teacher, I became adept at spotting talent a mile away. There are different kinds of talent. There’s the kind of talent that enables someone to play an instrument well, or sing well. There’s the talent for self-promotion, (think: Madonna) which can actually allow someone to transcend a lack of musical talent or acting ability (think: Madonna) and become successful in spite of that deficit. Ostensibly, American Idol is supposed to be all about finding real talent. It’s supposed to cull out the pretenders from the ones that can actually have a sustainable career (as opposed to a one-hit wonder) and promote the truly talented over the talentless hacks. It’s obvious, from the latest Idol promo that idea has apparently gone completely out the window, if it ever actually existed.

I’ve seen almost every M. Night Shyamalan movie. I thought The Sixth Sense and The Village were brilliant. Unbreakable was clever and though-provoking. Each movie took a central thematic question and explored it in an intelligent manner. And then was The Happening, where Shyamalan explores (plot spoiler here) how fauna across the Eastern seaboard suddenly decides to attack mankind for their “sins” of “destroying the planet” and mutates in such a way as to produce a neurotoxin that causes people to kill themselves. I wasted an evening on this movie which turned out to be a sort of “War of the Worlds, the Greenpeace edition.” To say that I was disappointed in spending time on a movie, only to learn in the last reel that it was yet again another attempt by Hollywood to force-feed us more global climate change crap.

I have come to believe that either by design or by manufactured consent (thank you Noam Chomsky), there is a clear agenda to promote mediocrity and a Liberal/Progressive agenda. I doubt that there’s some liberal version of the Trilateral Commission or the Illuminati that are calling the shots – however there are factors at work that sometimes make it seem so. For instance, I think that Hollywood and the music industry have figured out that they can promote someone with no talent every bit as easily as someone that has talent. Why do it? Because the talentless can be easily replaced. Those with talent are harder to ditch when they don’t stick to the party line. In addition, promoting the talentless helps feed the insatiable appetite of the age of 500 satellite channels/Internet/satradio. Hollywood has become a sort of sycophantic mutual admiration society, where directors and studios make movies to impress each other with their very earnest attempts to out-Liberal each other. They are highly insulted when said efforts fail to impress us yokels here in flyover country. Now, Hollywood is all about making a buck, too. You’d think that this factor alone would be enough to temper their enthusiasm for making product that people don’t care to watch. You’d be wrong, because we have people like Letterman, Leno, and Company to tell everyone that bad is good, good is unremarkable, and that groupthink is the only kind of thinking we need do.

The problem here is that we are floating in the pot of pop culture, completely unaware that the societal water is coming to a boil. Our media is held in the thrall of men like Ayn Rand’s antagonist in The Fountainhead, Ellsworth M. Toohey, men dedicated to destroying talent, promoting dreck, with the goal of making everthing mediocre.

There’s a solution to this problem. It’s called “critical thinking.” We have to move from what the late, great Col. Jeff Cooper (father of the Modern Technique for handguns) calls “Condition White” to “Condition Yellow” – essentially “situationally aware” so that our societal radar detects what’s really going on, instead of sleeping through the constant chipping away of our values and morals. We have to be aware of everything, and when we find something objectionable, we need to raise a ruckus. It’s that, or one day we’ll realize that our culture – and our society – no longer exists, and we have nobody but ourselves to thank. As Joe Bob Briggs (the Drive-In Movie Theatre Critic of Grapevine, Texas) says, “Without eternal vigilance, it can happen here.”

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