The Evolution of the Culture of Stupidity

culture of stupidity
The Culture of Stupidity

I’ve never thought of Craig Ferguson, host of CBS’ The Late Late Show, as a wise philosopher, but one night he stepped out of his role as Comic and became a Social Commentator in a bit called “Why Everything Sucks”. He spoke on a topic that has concerned and bewildered me: the reluctance or refusal of young people in our society to make the leap into adulthood. Many, if not most, of today’s young people (say, 45-and-under) are firmly entrenched in never-ending adolescence.

When I was a teenager, in the ‘50s, we wanted to be grown-up. We wanted to assume our place in adult society. So far as I know, that’s how it’s always been, in every culture, everywhere on earth. It’s the natural order of things. It’s not always an easy transition, but it was one we were eager to make. I wondered why and how this natural order had changed so drastically. I had discussed the phenomenon with friends but had no answers . . . until Craig Ferguson explained it.

I often feel that the world has left me behind. Sure, I’m an old woman, and older people have probably always felt this way as fashions changed and new inventions and activities and styles of music came along. But this is different. Our entire culture has become so youth-worshiping that we adults feel as if we’ve somehow been transported onto an alien planet. Everything is for kids.

harrys law photoA couple of years ago, Harry’s Law was one of the few TV programs I bothered to watch. Its main character, Attorney Harriet Korn, played by Kathy Bates, was unapologetically in her 60s. She didn’t try to look 20, and she wasn’t a brainless flibbertigibbet. Harry’s Law served up intelligent plots, characters and dialogue. It was a really good show, which was reflected in its viewership — 7-11 million a week. But it was cancelled after the second season. Do you know why? Because its appeal was to an older audience. Older than 50, that is. Despite high ratings, the sponsors dumped it to make room for a show that attracted people in their teens, 20s, and 30s.

I was stunned and outraged. Do they think people over 50 don’t buy things? Do they not know that seniors are the fastest growing segment of the population?

On the other hand, Two-and-a-Half Men is now in its 11th year, and will probably continue on for many more. Its characters are idiots whose only ambitions are getting drunk, getting laid, and dodging responsibility. Even the main characters’ mother is a slutty lush. The younger women are bimbos — strictly sex objects. The “half-a-man” — Jake – is over-exposed to the immoral and irresponsible ways of the men in his life. The show’s only more-or-less adult character is the housekeeper, who enables the others in being adolescent imbeciles. Two-and-a Half Men is well-written, so it’s entertaining and amusing. But its message, so far as I can tell, is, “Avoid growing up, at all costs.”

And what about shows like Jackass? Their targeted audience seems to be 5th grade boys. The Office is a little better; its intended audience is maybe high school-level.

Virtually everything on TV is for and about kids, teens, and young adults. The storylines and characters are stupid-silly. A fair number of shows — like Jackass – are on a 4th-or-5th grade level. The characters are chronologically adults, but seem to have the mentality of 5th graders and the sexuality and moral compass of horny 10-graders – horny 10th graders with no parental or societal restraints.

PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) does a much better job, with shows like Downton Abbey and Masterpiece Theatre, probably because it doesn’t have to worry about commercial sponsors. One can’t help noticing, however, that its best programs are British productions. Is there a reason for that?

Movies are equally kid-oriented. A couple of nights ago I forced myself to watch one called Ted. I was told by folks (in their late 40s and early 50s), “It’s laugh-out-loud funny. You’ll enjoy it.” I didn’t. It’s a perfect example of

The Culture of Stupidity
Teddy Bear

the prolonged adolescence or even pre-adolescence extant in today’s society. The narrator starts off with, “It has been said there’s nothing more powerful than a young boy’s wish … but eventually everyone grows up.” Well, in this film, they didn’t. John, its principle character, in his late 20s or early 30s, whose best friend is a teddy bear – yes, a teddy bear! — has a going-nowhere job and a long-time girlfriend but no intention of committing. He gets drunk and/or high every chance he gets, ditches his girlfriend to hang out with a comic book character he idolized as a child. Three or four fart scenes liven things up, in case the plot veered away from ultra-childish. (Fart jokes = 3rd grade humor.) In the last three minutes of the movie, John begins to get a clue, but only because his girlfriend dumped him and his teddy bear “died”. Unbelievably, the girlfriend takes him back – no consequences for his bad behavior – and the story has a happy ending. (I have no confidence that his new-found maturity will last.) The other 141 minutes of this interminable movie are all about the asinine excesses of adolescence. What have we come to?

There are a few exceptions, such as foreign films — The King’s Speech (British) — and films that are independently financed and produced. Major U.S. movie studios won’t make a movie that doesn’t constantly explode with special effects and/or have a theme that appeals to adolescents. However, most of these shows have R or X ratings, due to “adult content”, i.e. sex, drugs, and prodigious profanity, so they’re not really for kids; they’re for adults who haven’t grown up.

A good story, good direction, and good acting are no longer enough. Everything must appeal to the youth culture.

Today’s music is, by and large, for kids, too. I confess, I can’t give any examples (because I cannot force myself to listen to it), except to say that Rap is at the top of the list, with its slams and disses and curses. No adult behavior there. There are exceptions, but over-all, the U.S. music scene is pretty awful.

We’re on a slippery slope. It keeps getting more and more stupid and more and more degrading. It’s as if the stupider the media (films, TV and music) get, the stupider the culture becomes, and then the stupider the media gets, and down and down we go.

I’m not saying that everyone under 50 is inappropriate or stuck in pre-adolescence. But on a societal level, this phenomenon is pervasive. And I’ve noticed that even the adults in that age group who hold very responsible jobs and have good family lives have been enculturated into thinking childish humor and childish behaviors are normal. Guess what; that is the new normal. Normally, with adulthood come restraints – a built-in filter that tells us what’s okay and what’s not. That filter seems to be missing in these “adults”. We now live in a culture that, in Ferguson’s words, “deifies imbecility”.

Another example of this new normal is stuff spawned by the internet. Anyone can post anything and access anything on the internet, and they do.[1] There are no restraints and a lot of people take full advantage. It’s perfect for “adolescents” — they can be as naughty as they want and (mostly) suffer no consequences. (While doing research for my new coming-of-age novel, I Googled “teens” and was flabbergasted – and seriously dismayed — at what came up: pornography sites by the dozens; really gross, vile porn sites. Is this what it means to be a teenager in the era of the culture of stupidity?)

In particular, however, I’m speaking of “prank videos” in which someone sets up an elaborate, often dangerous, “practical joke”, designed to embarrass and/or humiliate the victim, and then films it to be broadcast on You Tube. This is, pure and simple, middle school and high school humor; it’s funny if you’re emotionally immature. The cruder, more embarrassing, and more dangerous it is, the more hilarious it is to our 30-, 40-, and 50-year-old teenagers.

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

The trend addressed by Ferguson is epitomized in the slogan of a U.S.- based international toy store chain: “I don’t wanna grow up; I’m a Toys-‘R’-Us kid.”

The Culture of Stupidity
Craig Ferguson, Host of Late Late Show

According to Craig Ferguson, the youth culture all started on Madison Avenue, the advertising capital of the western world, back in the mid-to-late ‘50s and early ‘60s. The advertising geniuses reasoned that by targeting the youth audience, young people would buy their brand and continue to buy it the rest of their lives. So advertisers would sponsor shows that appealed to young people. They pitched their idea to record companies and movie and TV studio executives, and it made sense to them, so they went along with the scheme. It all started innocently enough. Who knew what its unintended consequences would be?

For the first time, records specifically for teenagers were produced: 16 Candles. Teen Angel. A Teenager’s Romance. Movies like Where the Boys Are, Beach Party and Gidget are early examples. Shows such as The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, Lost in Space, and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, showed up on our TV screens — all aimed at pre-teens, teens and barely-post-teens.

Over the next 50-or-so years, films, TV shows and popular music became more and more youth-targeted, until now we have the situation that Craig Ferguson so brilliantly describes in “Why Everything Sucks.” He explains how it changed our culture. (Link to video at bottom.)

He says, “Youth became more important, and became more important, and became more important, and society started to turn on its head … The bi-product of youth is inexperience. By the nature of having youth, you don’t have any experience. It’s not your fault, but you’re youth, so you’re young. And you’re kinda stupid.”

In my opinion, we saw the first real effects in the ’60s and ’70s — 15 years into Madison Avenue’s veneration-of-youth campaign — with the “Generation Gap”; the “Counterculture”; the “Flower Children.” Their slogans (among others) were: “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” and “If it feels good, do it.”

Scared Not to be Young

Ferguson goes on to say, “So it became fashionable and desirable to be young and stupid. And it started to be a fashion that grew and grew, and now that’s all the kids want to be … young and stupid.” So now we have people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who “… don’t wanna grow up.” He talks about how aging has become so abhorrent that they’re scared “not to be young”

A great deal has been written about Baby Boomers – those born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964. Their most forceful drive seems to be never to get old; eternal youth; be forever young.  Oh, they want to live a long time, but they don’t want it to show. No wrinkles or gray hair or saggy boobs or flabby muscles. Ever. Whole new industries based on “Anti-Aging” have sprung up: lotions and potions and salves and creams and surgeries and gyms and workout equipment and personal fitness trainers, and . . . the list goes on. Boomers are willing to do whatever it takes to stay young.

The Culture of Stupidity
Anti-Aging Products

He says, “They didn’t want to get older, so they started dying their hair, and they started mutilating their faces and their bodies …” Pre-Baby Boomers are susceptible to these same societal pressures. Nobody wants to be old. We’re all in on this culture of stupidity to some extent.

Another example of perennial adolescence: many people want children but aren’t willing to be parents. They want to be their child’s playmate and best friend. They say, “I want my children to have a happy childhood.” And, “I want my children to love me.” Translation: Being a parent requires being a grown-up. I’m a Toys-“R”-Us Kid. They want their kids to think they’re cool, so they’re afraid to discipline them. That’s just plain stupid!

Now we have the next generation — Post-Boomers — who insist upon being treated like grown-ups, but hang onto their adolescent ways. In many cases, they aren’t willing to move out of the comfort and convenience of their parents’ house. Many who did move out moved back ASAP. And the parents don’t say no because they’re scared the kid won’t love them. And many young people who are out on their own think they’re somehow entitled – right now! — to all the things their parents worked and saved for over many years. An obvious characteristic of children is their demand for instant gratification, while grown-ups can wait for and earn their rewards.

We now have two or three generations who (by and large) haven’t grown up and aren’t growing up: “Generations X, Y and Z”. They’ve been been called the “ME Generation”. The motto of any child is, “I want what I want when I want it.” That describes so many of our juvenile adults.

This brings me to the subject of drugs, a complex topic, and a significant element of the Culture of Stupidity. Tragically, just this last weekend, three young people died of overdoses of “Molly”, a.k.a Ecstacy: two at a rock concert in New York, and one in

The Culture of Stupidity
Rock Concert

Boston. The omnipresence of drugs and the lack of restraint regarding them is terrifying. Young people know the danger; they’ve heard it at school, at home, at church, and everywhere else since Kindergarten. Yet huge numbers of them disregard all warnings and pop a pill, or more, as casually as if it were a Cherry Life-Saver, often washing it down with alcohol. And sometimes, like last weekend, they end up in the morgue. What were they thinking? That’s the problem. They weren’t. They were just being young and stupid, which, according to Craig Ferguson, is what we have come to value.

A search on Google and Yahoo turns up tons of items referring to the glamorization of drugs in popular songs, movies and TV. At the very least, the constant stream of depictions of drug use on these media tends to normalize it, making it “No big deal.” It’s like, “Everybody does it.” And that seems to be true. It’s everywhere. If everyone around you is doing it, and it is constantly reinforced by everything you watch and listen to, chances are, you will too – if you’re emotionally an adolescent.

As Craig Ferguson says, “The deification of youth kind of evolved and turned into the deification of imbecility.”

That’s what I call the “culture of stupidity”. All this has brought about the “dumbing down” of America. Our schools, which used to be excellent, are now pitiful. We’ve gotten “stupider and stupider”.

Ferguson claims it all started with a simple idea out of Madison Avenue. Through the ubiquitous entertainment media it spread in insidious, incremental steps — drip, drip, drip – until ultimately it enveloped us like a blanket of fog. We didn’t notice as our culture changed – and we changed with it.

That’s where we are. The movies and TV shows and songs, which reflect the Culture of Stupidity into which we have devolved, are the very instruments that brought it about in the first place. Both Cause and Effect. The natural order is upside down. And it’s all about selling us stuff.

Can we find our way back?

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Watch “Why Everything Sucks,” by Craig Ferguson at:

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Note: This film clip was first aired about three years ago. I just discovered it and felt compelled to comment on it.
If you would like a transcript of the Why Everything Sucks video, CLICK HERE:

[1] The exception: Parental controls can be installed for actual adolescents and pre-adolescents.

 

 

 

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