Tonight, as I write this weblog, tens of millions of Americans, joined by millions more people around the world, are firmly seated in front of their televisions watching the much vaunted finale of “American Idol”. I know this only because every major mainstream news website has been blaring that fact as a headline for the past two or three days, and that phenomenon made me think.
That phenomenon made me wonder if it is possible that we live in a society that is no longer rooted in reality anymore. Instead, we are rooted in a world of entertainment, commercials, and sound and video bites, most of which are completely divorced from our day-to-day lives. The fantasy and the real become blurred into an experience that is neither real nor relevant to the times in which we live.
Consider this: we live in a society that sees everything though the lens of TV, radio, and the internet. How many of the headlines on a normal newscast have any relevance to most of the Americans seeing or hearing them? Instead, the images of war, pestilence, and famine blend together with commercials for toothpaste and amateurs-become-celebrities who are trying to make it big on reality TV. When we turn the TV off, the real disappears just as quickly as the fake, tying it all together into one never ending cycled of “Are we being entertained?”
As a result, the issues facing America- illegal immigration, border security, the rise of Islamic fundamentalist driven terrorism, rouge nations trying to build nukes- become just as surreal as some unknown singer becoming the next big label hit on the morning commute radio station. The unreality of world events do not translate into day-to-day life because they are outside the scope of anything most Americans know.
This truth is reflected in how Americans respond to events that lie outside of the scope of their experience. How do average Americans react to violence, terror, and natural disasters? Most of the time, they are completely unprepared to deal with these events simply because their only reference point is what they have seen on TV. On TV, the government always comes to the rescue and saves everyone just in the nick of time. On TV, the favorite wins, the good guys get the bad guys, and no one suffers the consequences of their actions unless they were bad.
Realty, however, is a far more unforgiving place. Realty does not care who is favored to become the next “American Idol”. Reality does not care that Americans do not care. Reality is that the world is a violent, uncultured place, filled with people, groups, and nations trying to force their will on each other and kill those who do not succumb. In reality, the only ones who survive are the ones who stand up for themselves and their way of doing things in the face of all the others who want a different way.
Unfortunately, tens of millions of Americans are rooted in front of their TVs as Osama bin Laden plans new terrorism around the world, as Iran races to acquire and build nuclear weapons, and as Iraq struggles to become the first truly democratic nation in the Middle East. Yet, these truths seem like another TV show to most of those Americans sitting in front of their TVs, a show most of them do not want to watch. They say, at least by their persistent inaction, that such problems are someone else’s. Let the government handle them.
What they fail to realize, as they are entertained by the mesmerizing lure of the TV, is that they are the government. America is a nation whose government is of, by, and for the people. If the people do not care, then what of their government? As a result, no one is really doing anything about anything. Tens of millions of Americans sit in front of their TVs as America’s enemies take that time to come that much closer to toppling America from its peak.
The sad fact is that, in the end, these same tens of millions of Americans will wonder what has happened to their freedom only after it is gone. Only after a terrorist attack, after a deadly enemy possesses the greatest weapon known to man, only after America’s name has been tarnished for generations because it let a nation it help build fail because of its own apathy, will these Americans demand that something should be done. Then, they will sit in front of those same TVs and watch, they hope, someone else do it.