Tom Wolfe labeled the 1970s the “Me Decade,” but Tom was a tad early. The `70s seem a prim, modest decade compared to our current ego-on-steroids decade. We appear to be knee-deep in the Me Century, in which every man is, if not yet king, an expert, a singer, a writer, an artist, possibly soon a self-appointed doctor or lawyer.
There is a common link among several major phenomena of our time–reality TV shows, blogs, Wikipedia experts, cell phones and Time’s 2006 person of the year: “You.”
Everyone now reigns over a kingdom of one. It is democracy run amok and on speed, The American Way gone batty. This is the era of non-stop babble–spoken, written and sung–where anyone can call himself an authority on anything and have it recorded and accepted on the Internet, and where instant fame awaits us all. Take a number.
Mort Sahl predicted 30 years ago that some day everybody would have his own talk show, and that time is now, as mediocre attorneys, judges, cooks and radio announcers star in their own cable TV or satellite radio shows. Andy Warhol’s famed 15 minutes of fame for everybody is today very old news.
“American Idol,” which makes “The Gong Show” look like Juilliard auditions, is watched by 37 million people each week, and what are they watching? Hopeless losers praying to be transformed into overnight winners, happy to be humiliated from coast to coast for five minutes on TV and a shot at success. For them, and for reality TV kick-me contestants, just being on TV is success. In reality-TV time, a month equals posterity.
There are Americans who would literally shoot themselves in the foot, or maybe even the head, if it got them on TV for two minutes. Witness John Karr, who hinted that he killed JonBenet Ramsay, so desperate was he for the thrill of the limelight even if it meant execution. O.J. Simpson, hungry for yet more media attention, virtually confessed to murdering his ex-wife and her friend. The payoff–a TV special, a book deal–was well worth universal disgust, the same urge that drives “Survivor” wannabes.
And if a fake memoir will get you on Oprah–hey, why not? It’s just a book, the new ticket to TV fame, however deranged or damaged. A book, once a badge of honor, is but an entrée to TV. Nobody reads books, they just want to write one. Words that are actually edited and published between covers are suspect. Newspapers, once the main source of daily information, are themselves yesterday’s news, desperate to succeed online and join the endless parade of electronic blather. Newspapers run blogs with, or as, news. Real news is slanted, suspect, for geezers only. Forget the printed word, ladies and gentlemen. Forget the world. Extra! Extra! Read all about me in The Daily Jerry!
Cell phones and blogs give people with no other discernible identity the feeling that they must be in contact with everyone 24 hours a day–that their every movement and thought demands to be instantly transmitted, no matter how dumb or dreary; and that they are indispensable beings–with their very own ring tones (audio tattoos).
Cells have turned every dishwasher into a busy mogul working the phones (“Let me get back to you, Ma. I got two other calls ahead of you.”) The cell phone was a nice convenience that suddenly turned into an annoying toy and then a tyranny, like bifocals becoming surveillance devices.
Blogs are literary karaoke bars where you get to indulge in every passing thought or whim, however bland, and send it into the world, naked, devoid of purpose, let alone interest. Look at me! Listen up! I am woman with a cursor, hear me gabble!
Blah-blah-blah-blog. It’s all part of the new Me-dia Age.
Talk today is not just cheap, it’s nearly bankrupt. Pre-cell phones, a telephone call had a clear purpose–to communicate some vital, or at least semi-important or interesting, scrap of information. In today’s cellular cacophony, a call is one notch above breathing for many, teenagers certainly, as folks meander the streets chattering into thin air, as if to themselves, confirming their place in the universe by notifying us where they are and what they’re doing or thinking. Hi, it’s me, Sally–I’m alive! Pretty neat, huh?
The almost hourly upgrading of cell phone technology has crept into other formerly humdrum areas, like snapshots and videos, where each treasured moment now must be transcribed for posterity. Look, there’s Kathy doing her nails! What a hoot! And, omigod, here’s another moment for the ages: Uncle Fred eating a tuna sandwich! Cool.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here