*Last week I covered the main political and economic issues that I believe are stumbling blocks to this country’s continued progression. Here are the social and cultural issues.
Cultural – The cultural phenomenon that is most distasteful is the proliferation of reality television archetypes. It seems like in the quest for viewers television producers are content to cast people who portray stereotypes.
Let me explain.
Most stories are told with characters who exist only to advance the plot. So only one aspect of the character is exposed to the audience; they are shallow. By contrast real people are supposed to have depth and exist beyond plot structure. Reality television shows claim to depict real life but are edited and produced to eliminate the things that make real people more than characters in a story.
These shows cast people that fulfill, or can easily be portrayed to fulfill, certain necessary characters. Each show has someone that is overly aggressive toward their cast mates; each show has a few people who do not get along and would probably never have to see one another if not for show tapings; each show has a character who is making a life transformation (that somehow has been completed by the end of the season); each show has someone who is out of control and needs an intervention. The way these products are filmed, visually edited and audibly edited would give you the impression that “Jane” is one drink away from the Betty Ford Clinic and “John” is starting a real candle making business. Furthermore cast members are all in the running for their own reality series which leads them to emphasize certain personality traits essentially helping to turn themselves into one dimensional characters.
I can understand that television producers and the stations they work for want the maximum amount of viewers for at the lowest cost. So I am hard pressed to see a way that this trend goes away. These folks are basically regular people who can’t command high salaries, and the show saves money in writing and directing. But the flipside is this is the new picture of success that folks strive for. And this type of success is not sustainable and offers nothing to the rest of society. Also this kind of success does not take talent so it doesn’t inspire anyone to work on themselves to achieve it. Quite the opposite, it encourages people to develop no skill so they can be better depicted as a cartoon.
Social – The biggest challenge in American society right now is allowing full citizenship privileges and civil liberties for homosexuals. The latest biggest test case is the career of Michael Sam.
Sam is a gay football player from the University of Missouri who is potentially entering the NFL. Sam was a lynchpin for the defenses of a highly ranked and successful team from what is supposed to be the strongest conference in college football. He was recognized as one of the two best defensive players in the conference last season. And yet teams seem to have him ranked as a fair prospect.
I don’t pretend to have expertise in evaluating potential professional football players. And Sam didn’t light the world on fire at the NFL Scouting Combine (basically a massive job fair) last week. But here are two things I do know that give me pause. Just one year ago Manti Teo was a highly touted defensive player on a successful team that underwhelmed at the Combine after an off the field issue. Teo was drafted at the end of the first round of a seven round draft; Sam is rated as third or fourth round pick. The Defensive Player of the Year in the SEC (the University of Missouri’s conference affiliation) has been a first round pick in something like seven of the last eight years; yet Sam is ranked as a third or fourth round pick.
Even if Sam is not a can’t miss player, he still has a can’t miss skill (pass rushing) that is in high demand and NFL decision makers have gone out on a limb before – frequently gone out on a limb – to grab players of questionable talent and attitude. There are draft busts specifically because of their risk taking. As was the case with Tim Tebow it only takes one person to convince themselves that the prospect is worth taking. But with Sam it looks as if everyone has convinced themselves he isn’t worth the risk. Perhaps if I were running a team on the verge of being really good for a decade, but with a tenuous locker room culture, I wouldn’t draft Sam either. Perhaps his presence would upset whatever balance exists on our roster.
But then that would be the point, right? If the players on my team can’t handle Sam then our society isn’t where it should be, right? The NFL and some personnel people have said that if Sam can play he will get on a team. And at the end of the day I probably believe them. But it is peculiar that with so many positives on his resume and with the history of teams reaching in their drafts, that Sam is ranked as a third or fourth round pick.
Of course I started this two part column by saying I don’t like it when pundits express undue alarm about the state of American society so let me reassert that isn’t my point. The country will not implode if Sam isn’t drafted; the sun will rise again even when the Reality Channel (it must be coming soon, right?) gets created and shows nothing but significant other shows (Housewives, Mob Wives, Basketball Wives, Hip Hop Wives, Husbands, and there was a commercial for a show in Tennessee in this vein I saw recently); nor would privatization and political polarization be the end of our society.
But any and all of these things will help us remain stagnant.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.