Commentary on Modern Western Civilization

Read this commentary today and thot it was interesting:

Subject: FW: The Academy Awards: When court jesters become kings

Arguably, the biggest problem in American culture today is the fact that mere entertainers are its heroes. There is no precedent in any civilization in the history of the world for entertainers – actors, singers, dancers and directors – to be elevated to the highest positions of prominence in the culture. That’s why none of us can name actors and actresses from ancient Greece or Rome. They weren’t important enough to be remembered.

Sure, we can name the playwrights and we can name the satirists. We can name the politicians, the philosophers and the generals. Because literary, academic, political and military figures were always the personalities who dominated the cultural landscape. Whatever you thought of these pursuits – and many of the ancient conquerors were highly immoral men – their pursuits were at least consequential.

But entertainment? Lighthearted merriment? That’s what you did in your spare time, when you needed a break from the serious things. Prior to the rise of American popular culture, entertainers could never even dream of being the most important members of a society, engaged as they were in a frivolous past-time that helped the folks escape their solemn responsibilities for a short time.

In our time, however, the incredible has happened. The court jester has become the king. Those who play the heroes have become the culture’s actual heroes. Those who direct fantasy movies are directing the direction of our youth. And with entertainers as the principal people we look up to, so much of our society has become silly and trivial.

This is exactly what was going through my mind as I watched the narcissism of the Academy Awards. In America today, there exists not a single mainstream televised awards ceremony for anything other than movies, television, acting and music. Even when brave soldiers are awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry, it is not broadcast on television.

When the president awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to our leading thinkers, writers and civil servants, it is watched by 10 people on C-SPAN. But the awards for best actor and best actress are followed closely by hundreds of millions who take such nonsense quite seriously. That’s a major change for a country whose only actor to become an historical figure, prior to the age of Hollywood, was John Wilkes Booth.

The consequences for the elevation of people who perform inconsequential tasks to the center of national attention are enormous. Even if our Hollywood celebrities were not the most damaged people in our society – drugged up, divorced, with even their kids in rehab – the results would still be tragic. By making fashion models our role models, Hollywood heroines our heroes, and singers into saints, we have created a shallow and vain society, distinguished not by sacrifice, but by indulgence. We have created a culture known not for virtue, but for vanity. And our country is becoming not more dedicated, but decadent.

American kids today, for the most part, don’t want to be doctors. They want to be directors. They don’t want to be rabbis, but rock stars. They don’t wish to be soldiers, but superstars. And then we wonder why American kids are so messed up.

To gauge the effect of entertainers being at the epicenter of a national consciousness, just imagine if it were to happen in the life of a single individual. What if entertainment, rather than scholarship, were the foremost preoccupation of a medical student. Instead of working at a library and attending lectures for eights hours each day, our student watched eight hours of television and DVDs each day. Would you trust him with your kidney?

And now you begin to understand why so many people around the world think we Americans are so stupid and shallow. It’s not because of Bush. It’s because of Hollywood. The very nature of entertainment is that it is something you do in your spare time. Entertainment is designed to be on the periphery, never at the center of national endeavor. Performers dare not replace professors, cinematographers dare not replace soldiers, and comedians dare not supplant cardiologists as a country’s most lionized citizens.

The future of the United States is not threatened by any existing foreign power. Less so is it threatened by any terrorist. Terrorists can harm us, but they can never defeat us. The only thing that can threaten the continuity of this great country is if it collapses from the inside. If its foundations become so eroded, its pillars so brittle, that its national edifice falls victim to the forces of historical inevitability.

If our nation is built of the marvelous marble of the Greek Parthenon or the Roman Pantheon, or the solid stone of Jerusalem’s Western Wall, it will last for many centuries, and perhaps millennia, to come. But if it is built of the flimflam material of a mere Hollywood soundstage, a movie set facade that is all glitz with no substance, it will, God forbid, crumble before our very eyes.

by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (see link above for full credits.)

Comments or thoughts?

the effect of pop culture on, well, pop culture really never hit me…

until that article

its true, that today’s hollywoodized culture is definitely on a downhill trend

but for every entertainer that has contributed nothing to society but instead has increased the rate at which we are declining, there is another person out there who is willing to fill the roles described in that article…


Do you always just post a copy of a news article without commenting at all?

I find it funny that people care so much about these kind of things. It’s going to happen. It’s happening. Making some poorly written piece of propaganda will not help.

Last of all, the article is terrible. Statements like “…we wonder why American kids are so messed up…” and “The future of the United States is not threatened by any existing foreign power.” only begin to scratch the surface of this crap. “In America today, there exists not a single mainstream televised awards ceremony for anything other than movies, television, acting and music…When the president awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to our leading thinkers, writers and civil servants, it is watched by 10 people on C-SPAN.” WOW. Great observation. MAybe it’s because the entertainment awards are made to… gasp ENTERTAIN?

I just noticed it was written by a rabbi. Go figure. Another fundamentalist with enough time to bitch about things but not enough ambition to do anything.

I disagree with it.

you need to look at the entire socioeconomic factors relating to a culture to put the value of entertainment into perspective.

the richer the economy the more time and money is spent on social pursuits, one of them is entertainment and leisure. the other is sex for pleasure and other such non-essential elements in todays society.

the US with one of the richest (per capita) populations in the world is at a point in time where entertainment has cash to be spent on it. entertainers are paid highly because money is easy.

as soon as you take away the money, the less important things in life go first. food remains, entertainment is out the window.

sexual relaxation

are all symptoms of the same cause.

the Roman empire is a good comparison, in that they were the worlds highest polluters at the time, they imported more than they exported (in real terms, not in monetry terms), they had wild sexual habbits, and their entertainers had high rankings in society.

i think the article writer is a very small thinker. blaming one area of society for its entire set of problems is really pointless.

blame it on guns, or on the people behind it
blame it on marilyn manson or the kids who shot other kids
blame it on mcdonalds or yourself
blame it on the cig companies or the consumers
blame blame blame.

basicly the entire society has fundimental issues that cannot be resolved by one thing, the society creates itself, and the society will fix itself. but it needs to be done at the route cause. entertainment is a symptom.


While I agree with some of your points Altaken, I think you miss the influence that entertainment has on our younger people. I see most kids that define their live’s around certain styles of music. I mean, if you ask a kid what kind of person he is, he’ll actually say rapper or country or whatever - he can’t even define himself without mentioning what kind of music he’s into. They define themselves by what they listen to, that’s sick. They role model themselves after entertainers instead of people who actually do something important in the world besides get filthy rich, do drugs and bang 13 year olds.

Almost ALL children feel the only way to make their mark in the world is to be a star.

Then there’s the corporate influence. Using entertainers to turn youths into better consumers. If you’re reasoning is that we turn to entertainment more becasue we can, I would argue that, while this may have been true 50 years ago, we now turn to entertainment more because that’s all the kids see. Every aspect of their daily routine is hammered with more and more advertising. Telling them more and more that kid’s who study hard and don’t party are losers and won’t get the chicks/hot guys.

Then we have the male dominated aspect. Girls are told to release their sexuality and not be ashamed of it and be free from conformity. Which, of course, translates into being a slut is now cool. They respond by waering more revealing clothing, piercing their nipples and tounges and grabbing their ankles at younger ages.

It’s just going too far now. I see a big backlash in our near future and I hope you’re right about society fixing itself because this sucks as is. But I don’t see this as a symptom anymore, it’s actually a driving force that shaping our younger generations.

Actually, it’s all my fault. I am to blame. I’ve single-handedly caused the downfall of civilization. And the best part? Getting rid of me doesn’t solve the problem. Everyone has to do their own little part if the downfall is to be avoided. That’s how I know my plan won’t fail. Hand the solution to each of the individuals of society, and the majority of them will drop the ball.

Damn… even for a Monday, that was pretty cynical.

holywood isn’t responsible for the downfall of anything but their own crappy cinema
the ‘article’ combines a dash of reality with liberal doses of bs. It is merely a stream of stupid assumptions and unbacked assertions, with a little ad-hominem attacks thrown in.
The reason people watch the oscars? They’re not honoring much, trust me. It is entertainment, pure and simple. People watch awards from the entertainment industry because (surprise!) those folks know how to put on a show. Many of them are doctors, engineers, social scientest and (yes! rabbis too!!) and I’d wager very few of them take it seriously.
It’s just a bit of fun.
I’d pick on different things going on to flip out about. There are quite a few real problems in our society- Like Fweeb!!! He’s tearing it down folks!!! Will somebody please, please think about the children?!

I pretty much agree - I don’t think it’s hollywood’s fault so much as it is society’s. I don’t really care who acted in what movie and who sings what song… and that’s why. It isn’t important unless you’re obsessed with being entertained, which most people in the US are. I don’t even like TV anymore though.

what about rome? and greece? they really liked gladiators, sportmans in the olympics and fiction heros in drama shows. it’s not unpresidented.

First time to initiate a discussion topic in this forum, actually… just wanted to hear what people out there thot about this topic. Especially since this is such an international venue, and the article has somewhat to do with “Americanized” culture, which is an issue of some weight in the rest of the world.

And, of course, I wanted to bring to light the one fact that should be apparent to all: Fweeb must be stopped! … heh, heh…

Tho a “tongue-in-cheek” statement, there is actually a thread of truth to this: taking personal responsibility for your own actions is an ethic that has always been the hallmark of a stable culture. I agree that this article comes across as a finger-pointing tyrade “blame game”. When it boils down to it, we’re each responsible for our own behavior and attitude.

I guess I’m more interested in the broader issue of influence. Everyone is influenced or inspired by someone or something in today’s culture. Enzoblue talked about how kids are deeply influenced by popular individuals and some of the problems that can arise from this. But is this a lasting influence? Aren’t young people more influenced by their immediate peers? When they get into their twenties and get out into the workforce and realize that they’re (most likely) not going to be famous, do their ambitions change and normalize along the lines of their interests and abilities?

Another aspect of the issue might be the fact that most (say 99%) of what goes on in the “business” of entertainment is never seen by the general public. There’s a lot of work involved, probably of the PR variety, I’m sure. The example that comes to mind is the rapper eminem. (Probably not a good topic for me to bring up, as I don’t know much about him.) From what I understand, he had to work hard to get the notariety that he achieved. Do young people know this, and if they have similar ambition, are they willing to put in the same effort?

Yes, and then there’s capitalism. As Alltaken notes, this is probably a larger influence, and at a deeper level than “entertainment”, which is itself influenced by it. Is this where the source of our problems lies?

Is entertainment an obsession for most of us here in the US? I enjoy keeping up with some of that stuff, on the side, as a distraction. And I enjoy the occasional movie (Spiderman 2 rocked!) but its not one of the fundamental driving-force concerns in my life. I would like to be able to latch onto a big HDTV, but know its not likely to happen anytime in the near future. I know that I need to keep my family housed and fed and educated long before I spend any $ on that. And why do I want one? Well, as much for the gee-whiz factor as anything. But that does bring back the capitalism aspect of things: entertainment “obsession” does drive corporate profit on many levels.

How long does it take for an “entertainment-influenced young person” to wake up to the reality of earning a living for their own survival? I’ve known some into their 30s who’re still coming to grips with this…

Death to america :<
just kidding, I think all civilizations and cultures are all equally good and bad. Were all humans and capable of the same failings. Some of us strive to be better, but in the end it does’nt matter how “better” we are than another person. What matters is what we do here on the little planet before we leave, when we leave will we leave a legacy of good or evil? American civilization is full of drama, it’s everywhere we go. Kids play out what they see in the movies, on tv and on the radio, they want an influence i’m guessing cause they dont get any time from they’re parents, or maybe they dont respect they’re parents or they fight with them all the time, so they turn to the media and the rest of the world the the media and the rest of the world tells them to go do drugs, sleep around with a bunch of people ( which i know causes problems), and a bunch of other crap. Sounds good so they do it, sin is only fun for a season, meaning it doesnt last very long , then the consequences come in, death, hiv/aids, pregnancy and all the other crap that comes with being careless irresponcible. The whole world will get worse, the only thing we can do is be a good influence, help people make the right choices, we all know right from wrong, sometimes wrong looks good, but deep down inside we know it’s wrong.

I think the Simpsons brings that issue up quite well, which I suppose is kind of ironic it being a TV show itself. Where Homer adores his TV more than religion, family etc. To Homer, TV is his main source of information and it ‘never lies’.

Because entertainment media is so non-threatening in that people have the choice to watch something or not, people are led to believe that it’s harmless. But when people can manipulate the media effectively enough like say Michael Moore or Hitler, it is very dangerous.

I don’t think Hollywood is to blame on its own just as Bush is not to blame on his own. The audience plays a part too. After all, Hollywood tries to make movies to cater for the audience. If they don’t, they don’t make money. So is Hollywood influencing the people of America or are the people of America shaping Hollywood?

I have noticed this trend towards recognising actors/actresses above the real achievers like those who laid the foundations of the world we live in but it was always like that. People constantly look for something to idolise be it a deity, politician, scientist, actor etc. One example is that Einstein is widely regarded as the smartest guy ever.

Is that reality or is it just hype? I don’t believe he was the smartest. In fact, he used a lot of theories from other people who are relative unknowns. And yet, because of this hype, his brain is in a jar somewhere after having been dissected to see what made him so smart.

I reckon Hollywood and the entertainment industry in general is popular because it gives people an easy way to fame without necessarily being good at anything. These days, a quick one nighter in the sack with someone else famous should do it.

Paris Hilton is a good example. Talentless, spoiled brat but she makes a TV show and she is respected by lots of people. She makes a porn movie and is respected by a different bunch of people.

The Osbournes are another example. I didn’t know who they were until the TV show. Then you hear about people wanting to hang out with the fat, ugly, talentless Osbourne kids. Why? Because they are on TV.

David Beckham is another. What real good has he done mankind? He kicks a ball for a living! Yet he gets paid more than probably any doctor would.

As Superintendant Chalmers would say: “it’s all just a damn popularity contest”.

no you got me wrong.

i was saying that entertainers are not where the buck stops.

entertainers are a symptom of a larger problem, i was not saying they were not a contributing factor to it.

IMO the news, and the public broadcasting sector is more a problem than entertainment.

have you ever realised that action films conaining death and destruction have lower ratings than sexually explicit films? why is this.

that is societies problem, not the entertainers.
the entertainers make what is considered acceptable, and make what is demanded. yes they add to the normalising of violence, and stuff, but they are not the cause.


Only guys care about death and destruction while everyone likes sex.

Actually, I think it’s because there’s no teenage obsession with violent films - they’re easily and readily available. Sexually explicit stuff is a societal no-no and so people desire it more. It leads to higher ratings.

Only guys care about death and destruction while everyone likes sex.

Actually, I think it’s because there’s no teenage obsession with violent films - they’re easily and readily available. Sexually explicit stuff is a societal no-no and so people desire it more. It leads to higher ratings.[/quote]

my point exactly.


that is the key to everything.

its socially acceptable to be obese.
its socially acceptable to own guns.
its socially acceptable to watch violent movies.
its socially acceptable to play play station rather than play sport
its socially acceptable to invade iraq

the country defines itself based on its society, and its society plays a role in defining the next generation.

nothing short of an entire legal overhaul with a total re-emphasis on certain values is the only thing that can change anything.

currently the US doesn’t care about global warming, so the society doesn’t care in large either.

its a chicken and an egg situation, and someone has gotta stand up to change it. either its the government, or the people.


Characteristically (and again paradoxically), Bernays was remarkably candid about his manipulative intent. “If we understand the mechanisms and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it,” he argued in Propaganda, one of his first books. In a later book, he coined the term “engineering of consent” to describe his technique for controlling the masses.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,” Bernays argued. “Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. . . . In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons . . . who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

This definition of “democratic society” is itself a contradiction in terms–a theoretical attempt to reconcile rule by the few with the democratic system which threatened (and still threatens) the privileges and powers of the governing elite. On occasion, Bernays himself recoiled from the anti-democratic implications of his theory.

But who are these people? Can you really specifically identify them? Are they the popular actors and performers, or the directors or producers, or are they the studio executives? Or, are they just a bunch of rich folks who live in Beverly Hills and Martha’s Vinyard?

Further, can “they” really specifically control what’s “hip” (or as Alltaken asserts: what’s Socially Acceptable) on a national scale in an accurate and intentional way? This Bernays fellow sounds like a conspiracy theorist, if there ever was one…

A couple of examples of “who’s in control, and how are they doing it?”: First, the music “revolution” of the late 80s & early 90s when popularity switched from the cheesy pop music of the 80s to the “grunge” movement headed up by the likes of Nirvana, Green Day and REM. Was there someone behind that major shift? If so, how did they pull it off, and further, what was their goal in doing so?

A second example (much smaller in scale, but more current) is the low-budget movie “Napolean Dynamite” that’s become fairly popular among young people here in the States. Few saw that coming. And, there are literally hundreds of examples like this one that were, aparently, surprises to the “powers that be”. Any of the phenomenons that can be referred to as “cult classics” are influential elements that were never predicted or planned by this elite group that Bernays claims to exist. I think this theory is a pile of bull.

Yes, there are social and cultural influences that have a powerful effect on people, shaping their World View in significant ways. Is there “someone” behind these influences with an agenda? Hmmm…

yes actually you can.

Disney was responsible for the normalisation of Interlectual property to be kept for many 10’s of times longer than was originally intended. and subsequently has paved the way for other large bussiness like microsoft to abuse the failing patent and IP system.

the original goals of patents and copyright were similar to Open source, but allowing money to be earnt for a small time.

nowdays its normalised to NEVER give up a patent or copyright (if you have the money)

similarly google is normalising the massive collection of data, and is making it acceptable to gather information of people who do not have any connection to you. (if i send a email to gmail, they will take all my info without me ever signing up with them, and they will record it)

the normalisation of violent movies, i don’t know who would have done it, but i think it was more that sexual films were made abnormal (rather than violent ones being considered normal)

the outcry over janet jackson at half time, yet people DIE while playing the sport itself :S

the news plays a big part in this. they show a lot of violence. (most news is from the large networks and is very violent, these networks follow the ratings, and the public watches violence, so they give them more, and the public watches more, which creates more, the news channels take no personal responsibility for what they show)

George bush is responsible for Racism towards muslims.
just as previous leaders were responsible for racism towards russians
and asians

further back against african americans, and native americans.

the governments normally set up the first push towards somthing and the public follows.

the sad thing is bush in 2 years has created enough hatred to last many decades in some families.

it takes mearly 1 or two public fgiures, one or two laws… to normalise somthing.

i.e. sueing. our government has made it virtually impossible to sue others. and here it is not normal culture. again with guns its virtually impossible to get anything more than a hunting rifle. so its not normal culture to go shooting people.



yes actually you can.[/quote]

Ummm… well, you actually didn’t name any specific people. The only person you mentioned by name was GW, and you failed to make a case for his ability to control popular norms… more on him below…

Ummm… again, not talking about intellectual property rights here, or the power it affords the “owners”. We’re talking about whether or not there are individuals or entities which control popular thought thru the manipulation of social morays.

Yet again, Alltaken, your association of how corporations are archiving personal information and how it relates to this topic is tenuous. Are you saying that this information is being used as a tool to help control and manipulate popular opinion and thought? If so, how so? And by whom? And what is their ultimate goal in doing so? Please flesh out your arguements with some conclusions.

Now you’re beginning to make some good points. Violence is supported by the entertainment and news industries. Yes. But further, who do you say is behind this aparent support? Who specifically is making the intentional decision to include this sort of content? Can you name any names?

You include a reference to ratings, which means, I assume, that you say this support is marketing driven. That goes back and lays the blame at the feet of Capitalism. Thus, there’s no specific culprit, as we’re all guilty on some level of trying to make as much money as we’re able.

Whoa. Quite a statement to make! Do you mean as the leader of our country he must accept ultimate responsibility (the “buck stops here” thing) or are you saying that he’s personally to blame for “Racism towards muslims”? I’m afraid this dispute has a much longer history than ol’ GW. Unless he was alive in the 6th century? (Maybe its a reincarnation thing…) I think the one major (and recent) event that you’ve aparently forgotten happened on Sept. 11, 2001. There are others who will not forget.

All that is moot, however, as you have again failed to draw any logical connections between this blatant accusation and the topic of this discussion, which is: Are there specific individuals out there who are “manipulating the masses”, or at least are trying to, with some agenda in play?

Could you give any specific examples of this statement?

Again, I think its a big stretch to say that GW is the source of this hatred. The dispute is centuries old. (BTW, to be clear: I’m not in favor of the Iraqi action. I believe it was wrong to invade a sovereign nation for any reason other than as a defensive action - which in this case was unsubstantiated. It set a very dangerous precedent for America’s role in the world. Which simply means: some future idiot president will be able to use it as an excuse to invade anyone he/she chooses simply out of suspicion, which is all we had with Sadam. Valid suspicion or otherwise… However, I do support our leader and our people and hope for the best resolution to the matter.) Yes there will be hatred. But hopefully there will be healing as well…

I’m gathering, Alltaken, that you’re personally very influenced by these “cultural norms” that you are describing. I hope this is not the case. You do realize that its okay to hold to an alternate viewpoint, right? You don’t always have to follow the crowd. It is okay to think things thru for yourself and make up your own mind on issues such as lawsuits and gun control.

Again, I hope you’re saying that its okay to actually think and believe differently than these “socially acceptable” (another way of saying it: “Politically Correct”, if I’m not putting words in your mouth…) viewpoints? “Social Acceptance” isn’t the ultimate moral standard for you, right?

“You can’t legislate morality” is a comment that I heard somewhere. This change in social values cannot be made by making and enforcing new laws. It has to be a heart-level change in each and every individual of the society. What would it take to change your heart?

I thought we already established the fact that it’s me? :wink:

And yes, that was part of my point.