Culture of Junk

Having been out of the country for the last several days, I’ve gained a new perspective on America. I look around me, and all I see is the junk-if-ication of our culture.

Movies are one very easy example. “Die Hard 4” – what is it but a perfectly produced Twinkie? Tasty, internally coherent, but having no nutritional value whatsoever? I believe watching it actually lowered my IQ by a few points (and believe me, I can’t spare ’em).

As for our “news” media? Do I really need to mention how CNN was doing stories on the safety of fireworks on the day of the heinous Scooter Libby “commutation”? (Isn’t that something a governor does to a death sentence, by the way? I’ve never heard of this procedure done by a president before.)

And what about education and science? How ludicrous is it that the Christian rightwingers are feverishly insisting that Creationism to be taught in science class, as if it were an actual proven theory like evolution? How ridiculous is it that the man who was the chairman of the Senate Environment and Works Committee for 6 years was James Inhofe, a Neanderthal who insisted that global warming didn’t exist? (His beliefs were, no doubt, greatly strengthened by the numerous contributions of the oil and gas industry to his campaign war chest.) And finally, how mind-blowing is it that the Bush Administration had its dirty little paws all over the EPA and NASA, literally changing their scientific reports to reflect better on the Administration’s horrendous environmental performance?

Of course, there’s my latest obsession – junk food. Now, I can’t credit Aruba for this observation – I actually have been noticing this ever since we moved to suburbia in ought-two. A huge percentage of what’s on our supermarket shelves cannot even really be called food; it’s more like a tasty amalgamation of vaguely food-like substances held together with various and sundry polymers also used in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. (Exaggeration, of course….but you know what I mean.) What really bothers me is how we envy those who can process this pseudo-nutrition without gaining weight. Wow! What an amazing skill! It’s as if we’re being trained to worship those who consume the most junk without manifesting ill effects immediately. Who, I wonder, would benefit from this?

Why, the corporations, of course. The more junky food, entertainment and information are, the more they profit. It costs less in money and/or time to manufacture junk, and besides which, it’s always easier to hire unskilled, underaged and/or illegal workers to make it. And as for promoting stupidity – like insisting proven science is wrong? Well, the stupider people are, the more junk they’ll consume. Besides which, if global warming doesn’t exist, the oil and gas companies don’t have to clean up their pollution or convert their facilities to wind/solar/hydroponic power.

There are always exceptions to the junk rule, of course. There is a lot of good television around that combats the eighteenth season of “Survivor: Wal-Mart edition”. Some more independent, indiosyncratic artists are able to gain national attention. Organic and locally grown foods are starting to be commonplace in supermarkets. And of course, there is the Internet, the savior of our time, which combats the otherwise news-free aspect of the media, and helps educate victims of the rightwing Christian agenda.

But if we’re ever going to elevate our culture beyond McDonald’s and Die Hard, we must break up the huge corporations that are strangling our society. Cheap is not a value we should be promoting. Diversity – not the fake “Well, Condoleezza Rice is a black woman!” type – must blossom once again, as it did in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s right there, under the surface. All it needs is some air and light.

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