by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - May 4, 2009) The current age has a lot to answer for. Along with dazzling innovations in technology and communication, it has unleashed a flood of triviality which shows itself in virtually every aspect of life. And by "triviality," I mean an obsession with lightweight, often inane, interactions between people who virtually frolic in the exchange of mindlessness for its own sake.
In England, a "dumb jerk" is referred to as a "twit." A plural extension of that term has recently been adapted by Americans into a new national pastime. What are Twitters but the organized flatulence of verbal minutiae that pass for communication? Short sentences devoid of significance; descriptions of innocuous pastimes; simplistic thoughts that are the equivalent of that indeterminate stream-of-consciousness that mildly distracts us as we walk aimlessly down a street registering or ignoring the hubbub around us. In essence, it is simply "killing time," which, in a conscionable society, would be considered a "High Crime" rather than a "misdemeanor." If all you can do with time is "kill it," you are an assassin of the worst kind -- because "time" is one of the most precious commodities we have, and the wastage of time deflates our lives.
Twitter is based on the assumption (false) that the most innocuous thoughts and ordinary actions in which people indulge are of interest to other people. That can only be the case if Twitters -- and Twitterees -- are people so consumed with the minutiae of their lives that they believe everyone else is as interested in their trivia as they are themselves. What does that tell us about the phenomenon? Only that people are so bored out of their skulls that they feel the need to advertise their listlessness to other people who, like themselves, are drowning in ennui. It is like attending a convention of retards wherein each member of the group tries to prove he or she is more sub-normal than the next.
Blogging is, in a sense, the Grandfather of Twitters. There too mindlessness and banality are given full reign among the communicants, cheered on by people who are as saturated in fatuousness as those with whom they fatuously communicate. People whose egocentricity is devastating to behold inscribe the trivia of their lives to companions whose lives are as vacant as their partners. Non-events are projected as major personal happenings and the distinction between significant and ineffectual is obliterated. The existence of a handful of substantial blogs in no way dilutes the vacuity of the majority.
These are practices that not only insult the intelligence, they also diminish the value of original thought and encourage kibitzers to indulge in aimless folly. It elevates the mundane to a level of false significance that blurs the distinction between shadow and substance. To call it "diversion" is to demean the difference between the sculpted expression of original thought and the gush of banality. By communicating the drivel of meandering minds, these Web sites demean the inventions and imagination of fertile ones. It is invariably the dregs of thought that are exchanged -- almost never an interchange of salient ideas.
Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc., circulate their trivia with all the insistence of proud parents brandishing photos of their loved ones, unaware of their offsprings' pimples, pockmarks, goiters, buck teeth, and cockeyes. The fact that all of these outlets are readily available to the populace only cheapens their content. It used to be that authors were vetted by professional editors and publishers before being presented to the general public. Today no such niceties are required. The Internet is a free-for-all and when standards and oversight are ignored one creates the kind of recessionary malaise that is currently enveloping the nation.
This tendency towards trivialization is not restricted to cell phones and the Internet, it can also be found in the performing arts. It riots in humorless, teenage-slanted films such as High School Musical, Epic Movie, Night At The Museum, Knocked Up, Get Smart, Evan Almighty that deliberately pander to the adolescent appetite for extremism and vulgarity -- and I'm not referring here to obscenities of language but to the emission of clichés that, reflecting the mindlessness of the people who produce them, only muddies consciousness and dilutes the imagination. There is nothing more repellent than juvenilia running rampant in adult minds. It represents a stunting of the creative impulse in those who believe that recycled clichés are the equivalent of original conceptions. It is the circulation of Twinkies among people whose palates are dead to the flavors of haute cuisine.
The circulation of this trivia is egged on by pompous, cartoon-styled television and radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, and fortified with radio and TV commercials that unashamedly propagandize its viewers. They regularly pop up in news reports that are regularly interrupted to allow advertisers to take a dump on our hippocampus. Commercials are often extolled as proving the multitudinous diversity of American life, which is constantly held up as a virtue in our democracy but almost never chastened for regularly insulting our intelligence. If we didn't have these hyperbolic ads interrupting the news coverage, we might never have an opportunity to indulge in a toilet break and so I suppose one could argue that the constant intrusion of junk ads are in some oblique way an aid to our digestion.
Persistent trivialization is something that, once released into the atmosphere, enters the bloodstream of both young and old. It is a tendency that favors the Cozy, the Familiar, the Commonplace, and the Platitudinous. It feeds on bromides and stereotypes. It is what gushes unseen beneath the language of many chick-lit novels and formulaic TV series. It is so enamored with the familiar that any artifact that moves in an unpredictable direction appears alien and phony. In other words, it is the "esthetic" of these practices that are so deplorable rather than the practices themselves. A life devoted to Twitters, mindless blogs, lousy films, bogus reality shows, vapid commercials, and formulaic fiction create a toxin in the blood of the public and ultimately diminish the quality of the society saturated by them. The assault against trivia is like a vaccine injected into the body of a diseased multitude in the hope that intellectual health may be restored. Like all such immunization, it depends how early the disease is caught.
My own whimsical theory is that the brain pollution generated by mindless Web sites and gormless media is a contributory factor to our economic breakdown. First consciousness is assailed, then warning signs are ignored, employment recedes, Dow Jones plummets, and finally the nation is destroyed by a combination of toxic assets and H1N1 "Swine Flu." In trying to divine cause-and-effect, one looks everywhere except to what is directly in front of one's nose.
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