“I’m too big for my britches”…

A BROKEN CULTURE

by Kenneth Justice

~ This past week for NBC News anchor Brian Williams hasn’t been the most memorable (emphasis on memorable and memory). I’m sure years from now Williams will look back at this week differently, but for now, he’s been the subject of getting caught with his pants down after it leaked that his reporting of his firsthand experiences in Iraq and New Orleans were less than accurate.

How is it possible for Williams, long believed to be one of the most reputable NEWS reporters, to be linked to inaccurate reporting, embellishing events, and being altogether untrustworthy?

I believe the answer is quite simple; too many people in the NEWS believe the real story every day….is themselves.

Television has made stars and celebrities out of anyone who gets a decent amount of screen time; Reality Stars, Network Sitcom Stars, NEWS Stars, Daytime Talk Show Hosts…..in the Western World if you get yourself some screen time you can become a star, or at least that is what many people believe.

Oprah, Brian Williams, Jay Leno, Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Jimmy Kimmel, the list is endless. What do these talking heads actually contribute to society?

—) Have they ever labored for hours on end working through the classics of literature and philosophy, struggling to find the eternal truths that connect humanity throughout history?

—) Have they ever labored hours on end in a laboratory, facing countless failure in the attempt of curing cancer?

—) Have they ever spent months and years at a time living on the streets with homeless people, working with them, feeding them, trying to help them overcome addiction, deal with their mental illness, all in the hope of giving them a better life?

These talking heads on TV are nothing more than over emphasized entertainers. Do I sound too harsh? Let’s consider for a moment how disconnected these people are from you and I;

—-) People like Bill Gates, Rush Limbaugh, Oprah, and Brian Williams live in 85 Million Dollar homes in Santa Barbara, they spend exorbitant amounts flying in personal jets, they consume more energy (electricity, gasoline, jet fuel, etc) in a week than you and I do in a year. As explained here in this article by the Guardian, people like them may be well intentioned, but let’s be honest, they are apart of the 1% and are entirely disconnected from real life <article>

I don’t hate Brian Williams and I don’t hate Bill Gates. I don’t resent their success and neither do I want them penalized for their success. What bothers me is that the masses of nebbishes throughout the Western World worship these TV celebrities and ignore the real standard bearers worth of honor.

Everyday there are teachers, professors, stay-at-home parents, volunteers at homeless shelters, and others who are truly working for a better world. These nameless people are ignored, and instead our culture pays hundreds of millions of dollars to celebrities to entertain us; can you hit a baseball or kick a soccer ball? If so we will pay you millions of dollars to make us smile and forget about the frailty of our lives.

Nearly a hundred years ago Gandhi was already writing about his concern regarding Western Culture. The West was beginning to invade the East, the consumerism, the worship of celebrities, the focus on war as a solution to problems. Gandhi preached a different message; he taught meditation, and peace, and prayer.

I guess what I’m getting at is Brian Williams is simply too big for his britches; because we enabled him. We worshipped him (and his cohorts) and made them think that what they did was of the utmost importance. We somehow made Oprah believe that what she did in her talk show was somehow more important than what social workers are doing at a homeless shelter. We convinced Bill Gates that computer technology was worth of him being a billionaire.

The blame does not rest upon Brian Williams, the blame lies upon us who made him and those like them believe that they are more important than they really are; the blame lies upon us who are obsessed with amusing ourselves to death.

How do we change things?

First of all we start reading. We teach our children to read. Reading enables the mind to think in a way that television entirely fails. Reading teaches us to think more logically and creatively. Reading stimulates our brains; television zones us out.

Secondly, we need a new mythology in our culture. We need to replace this myth of celebrities being important, and replace it with a comprehensive myth that stirs us toward social justice. We need a myth that becomes rooted in our children’s heart and which enables them to focus on the things that matter most.

Finally, we need to embrace a deeper philosophy. We need to relegate entertainment to less time in our daily lives. Triviality, athletics, video games, and the like, shouldn’t consume our every waking moment. Our children need to be shown a philosophy that gives them a greater identity and meaning to their lives.

Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee,

Kenneth



Categories: Culture & Society

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26 replies

  1. Our children often start out school believing their teachers are celebrities. My girls almost die every time we invite the teacher over for dinner because she is so “cool.” She’s a forty year old kindergarten teacher! Ok, I admit it. She’s the coolest of the cool.

    So is our society saying celebrities aren’t as worthy of all that wealth when we cancel our cable, buy the CD instead of the concert ticket, and tip our hairdresser a little more for dealing with a wiggly 4 year old?

    How about the guy who bought my employee a big screen TV just for being in line at Walmart with a new baby?

    How about the Lincoln, NE girl who got a huge tip to put towards her college education for being a nice server?

    I know they are few and far between but there is a destitute alcoholic who comes to my coffee shop of choice every day and sits at the bar and talks himself out of another day of drinking and the lawyer next door pays for his breakfast every day. That is hope for society, no?

  2. It’s human nature to create and revere heroes. Our brains are wired for it.

    I think your prescription for change is a little off. Solutions that don’t acknowledge our fundamental nature and work with them fail.

    First thing is that hero’s are made in our heads. Any betrayal that we suffer because the person behind our hero image doesn’t live up to our expectations is something we bring upon ourselves . Any trust we put in these people is ours to give or take away. We can be in control of what happens when our heroes stumble. When we give up that control, we are giving up our responsibilities and we deserve the suffering that comes with it.

    The facts are that we have the potential to be greedy, small, self interested people. Moving beyond this basal state of being is something that comes out of deep self reflection. Discovering, through repeated hard knocks, that if we continue to behave this way, we’re going to continue to suffer is how we grow.

    Changing the culture is like moving the mountain to Mohammed, The only thing we can exert any reasonable influence on is how we view the world. It’s something that we have to do on our own. Mandating this maturity is impossible, Pointing it out as a goal is probably the only thing we can offer others. This is why I like your blog, you tend to ask more questions rather than prescribing answers. Good questions lead people to do the work of self reflection. This is the way transformation happens.

    • Andrew, why do you think our brains are wired this way ? (I agree with you btw).

    • Neuroscience is exploring this area right now. If you search on Neurology and “hero worship” or “deference to authority” you’ll find a lot of studies and texts on this topic. One I’ll cite is found at this link http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3389201/

      ***Authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, and the human prefrontal cortex***

      an excerpt from the introduction talks about varying degrees of

      “There is already some evidence in accord with this hypothesis, including the findings that prefrontal patients 1) often have a general personality trait that is overconfident, boastful, grandiose, obstinate, and egocentric (Damasio, Anderson, & Tranel, 2011; Stuss & Benson, 1984), indicating a lack of normative doubt; 2) are more gullible toward disreputable characters (Croft, Duff, Kovach, Anderson, Adolphs et al., 2010; Damasio, 1994); and 3) are more vulnerable to deceptive advertising (Asp, Manzel, Koestner, Cole, Denburg et al., in press).”

      This and related studies indicate that our prefrontal cortex has some effect on our acceptance of authority, belief, and doubt. I higher degree of doubt (skepticism) makes us capable of resisting “disreputable characters” including those that are branded as celebrities/heroes.

      This is what Zen teachers call Great Doubt.

      One of the Neorology texts I found give a good example in the behavior in dogs. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4899-1781-2_4#page-1

      “The need to look up at idols has deep psychological and evolutionary roots. The dog looking up with adoration at its master shows the first signs of idolatry and the first stage of learning the habit of deference to authority”

  3. It’s very possible that his memory changed over time. Stories can become larger than life as the details morph and come together. Kind of like Babe Ruth, for example. Or very possibly even Jesus!

  4. I think audience is just a resource you use to do what you want to do. If you’re a celebrity, you need quite a bit. But if you’re out to cure cancer, maybe just a few enablers. An audience can easily get in the way of doing your work. I think this side of it could be played up more. Bill Gates has seemed especially disciplined in focusing his audience on just those moments when he needs them, but otherwise he’s a zone of silence.

  5. Dear Kenneth, I follow your blog for a long time. I consider you a smart and educated person. However, from time to time you surprise me very much. How could you include Bill Gates in the list of entertainers? Surely, he did not cure cancer. But his contribution to mankind is enormous!
    He is not a celebrity. Bill Gates is a worker (genius) who made huge steps in development of technology. He created millions of jobs and it is more important than to live in the streets with homeless!

    • Fair point JF, I was thinking in more of terms of the XBOX which Microsoft produces, and which has been their biggest money maker over the past decade (The XBOX is an entertainment device; video games, movies, etc) and the fact that Bill Gates, like other celebrities, is another fixture of celebrity worship. I hope i was clear in the post; my focus is that we’ve begun to worship so many of these billionaires, we don’t merely esteem them for their accomplishments.

  6. Am I showing my age by quoting Marshall McLuhan? “The medium is the message.” Time to separate the importance of the message from the messengers.

  7. I have labored with homeless and street gangs. I spent 15 years doing so. It is hard work. Victories are few. You are glad when they come. As for celebrity if I was made a celebrity for doing that it would have hindered me and my ability to accomplish my task. I personally can care less about most celebrities out side of the time I had dinner with BB King (name dropping). That was cool. Other then that I have never cared. As for Brian Williams I feel bad that we look to folks who have such dishonest character flaws. I realize no one is perfect but we shall see. I fear more is going to come out so we shall see

  8. You know…Brian Williams did work hard. Very hard. Like every other working stiff, he did work to get his way to the top, which for me, is why it’s particularly disappointing. In a world where writers, reporters, journalists are getting bombarded with accusations of being “horrid” sorry excuses for humans, that all we do is feed lies, I thought there was someone who could be trusted. Apparently not. Apparently, in his case, you’re right…he’s too big for his britches. Once he got to the top spot, he thought himself immune; thought he didn’t have to keep to the journalistic “code” if you will because now he was a celebrity and above that. Horribly horribly disappointing. I would point out it’s not just about tv screens – it’s newspaper and magazines as much. Privacy laws wouldn’t protect me anymore than it would any celebrity because my name is in the newspaper every single week…by definition that makes me a “celebrity.” Am I horrid too I wonder? Hmmm. I sure as hell don’t think myself as one but apparently the law does. I’d have just as difficult of time in a case about libel against me as a celebrity would…something to keep in mind. It’s not always so glamorous anyway. As for Bill Gates…you do realize just how much philanthropy he believes in right? In fact Steve Jobs (who quite frankly was an asshole) insulted Gates repeatedly for Gates’ philanthropy. Gates and his wife have not only donated millions of dollars to various causes but he’s actually also set a limit to how much his kids will get in terms of their inheritance because he wants them to learn what it means to have to work hard to get what they want. The celebrity factor, as you pointed out, is of our own doing. Not theirs. I agree with making entertainment and putting it where it belongs…secondary or even further back. Does entertainment have it’s place…sure…just not front of the line. Just don’t underestimate how much work it actually takes to get to some of those places because…it does….particularly athletes. Given the number of athletes in the entire country and the number of spots available on each sports team is very limited. What kids have to do to earn those spots is incredible. There are also, sadly, many teachers who don’t really work as hard as they seem; they’re there for all the vacation time, etc. I’ve encountered teachers who have no business being teachers because all they’ll do in the end is hurt children emotionally with the things they say and how they act…I’ve seen it firsthand; teachers who’s bad influence will actually result in a kid’s hating school and eventually dropping out; teachers who label kids without knowing them and then those kids become the label…”why not…everyone thinks I’m like that anyhow.” That said…is a “professional” athlete more valuable than a teacher? Of course not. I would caution you about making your point by going to extreme. There are plenty of people who get too big for their britches and they are NOT celebrities. Are we “entertaining ourselves to death” possibly…but no one is forcing us to…it’s a choice. Of course, those in “power” don’t mind it either because those who are less educated, are easier to control. So maybe there’s a good reason why those news outlets (owned by major corporations) prefer to show only “entertainment?” Things that make you go hmm.

  9. It is a battle against oblivion. Shall we read? Sure, here you can have this series, that series – soon in the movies/TV, just read, they’re in plain language, not to bother you with heavy thoughts during your hard days…
    It was only a tiny bit of the whole when Oxford Dictionary just pulled out 50 words related to nature such as “chestnut” and “magpie” replacing them with more contemporary “analog” and “broadband”. As you may know, these intentions (media, pop-culture) are for longer term, in 15 years these will start to bring first results…
    I myself feel OK with any “talking heads”, up until he/she smilet at me, knowing, that is just a stage, a mascarade, a short, compressed time to give more positivity than what the world took from us earlier the day.
    You know, if any of these “talking heads” ever showed what was going on at the borders, in the slums, or just gave a clear feel of living in real life, more than probably nobody would watch them evermore, not to mention, “talking heads” are only cogwheels in a money-making machines working for 1%. The more talent ones use sarcasm and irony to let the few know, this world is not any different than portrayed in Idiocracy.

  10. I enjoyed reading this post and I too have thought similar about how we create celebrities who then preach to us about how we should live and what we should be passionate about when they have no idea what it is like to live like us! Interesting read, thanks Kenneth 🙂

  11. I often wonder about the connection between fame and authority. The line between journalist and performer is not always clear. I am particularly perplexed by the authority we give to celebrity actors to address all manner of subjects, from politics to medicine to religion. These people lie for a living, for pity sake, and the more convincing their ability to make us believe they are someone they are not, the more awards and the more authority and trust we give them. Odd.

  12. “First of all we start reading. We teach our children to read.” Too often, I think, we take what “talking heads” say as “gospel.” We hear things we already believe and take it as confirmation. We are loathe to conduct actual research, to weigh differing opinions, to discern yellow journalism from true journalistic integrity. We wallow in the mud of mudslinging and pretend it’s a bath of truth. All this so we can continue to bow down to our own idols of self-deception. We’ve become a culture who prefers to take sides rather than take time to objectively explore, discover and learn.

    You’re right; we need to get back to the things that matter most.

  13. How valuable is a name? Honor? To be human is to err. To overcome…to forgive…to live upright….is to approach God and to accept His unconditional Grace. Everyone is a liar on some level whether the secret is somehow found out and shared in a public forum or hidden in the recesses of a shameful mind and heart. Brian Williams may be today’s headline, but he is already old news in the human scheme of things to gossip about.

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