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Amusing Ourselves to Death -- How to Waste Our Last (Obama) Chance

03/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who gives a flying crap about capping what executives earn who get part of the bail out? What does it matter if Tom Daschle's nomination for President Obama's Cabinet was withdrawn? Who gives a shit about Rush Limbaugh's opinions? Is the biggest issue confronting us the issue of "vetting" appointees? The American house is burning down and we're watching "The View" and all the other bullshit programs on TV and discussing trivia, as usual.

Postman as Prophet:

Author and NYU professor the late great Neil Postman predicted this day; a time when we know what we must do but have become so stupid that we can't act. President Obama knows what needs to be done to repair our economy. We know he knows and we know what's wrong with us. We just can't summon the will to concentrate and get serious. We're in the position of drug addicts who know they need to go to rehab but that can't find the willpower to do so.

Postman was best known for his 1985 book about television, Amusing Ourselves to Death in which he wrote:

Television is altering the meaning of 'being informed' by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information -- misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information -- information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing...

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

Orwell feared those who would deprive us information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble puppy.

RoboCop (1987) was a shitty movie, but director Paul Verhoeven got one thing right: the news anchors on TV in his dystopia. His parody of light weight trivia as "news" has come horribly true. As Postman predicted Huxley's prophetic vision was correct. We are indeed, "a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies."

The Truth:

America! We are too trivial a culture to save ourselves.

We care about car executives arriving in jets to a hearing in Washington but not about the fact that the car companies have betrayed America by never producing cars that would get us out of hoc to the terror-funding Saudis and the rest of the disgusting oil states. Our addiction to our electronic/entertainment/celebrity culture has so sapped our powers of concentration and our national will that even when confronted with a crisis which risks bringing our whole economic system down we can't summon the willpower to act like grownups and get on with the business of repairing the damage. Since we can't grasp the big ideas we always veer to the trivial. Two million Americans show up for Obama's nomination but the story becomes Aretha Franklin's hat, Rick Warren's prayer and a botched line of the oath.

The "news cycle" -- which is really now just another stupid entertainment cycle -- has a life of its own. All of sudden unpaid taxes by a few nominees for high position is the story, not the economy. The cynical Republican leadership living within this alternative reality news cycle tries to take advantage of the situation.

When are Democrats and Republicans alike -- in other words every American -- going to get it through our heads that we're in an end game crisis which calls for a new level of self-discipline?

This isn't a show people! This isn't entertainment! It's happening to us, not to someone else! The accident you're watching as "entertainment" is you dying!

President Obama is a serious man trying to rescue a frivolous trivialized nation with the attention span of an inebriated jellyfish. Watching the hand wringing media circus on the one hand and the right wing pundits such as Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand all carrying on business as usual I'm beginning to wonder if we'll be able to pull out a of our nosedive.

There are a very few moments left in which to do something about our economy, our infrastructure, our educational system and our environment. Wake up!

We're losing the war in Afghanistan and were going to lose the war to repair our economy and our country too if we play news-cycle-as-entertainment games and allow politics as usual to continue.

Note to President Obama:

Mr. President, don't play this game! Don't talk about executive pay, and whatever the next trivial scandal of the moment is. Stick to the real issues, not the instant nothing media sexy issues. Tell us what we need to do about our banking system! Tell us what to do about our infrastructure. Tell us what to do about health care, public transport, the environment and the other real issues. Forget the rest.

Note to the Rest of Us -- What we need to do:

Ignore the 24-hour entertainment cycle masquerading as news.

Back President Obama's initiatives 100%.

Call out the Republicans on their lack of patriotism they better damn well start voting with the President.

Stop demanding perfection from every appointment: it doesn't matter if someone forgot to pay their taxes or hired the wrong nanny if they do the job the President is hiring them to do to save us.

Take a long hard look at ourselves in terms of the amount of time we spend on trivialities.

Stop numbing our brains and stop turning everything we touch into entertainment from our TV shows to our cable networks, to our blogging and text messaging, to YouTube, to Facebook, and sober up long enough to concentrate on just one thing: backing our new President as he tries to save us.

Put all that electronic shit away and read a book, say Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death!

Conclusion:

The fact is President Obama is trying to lead a nation of not terribly bright children who essentially have a collective learning disability manifested by an inability to concentrate or defer gratification, hold one thought long enough to see it through to a conclusion or contemplate making real sacrifices for long-term benefit.

The talking heads, pundits, bloggers, commentators and entertainers playing the "gotcha!" news-cycle game are so deeply into business-as-usual that they literally no longer know what they are doing. President Obama is our last shot at getting things right. As President Obama wrote in a Washington Post editorial, "We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time."

Waste this President's efforts and we're done. Last chance to grow up folks.

Frank Schaeffer is the author of
CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. Now in paperback.