As the quality of life continues to decline in America, I've been wracking my fevered brain for the single, perfect image to represent our downward spiraling dystopia. Like the "Grand Unification" theory sought by physicists.
There is a dark, comic film called Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) directed by Goran Dukic based on a short story by Etgar Keret entitled "Kneller's Happy Campers." In the film, suicides face an afterlife that is familiar yet diminished in quality. If they off themselves again, it just keeps getting worse. Think shopping at Walmart for clothing and jewelry instead of Neiman Marcus.
In the land of sub-Walmart, rusted-out trailer parks, people sew up their own gashed knees because they have no access to health care. Anyway, in the post-suicide realm, when pizzeria workers drop a pizza on the floor, they simply pick it up and put it back in the box. Isn't that pretty much how things have been working these past recent years? The problem is not dropping the pizza. Anyone can make a mistake or have an accident. But in the New Mediocrity we just put it back in the box and hope the next person won't notice.
A few examples come to mind: Five years ago, we had BP. The rig explodes and ruptures the oil pipe, not a pure accident when you factor in the safety violations, more like a time bomb. But BP puts the pizza back in the box with deep dish media spin and a Tony Hayward topping. More currently... border crisis... VA crisis... homeless crisis, ad nauseam.
Wall Street has been back on its feet with billions in profits but won't create any sustainable jobs for Americans. Oops, there goes the extra cheese. We put it back in the box when the media blames the sluggish job market on low consumer confidence, or sings the corporate anthem by claiming we're in recovery.
With First Amendment rights, Fox News cheapens the objectivity of professional journalism and inquiry with biased and slanted coverage. There go the Hannity anchovies and Palin pepperoni. The pizza goes back in the box when American viewers accept it as gospel with no critical thinking or questioning.
From Kindergarten through the 12th grade and beyond, we have lost our schools to apathy, bureaucracy, and political correctness. When state budgets are in trouble, cutting education is often at the top. Where do universities go cheap? Faculty. That's burning down the entire pizzeria. But, really, what is not in decline?
The list could go on, but I'll end with the concept of "customer service" which is now represented with automated voice messages and maze-like "phone trees" which do little if anything to assist us. If customer service were an argument, it would be of the reductio ad absurdum variety. How long before a monotonous voice responds, "If you require assistance, please hang up"?
(Endnote: The New Mediocrity is not so new and its origins may be traced to the 1970s. The fictional "mad prophet of the airwaves," Howard Biel (in Network, 1976) called some attention to it in his famous "I'm as mad as hell" rant, but his outrage and indignation only led to higher ratings -- for a while -- before being cancelled (assassinated) "live", a prototype of today's reality show.)
A version of this originally appeared in Scholars and Rogues.