Monday, December 25, 2006

Fiddling with ourselves
while the world burns

Frank Rich – one of the smartest observers of contemporary culture anywhere, for my money – weighs in with a different take on Time's designation of "You" as person of the year. In Rich's view (available in full for Times Select members here) it's all about distracting ourselves because reality is too hard to handle.

Here's a prime example of his lash:

As of Friday morning, “Britney Spears Nude on Beach” had been viewed 1,041,776 times by YouTube’s visitors. The count for YouTube video clips tagged with “Iraq” was 22,783. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But compulsive blogging and free soft-core porn are not, as Time would have it, indications of how much you, I and that glassy-eyed teenage boy hiding in his bedroom are in control of the Information Age. They are indicators instead of how eager we are to flee from brutal real-world information that makes us depressed and angry. This was the year Americans escaped as often as they could into their private pleasure pods. So the Person of 2006 was indeed you — yes, you.

This little jeremiad reminds me of arguments Neil Postman raised more than 20 years ago in "Amusing Ourselves To Death." I haven't reread it lately, but life nowadays seems to show his basic points have been proved all too true.

The full Frank Rich column in NYT's Sunday Week In Review section for those who don't have access online. (Times Select is free to subscribers; just register with your subscription info).
–Howard Weaver

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