Superficiality in American culture degrades important issues of today

BY NATHAN MCCLELLAN ’16
Contributing Writer

Holed up in my room on Monday evening due to Sandy’s reproachful presence outside the window, I turned on the television and flicked to the Weather Channel. SUPERSTORM 2012 was the first thing to catch my eye, and how could it not? It covered half the screen. After gazing upon its immensity for a moment, I refocused my vision upward to see waves crashing against an imperiled beachhead with a less than dry reporter screaming incoherent noises into her microphone. This lasted only a couple of seconds before the commercial break which consisted of various SUPERSTORM promos, two beer commercials, and a Viagra ad. Weary of it all, I turned off the television and endeavored to find the current forecast on my phone.

You see, I am disillusioned with the amount of superficiality surrounding our culture. Everywhere we look, someone or something is shouting out to be seen, heard, or bought without really having any substance. Everything we say has frills or a hidden agenda attached to it. Everything we make is resplendent and chic yet without innovation. The lack of meaningful communication and production is rather astonishing in America considering the significance of our own nation, the hegemon of the world. One would think our nation’s power is a result of the purposefulness of our culture but clearly that cannot be the case now. Perhaps that is why 69 percent of Americans believed the country was “in decline” according to a poll run by The Hill a year ago. Our stagnance is rooted in a variety of socioeconomic factors, but none are more blatant than the idea of style over substance. In essence, a notion that distracts us from what matters.

Superficiality and commercialism are often a package deal. We see this most annoyingly in testosterone-fueled beer commercials that tend to advertise anything but their product. Sports, girls, and the world’s most interesting man are more common sights in beer ads than actual beer. Even when none of the above are involved, beer marketing is guilty of flattering to deceive. Nothing is more cringingly stupid than the Coors gimmick, the cold-activation label. To put it in perspective, the hot chick in the commercial explained, “When these mountains turn from white to blue your beer is as cold as the Rockies.” My beer is cold, good to know.

We should also consider that our country is home to the greatest celebration of superficiality on earth, the Super Bowl, a five-hour extravaganza where the advertising and half-time performance are received with more fascination than the football. Speaking of which, football games last close to four hours these days but according to a study by the Wall Street Journal we only watch an average of 11 minutes of actual football per game. The rest of the time is eaten up by long periods of players standing around and a slew of commercial breaks.

However, the triumph of advertising is not contained to television. Internet users everywhere rue the 15 to 30 seconds they lose having to watch sponsored advertisements before videos on the web’s most popular media site, YouTube. Watching videos on YouTube is already a modern pastime synonomous with procrastination, more distraction is just piling on the misery.

Popular culture also seems to be obsessed with fabrication. The lavish costumes, make-up, and bright hairstyles distract us from Nicki Minaj’s music. Her music, laced with electronic beats in place of actual choruses, distracts from her singing which, in turn, is heavily altered with auto-tune to distract from the fact that her voice sucks. Nicki is hardly the worst perpetrator though. We all shudder when we think about what T-Pain’s voice actually sounds like in reality. How can it be worse than it is in classics like “Kiss Kiss” and “5’O’Clock”?

Looking on a list of today’s most popular artists, it is hard to find a natural singer/songwriter among them. Still, popular demand suggests we don’t really give a damn because, well, those artists are popular. The public’s taste in music can be irksome but it is harmless in comparison to superficiality within our politics.

Perhaps I was misguided in labeling the Super Bowl the greatest celebration of superficiality when the American presidential election is probably more at fault. Surely if there is a place where superficiality must be eradicated, it is in politics. After all, politicians are the highest instruments of purpose in our country. It matters not how they look, what they say, or who their mothers are but only what they do in respect to our nation’s welfare.

With that said, could you imagine the outrage had President Obama or Mitt Romney not worn an American flag pin on the night of the presidential debates? People would be overturning cars in the streets. Yet, it is okay by the American people for politicians in congress to sign a vow that they will never — under any circumstance, in any situation, no matter how prudent or necessary — pass a bill that raises taxes. These congressmen, in essence, are refusing to do their jobs but most of us could care less. Surely that is more scandalous than petty trivialities such as wardrobe.

Similarly, the policies and plans of our leaders often take a backseat to political sideshows. Obama’s March Madness bracket and Romney’s singing of “America the Beautiful” are notable topics that generated lots of attention yet mean next to nothing. It seems harmless but things like these have decided and will decide entire elections. Howard Dean and his infamous primal scream that led to his demise in the Democratic primaries in 2004 can attest to that. At the time, the Vermont Governor was considered the most promising Democratic candidate to oust incumbent George W. Bush. Dean had gradually worked his way up the party rank’s displaying political competency. At first we may think Dean deserved his disrepute but when we look closer it is somewhat depressing to see how all of his good was overrided by the silliest of outbursts.

The case of Dean and our attitudes in everything from television to music point to a worrying trend. Often, we overlook what is important.

We tend to choose style over substance and we prefer metaphorical sideshows to the main event.

This mentality is exploited by companies and politicians because it allows them to implant false images amongst the public. At best, these images distract us slightly from what matters. At worst, they allow those in control to shift blame elsewhere when they are guilty of wrongs against society. To reach, once again, a new zenith in our nation’s history the public must demand superficiality to be stamped out and those in power must comply.

Questions? Email Nathan at nmcclell@fandm.edu.

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