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How Much Can Our Popular Culture Warp Someone?


Also in today’s Jolt, an examination of where the traditional conservative critique of a decadent, morally-inverted popular culture meets the twisted mind of mass shooters…

How Much Can Our Society Warp Someone?

There’s lot to chew over and digest in this essay by SM over at The Wilderness, contemplating the role of Hollywood and our modern society’s values in shaping, or more specifically, warping that lunatic shooter out in California. Before we dive in, two personal rules: I don’t think we should spend much time trying to figure out the motivations and mental logic of an insane person, because there’s no logic to be found there.  Secondly, I don’t think we in media should print the names of mass murderers, since it seems some unhinged types seek out the fame that comes with infamy.

“It doesn’t make sense…I do everything I can to appear attractive to you. I dress nice. I’m sophisticated. I’m magnificent. I have a nice car, a BMW. Nicer than 90% of the people at my college.” [the shooter] laments to a video recorder he’s placed on the car dashboard. He’s somewhere in the canyons, alone, where no one will hear him or see this performance – and it is a performance. In his manifesto, he describes his inability to approach girls going back to high school, even terrified to go to parties or talk to one in class. Spoiler alert: Every guy is terrified of talking to girls. Not every guy manifests this terror into a homicidal monster. Somewhere along the twisted timeline of his life he became wired to believe that simply showing up would be enough to experience joy, sex, love and happiness. He believed that just by walking into a room he would somehow have a part to play in Scarlett Johansson’s life. This is Hollywood culture, not gun culture…

Excessive narcissism as a result of severe social anxiety and depression combined with almost unlimited financial resources. He followed the “E! Entertainment Bible of Fame and Fortune” to the letter. It was enough to get him onto red carpets but not into bed with Paris Hilton.

This is what was intolerable to him. He was a narcissistic celebrity in his own mind wondering why no one was worshiping him. He believed he did everything right to attain celebrity idol perfection and couldn’t handle it when it didn’t start raining Lohans. He couldn’t take it out on the Kardashian sisters who go everywhere with armed security, so he directed his rage at those who were defenseless.

Elsewhere on Fox News, Jonah offered somewhat similar thoughts: “We live in a culture that creates certain expectations for young people, for men and for women, and that has consequences… I don’t think that asking what kind of culture we’re creating for our kids is nearly as stupid a reaction as, say, blaming Sarah Palin’s Facebook map for the Gabby Giffords shooting, which liberals jumped all over themselves to do.”

Here’s the thing. Almost all of our cultural consumptions are conscious choices, whether we want to admit it or not. All of us have an enormous range of options when it comes to what values we want to embrace. If you want to completely ignore the Kardashians, the Lohans, the Paris Hiltons of the world, you can. You don’t have to watch TMZ or “Entertainment Tonight,” and you don’t have to buy the magazines that put them on the cover. None of us are required to watch Judd Apatow or Seth Rogan movies.

Yes, we have cultural forces that encourage materialism, a desperate craving for fame, self-absorption, extreme entitlement issues, a belief that all women ought to be perpetually-enthusiastic sex objects, and so on.  But we also have cultural forces that encourage spirituality, humility, generosity, dedication, compassion, respect for others, and kindness. Most of us can just as easily watch EWTN as MTV, the History Channel as E!, Mike Rowe as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, or read something inspirational or self-improving as browsing through Us Weekly.

We make choices on what we choose to ingest, both physically and psychologically.

And we are shaped by a lot more than just our cultural consumption. If children grow up in loving homes, with lots of people who care about them, exposed to role models, mentors, and people who take their well-being seriously and who put time and effort into cultivating that character, conscience and empathy — then they have good odds of surviving exposure to just about any media image or program and emerging with good heads on their shoulders.

It’s when all of that family-and-neighbors stuff is lacking, then the images and sounds on the screen fill the vacuum. Perhaps it’s that we need someone – flesh-and-blood, in person, not via a screen or a phone – telling young people that the images on the screen are just that – images. Television is not real. Movies are not real. You don’t really know what a celebrity is like. You should never take advice from celebrities.

The catalyst for much of this conversation was Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday asking, “How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, ‘It’s not fair’?”

Okay… how many? No, really, I’m asking. Is this a major national problem? Ladies, fill me in. I don’t hang around that many young, unmarried men. If there are a lot of them as Hornaday suggests, then they probably missed the point of most of Apatow’s movies, because the shlubby arrested adolescent almost always has to grow up and be responsible before he can get the girl.

If indeed these Hornadaydreamers exist in large numbers, they need to read and/or hear this profane advice from Cracked. One key point is to stop telling yourself and everyone else that you’re a “nice guy”:

It’s up to you, but don’t complain about how girls fall for jerks; they fall for those jerks because those jerks have other things they can offer. “But I’m a great listener!” Are you? Because you’re willing to sit quietly in exchange for the chance to be in the proximity of a pretty girl (and spend every second imagining how soft her skin must be)? Well guess what, there’s another guy in her life who also knows how to do that, and he can play the guitar. Saying that you’re a nice guy is like a restaurant whose only selling point is that the food doesn’t make you sick. You’re like a new movie whose title is This Movie Is in English, and its tagline is “The actors are clearly visible.”

Being a “nice guy” is the bare minimum in attracting a wonderful woman to be your mate. You need to figure out what you are extraordinary at – which may relate to your career, or it may not — and you need to dive into it. You need to have well-earned pride in yourself and confidence, and figure out where that line is before you enter “egomaniac” territory.

Is our society manufacturing young people who are “wired to believe that simply showing up will be enough to experience joy, sex, love and happiness”? Doesn’t life metaphorically pick up a tire iron and beat that out of most of us early in our lives? And aren’t all of us who aren’t deeply mentally disturbed capable of growing up and adopting a more mature perspective on what it takes to get what we want out of life?

Tags: Culture


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