My recent epic Facebook politics thread wasn’t all flames and trolls; occasionally, my opponent and I settled down and quietly considered some of the more serious implications of today’s American labor force.
“Ian, what does it say about you that Snooki has a job and you don’t?”
I guess I had that one coming. After all, this is the USA, the land of opportunity, where every few years American citizens line up in descending order of intelligence, creativity and moxie and are given jobs while supplies last. And once the country runs out of available gigs, everyone left standing in line gets a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Not for free, because that would be welfare. Instead, they pay off the price of the book at 25 percent interest, and rent-to-own in less than a year!
It’s for the best that Snooki has a job, though, because by her own admission, she wouldn’t read Atlas Shrugged. Or pretty much any book, ever. Which leads me to the first of two answers to my non-friend’s burn of a question:
1) Snooki sucks. People are interested in her because she’s a trainwreck, which is the case with most celebrities these days.
Once upon a time, we looked up to celebrities. Now, we look down on them. I’m not sure exactly when the scales tipped, but it seemed to hinge maybe on Michael Jackson, and definitely on O.J. Simpson. Celebrities went from being our idols and sources of inspiration to people we want to tear down so that we feel better about ourselves. Jackson and Simpson were among the few to be both revered as the pinnacle of their respective fields and the ultimate low in personal behavior. Neither hindered that decline with their behavior (though I think MJ’s case is more circumstantial than Simpson’s), and both became the archetypes of fallen idols. Were they the first famously scandalous stars? Of course not. But a 24-hour media and Internet saturation ensured that their transgressions became the template for decades to come.
Jackson and Simpson also represented the last of their breed. During the height of their respective careers, we saw them as All-American good boys, earnestly marveling at all the talent and joy they shared with us. Who can we say that about these days? Look at any celebrity blog and you’ll find dirt on Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black, to say nothing of anyone old enough to own a car. We just assume our young celebrities are going to dive sooner or later, and we’re all too happy to push them past that breaking point. Why? Because Charlie Sheen is entertaining!
Reality TV streamlined that decline to the point where we don’t even bother with the “talent” phase anymore; we just cultivate the trainwrecks directly. Nobody watches “Real Housewives” or “Jersey Shore” because these people are inherently better than us; it’s precisely because they’re worse. These real-life cartoon characters are an assurance to regular Americans that even rich and (theoretically) beautiful people have the same angst, petty drama and antisocial skills as the rest of us, and that fame makes them even worse. It makes us feel better about our own lives, and so what if that makes our culture worse as a result?
I think this is only going to get worse as time goes by. One day, the Tom Cruises, Charlie Sheens and Lindsay Lohans will go. Even Paris Hilton will seem like a remnant of a bygone era when celebrities at least pretended to do something other than be famous for its own sake. All we’ll be left with is...Snooki. Who sucks.
2) I don’t suck. In high school, some of my more academically inclined friends used to bemoan football pep rallies and wonder why there wasn’t an academic pep rally. As both a gifted student and a football player myself, I thought the sentiment was nice, but still kind of dumb. An idea I later confirmed when our school actually did throw an academic pep rally. It was just...weird. That’s not to say that academic ceremonies can’t be awesome, but time, place and audience are important. And thought-provoking endeavors will never have the kickbutt, in-your-face party atmosphere brought on by sporting events and reality-TV watch parties.
Now, I’ll admit that I think of nearly everything in sports terms, especially my own life. I began seeing my life through that filter when I was 10 and first got heavily into sports. It’s a motivator for me. Will the Ian of 2011 go farther than the Ian of 2010? Or will he squander his potential like he did in 2005? Did the trade to Missouri benefit the team? Will Louisiana fans hail his return to the state? I even think of job hunts in draft terms. Will I be the first choice? A sleeper pick? Mr. Irrelevant? Will I go undrafted and have to prove myself harder? Finally, will I live up to the hype?
I do this within because I realize that it doesn’t happen out there. A Snooki will always be more popular than an Ian McGibboney, because she’s more appealing on a visceral level. Just like you don’t have to turn on your brain to enjoy a football game, you pretty much have to shut off your mind to watch (or, sweet Jesus, read) Snooki. And people like to turn their brains off. If you gave most people the option of Snooki’s book or this single blog to read on the beach this Saturday afternoon, which do you think would emerge the victor? I’m not delusional. This is a blog that deals with ideas and runs too long for what people think a blog should be. But 304 shallow pages of Snooki always fits the bill.
So yes, it is sad that Snooki has a job and a book and I don’t. But it’s not sad for me — it’s sad for what it says about America.