America: Through the Eyes of Pop Culture

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Some argue that the idea of American “culture” is nonexistent. Some say we are simply a disorganized homogenization with no true identity. I attempted to debunk this assertion through extensive online research, combing the daily minutia of the internet–specifically, entertainment news. What I discovered is that pop-culture illustrates more than just the over-glorification of celebrity. It also serves as a mind-numbing reflection of American values.

The following images represent a vignette of American culture–albeit a vignette of disappointment and embarrassment. Nevertheless, it is a reflection of culture indigenous to America. It begins on a holiday, on the night of Halloween, in the Hills of Beverly:hugh hefner miley cyrus On October 28th, 2013, Hugh Hefner tweeted this photo of himself with 27-year-old wife, Crystal Harris. Hugh Hefner is 87, by the way. He was 60 when she was born. I’ll let that sink-in…

Crystal was dressed as Miley Cyrus from her now-infamous VMA performance, while Hugh was dressed as…I don’t know. He looks like a Madam Tussauds wax sculpture of a death row inmate. No. Wait. Sorry. He’s supposed to be Robin Thicke. Now I see it.

First of all, let’s start with Hugh Hefner. Essentially, this man’s entire career justified what Miley Cyrus did on stage at the VMAs. He made promiscuity acceptable in society. He turned the Hollywood image of empowered women like Marilyn Munroe into sex objects. We’ve grown to celebrate this type of “freedom” in American culture. Some might call that “empowerment”. But I dare those same people to watch one episode of The Girls Next Door and try making an argument for feminism. I’m not saying women in this country should be wearing burqas but there has to be self-conscious limitations on freedom of expression.

While it’s true that “progressive” values have ushered much-needed social change throughout history, America’s idea of “progression” seems to be limitless in certain aspects. Because as far as we’ve progressed, we’ve also taken steps backwards in terms of cultivating intellectual culture. We have completely lost sight of our moral boundaries. We’re becoming culturally desensitized to what is right and wrong.

Even our childhood institutions are no longer sacred. Look at Disney. Look what they did to Miley.

And Vanessa Hudgens. And Selena Gomez.

And Britney Spears. And Christina Aguilera.

And Bambi’s mom! WHY?! I was just a child, Walt! You twisted, bastard!

Over the past decade, Disney went from this:

before

To this:disney gals 75

[Side note: It was Nickelodeon who discovered Emily Ratajkowski (below), who, coincidentally, was one of the topless models in Robin Thicke’s controversial “Blurred Lines” video, which, subsequently, facilitated the controversial Miley Cyrus VMA performance, thus, culminating in the controversial aforementioned Halloween outfit of October 28th, 2013]

The circle of life:

emily r

The second image comes to us from Nashville, Tennessee. It’s Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood singing a scathing duet about Obamacare during the Country Music Awards: rednecks First of all, I don’t identify as a Democrat nor as a Republican. I’m not trying to defend the president here. But I bet 90% of people in attendance/watching the CMAs, couldn’t speak intelligently about America’s healthcare system for more than 5 seconds (and that’s being generous). So, why make the joke? Why involve topical political commentary? What’s the point? There is none.

That’s my point. Ask yourself, how many in attendance at the CMAs are likely Republican? Not to generalize but considering most country music comes from the south and most southerners are Republican, logic dictates that it’s probably a correct assumption. Let’s say a majority are Republican. Also ask yourself, how many people in attendance at the CMAs likely have health insurance? I would also guess, a majority. If you have the financial means to be a country music star, you probably have the means to be insured (e.g. millionaires like Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood).  Their motive is clear. They’re pandering to rich, white Republicans who already have healthcare and who already hate Obama because he’s a Democrat. For the producers, it’s a win-win. Everyone in the audience laughs while at the same time grasping the opportunity of a national stage to criticize the president.

However, from an outside perspective, an out-of-context parody about healthcare doesn’t appear tongue-in-cheek. Instead, it appears to be cheap banter for a like-minded audience, most of whom are probably hoping Obamacare fails, if for no other reason than out of spite. It’s pathetic how desperate the producers were to politicize an issue and turn it into entertainment in the name of petty dissonance.

I don’t recall Toby Keith ever getting on stage and singing a parody about the Iraq War during the Bush administration. Of course not. Because, according to country music, supporting your president for waging war is called being “patriotic”. But criticizing your president for trying to offer healthcare to millions of uninsured Americans? That’s worthy of cheap laughs and “Yee-haws!”.

Miley Cyrus “twerking” on stage while wearing a confederate flag bikini would have been more appropriate than singing a song about a failing healthcare system in a country whose government was recently shutdown because the people running it forgot how to be civil. There’s nothing funny about that. Accordingly, country music stars have no right to criticize something for being shitty. That’s hypocritical. After all, they’re country music stars.

The “joke” offers no alternative nor solution. There’s no productive discourse. It only contributes to an increasingly polarized public sphere, solely intent on being controversial for the purpose of ratings. The producers decided pandering to their predominately Republican viewership was opportunistic given their audience demographic. And they were right. Because, for the majority of attendees at the CMAs that evening, the reality of millions of uninsured Americans was nothing more than a laughable inconvenience, whose blame can be placed entirely on the people whose viewpoints they oppose. It’s too convenient for them not to laugh. It’s this same combination of stubborn ignorance and unashamed idealism that contributes to the ineffective bureaucracy in American politics. It’s the same thing that shutdown our government. Both sides must stop.

Last but not least, Miley Cyrus (who has somehow become the focal point of this essay) (dammit):

miley joints

After Miley’s provocative twerk-filled performance at the 2013 VMAs, it was presumable we could expect similar antics from her at the more liberal EMAs (European Music Awards). Because Europeans are floozies. That’s why our ancestors left and came to America in the first place.

The 2013 EMAs were held in Amsterdam. Which, as we all know, is famous for their scones (as well as prostitution and marijuana). Accordingly, when Miley Cyrus was accepting an award on stage (dressed as a prostitute), she pulled a joint from her purse and smoked it in front of everyone.

The fact that Ms. Cyrus smoked “drugs” on stage is irrelevant. If you’ve ever seen VH1’s Behind the Music with Motley Crue, you’ll understand that everything that Miley has ever done, only scratches the surface of inappropriate things musicians have done throughout American history. But that didn’t stop broadcasters from censoring the entire EMA pot-smoking incident from American viewers.

Seriously?

For weeks after Miley Cyrus’ controversial VMA performance, media outlets across the country shamelessly replayed images of her simulating sex onstage, barely wearing clothing. Yet, the image of her smoking a joint is too offensive for our delicate sensibilities? Our priorities are in need of serious reevaluation.

It has nothing to do with whether legalizing weed is right or wrong. It’s about how American society dictates what is right and wrong–with an unreasonable disregard for common sense. A new poll suggests 60% of Americans support legalization. Nearly half the states in the U.S. have legalized weed in some form or another. What purpose does censorship accomplish? What is it fulfilling besides accordance with arbitrary FCC laws? Nothing. It only intensifies the idiocy in American culture, surrounding the debate between what we deem moral and immoral.

I don’t know what the future of America holds. If our culture is any indication, it doesn’t look promising. We constantly bear witness to the loss of innocence, the loss of decency, and the loss of common sense. At times, it seems as though we’ve lost our minds. America is one of the most perverted, opinionated, self-righteous, and greatest countries in the world.

If only we were more self-aware.

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Implications of the Alabama Hostage Crisis

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Law enforcement personnel walk away from the perimeter of the scene of a shooting and hostage taking in Midland City

“I want a television and camera down here and broadcast live on the news”.

Those were Jimmy Lee Dykes’ first demands, according to sources close to Michael Daly (The Daily Beast). Dykes, a 65-year-old Alabama man, captivated the media and the country during a weeklong hostage standoff beginning on January 29th, 2013. It all started when Dykes boarded a school bus in rural Alabama, demanding two young hostages. The bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., heroically intervened and was shot dead. Dykes took only one hostage–a five-year-old boy named Ethan–and exited through the emergency door. Both would spend the next week barricaded within a homemade bomb shelter on Dyke’s property, while the entire country followed their every move. In the end, only one of them would emerge alive.

During persistent negotiations with federal agents, basic amenities were supplied to Ethan: snacks, crayons, and a coloring book. What federal agents were not able to supply was Dykes’ most pressing requisition: a television news camera broadcasting live. This would have required a camera operator, which, in turn, would betray the cardinal rule of hostage negotiations: never introduce a new hostage.

The agents remained faithful to protocol. Instead of offering a live broadcast, they agreed to supply Dykes with a camera to record his message intended for the media. Eventually Dykes would open the hatch of the bunker long enough for agents to throw stun grenades and fire the lethal rounds that would end the standoff as well as Dykes’ life. Ethan was safely rescued.

Jimmy Lee Dykes wanted to feel important. He wanted compensation for the failure he perceived in a lack of reciprocation to his online anti-government tirades. He thought his voice mattered and he wanted to be heard. He wanted America to know his name. With the help of the media, he accomplished that.

Our information-rich internet culture has culminated an emerging phenomenon. It has created a proclivity for self-expression, devoid of inhibition. It provides an unparalleled medium to indulge in our exhibitionist tendencies.

nbk

“The media made them superstars”

“Natural Born Killers” is an Oliver Stone film, written by Quentin Tarantino. The protagonists are a pair of lovers/mass murderers (Mickey and Mallory Knox) who–after finding themselves imprisoned and awaiting transfer to a mental institution–become the masterminds of a prison riot that eventually leads to their freedom. Initially–before they are caught–Mickey and Mallory receive celebrity-status through tales of their misguided love, glorified by gossip magazines and the American media. Each crime they commit expedites their cult following.

In the third act, Mickey Knox is giving a televised interview in prison with Wayne Gale (a gossip columnist). During the live taping, Knox seizes the opportunity to rile his fellow inmates and a prison riot ensues. As the upheaval spirals out of control, Knox takes Gale’s camera crew hostage and forces them to broadcast the event live to the entire country.

When they’re finally free from prison, only Mickey, Mallory, and Wayne Gale remain alive. For the moment, Gale is convinced that he’s safe (reassured by the fact that the Knox’s trademark is leaving one victim alive). But it’s soon revealed who the real survivor is. (Spoiler alert!) Gale is shot dead and the camera continues recording. WE are the survivors: the audience. We are the witnesses, left alive to tell their story.

It reaffirms our guilty conscience, made clear in our fascination with human conflict. It asks the audience:“Why are you still watching this? What the fuck is wrong with you?” Because a small part of us wants Mickey and Mallory to escape. Which begs the question: have we become so overexposed to “reality” that it has completely desensitized us?

hbb“Why are you still watching this? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Jimmy Lee Dykes’ allegedly claimed that he was inspired by the idea after what happened in Newtown, CT. He realized how much media attention was generated by the Sandy Hook massacre and subsequently followed the same equation: violence+schoolchildren=national news coverage. It was his blueprint for exploiting the media.

Did the media cover the Alabama hostage crisis for an entire week? Yes. Did America place Jimmy Lee Dykes under the spotlight? Yes. If you search his name on the internet–for the rest of eternity–will his name and photo be the first result that appears? Yes. And would any of us have known or cared who Jimmy Lee Dykes was if he had decided to kill himself alone in his underground bunker? Probably not.

Call it ‘post-modern gonzo journalism’. Instead of the writer becoming part of the story, the writer IS the story (“the writer”, in this case, being the criminal). It’s unnerving to consider how easily the media can be used as a pawn. It’s complicated by the fact that Americans view reality-TV as a staple of entertainment. Essentially, that’s what the Alabama hostage standoff was: reality-TV produced by a criminal. Jimmy Lee Dykes wanted to be important. For one week, he was the most important man in America. He was Mickey Knox.

We are all inclined to feel entitled to our ‘fifteen minutes of fame’. The question is: how far are we willing to go to embrace it? And if this becomes a growing trend in American culture, how will the media expect to control a story when the story is controlling them?