In 1951, Ray Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451, a futuristic novel in which books are burned, and the citizenry occupies itself by watching hours of TV on wall-to-wall sets. Contrary to popular belief, Bradbury says Fahrenheit 451 wasn’t about censorship or McCarthyism. It was about how TV undermines interest in reading and learning.
In 2006, Mike Judge released the film Idiocracy, in which the main character, Joe Bauers, undergoes a suspended-animation experiment and wakes up in the year 2505. He’s unable to communicate, because “the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valley girl, inner-city slang and various grunts.” The degenerate morons who occupy this brave new world amuse themselves with vapid, vulgar reality shows like “Ow, My Balls!” (Which, by the way, is exactly what it sounds like.)
Are you laughing? You probably shouldn’t. Fahrenheit 451 and Idiocracy aren’t dystopian fantasies—we’re already there.
In case you’re not convinced, Oxygen just announced a new reality show featuring rapper “Shawty Lo,” his eleven children, and his ten “baby mamas.” According to ABC News, he “refer[s] to his children’s mothers with nicknames like Jealous Baby Mama, Baby Mama from Hell, and Shady Baby Mama. The show also introduces viewers to Lo’s 19-year-old girlfriend.”
Thankfully, some groups on the left and right protested, with the Parents Television Council deeming it “grotesquely irresponsible and exploitative.” Still, the fact that Oxygen believed there was an audience for a show with such a tawdry premise (and a star who calls himself “Shawty Lo”) is depressing enough.
The main consumers of this garbage? My generation, the 18-to-29 set. We have more opportunities for cultural and intellectual enrichment than any previous generation, but we don’t take them. As Mark Bauerlein revealed in his aptly named book The Dumbest Generation, less than 10 percent of young people attend plays, ballets, or musical performances, only 23 percent visited a museum in the last year, and a record low number of us read for fun.
So where are America’s teens and twenty-somethings? Parked in front of the TV, watching Jersey Shore.