“What kind of talent does it take to play in an air band?”
“Anyone can do that!”
“What’s so great about an air band, no matter how good they are?”
I agree. An air band’s rendition of a song, no matter how polished or fun, just isn’t “excellence.”
It’s only a talent competition and we can disagree about the merits of air bands.
But the image of an air band--playing imaginary instruments with great gusto and raving to the audience that the competition means “everything” to them—symbolizes the mediocrity infecting our culture—and our youth.
An Icelandic proverb, “Mediocrity is climbing molehills without sweating.” suggests the two faces of mediocrity: first, spending significant time and outsized effort on things that don’t really matter… and second, spending minimal time and half-hearted effort on things that do.
We easily recognize mediocrity in half-baked efforts. It’s the “whatever” mentality, the “good enough” attitude that wants to slide by with minimal effort--unless there’s a promised reward. One English teacher shared her frustration that the margin notes and verbal suggestions she offered on student papers, hoping to spur a desire for excellence, were typically met with bored faces, shoulder shrugs, and “Ok, whatever.” Sometimes they’d follow-up with a question, “Well, is it good enough to pass?”
It’s harder, though, to recognize the hidden face of mediocrity--pursuing perfection in things that don’t really matter (while neglecting the things that really do). It’s insidious in today’s culture: it begins with the schools and media telling our children that no particular moral standards or values are better than any other. “It really doesn’t matter what you do,” they say, “as long as it makes you happy.” That’s a recipe not only for moral disaster, but also for mediocrity across the board.