The Examined Life, part Deux

Have you eaten at that high-end restaurant yet? Is there some delivery order freaky fast on its way? Are you ready for some football? Especially the half-time show for the next Super Bowl, when Lady Gaga will be fulfilling her pop cultural mojo with a no doubt dazzling and psycho-like choreographed series of numbers that will make viewers over the age of 50 wonder–Lady Gaga?! Really?! But I could be off on that number. I mean, she turned 30 last March. 30! No wonder she’s taking the half-time gig. Fame is fleeting. But I’ll assume her bottom line is in good shape. I recall when I was in college, the mantra was never trust anyone over thirty… Sure, but of course that was then, and now is…well…kind of nightmarish. C’mon. Just look around. Don’t trust anyone running for President over 65? Retire, let some young bloods with we the people ideas have a chance? But that’s going to have to be down the road, at least four-year’s worth…

As for pop culture, rather than cesspool political culture, icons comes and go (unless you are Cher or Mick Jagger) but pop culture is our way of escaping (especially you know what). Hey, some people couldn’t get enough of Rod McKuen or The Carpenters, while others were identifying with Patti Smith and Leonard Cohen. Different strokes. We’re all entitled. After all it’s just POP CULTURE. American style, that is. Flavor of the week 21st century version. As for assessing where one stands in regards to our overall culture, from pop to politics, and placing greater value on one incarnation of it over another, partake in this simple exercise: The Cultural Ladder.

Imagine a ladder that is at least about ten feet in rungs. Then draw the ladder on paper to give it some material substance. The top rung represents your highest cultural rung. Lofty status. You really admire this top rung-residing entity. What notable writer, politician, business person, educator, inventor, philosopher, engineer, culinary master, scientist, artist, athlete, spiritual leader, musician, composer, dancer, singer, doctor, designer, scientist, philanthropist, architect, comic or on-the-rise newcomer among other such people who orbit your personal universe would be placed way up there, at maximum rung-osity? Then place an occupant on the next rung down (it’s best to start at the top and go down) and so forth. Give this exercise serious thought, especially if you intend to show it to anyone else! Then step back and assess your cultural ladder and who (entries should be people, not places or things) is where.

I used to have my students in mass communication classes do this. After all, if we admire anyone (outside of our families and friends, of course, who don’t qualify for the ladder) enough to give them a rung, it is most likely that the knowledge of this person was accessed through one medium or another. In some cases, maybe there is direct contact with some rung-worthy resident–by way of employment or in the educational context–but more likely the basis of awareness and admiration was a product of the mass media. One reads, listens, attends, observes, seeks out information, and its the media, old school or 21st century social media-infested, that provides us with the connection, be it intellectually, emotionally or psychologically. Your ladder may have someone still alive and quite well, or centuries dead, someone who is a household name or as obscure as the creator of the Hoola Hoop.

Perhaps Lady Gaga would be at the top rung for one person or another. Someone else has Nikola Tesla. Okay. Whatever. In either case, who lands on the bottom rung and all the rungs in-between? Hmmm.

Not that it matters to anyone but ourselves, but as this fall season plays itself out, with the media seeming to have neither much seriously examined content, and cookie-cutter style, it would take a much more serious effort to read, listen, attend or observe a culturally substantial individual (that is, someone whose contributions to humanity are easily worth admiration) than once was the case given the seeming narrowly focused, infotainment media model: if it bleeds it leads via facile breaking news!, developing story segments, then 10 second political sound bites, then weather, sports and the cult of personality coverage (Brad and Angelina are separating!!!) Or one of the Kardashian sisters was robbed!!! Then reality tv, court tv, trash tv (can you say Jerry Springer?).

If the mass media could do a cultural ladder on itself, I’m pretty sure a certain reality show creature would be teetering atop that most upper rung. And I’m not referring to Jerry Springer.

The other rungs would seemingly have the rest of the Kardashians, Lester Holt, Matt Lauer, Megan Kelly, Tom Brady, LeBron James or even O.J.Simpson (hey, these folks are news).

Maybe Jimmy Kimmel would get the bottom rung. Unless he gets bumped by Lady Gaga.

The examined ladder of life. 30 minute limit. Begin…

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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