In what ways has America gone down hill?
Going, Going, Gone?
America has become an ever-lasting symbol of freedom, equality, hard work, prosperity, and open-mindedness, which shines brightly and glamorously towards many of the underprivileged and lesser-developed countries of the world. However, as some foreign peoples look to our nation in awe, some view it with disgust and anger, as do many Americans themselves. It seems that our country has lost some of its respectability, some of its values. No longer do school children respect their parents or teachers and no longer does the concept of hard work reach all corners of society. Unemployment rates continue to climb, television becomes more and more offensive, and the concept of a unified American people is becoming hideously unrealistic. Americans are becoming lazy, obsessive, and cruel, as well as hypocritical.
Apart from being one of the “seven deadly sins,” sloth has become one of the most destructive factors eating away at American society. Marling points out that “life is…viewed in one’s living room, where mindless activity…rather than quiet attention seems to be the norm” (578). How often do we find ourselves perched in our Lazyboy, remote in hand, Doritos resting beside our bottle of Pepsi or Dr. Pepper? Our nation has become one of shortcuts; we go to great lengths to lessen our work loads or to invent some sort of gadget that will perform the most meaningless task, in hopes that our lives will be made a little bit easier. This trend has been sweeping the nation since its creation, but now more than ever it is physically rearing its ugly head. By creating fast food restaurants, microwaves, televisions, and video games, along with the diminishing demand for physical labor, Americans are allowed to baste in the ease of their lives. It is a commonly-known fact that obesity is becoming one of the most deadly diseases in this country, not because these people don’t have jobs or make decent livings, but because we rest and allow our brains to soak up cathode rays or Twinkies. It is simply too easy to pop a frozen dinner into the microwave than to hand-make a nutritious meal representing all of the food groups. Our lives, while becoming physically easier, have become more fast-paced and somewhat complicated. We simply don’t have time to cook or clean and rely on McDonald’s or Taco Bell to feed our families. Video games and television raise our children and, when we find ourselves with a moment of free time, we feel that we deserve to rest and plop into our favorite chair for a nap.
Richard Billingham’s Untitled, 1995 represents this American sloth in an incredibly revolting manner. The photograph is of a woman sitting at her coffee table, putting together a jigsaw puzzle. What makes this image genuinely crude is the laziness and physical appearance of the woman: overweight, tattooed, greasy, and in an environment surrounded by cigarettes and clutter (553). This is America’s demise; the sloppy, dirty, and unkempt human digging through a box of puzzle pieces while trash piles rise from the floor. We don’t want to overexert ourselves because, as magazines and television documents, “to be unconcerned with the body or its needs…is much wiser than to care” (Bordo 560). The United States used to be a country made of hard-working farmers who spent all hours of the day plowing, harvesting, and attending to other back-breaking tasks. Now, using common sense, it is easy to see that our nation is falling to a society of slothful, careless “resters.” America is lazy.
Resting occupies most of the population, but obesity has not yet claimed this majority of citizens. Another American problem and a hideous double-standard directly opposed to such corpulence and the projected idea that we are not supposed to be concerned with our bodies, is the fascination and obsession we have with ourselves, our appearance, and images. The people we see on television and in movie theaters are thin, young actors who occupy our definitions of beautiful and attractive, and, naturally, we want to be just like them. Our nation has become obsessed with beauty and image because “it’s easier to wish ill to an un-pretty, un-famous face with missing teeth and acne scars” (Marling 577). As a result, magazines and commercials portray models that look like corpses rather than highly-paid icons, plastic surgery arises as one of most lucrative businesses to date, and anorexia and bulimia continue to haunt the nation’s teenagers and young adults. “[T]hese disorders reflect…our increasing fascination with the possibilities of reshaping our bodies and selves in radical ways, creating new bodies according to our mind’s design” (Bordo 559).We push our bodies to the extreme in an attempt to look like others and are constantly reminded that “fat is one of the worst things [we] can be” (558). It is no wonder that Americans are infatuated with the idea physical perfection and the idea of sacrifice to attain this state. The media, fashion designers, and models drive our obsession and, perhaps, our shallowness, as well as our vast array of eating disorders. America has lost its sense of individuality to a sense of uniformity and envy. We might promote the many different customs and races present in our country, but it can plainly be seen that the U.S. consists of one culture hell-bent on looking like a select few.
Another major crisis facing our country is the maliciousness or unkindness present in our actions and opinions, but more importantly, our entertainment. As stated in “They Want Their Mean TV” by Karal Ann Marling, Americans are cruising along a destructive path resulting in “cultural nastiness” and “unbridled meanness” (577). Today’s television has become one of the most controversial topics debated over in public and private arenas, and has even become an issue explored by the government and manufacturers. The current generation has witnessed the birth of “a scintillating balance of sex and verbal violence” caressing the airwaves and, in turn, our eyes and minds (577). With cut-throat “reality” TV, talk shows, and various other heinous programs, Americans have shifted their attention to watch people “sweat, fret, scream, scheme, eat bugs, and diss one another in nastily amazing ways” (577). An unprecedented amount of violence and vulgarity is entirely noticeable on prime-time television and in the latest flicks at the box office. Numerous studies relate the overly-aggressive and violent members of society to television and other projected media; “nasty television produces nasty audiences” (578). By watching such violent and gory shows, Americans are becoming numb to the effects of death and pain, as well as compassion. “[H]umiliation—other people’s discomfort—is pleasurable stuff…Those are somebody else’s troubles on the screen, and, as such, [are] of no real consequence to [us]” (577-578). Sitting on our couches, watching the rampant guests of talk shows and the arguing members of the latest “reality” series, we continue to eat our Doritos and sip our soda with mild interest of the drama unfolding before our eyes.
Harshness also relates to the attitudes Americans have towards other people, or even their own people. This country was founded on ideals of freedom, equality, and autonomy, but many of these liberties cease to apply to all members of society, particularly minorities. There exists a “sense of…measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (DuBois 563). We tend to determine a man’s worth by the color of his skin or by the beliefs he holds. This fact is also evident in an illustration entitled Cream of Wheat by Edward V. Brewer. A child is shown sitting in a wheel barrow with a whip in mid-air about to strike an old African American man who has stopped to light his pipe or a cigarette (565). This image represents how Africans were once treated as cattle, pulling a young nation down a rough and rocky road that eventually would lead to ultimate success. America was carried along by slaves who harvested and fed our country, but we harshly treat them as sub-level citizens. We are no longer a nation of total open-mindedness or acceptance; everything has become an issue of race or creed as hate crimes are becoming ever more popular. But this inequality eludes to yet another dilemma: American culture is hypocritical.
Equality is something that has never existed in this country and will never exist because of our history with slavery. Sure, we like to boast about how we have risen through the decades to become a tolerant and unbiased people, but we still have deep-rooted prejudices. Our nation is hypocritical in the sense that it forces people to lead double-lives. W.E.B DuBois defined this “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others” as double-consciousness (563). He believed that African Americans have two identities: the American and the Negro (563). They fall under the definition of American and should receive the same freedoms as the majority whites, but, under some invisible clause, are deprived of many of the privileges owed to them. Again, Brewer’s image points to a people that were the backbone of a struggling nation, but are treated as a means to an end. We esteem African Americans for their triumphs, but still do not esteem them equally with whites.
Yet, hypocrisy is not limited to the racial aspects of life; it also involves our social lives. Constantly we are being hit with messages contradicting what we are supposed to say and what we are supposed to do. One part of society tells us how to think and behave, while the other part attempts to persuade us that we can do whatever we want. Children are constantly bombarded with the idea that school is important, while extremely rich movie stars or musicians explain how they dropped out of high school and became an immediate success. In a sense, we are being torn between two totally opposite takes on our culture: the liberal and the conservative. As was previously discussed, one issue that involves such double standards is body image. Our culture is “continually encouraging us to binge on our desires at the same time as it glamorizes self-discipline…” (Bordo 559). We are expected to be free of bodily desires while we “live life to the fullest” and gratify our every want and supposed need. The cultural ramifications of such teachings can only split society in two.
America faces many challenges as it steam-roles ahead into the twenty-first century. Ideals and values that were once our foundation are eroding to expose a layer of not-so-desirable contradictions and problems. Many nations complain that our country is giving way to a land surrounded by dark shadows, having lost all sense of what we once stood for. America is going down hill, so to speak, in many ways. Equality and intentions are challenged, our work ethic is being lost, sincerity and sympathy give way to spite, and we are becoming a modern-day Narcissus.