Archive for June 22nd, 2009

Every time I see a link to something from Roger Ebert’s blog I think that I need to read it more often.  A link to a recent post is no different.  In the post, Ebert discusses Bill O’Reilly and the ramifications that those like him have for cultural discourse in the US.  A few highlights:

I am not interested in discussing O’Reilly’s politics here. That would open a hornet’s nest. I am more concerned about the danger he and others like him represent to a civil and peaceful society. He sets a harmful example of acceptable public behavior. He has been an influence on the most worrying trend in the field of news: The polarization of opinion, the elevation of emotional temperature, the predictability of two of the leading cable news channels. A majority of cable news viewers now get their news slanted one way or the other by angry men. O’Reilly is not the worst offender. That would be Glenn Beck. Keith Olbermann is gaining ground. Rachel Maddow provides an admirable example for the boys of firm, passionate outrage, and is more effective for not shouting.

O’Reilly represents a worrisome attention shift in the minds of Americans. More and more of us are not interested in substance. The nation has cut back on reading. Most eighth graders can’t read a newspaper. A sizable percentage of the population doesn’t watch television news at all. They want entertainment, or “news” that is entertainment. Many of us grew up in the world where most people read a daily paper and watched network and local newscasts. “All news” radio stations and TV channels were undreamed-of. News was a destination, not a generic commodity. Journalists, the good ones anyway, had ethical standards.

Obviously, change happens for good and bad and I am not going to pretend that the cultural discourse of ten years ago represented the gold standard for all of history.  Still, the fact that so many people watch shows like these makes me fear for a future straight out of Idiocracy (which has been airing on Comedy Central lately):

At least we still have Jon Stewart:

*For the first time in a while, today’s post has a soundtrack.

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It is amazing how quickly attitudes can change with one’s condition.  While I have been fortunate to be paid relatively well as a graduate student, there were a number of times when more money would have been useful.  To keep things in perspective, I have no kids, no house (and none of the potentially high associated costs), and no car payment.  Graduate students with the same salary and even one of these three things likely have a much smaller margin for error in their monthly budgeting.  When talking to a fellow graduating student recently*, however, I remarked that it was a good thing we got paid so little because if the pay had been any higher I may have been more willing to delay the completion of my Ph.D.  He rightly pointed out that I haven’t received a single paycheck from my future employer but I’m already thinking like The Man.  It may be a good thing that there won’t be any graduate students at my SLAC, since I won’t be able to tell them how I got by in graduate school just fine on five dollars a day** and that they should be able to do the same.

*I guess I could have formatted this as a Scatterplot-esque “Overheard” post.

**Thankfully, this was not my actual graduate student salary.

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