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Welcome to Our McCulture

After watching the news recently, three thoughts struck me. They were observations about the state of our culture today. Once a culture rich with depth, democracy, morals and humility, we are now… well, superficial, self-absorbed and synthetic. We are not the American culture that first settled this land. Things are now convenient, quick and easy, like fast food. McRibs. McMuffin, McNuggets…and now McCulture. Let me explain.

photo credit: miskan via photopin cc

photo credit: miskan via photopin cc

Superficial

MSNBC interrupted a serious interview with congresswoman Jane Harman mid-sentence while talking about gun control… so they could report on the fact that Justin Bieber had just been arrested on DUI charges. The news of Bieber’s arrest had the entire media industry buzzing, with editors and producers eager to get their share of page views and eyeballs on the story. MSNBC isn’t alone in this – CNN aired an hour-long special report titled “Bieber’s Troubles,” a show one might expect from ‘Entertainment Tonight’ or ‘Access Hollywood’, not ’The Most Trusted Name in News’.

photo credit: jaredpolin via photopin cc

photo credit: jaredpolin via photopin cc

Writer Ben Cohen acknowledged, “This is a seriously worrying feature of the news industry in America, and one that warrants a great deal of scrutiny. The long term effects of a major news network prioritizing news stories according to their virality is particularly toxic. Followed to its logical extreme, in a few years no one will be reporting on anything serious at all, and we’ll be stuck in a nightmarish cocoon of listicles and cat stories. Just look at Buzzfeed—the prototype of the modern media company that exists solely to create viral content. Sure, it’s hugely popular, but then so is Justin Bieber, and that doesn’t make it any good.” The truth is, we‘re getting very good at sticking to the surface. Welcome to McCulture.

Self-absorbed

Right after their win over the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman was so full of himself—he had to share some of it with us. In an interview, he boasted that he was the best cornerback in the NFL, dissing Michael Crabtree, the wide receiver he had covered. Sherman’s agent, Jamie Fritz, told CNNMoney that interest in his client has boomed since the remarks. While Sherman’s current endorsements amount to just a bit more than his $550,000 NFL salary, Fritz believes there are millions in deals that will be signed soon. Sherman is indeed, awesome. Just ask him.

Recently, I heard David Brooks talk about an NPR program, covering the stories of World War II veterans after they returned from the war. Each of the war vets felt the same way—they were not heroes. Serving and sacrificing for their country was what they were supposed to do. They were only doing their job. Following the program, David returned to his hotel, turned on the TV, just in time to see an NFL player score a touchdown. He was stunned at the ego and arrogance displayed as the athlete celebrated his score. He was so full of himself, teammates couldn’t get near him to celebrate the “teamwork” required to enable him to score. David Brooks said the contrast between the war veterans’ humility and this player’s ego was stunning. The vets had saved the free world. The athlete had run a few yards with a ball. But somehow, it’s okay today to be full of oneself instead of saying, “I’m just doing my job.” Welcome to McCulture.

Synthetic

If you watch news programs as I do, you might be aware of the fact that shallow or artificial stories are shared with the same seriousness as significant stories that shape our history. In other words, we are just as compelled with synthetic, artificial and conjured up “news” (stories from Reality TV shows, celebrities, etc.) as we are with events that really matter. A network or cable news program will likely spend as much time talking about Miley Cyrus’ weekend as it does on the economy or on poverty in America. The fact is, much of middle-class life isn’t real: we are caught up in artificial concerns, synthetic ways to preoccupy our time and make us happy because we need coping mechanisms to endure our week. Welcome to McCulture.

Why did MSNBC interrupt an interview on gun control to talk about Justin Bieber? The answer is simple: we are superficial, synthetic and self-absorbed. It’s all about ratings, not informing the world on what’s really important.

Why is Richard Sherman attracting new endorsement deals? Because we live in a time of self-expansion–and the expression of ego–after a game. But I think we forget at times that it is, indeed, just a game. I have a question for Richard Sherman: If Michael Crabtree is as “mediocre” as you say he is, why should you be bragging? If you only covered an average player, weren’t you just doing your job?

Here’s a thought. Let’s decide to place sports and entertainment in perspective. Every athlete and actor should understand that even though people watch them do their job on a grand stage, they are still only doing a job. Justin Bieber can sing. Yay! Richard Sherman can cover a wide receiver. Yay! One day—Justin and Richard will no longer be able to do what they do now. They will need to “add value” to our world, perhaps in a job that has no spotlight or microphone. That’s where most of us live.

We all need to relocate…and move out of McCulture.

 

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11 Comments

  1. Katy Mumaw on February 14, 2014 at 8:21 am

    Thanks for keepin’ it real Dr. Elmore! I couln’t agree more. Priorities are extremely twisted and we need to relocate!.
    Thanks again

    • Tim Elmore on February 14, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Thank you for commenting, Katy!

  2. Christine on February 15, 2014 at 12:50 am

    An architect friend once said his mantra to his clients is “Fast, cheap or good–pick two.” As a nation we’ve clearly picked our two.

  3. Ray on February 15, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Who are the Kardashians, and why are we trying to keep up with them? Pass the Mcnuggets of the modern news media.

  4. Sabrina on February 15, 2014 at 10:01 am

    While I understand your point about professional athletes, Richard Sherman was an unfortunate choice as an example. If you watched any of his interviews after his infamous post-game interview, or if you bothered to read any of his responses in the multiple articles written about those moments, you would know that much of the media hype and buzz that followed had to do with the ugly, racist response to his interview. I don’t think anyone is in a position to judge who does not have to get himself “in the moment” to play at such an intense level with the stakes so high, and who has not made the game winning play that brought his team into the Superbowl. Richard Sherman talks about turning on and off a switch to be the person he has be to perform to his utmost in what is, let’s face it, a violent sport. Unfortunately he didn’t have time to turn off the switch before he was accosted by a reporter in the immediate aftermath of that moment. He apologized for his comments. He admitted they were immature. He asked people not to judge him as a “thug” simply because of the color of his skin or as a villain just because he didn’t turn on his sportsmanlike persona in time to save his media image. Known as a bit of a nerd in his high school in Compton, Sherman inspired his peers to go on to college and graduated from Stanford with a 3.9 GPA. In many ways he broke the mold of the stereotypical thuggish football player. Is it possible that Mr. Sherman’s increased stock in endorsement deals is a result of what has been revealed about his character post interview rather than by his brief moments of ugly self congratulation? On an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, Sherman’s brother describes what it was like growing up in Compton: “It was tough, it will be tough for the average kid. The way our parents raised us to believe in God, to have confidence and faith in what it is that we believe, we were able to make it out, just staying focused in sports, and keeping a positive mind state.” Richard Sherman should be admired as a role model to young people, as a shining beacon of what can be accomplished if you stay in school, work hard and focus on what you love. Instead he is used by you as an example of egotistical self-promotion simply because he got caught up in the emotion of the moment. In other words, he proved himself to be not only a superhero who saved the day, but also a flawed human being capable of making – and owning up to – a mistake.

    • Ray on February 15, 2014 at 10:44 am

      “I don’t think anyone is in a position to judge who does not have to get himself “in the moment” to play at such an intense level with the stakes so high, and who has not made the game winning play that brought his team into the Superbowl.”

      When did a football games stakes become so important that it could be spoken about in the same “Intensity level” with real issues of the day. I believe Tim hit the point that these really unimportant events or people have been elevated to ridiculous levels of importance. His correlation to the fast food industry putting it’s products on the same level as real healthy food, with the emphasis on the word “real”.

      • Sabrina on February 15, 2014 at 11:21 am

        You have missed the point, Ray. It’s all too easy to criticize the media for focusing on “really unimportant events or people” when sometimes those feel good stories that people like or share or that become viral have to do with people who overcome obstacles, beat the odds and are successful in their chosen endeavors. Richard Sherman, like it or not, is one of those people, He may be, in your opinion, “elevated to ridiculous levels of importance.” He may be just a football player passing a silly ball, but the point is that people watch his silly sport and it makes a lot of money and people – including young people – pay attention. So, given that this is an educational forum, why not use him as a positive role model rather than take easy pot shots at him like we do at Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber? We cannot control who our children look to as role models, but we can control how those role models are portrayed. I would say someone who has used his intelligence and talents to pull himself out of poverty, kept himself out of the gang-ridden streets of Los Angeles thanks to the influence of his parents and his faith, and reached the pinnacle of success in his chosen profession is worthy of our admiration, not scorn. Richard Sherman’s story is not only real, it is important, and just because he plays football – something you deem “unimportant” – doesn’t make it any less so.

    • Tim Elmore on February 19, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      Thanks for your comment. Yep, I am fully up to date on the details of Richard Sherman’s life. Smart student; came from incredible background, overcoming odds to succeed at Stanford and in the NFL. I appreciate your perspective, but let me give you a bigger perspective. This has nothing to do with his intelligence. Watch or read interviews from stellar NFL stars from the 1960s, athletes who played under Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry. These incredible athletes were marked by humility. They saw the big picture. It was about the team, and respect for their opponents. Today—we allow for all kinds of hubris, arrogance, and self-expansion. I believe those who don’t notice or feel this is healthy…are shortsighted and have no historical perspective. We’ve drifted. I celebrate the odds Sherman beat to get to the NFL, and even have said so many times, I also have read that Michael Crabtree did some things to provoke him. Poor display on his part. I believe coaches can and must lead athletes to now represent the organization with class. Today, I believe we’ve dumbed down what is OK in adults.

      BTW…I do think it was big of Richard Sherman to own up to the inappropriate comment he made after the game. He admitted that he was “in the moment” as you said. I like it, yet in saying that, he actually admitted there is a standard for appropriate and inappropriate. We have worked with dozens of pro and NCAA teams, and we are targeting helping them be big in those moments after the game, not merely play big in those moments during the game.

  5. Jennifer Achtstatter Boberg on February 15, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I agree that mass media news agencies are covering trivial topics as if they were on the same level of importance as “real news”. they tone of most news reporters in Chicago seems to be one of sarcasm. Their intonation and expressiveness does not change from a trivial story to a more serious story, leaving the listener with the impression that nothing really matters. I really do not watch the news very often, because what is reported seems either negative or is fluff.
    The definition of what is “news” has definitely changed over the years. Even when reporting on crime or fires, I often ask myself the question why is this particular piece “news”? If a crime was committed and they are in search of a suspect and need people’s help in locating the perpetrator that’s newsworthy. If the suspect is in custody, it’s voyeurism. If there is a fire and roads are blocked or people need assistance that’s news worthy. If the fire is done and over and people were injured or died, but there is no action or useful information that’s voyeurism.
    We have also created a culture of fear by over reporting crimes. I talked to a teacher from the Poconos, PA who does not take her 2 year old to the park because she is afraid of crime and her child being snatched. When I looked at the actual crime stats for her area, they are very low and the only crimes against children were committed by family members not strangers. Her fears are based on hype not facts.
    The sad reality is that real stories that need to be brought to light that can really make a difference in people or communities are being under reported or not being reported at all.
    News should make a positive difference in people’s lives not entertain.

  6. Joe Nelson on February 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    Spot On, Sir!

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