Cultural literacy (and existential terror) in the digital age

February 26, 2009 at 1:28 am Leave a comment

This morning a friend sent me “Greg Rutter’s definitive list of the 99 things you should have already experienced on the internet unless you’re a loser or old or something.” On the whole, it is a depressing list. Perhaps even more depressing because I have experienced almost all of them. Is this what cultural literacy has come to? In 2009 you’re out of the loop if you’re not familiar with “Ms. South Carolina answers a question” and “tranquilized bear hits trampoline.” A generation ago you had to be ready to discuss “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” or at least “All In The Family” when you met your friends at the coffee pot. Before that, you were expected to be up to speed on what Walter Cronkite or Ed Murrow said. Before that functioning members of society kept up with the latest wisdoms of Franklin Roosevelt and Will Rogers. And at some point, I suppose, people actually talked about–what’s the word?–books.

Call me an elitist if you must, but I am happy to be in the company of another elitist, Neil Postman. Read Amusing Ourselves to Death, and you will tremble for the future of democracy in a society dominated by electronic media. I thought Obama was very good last night–or more to the point, very good on television. Given the scope of our current problems, the question is will that be good enough? I suspect that if you read the transcript of his speech, you will find nothing that merits comparison with Jefferson or Lincoln. Of course, you could say the same thing of every president since FDR, who was, coincidentally, the first president to use the full force of the media to enhance his grip on power.

Mere ad guys aren’t going to change the course of history, and questions of how media will affect our political future are, to borrow Mr. Obama’s unfortunate phrase from the campaign, “above our pay grade.” Nevertheless, I hope that you will take a look at Mr. Rutter’s list and at least join me in an effort not to hasten with the ads we make the devaluation of the  coin of the realm.

Entry filed under: Advertising and Marketing. Tags: , , , , .

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February 2009

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