The River

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

A quintessentially American day

"America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets. You can't ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can't lose what you lacked at conception.” – novelist James Ellroy.

I was watching TV the other night. Yes, it was another one of my forays into TV land. I much prefer blogland, you know.

So anyways, I was watching TV. I had even looked in the TV week magazine thing that comes in the Sunday paper for guidance. Haha. I guess that’s kinda like asking the NRA for guidance on gun control.

The TV was tuned to PBS, which is not surprising, since it’s the only channel on the tube as far as our preschooler is concerned, and she’s usually the last to have watched. (no more than an hour a day!) A Ken Burns documentary was on, so no need to search. Ken Burns, great stuff, right? Well, yeah, as tepid entertainment. That’s what Curtis White argues in his latest book, The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think For Themselves. And he argues this entertainment is so bland and safe that we’re putting ourselves to sleep. Ken Burns presents facts as if they were nuggets you could pick up and put in your pocket, to paraphrase Curtis. I’d give you the direct quote, but I don’t have the book with me.

From the back of the book (this is on Amazon):

The Middle Mind is not about left or right, highbrow or lowbrow, academia or pop culture; in fact, it pervades society without discrimination. The danger is not in a specific point of view, but rather in how the Middle Mind thrives in the common ground of unquestioned mediocrity. All we seem to ask about the culture we experience is whether it's entertaining.
White argues that we have forgotten how to read, to watch, to think for ourselves. Because it is neutral, widespread, and easily digestible, the Middle Mind has lulled the American imagination to sleep. As we sit comfortably amused and distracted, just outside the door there is an immediate crisis of a nation blindly following the path of least resistance.

I’m only a third of the way through it, but I can highly recommend this book, especially for you academics and Adorno fans out there.

Hmmm. In checking out Curtis on the Dalkey Archive’s Center for Book Culture site (he’s the Center’s president as well as an English prof at Univ. of Illinois, I think it is. This information is maddeningly not present on the site), I see that most of the material he’s written for the site was gathered into this book. Here he lays out his Middle Mind thesis. (good thing I checked the book out of the library).

So, check this book out, or the source material online. Nothing’s happening at work right now, right, so why not?

But…back to the TV. The show was on The Battle of Little Big Horn. Sitting Bull. Custer. Of course, I kept thinking about Little Big Man – “You go down there, General. If you got the nerve.” But mainly, I kept thinking: this all sounds so familiar. War against another ethnic group to take their land and resources. Completely mendacious diplomatic efforts. View of another culture as inferior. Press (Bismark Tribune was only example offered) playing up the “noble U.S./treacherous savages” line, with the notable absence of the “terrorist” coinage.

Twas ever thus. Happy Thanksgiving!

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