This post is about fifteen years in the making… and even now, it’s still a work in progress.
I’m a high school teacher, and I started my career at a small parochial school teaching English and Religion courses. Every year I taught there, the faculty would attend a SoCal Christian educators conference; and at this conference one year, I attended a seminar on the topic of teens’ intake of entertainment media. I took the resources from this seminar back to my classroom and created a series of lesson plans on the topic. Those lessons eventually morphed into my first book, Engaging the Media.
This topic – our culture’s obsession with entertainment – is one that I’ve wrestled with and thought about for years, and is one that I was happy to see that Wallace wrestled with as well. Apparently, the working title David used while writing Infinite Jest was “A Failed Entertainment,” referring, in part, the the fatally addictive video cartridge produced by one James O Incandenza.
As I read the portion of the Marathe-Steeply conversation on 30 April (my daughter’s birthday, btw) YDAU, I was reminded of the paper I intended to present at the first annual David Foster Wallace conference. My working title for the as-of-yet-unwritten paper was “Fatal Distraction: How We’re Entertaining Ourselves to Death.” I intended to write about how our hyper-mediated culture is killing off important elements of our human experience.
But, as John Lennon sang, “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Life got in the way, and I wasn’t able to write this paper in time for the conference two years ago. Instead, I approached the topic of addiction from another angle: my own addiction to prescription anti-anxiety medication (turns out it was the WRONG medication to be on) and the subsequent withdrawals I experienced coming off that medication and finally going on the right medication. You can read that paper here.
Anyway, I digress.
Back to Marathe and Steeply, casting their long shadows as the sun sets over Tuscon. Marathe, in talking about the Entertainment video cartridge, makes some intriguing points about America’s obsession with entertainment. And I quote:
“A USA that would die – and let its children die, each one – for the so-called perfect Entertainment, this film.”
“You cannot kill what is already dead… This appetite to choose death by pleasure if it is available to choose – this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites, this is the death. What you call the death, the collapsing: this will be the formality only… But you can only delay. Not save.”
These Greek chorus-like figures speak presciently of the death many Americans are dying. A death by pleasure. A death by mediated entertainment. A death of our own choosing. We don’t need some sinister plot by Quebecois separatists to bring about our demise. All we need is the screen on some device and the latest cat video or the newest version of Candy Crush. The world just passes us by as we “react” to whatever is on that screen.
This death seems inevitable. As Marathe says, “[We] can only delay. Not save.”