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When Did We Get So Dumb?

“One way of looking at the history of the human group is that it has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of ‘crap.’”—Neil Postman

I came home the other night after having an interesting conversation with a co-worker about Ayn Rand. After re-reading some passages from The Fountainhead, I got online to find some Rand interviews (Before I lose anyone, I think objectivism is dastardly.).

I found an incredible interview from the late 50’s with MIke Wallace. It came from a series called The Mike Wallace Interview that ran from 1957–1960. I was blown away that

  1. A show could exist in such a simple format
  2. There was a time when people used television as a vehicle to think about metaphysical questions
  3. People cared about thoughtful dialogue enough to keep this show on the air for three years
  4. It was publically acceptable for people to smoke that much

I fell into an entranced spiral watching video after video of Mr. Wallace interviewing interesting personalities like The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling, Brave New World author Aldous Huxley, artist Salvador Dali, and German social psychologist Erich Fromm.

My takeaway from these videos is that we suffer from a terrible form of chronological snobbery. Sure, we have developed some amazing technologies, and there are definitely some fifties-era gender roles and racial ideas that needed to change. But we’ve accepted a mindset that we are so superior to the people of other generations.

If we’re honest, we’re moving in the wrong direction. What does an interview program look like now? We barely have the attention span to sit through a 15 minute interview with Barbara Walters, and her celebrity interviews have neither the depth or substance of these powerful discussions. Can you imagine a program like this running on prime-time today?

Nope, we’re creating lowest-common-denominator television now. We have the world at our fingers, and we’re perfectly content with Honey Boo Boo, Jersey Shore, The Bachelor, and Dancing with the Stars.

After watching these videos for hours, I walked away sad that we’ve slipped into an intellectual entropy. Who’s going to save us from this cultural ghetto!?

More interesting The Mike Wallace Interviews episodes

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Agreed. I have a copy of the interview with Rod Serling. Amazing. After watching it the first time, I had the same attitude as you.

    However, think about this. The 50s and early 60s are also regularly condemned as periods of racism, sexism, McCarthyism and worst of all , smoking was considered elegant. I’m not trying to make a point of anything being better or worse in the past or the present. I’m just making an observation. In a time were many things existed that we now disagree with there were also positive things that we now miss. It is thought provoking to wonder if there is a connection between the two. Or perhaps putting it more succinctly has the “cultural revolution” which started in the 60s and progressed up to the present made us dumber? Or are there other explanations?

    October 19, 2012
  2. Believe me when I say that generation that didn’t trust having ALL their $ in banks will look very smart sometime this decade. We scoff at them as old fuddy-duddies. Today, if the ATMs went down for only 48 hours we’d have massive panic.

    Note this is Bloomberg & PBS. Very balanced reporting. and who cares if it’s Iran or Joe Hacker??

    Sidenote: I do look froward to reading one post where I don’t have to look up a word’s meaning. Last night was insufferable. Today is entropy.

    October 19, 2012
  3. This tradition is alive and well in many Mainline Churches. I know the UCC, which I’m a proud and completely biased part of, is all about intellectual integrity and social justice. Yet that is an increasingly hard sell in today’s world.

    October 23, 2012
  4. BTW I don’t think you can be a follower of Ayn Rand and be a Christian. Just say’n.

    October 23, 2012
    • There’s no question at all. You can’t follow Christ and believe that altruism is, at best, a weakness or, at worst, a sin.

      October 23, 2012
  5. WOW…we didn’t even have television in South Africa at the time…! I agree with you about the quality of what we watch and must admit that I try to limit myself to TV and to be wise in what I choose to let my eyes see and my ears hear.

    It’s sad that we’ve become a world that feed on the “fake realities” of people we esteem as celebrities. We follow with childlike awe.

    As for Ms Rand – I agree that we cannot follow her…the interview was interesting…and her little “bobbing-eyes” freaked me! 🙂

    October 31, 2012
  6. Aaron Lobaugh #

    Wouldn’t you say the Charlie Rose show comes close to this format? He has interesting and sometimes controversial guests on and he does tend to ask them fairly tough questions. That said, his show would never survive prime time… I guess that’s why he’s on PBS at 10 pm.

    November 12, 2012
    • Yes! You are totally right. I love Charlie Rose. I wish I could get seasons of Charlie Rose on DVD.

      November 13, 2012

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