We Americans have a quixotic entertainment fetish. The European soccer finals—which just finished—had a disastrously boring half-time ceremony where fans on the field sat around and watched non-viable subs kick balls around the pitch. Fans watching on the cathode ray tubes were only treated to the unintentionally funny, logjam banter between American Alexei Lalas and German robot, Michael Ballack. The Superbowl, on the other hand, features an arsenal of funny commercials, great performances by awesome bands like Nickelback, and tons of colorful commentary by Joe Buck.
Americans need their fix. We get it while waiting in line at the grocery store. We give our tots iPads before they are potty trained, sometimes in order to potty train them. We turn our sermons into raves, and our raves into resurrections. We’ve reached the point where genre can no longer be concerned with just itself: TV is about reality, movies are about comic books, and music is about live TV. This inter-disciplinary sleaziness isn’t so much an indictment of the entertainment itself as it is a reflection of our deep desire for novelty. We want our entertainment to be fresh more than we want it to be meaningful. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that. I just find it a bit sad.
In case you’ve been studying torts or backpacking through Papua New Guinea for the past 20 years, American men have decided that the only way they can ask their girlfriends to marry them is to be wildly inventive. In order to surprise her, you should make a movie trailer wherein you ask your lover’s dad for her hand in marriage; you then need to get the local movie theatre to screen the trailer when she’s there seeing Brave with her gay boyfriend; and then, when she realizes that you’ve made the entire trailer just for her and you’re about to ambush her, you should stumble from the virtual video into the movie theatre and pop the question to her in the flesh, embarrassing her in front of lots of people. Either that, or trail a simple sign from a Bud-Light blimp while you’re both at the beach. A few fireworks couldn’t hurt.
Some time ago, my girlfriend’s dad witnessed a flash mob on the UCLA campus. The flash mob began as a dance and ended in a proposal. Guy and girl promised to get married and went off to do the early-morning TV circuit because the proposal was creative. Everyone was happy because it was just a dream and it reminded them of a fairy tale. After seeing the video, I couldn’t help but think: flash mob proposals are symptoms of our cult of celebrity, our annoying desire to turn ourselves into stars and ordinary people into an audience.
One blogger had this to say about the UCLA flash mob:
“When do you know when your marriage has a good chance of working? When friends, classmates, and even strangers go along with you to organize a big dance mob in order to make your marriage proposal even more memorable.”
How does a flash mob have anything to do with the success of a marriage? I sincerely wish the couple a long and fruitful marriage; if they do succeed, though, it will be because of hard work, good listening, and lots of affection—not a flash mob. If anything, the flash mob worked so well because the guy knew he wanted to marry the right girl.
Some people say that our culture has reached a saturation point, and that our excesses—moral, sexual, and economic—spell the beginning of the end or portend doom. I think that’s baloney, frankly. America’s cult of celebrity doesn’t suggest doom any more than its antithesis, a cult of banality, suggests success. Our fetish simply means that we value different things than we used to. The good part about our culture is that we accept people who sometimes value wildly different things. The bad part is that we have to put up with treacly spectacles of love when we’re still trying to digest that clam chowder we had for lunch.
Let’s just hope that when the next Superbowl comes around, Joe Buck spends half the time narrating and Nickelback plays twice as many songs. Or Creed. Creed was good.