One of the ongoing conversations I keep having with people I know concerns their assertions that society as a whole is being “dumbed down” and that children these days are more spoiled than they’ve ever been.

The “dumbing down” assertion is perhaps the more foolish of the two, not just because people historically have not had much access to education, but the fact that even statistics over the last several decades don’t bear that out. Moreso, though, because it’s a theory propounded by idiots themselves. “Look how dumb everyone else is getting,” a guy will say on Facebook, as he follows it up with some monumentally ignorant observation about politics or culture.

But the thing with kids is perhaps worse because of the sheer meanness of it all. Telling an entire generation of young people that they have personal failings that will prevent them from being successful betrays the uncertainty and anxiety of an older generation that is realizing, consciously or not, that their position in society isn’t permanent and their control over the course of human events is slowly eroding as it has with each previous generation.

Oh, and by the way, it’s not a new observation.

We’re clearly having another of those moments — and they do recur, across the generations — when parents worry that they’re not doing their job and that the next generation is consequently in grave danger. In cultural convulsions about how spoiled the children are, disapproving adults look back fondly on the rigors of their own childhoods. But many of the same parents (and grandparents) who are now worrying were members of the generation that Vice President Spiro T. Agnew accused Dr. Benjamin Spock of having spoiled.

Indeed, the overprivileged and overindulged child was a stock character in 19th-century novels: As veteran governesses who presumably knew the territory, the Brontë sisters wrote powerful portraits of spoiled older children. The culture changes, but many of the battlegrounds remain the same.


So, you know, just because teenagers have iPhones doesn’t mean they’re screwed. The kids are all right. What you do at the voting booth matters a lot more than what twelve-year-olds do on Twitter.


4 Responses to The More Things Change -or- Leave Those Kids Alone, Will Ya?

  1. Bob Thayer says:

    I think part of the “dumbing down of America” view comes from the overwhelming popularity of socially detrimental programming and the inability to curb exposure to such idiocy. The sheer stupidity of most so-called “reality” television is crippling this nation’s future by glorifying actions and behavior that used to be condemned.

    Do I think the future is doomed? Not necessarily, but the wrong people are being hailed as role models. Celebrate the ones who promote a beneficial contribution to humanity. Ignore those who are just making noise and taking up space.

    • kevinmarshall says:

      That presumes that television ever had a higher standard than it does now. The presentation’s different and the restrictions are loosened (I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing), but the quality control or lack thereof is still largely intact. If anyone thinks otherwise, they must not have seen very much of the stuff from the 1960s and the 1970s beyond the occasional “Nick at Nite” rerun.

      “the wrong people are being hailed as role models” – I hear this often and I’m confounded by it. Who does this refer to? Are you saying that reality stars are treated or presented as role models for children? Because they clearly are not. They are treated as anything but role models, especially in the manner they are presented in the shows themselves. If anything the problem with individual representation on television is just the opposite, in that it edits and presents the participants in the most humiliating manner possible, putting them into a pillory and begging us to throw verbal tomatoes at them. If they are outwardly looked upon as role models, it is by a small number of people; the occasional rake has always been with us. The exception is not the rule. 

      It is hard for me to take this concern seriously at all, then, because it’s based on a fictional construct. Just because a figure exists and gets media coverage does not mean s/he exists or functions as a role model in a society. You cannot ignore the context of their presentation and also the actual impact they have when making that claim, otherwise you might as well claim that Ahmadinejad or the Aurora shooter are role models because they, too, are shown on TV frequently.

      • Bob Thayer says:

        TV has always been entertainment and information. That was it’s purpose from the beginning and it still remains. The quality spins out of control thanks to the “need” for 867 channels of 24 hour programming. There seemed to be a bit more restraint in the early 60’s, which obviously gave way in the 70’s. We’ll NEVER see the likes of All In The Family with its upfront, rampant racism and biting satire ever again (though the animated Boondocks is very close). To that extent, we’ll also never see sincere programming like Leave It To Beaver. People find that small-town, family values stuff to be hokey these days.

        As for these so called role models – I consider them all as role models because they create a slew of imitators. I mean, that’s the crux of what a celebrity role model does, right? There are people looking to do anything to be famous, and the world we live in seems to welcome their idiotic exploits with open arms. From YouTube clip shows like Tosh.0 to bullshit talent contests like X Factor/The Voice/American Idol/So You Think You Can Dance?, the country is overrun with garbage. Now just add in 90% of History Channel, Discovery Channel and TLC’s programming – you’ll see the frightening trend. I don’t think it’s a fictional construct at all.

        I will admit I do watch Tosh.0 – I like the sarcastic commentary to people doing stupid things. It’s what I imagine America’s Funniest Home Videos would be like with Bob Saget still as host.

  2. J. Eric Smith says:

    When I was a kid, I had to walk eight miles in the snow, uphill, both ways, to get on the internet. And when I got there, the internet hadn’t been invented yet. So, you know, character. 

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