Last semester, an Opinions article spoke about popular Youtube sensation Epic Meal Time. That story stood out for me as a framework from which to examine the moral dilemma we are now in. Epic Meal Time, if you’re not familiar, is a group of guys who take part in making all sorts of bizarre food creations for the purpose of… well, to be blunt, I am not really sure what the purpose is. The video I subjected myself to watching involved them going to multiple drive-thrus, ordering an obscene amount of food, and then making some sort of gigantic bacon cheeseburger lasagna. Wow. As the name implies, it’s really “epic” stuff.
My problem with it is not so much what these people are doing, but that it is a representation of all sorts of similar material that has pervaded our lives. The author of the Sil piece argued that if people wanted to watch Epic Meal Time, then they should be allowed the right to do so. While I don’t disagree with that statement, I think this warrants a much closer look so that we may understand the bigger picture. Because, despite what we may think, how we live and what we do affects everyone else. And right now, we live in a society where people waste far too much of their time both watching and making this kind of useless crap.
The videos we watch can represent the height of insight and sophistication, and they can also show that our intellectual progress has actually halted severely, despite the vast, limitless resources at our disposal. Perhaps we are brainwashed into liking mindless drivel about six stupid-seeming twenty-somethings who do next to nothing, and consequently emulating them. This brings up the question: Why do we want to watch channels and shows like these? Is it because they are actually funny and worthwhile, or can the most recent generations even tell the difference?
While researching this topic extensively, I came across a statistic, which indicated that 42 per cent of college grads never read a book again. While I somewhat doubt its veracity, it is likely true in parts of America, where a little fewer than half of college freshmen ever complete their studies. But what about Detroit, where it was recently revealed that only one quarter of high school students graduate? Why is the larger population uninterested in reading, and instead embracing the kind of people in media acting in ways that would have previously been characteristic of a mental patient?
But if this is the status quo, the average person is unaware, or at least not too alarmed about it. Another popular show, Cash Cab, has begun to make the rounds, and features people on the street hailing the titular game-show car, trying to win money as they attempt to answer what are fairly easy questions. What is demonstrated about our culture, however, is that we have come to a point where people just love to laugh, even when embarrassing themselves on national television, because they think it’s absolutely hilarious that they don’t know the capital of Madagascar.
Yes, Google works, but when we as a society are always relying on a machine to give us the answers, we fail to develop the vital contextual knowledge that brings it all together. This can only be remedied if we are willing to break through our learned discomfort of reading long passages as they were written, rather than trying to scan the surface as we’d scroll down a twitter feed. We may be laughing now, but there are parts of the world that have no qualms about intensely embracing academic study with a kind of impassioned seriousness that is simply not fostered in North America. The fact is, comedians don’t cure cancer.
Though, it is true that generations clash, and to some degree this is a familiar story through the ages, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences. For instance, it is a sad inevitability that as decades pass, we lose more of our authors as they fade quietly into obscurity, no longer remembered as time goes on. However, even this cannot account for the fact that most of our young people nowadays simply haven’t the least bit of interest in reading novelists such as Joyce, Turgenev or Sinclair, writers who have lasted and been celebrated for over a century. How soon before their lights also get extinguished, and how will we deal with their absence when forced to, once again, reinvent the wheel? And for those whose legacies remain popular, we set forth perverting their works with dubious reinventions, such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
The legacy that previous university students have left us is one of incredible honour, sacrifice and integrity. The massive societal changes in Russia’s history, for example, owe a huge debt to students who cared enough about what was going on in their country to get their hands dirty and fight for change, before the oxymoron “peaceful protest” came into being. More recently and closer to home, Students for a Democratic Society in the late 1960s resulted in massive strikes and closures of many prominent American universities, such as Columbia, as their organization actively embraced intellectual discourse on relevant issues from civil rights to American involvement in Vietnam. Though we may like to think that we have advanced since then, our unwillingness to engage, and for others the inability to even effectively do so, has led to a stark dilution of the intelligentsia.
The issue is active cognitive mental development, not “growing as a person” or any of the other false euphemisms that pass for education today. Knowledge may only begin in the classroom: the rest is up to you. Our country and world is depending on it.