Newspapers are dying, and illiteracy is now cool

I can’t remember where I was when I was reading this particular post (too much animated, restless graffitti scampering around inside the cranium) but I do remember the feeling of shock and mild disgust. Mixed, of course, with no small amount of pity, shame and embarrassment. That this is what we’re coming to.

It was a You Tube site, actually a pretty good one, where a particular individual was offering the first seven guitar lessons free to those who would subscribe to his site. I figured this was a pretty cool thing for a human being to do so I took a look at his introductory video where the guy played Dueling Banjos on a guitar and a banjo strapped around his neck. At the same damned time. OK, so the boy got skills. I’ve been playing guitar professionally for more than 15 years and I can’t come close to matching that feat.

So then I decide to read some of the testimonials written by those who felt compelled to weigh in. The first one I saw was from some guy who was gushing about the site and said that he was taking lessons from the actual guy himself in person and that he was some kind of genius and a miraculous teacher.

Cool. I’m listening.

He goes on to say that what he liked best about this genius teacher of his was that the teacher didn’t waste the student’s time trying to teach him such things as learning how to read music. Because, of course, reading anything was boring. That’s what the guy said. No time or patience to study or perfect the craft because, well, this would exert a strain on the brain that just might be far too much for him to endure.

Now I’m not listening. Now I’m frustrated and a little pissed. I’m thinking back to other conversations I’ve had and articles I’ve read, etc., about what has become so remarkably obvious to those of us who still take our brains out for exercise now and then. To those of us who don’t feel compelled to hide the fact that we like to read. And what is becoming obvious is that stupidity and ignorance are becoming the new cool.

Not that this is news. It is so much easier to be misinformed and ignorant in today’s world because to be either or both requires so little effort. And because so many of us are either lazy or overworked, we’d prefer not to make the effort to learn the things we really need to know because that requires work. If you’re lazy you don’t feel like working because, well, you’re lazy. And if you’re overworked then you treasure what little “free” time you have and prefer not to do the “work” of reading or researching. Much easier to squat in front of the TV or the computer and just let the unfiltered stream of nonsense flow through unchecked, unedited and unquestioned.

Newspapers have been dying a long, drawn-out death for years. A great article about that can be read here courtesy of The New Yorker magazine. Newspapers have been gutted so bad that now to read one almost is a sign of questionable intellectual fortitude. Unless, of course, being well-versed in the twisted white trash tribulations of Britney Spears or the moronic manufactured drama of American Idol now qualifies as actual knowledge. Because this is the sort of “news” that is now passed off as information. This would explain why Sen. Obama’s sorry-assed bowling score occupied the news cycle for several days. It’s a pre-programmed mindset that now misidentifies the irrelevant and the frivolous as the truly significant.

It’s noteworthy that this lowly acceptable standard is being promoted not by the least qualified nor the most poorly educated among us but by those who actually have a say-so over what the rest of us are permitted/encouraged to consume and digest as information. And it is not by a long shot only the least educated nor the poor who are wasting countless hours absorbing reformulated garbage and trying to convince themselves that this shit has actual value. This is a cultural mass buy-in to cultural ignorance. We are willingly and happily buying the bullets that will be used to blow out a sunroof in the top of our heads.

So that should tell you that if even the more well-educated are happily trading away their intellects for a buy-in to blissful ignorance and free novocaine, then you can imagine the effect on the more vulnerable among us who can least afford to be ignorant because being aware is their best hope of beating a system that is programmed to crush them beneath iron wheels.

So when you read that Detroit Public Schools has the lowest high school graduation rate of all major cities in the nation, that is proof enough that those who can least afford not to be prepared are being released into the world more unprepared than anyone else. Whereas about 70 percent of kids nationwide graduate on time from high school with diploma, only 24.9 percent of kids in Detroit are doing so. To release that many undereducated youngsters into the world in a city that has the worst economy in the county which has the worst economy in the region which has the worst economy in the state during a national recession (it’s really a depression) is like tossing naked gladiators screaming into the coliseum to fight the lions with a stick and a feather.

But this is what we’ve come to.


~ by Keith A. Owens on April 5, 2008.

7 Responses to “Newspapers are dying, and illiteracy is now cool”

  1. I’m saddened to note that I no longer subscribe to a newspaper at my residence. I do have the local Black newspaper and weekly Business Courier on subscription at my workplace.

    On a personal level, I have taken to listening to books-on-tape from the library instead of checking out books to read.

    Fortunately, my kids still need to read every day as part of their homework

    peace, Villager

  2. This post is awesome in terms of content!

    I am glad to see that there are people who realize that the dumbing down of our society is really happening.

    The worst part about this spiral is the fact that they are proud to let you know it. I have had people walk up to me and ask why I am reading a book? Not the tradtitional what are you reading questions.

    I have a question about Detroit’s low graduation rates. Are there any plans to work on the problem? Or is it just going to continue to spiral downward?

  3. Villager,

    I understand about the newspapers, believe me. Like I said in the piece, there’s hardly anything in most newspapers worth reading anymore. They’re as much a part of the problem as anything else.

    As for the books-on-tape..? As much as I would love to urge you strongly to get back to reading at least an occasional book with actual pages? My wife does the books-on-tape thing too. So I’d better leave that one alone. 🙂

    Lady Deborah,

    I believe you’re a first time visitor so let me say thank you very much for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. To answer your question, I am not aware of any initiative to deal with this most recent revelation because those results just came out. However we’ve been aware that there was a serious problem for quite some time. Now we know just how bad it is. There are a variety of programs and initiatives aiming to address the problem throughout the city. Some are church-based, others through community organizations. Others just other. But as for a concerted, coordinated effort, which is truly what’s needed, there simply isn’t anything like that going on right now that I’m aware of.

    Thanks again for stopping by and for your interest.

  4. You do understand that I’m a white guy reading your post here?

    Of course, you’d consider me weird. I cut off cable TV over a decade ago in favor of broadband internet.

  5. Ecclesiastes,

    Hey man, this is an equal opportunity blog my friend. Trust me. Glad to have you on board. And I’d say that what you did re internet over cable TV is basically a nod to the future. Because that’s the way it’s going right now. I also find myself spending much more time in front of my computer than in front of my TV, which is a huge change from a couple years ago.

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