Sunday, December 17, 2006

Time's Person of the Year

I posted an article last month which posited that many of my generation resist growing up, and I included myself among that group. I have come to realize that this trend is part of the infantilization of our culture. The dictionary defines the term "infantilize" to basically mean "to reduce to an infantile condition." But there is so much more to the term. Think of how infants behave. When they complain, all their wants are taken care of: food, cleanliness, warmth. They are coddled all day--they are incessantly entertained. Every whim, every desire is fulfilled as soon as possible, with just a little complaining.

When we get older, that trend shifts (I hope). We learn we must ask nicely. We learn to delay gratification. We learn to put others' needs ahead of ours.

Modern media, however, attempts to return us to that infantile condition. It tries to provide us with everything we want and nothing we don't. It also allows us to be the star of our own show, with either blogs or the endlessly tricked-out MySpace pages.

Media tries to make us believe that everything they do IS JUST FOR YOU. Other people get the junk, but you, dear individual consumer, can have exactly what you want, and we'll provide it for you. Heck, you can have your DVR record every show you want, and if you miss it, you can watch it On Demand. That's right, you are the only person watching this show at this time.

I am not saying choice is bad. But this trend, when taken to the extreme as it is, has dangerous consequences. It leads to modern focus-group and poll-based politics, where no politician dares contradict the whims of the populace, and that neuters what we want politicians for: leadership. Politicians rarely make the tough decisions any more. Part 4 of the Century of the Self (a great BBC documentary) tells a great story about how the public behaves like a child. It notes how Tony Blair of England listened to polls calling for a reduction in spending on railroads. He did what the public asked. When crashes began occurring all over, the public pilloried him for not having the foresight to forestall these disasters. Blair should have done what he knew was right, even if it wasn't popular; he should have been a leader. True leadership, like good parenting, says, "I know you might not like this, but it is good for you, and, in the long run, you'll be happier this way." However, we, the public, have become the baby who will not be ignored.

Just look at how things are named: iPod, MySpace, the My Computer icon on Windows XP--heck, just yesterday I saw a new business on the north side and it is called My Dentist. It is as if corporations want to reduce us to the point where we are 3 year olds telling a playmate that he can't play with our toys because THEY'RE MINE.

Now, we may have reached the zenith of the infantilization of our culture, because Time's 2006 Person of the Year is...YOU!

The 2006 "Person of the Year" package hits newsstands Monday. The cover shows a white keyboard with a mirror for a computer screen where buyers can see their reflection.

I am glad that Time Magazine has finally recognized me as the Person of the Year. I knew it all along.

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