Friday, October 05, 2007

Are you ready to MOCK?

Sony Bravia - Play Doh Ad
Uploaded by tvspot

Did you watch it?

I know, it's a load of consumption propaganda disguised as art, but it was still fun, right? Are stop-motion bunnies on the streets of New York any less cool because the artists who animated them are getting a check from Sony?

I do know people who will say yes - deeply cynical people who see everything through irony-colored glasses. To a certain extent, I count myself among such people, but...

Well, I think I may be growing cynical of cynicism - and it's hipper counterpart snark. The need to lash out against anything and everything with witty sarcasm has left my generation with little to value aside from sarcasm itself. And it's even worse among those in the upcoming generation. I see it in my classroom, on message boards, and with my peers; if anyone tries to get behind a cause or stand up for an ideal, those who see themselves as hip will condemn such efforts as either commercial marketing or government disinformation or bleeding-heart agendas or partisan hackery or whatever other faceless engine of distrust in en vogue at the moment.

Those who are plugged-in are ready to mock everything, but they are incapable of doing anything.

My students, for instance, are reluctant to believe in anything.

I have asked my class to preform a group research project on ecotourism. There's a bit of hand-holding involved because the class is meant to be an introduction to research. So, I'm walking them through the initial stages: concepts, definitions, background, and previous research. This is the stage when they start to wrap their heads around the idea of ecotourism. It all leads to this infuriating discussion where one of my students actually says, "It seems like these ecotourist people just want you to spend more money." Another student jumped on board with, "It sounds nice, but you're not going to solve the world's problems just because you don't litter while on vacation."

Now they're only 18 or 19 years old, so I would forgive such obtuse comments if they were coming from a naive place (If you don't see the comments as obtuse: everyone wants tourists to spend more money + ecotourism is trying to change more than one person's behavior). These students, however, aren't naive. They are some smart kids. They learn quick. They have learned to see everything as a ploy or a gimmick. They've also learned that the first person to shoot down an idea with the appropriate level of sarcasm becomes the cool kid.

I understand that my parents' generation didn't exactly deliver on the whole "We can change the world." thing, but when did that translate to, "We can't do a damn thing, so let's sit back and poke fun at the people who try."?

I realize this issue isn't helped by the increased level of radicalization in today's world, but let's face it; the two issues are in a codependent relationship.

A dialog:

Cynical Youth
I don't care about patriotism.

Potential Radical
What if someone from another country took your job?

Cynical Youth
Maybe they deserve it if I'm so lazy.

Potential Radical
If you're too lazy to defend our country, maybe I need to do more.

Cynical Youth
I'd like to see you try, nutso.

Potential Radical
While maybe I should take up arms and form a militia to protect our borders?

Cynical Youth
(Sarcastic)Yeah, that's going to work.

Potential Radical
All right, then. I'll do it.

A gross oversimplification? Sure, but you get the idea.

I believe my growing distaste for cynicism stems from my geographical location (and perhaps my age, but less stick with geography on this one).

You'd be hard pressed to find a region of the world populated by a more cynical group than those over here still recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union. While I'll admit the people here have plenty of cause to be cynical, the global pop culture's current existential funk has fueled the fires of sarcasm while squelching anything resembling confidence or hope. This has helped make politics more ugly and divisive. It has bolstered nationalists. It has reduced the public's already-weak faith in governments. It has helped to legitimize corruption. The list goes on.

And so I'm left asking, has the public fallen so in love with cynicism that it believes itself impotent? Have we become convinced that the world is so corrupted that only the powerful have any kind of control? Because if that is the case, isn't such cynicism just a pathetic surrender?

I won't be buying a high-end plasma TV, but I still think the rabbits were cool. I think whatever beauty, magic, or mischief we can believe in helps to make this life a better one. I hope I'm not in the minority.