Juvenal, the Roman satirical poet, wrote of his Empire nearly two thousand years ago “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote… the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office-everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.” As long as the citizens of Rome were fed and had their gladiator games, they were happy and didn’t realize the Visigoths were at the outskirts of the city ready to destroy the grandeur of Rome.
Sadly, our modern day American society is replete with opiates for our senses that we willingly and willfully accept with little or no resistance. With such problems in the United States as the economic recession, poverty, foreclosures, two wars, expensive health care, and the swine flu, what is it going to take for people to stand up and take notice that our society is perhaps on the edge of falling over a very deep precipice? And what about the rest of the world that has different concerns such as famine, terrorism, global warming, and repressive governments?
As long as the average American has their nightly doses of reality television and can eat at their super mega buffets they aren’t going to care that tomorrow they may not have a job, a family, or even normal lives. In these times of great upheaval and controversy something needs to be done to be part of the solution and not the problem.
Reality television is ingrained in our society and we cannot get rid of it. The reason is simple: television executives give the people what they want. In ratings from a recent Tuesday night in October 2009, Hell’s Kitchen and The Biggest Loser were the two most popular shows on television. And this was just a Tuesday night on two television shows that have had multiple seasons already. Imagine what a Saturday night might hold?
Why is reality television so popular? I believe it is because we see ordinary people become heroes. Not just run of the mill heroes but heroes to the masses. They are heroes to everyman, our pinnacles of panache, people that we only wish to be. Just like Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Miley Cyrus, the reality stars of today live in the hyper fame that most ordinary people could only dream about. Four of the top five shows of 2006 were reality shows, according to Entrepreneur magazine. The problem with reality television is that it is too real: the people on the uber-popular shows could live right next door and hence have become the new Gods of our society’s consciousness and we gratify ourselves to know that we could possibly become heroes ourselves.
While reality stars may be the Gods of the masses who is going to aspire to inspire the next generation? Parents are the heroes to their kids first and foremost. A two year old child may not necessarily miss a night of Jon and Kate Plus 8, but your toddler may miss a good night kiss from mommy or daddy. Parents are the entire world of young children. Parents, plural, are the inspiration to kids who have no idea about Kelly Clarkson, Elisabeth Hasselback, Jon Gosselin, and Dog the Bounty Hunter.
According to the National Restaurant Association, America’s 945,000 restaurants should hit a cumulative sales number of $565.9 billion in 2009, the highest ever and an increase over last year. On a normal day 130 million people eat at a restaurant at some time or another. With a total population of 300 million, that’s 43% of Americans eat out at least once a day. Not only is fast food possibly wasting gas and money on food whose nutritional value may be in question but there is a missed opportunity of not having a sit down dinner with the entire family.
Instead of supersizing your steak or bucket of deep fried chicken, make a salad or soup at home. Have your kids help when they get home from school for some easy meals. There are tons of cookbooks on the market that tout quick and nutritious meals. If that is still out of the question find some healthy alternatives in your favorite fast food chain like grilled chicken wraps or salads with grilled meat on them.
While television and restaurants are common and not altogether evil, it is when people allow these aspects of our society to take over our lives and seemingly tell us how to live it becomes easier to leave our responsibility behind and get involved in eating delivered pizza while watching American Idol. The thing to realize is who is responsible for decay and decadence in America. When Americans as a whole are too busy stuffing themselves and cheering on the semifinals of season twenty million of Last Survivor Not Voted Off the Island, Americans may as well be collective alcoholics.
It is time to take back our American way by taking personal responsibility. We can no longer afford, either financially or emotionally, to blame anyone else for our problems but ourselves. No, our politicians and our leaders are not to blame for our problems. Who put elects our leaders to political offices in the first place? The average citizen does. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson didn’t sit around and do nothing when they were angered by their British tormentors. They took responsibility of their futures and placed it solely on their own shoulders.
The current health care debate is a wonderful way to explain how the blame game works. Not a single Republican has voted in favor of any health care bill this session save for one. Yet the Democrats are going ahead with five different versions of the health care bill anyway. Who do the Democrats blame? The Republicans are to blame of course. Then the Republicans do nothing to stop the Democrats. The blame comes back and goes in circles. Welcome to the big top. When are the people in Washington going to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions?
Why should Americans trust their own leaders who impeached a President for lying about his sex life and yet refused to take action against a Commander-in-Chief who was responsible for two wars and over 4,000 American troop deaths plus thousands of other deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan? Again the priorities of America seem to be a little out of whack. It seems that having sex is more important than life or death itself. If enough killings happen in a movie it gets an R rating but too much sex is an NC-17.
It’s time to shut off the television. It’s time to start living and stop vegetating. The time for blaming other people for your problems is over. No more wallowing in Balloon Boy or weeping about the health care debate. It is time to better our fellow man by first doing better in our heads. Instead of watching television with your kids for an hour before bed, read to them. Have them read to you. Talk to them about what they want and how they feel. Inspire your kids by listening and engaging them on their level. Our children are smart all you have to do as parents is to listen. Personal responsibility is no longer an option but a necessity to ensure our survival.
“If it is to be it is up to me” is not only a song or a motto it is a way of life. Just like a diet is not just eating foods but a lifestyle change so is responsibility. I will admit that it is much harder to accept responsibility and make ourselves better than to sit and wallow in front of the television and forget about our problems. But the rewards of seeing confetti fall on someone else’s stage are only momentary. Seeing your child read their first book by themselves leads to better grades, better education, and a better life. The long lasting reward of every parent is what you see every day when you look into the eyes of your kids and see a brighter future ahead.
Leadership in America should no longer be trickle down. Leadership starts at home with simple things like being there for your kids, taking responsibility for your actions, and leading by example. Do you expect your kids not to smoke or drink if you are setting an example? Your children will mimic your behavior and are darn good at it. Do you really want them to imitate what they see on television or something that you teach them? It takes a village to raise a child but villages are made of individual homes that are built on stable foundations. When one home cracks the entire village suffers.
Spending time with your children can be as simple as reading or as complex as volunteering at your local food bank. Show your children what it means to be responsible. Take them with you when you vote, show them where you work, show them the zoo, walk with them and see wildlife, and show them places to see and do things that will better their lives. Play with your children and play their games, their activities, and their kinds of sports. Most importantly, make it fun so they actually feel like they are children.
Too often we want to push the blame on other people like our own parents and how we were raised. The problem with that thinking is that those problems are in the past. Live in the now and realize that current parents have a future ahead of them in their own children. The past is only there as a teacher so as to not repeat the same mistakes. Pass along something new. Pay a good lesson forward by giving the gift of time to your children and that is the most valuable item you can ever give your kids even more than taking them out to eat at their favorite restaurant or getting them a new plasma television set.