Thursday, May 25, 2006

USA - OCD

One thing I've recently noticed about American culture is how it seems so easily susceptible to obsession. Maybe it's gotten worse in the last couple of years, since I've been in Amsterdam... Or maybe I'm just seeing it with new eyes (i.e. I've been the one doing the changing, not America). Whatever the case, I've been consistently astonished over the last week by the sense of hype and hysteria with which America embraces the story of the moment.

When we first landed in the country last weekend, it seemed that there was no end to conversation about "The DaVinci Code." Talk radio, television advertisements, merchandise, magazine headlines, books, reports of ticket sales -- even Sunday morning sermons! Total obsession, I'm telling you...

But by Tuesday, all talk had already shifted to "American Idol." Blah, blah, blah, Taylor Hicks... Yadda, yadda, yadda, Paula Abdul... Blah, blah, blah... The machinery just kept cranking and cranking and cranking. I must confess that I was even convinced to tune in for the season finale (although, in all fairness, this had more to do with my sister-in-law than with my own viewing preferences). No matter -- the point is that America found its new obsession for Tuesday and Wednesday in the season finale of "American Idol" (and I also happen to know that the end of the television season for "Lost" and "24" were also equally obsessed over by their respective constituencies). Seriously, we're talking about a national obsessive compulsive disorder...

Then today, I got to visit my old high school (middelbare school), and I was able to observe another longstanding obsession that had previously averted my gaze (or at least, I should say, it had not been so painfully honest before). Now, it's difficult to locate the epicenter of this obsession, as I'm not sure if it's an America thing or a Shelby thing -- but I was amazed (and somewhat embarrassed) by the place of honor consumed by high school athletics. At this end-of-the-year awards ceremony (in which my little brother was involved), giving out scholarships and grants for prospective college students, probably half of the rewards were connected to "outstanding student-athletes." And, conspicuously, about the first five or ten awards of the morning were handed out to the school's heroes of the fields and courts. Academic achievement seemed to be a mere footnote. And as I wandered out into the school cafeteria (to divert the attention of my antsy children), I was struck by the sports-obsession at Shelby Senior High School. Well -- to be fair -- there were several rows of 8 x 10 photographs taken of the honor students from each senior class going back several decades (group shots, featuring 20 to 30 students in each photograph)... But these academic honors seemed puny in comparison to the sports honors. Dozens of student-athletes were featured in poster-sized individual portraits -- in addition to group photographs of championship-winning sports teams and a trophy case full of the glories of Shelby's athletic history. And in this I realized that there was a clear priority being communicated by the sports-obsessed community of Shelby. Not necessarily bad -- but so much different from the priorities of other parts of the world. And in any event, it's another clear example of American obsession...

Maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe I'm reading into things too much. Maybe I'm just jealous that my image appeared in the honor students photograph, about the size of a thumbprint, while Barbie Metzger got a poster-sized glamor shot on the wall of fame. Maybe I'm just envious of having missed the cultural trends of the last year... Or maybe America is just obsessed.

What do you think?

5 Comments:

At 3:02 AM, Blogger Jay said...

I laughed at the cafeteria scene the last time I was home. It did seem a little ridiculous. But to temper your persepecitve, if you could have walked past the pull-down steel gate and strolled down the hallways of the school, you would have seen student artwork ALL OVER the walls. Much more so than when I was a student there. There was even this incredible portrait of Ringo Starr by one particularly talented son of Shelby.
Maybe the high school is just proud of all it's students? Yet on the other hand, perhaps it's particularly proud of the athletes...and this might be due to the fact that these are the little boys and girls who actually bring revenue INTO the school. Just a thought...
I can totally feel you on the obsessed over pop culture bit, though. Somehow our feeble identities are wrapped up in these shallow things we obsess over.

 
At 1:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's Jay doing up at 3 am?!??!

DA

 
At 1:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, I see that MY post is given as 1:46 AM, when, in fact, here in Ohio it's 7:46 PM.
Sorry Jay!!
DA

 
At 5:11 AM, Anonymous Sam Beatty said...

Obsession is defined as a "compulsive preoccupation," and while America seems to hold the Lion's share of this at the moment, I wonder if the same was true of Ancient Rome, the Greek Empire, or the Babylonians. I doubt that this is so much an "America" thing, but more likely, a human thing. I have students (I am a high school teacher) that would throw a party if you banned all sports from the school. They are sick of hearing about how great "so-and-so" is because they can run fast, while at the same time, if you took away their video games, life as they know it would end. Also, I think that materialism seems to spawn this need for instant pleasure and gratification. Although, I have been to third world countries where all they could talk about for MONTHS was how they beat America in soccer. I guess that all I am trying to say is that I think obsession is one of those things that we are all capable of, no matter country or economic status. Something to think about.

 
At 6:33 PM, Blogger Bret said...

good observations. the same was true about my high school in pittsburgh with case after case of trophies, certificates, etc of sports acievement. i'm a bit biased since some of those plaques contain my name, but is it so different in europe and amsterdam at least in regards to sport (and could throw in party's too, ala queens day.) obsession with football, football, football.

perhaps it's why i'm drawn to dead poet's society in which robin williams juxtoposes academics and sport. there is something about sport that brings people together. is it worth the obsession...? i think it's a great question, one very important question. but, it's not just america.

now, american idol, 24, lost, etc... that's obsession.

 

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