Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Meaning of America

In 2010 I (knowingly) heard my first Taylor Swift song, and I loved it.
The song was “Mean”.

It’s upbeat. It’s catchy. It’s a bluegrass/rock make-you-move-to-the-music kinda song.
Its message of the hope of vindication over haters resounded with me.
The video is below. You should watch it.

I’ll wait.

The next time I knowingly listened to a Taylor Swift song was in 2014 when “Shake It Off” came out. I don’t recall exactly how our family discovered the song, but our sons (ages 7 and 3), were instant fans. They watched the video again and again…
…and again and again.
Our Son Dancing to Shake It Off

I enjoy Shake It Off, but after a few weeks of only the same song and video, enough was enough. I thought it was time to introduce my boys to my first favorite T. Swift song. I played the Mean video for them on the X-Box.
The three year old, Enoch, threw a fit. He was sad, mad, stubborn, and angry. 
He protested. He sat down and pouted.
He screamed for Shake It Off.

Convincing Enoch

I knew I could convince Enoch. All it took was repetition.
He had to hear the song several more times. Over the next few days I played it for him even though he wasn’t enjoying it. He resisted, but Mean won out.  He got the message: Mean is good.
Now he requests it and sings along. He has been Meaned.

Convincing America

All it took was my insistent repetition for him to become a fan of Mean.

Sometimes I think this is what is happening to America. Whether you want to blame “the media” or some other entity, the dominant message is being insistently repeated:
Everyone else is Mean.
Mean is good.

As a society, we may be getting better at being kind to people who look different than we do, but it seems we’re becoming meaner to people who think differently than us.
Over and over political and social issues are shown to be dichotomous and lacking in common ground. Discussion of viewpoints is argument for entertainment. 
Over and over we are told that disagreement is equivalent to hate.

Those on the political Right are controlling out of date fascists, and those on the Left are crazy immoral communists.
They’re evil or stupid, or both; they must be if they disagree with you.
There’s no point in listening to crazy people.
It’s better to silence them or yell louder than they can.

That’s the philosophy that’s repeated over and over until we believe it. Everyone else is mean. It’s repeated so often and so insistently that it proves itself true; when we believe it, we become mean.

A Different Tune

But hearing something over and over shouldn’t be enough to make it true, especially when it’s a worldview or an understanding of other people.
A stubborn child may be swayed to enjoy a Taylor Swift song after a few viewings of the video, but an adult shouldn’t be so easily convinced of the ignorance and ill will of his or her fellow humans.

You may have significant philosophical problems with some of my important life choices.
There may be important aspects of your person that do not fit into my worldview. Maybe my religion disapproves of your lifestyle. Maybe your lifestyle disapproves of my religion.
But until we sit and talk with each other, we have no way of knowing why we think this way. And we have no way of knowing if we could change each other.
Or, better yet, we have no way of knowing if we could understand each other. 
Maybe our motivations are the same, even though the conclusions we’ve reached are mutually exclusive.

Of course, it’s true that some people are mean, but it doesn’t follow from this that you and I have to be.  Just because all we see and read about are the extremes of each camp, doesn’t mean we have to wage war on the entire camp.
Just because “mean” is repeated over and over, doesn’t mean America has to become meaner.
Turn off the repeated message.
Stop listening to mean, listen to each other. 

Maybe it’s time for a new refrain to be played over and over again.


Kyle Varoskovic said...

I enjoy this, the world is always trying to speak to us as loudly as possible! Makes me not mind living in Maine so much, where I can definitely get by without being super tuned in to culture.

It does make me wonder, though, if widespread messages of Good could make an impact. I'm not sure God calls us to create mass messages or spread His truth that way, who knows?

Just curious, do you have any specific hopes for the widespread messages our country repeats, Jared? Or what do you hope for otherwise for us?

Jared Begg said...

Thanks for commenting, Kyle.

I think it would help if messages from large media networks were more along the lines of
"here's some disagreements, go talk to these people"

Or even if debate and news shows acknowledged something like:
"this is what we think, other people think differently, it would be silly to try to engage in an intelligent dialogue through this medium"

that'd be a start

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