Good Lack of Interest


About 260 million Americans decided that they had better things to do than to watch the recent Academy Awards show. That’s a good sign. It doesn’t matter if what they had better to do actually wasn’t any better than watching the Oscars show. It’s the lack of interest that counts.

The Academy Awards is actually a trade show, and it used to be held in a nightclub. Newspapers used to ignore it or bury it on an inside page. After all, it makes no difference whatsoever in our lives who gets a trade-show award. It makes no difference what they wear. Come to think of it, it makes no difference what they say.

Another good sign is a poll conducted by CNN that asked the question "Are you interested in the Anna Nicole Smith story?" Much to the embarrassment of Larry King, who had planned yet another entire hour devoted to the tramp’s death, 80 percent of the poll respondents said, "No."

"I don’t believe it," King huffed and went right on with his show. Television, which is in large part owned by entertainment conglomerates, has long blamed its own fascination with celebrity trivia on the public. It’s the old "We are only giving the stupid public what they demand." The truth is that the public has no say in the matter and, I suspect, a great deal better taste.

Could it be that this hysterical fascination with celebrities is finally beginning to fade? Well, not if the entertainment conglomerates can help it, but I suspect more and more Americans are losing interest in the self-destructive and vulgar behavior of talentless airheads — if people ever had any interest in it in the first place.

America naturally has always had silly people with vulgar interests. When Stonewall Jackson’s chaplain, R.L. Dabney, observed that the only likely outcome of universal education was to create a mass market for trash literature, he wasn’t far off the mark.

It’s interesting to note that the Federalist Papers, a collection of articles arguing in favor of ratification of the U.S. Constitution, were written for local newspapers at the time. In other words, the authors saw no difficulty in the then-literate public understanding them. Some schools today defend the practice of not requiring high-school students to read them on the grounds that they are "too difficult."

Having once helped my wife grade the essays of a group of college freshmen, I don’t doubt that they are too difficult for the modern mind. These college freshmen had somehow survived Head Start, kindergarten and 12 years of public education without learning how to spell, punctuate or write an intelligible sentence. Thank God I never had to meet any of them, but I suspect their conversation was equally illiterate.

Many Americans seem to have lost sight of the purpose of education. It is not to get a diploma or a piece of sheepskin. The purpose is to educate citizens so that they can contribute to running our complex society. I don’t know if teachers still say this, but my first-grade teacher often reminded us that while she taught, we had to learn. And learning is hard work. Since kids have the same 24-hour day as adults, the hours devoted to learning have to be subtracted from hours spent on other activities — and vice versa.

If I had my way, I’d segregate students by sex, make them all wear uniforms and shave the heads of the boys. Sex and competition in appearance are distractions. I’d put them in a monastic, drab setting so that the only forms of entertainment were their textbooks and their lectures.

Obviously, I wouldn’t last a day in public education, so we might as well realize that one day we will wake up and find that our high-tech society is being run by Chinese, Muslims, Arabs and others who still value education. We will still have our Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears types.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.