If you look around you might find a few, there are still some left. But they are fading quickly, the older ones descending into a second childhood. They were the ones who told stories with morals to them, without the swear words. They were the ones who told you not to take anything you weren’t intending to eat and to eat whatever you took. They lived in the real world, learned their lessons the hard way. Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation, but in truth they were merely the last of the adults.
My dad was six years old when The Great Depression hit. The Great Depression ended for him when the Great War began. And after that, well maybe his generation just got tired of great troubles. They’d paid their dues and deserved a little peace and prosperity. Maybe they wanted to try great consumption instead. Maybe they just wanted to finally live life and get a little enjoyment out of it. There’s nothing wrong with that, after all. You can’t blame people for wanting to avoid suffering and sacrifice if they can get away with it. And we were a country on the rise, reaching peaks never experienced before.
There’s the bitch of it, isn’t it? I think we can all relate: we struggle and suffer and finally get to a point where we feel we can relax a little, spend a little…and bam, just when we let loose a bit something smacks us when we least expect it. We can never afford to get too comfortable in this life.
But we did get too comfortable. Not so much the greatest generation themselves, they had learned their lessons too severely to ever forget. But when it came to their children, well they did try to instill the values their parents had instilled into them. But times had changed and it was hard to relate such values to a time of never before seen prosperity. Besides, there was this thing called mass media, and it screamed from the center of the television, from billboards, and magazines that we were living in a new era where The American Way was a way of consumerism. Technology was the god that provided for us all, and we would hardly be grateful recipients of her blessings if we did not dutifully give homage. In the process, those gods The Greatest Generation worshipped didn’t seem so relevant anymore. We began to turn inwards. Well, not really, actually we turned towards television, which told us our individual needs were greater than any communal needs. We were the land of the free and freedom meant doing your own thing. Of course, deep down, no man is an island unto himself, so doing your own thing leaves one awfully lonely. And when we get lonely, we get scared. And when we get scared we cry out for our mommy. And since mommy was now at work in order to provide for all of those things television said we needed to own, the generations that followed the Greatest Generation found a surrogate parent: television. Television was always there to provide support, to tell us that we were okay, that we were deserving. In fact, it never told us otherwise. Television never disapproved of anything we did. Because television wanted to support our childish needs and desires. That was TV’s role, to keep us children in need of an authority figure. There were many institutions paying millions of dollars to ensure that they had receptive minds in front of them, minds that could shift smoothly from a talking puppet show host to a cartoon shill for sugary cereal.
There’s a book called The Hidden Persuaders. In it is discussed the ways advertisers played to the aspects of our psyche that acted beneath our conscious mind, talked to our baser instincts. The book was written in 1957, so Heaven knows how much deeper the propaganda machine is able to burrow into our minds nowadays. But seeing how The Hidden Persuaders was a chilling read in its day, and that the trend has increased rapidly, it’s safe to say the reality of the situation would be jarring and frightening to the average person if the truth were to hit home to him or her. So much so that they would most likely be willing to climb back into their hole that they’ve been living in for their entire lives. The discrepancy between what the average person perceives to be their reality and what truly is is pretty vast. And while we would all like to think we would be Neo in The Matrix, AKA the chosen one, most of us would rather avert our gaze and continue upon the comfortable path we are walking. It’s the same psychological motivators that lead animals to the slaughterhouse.