“What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason…”
Yeah, right. Maybe in Shakespeare’s day. Although, guys still wear earrings and poufy shirts, there’s wine and wassail and even the occasional beheading (which reminds me, as I have a grandmother who lives in Arizona: stay away from the border, Meemaw!) so maybe things haven’t really changed that much.
But then, Shakespeare wasn’t what one would call lazy. He could have settled for pop treatments of shallow memes and myths, all easy to digest without the burden of time consuming analysis or discomfiting introspection.
Instead, he chose to make the effort to cleverly raise the awareness of the masses who were exposed to his plays. He clearly believed that humanity could lift itself from the mire of ignorance in which it mostly found itself. And he did so through the use of entertaining but nonetheless truthful characterizations which challenged common preconceptions and language which forced the audience to join him in his heavy lifting.
And at the end of the performance, it was worth it. One could still wear an earring and poufy shirt, guzzle flagons of ale and draw-and-quarter some vassal wretch but do so with a renewed respect for his fellow man. Hic. Excuse me.
But also, Shakespeare’s sublime creations pushed the evolution of human civility upward a notch or two. His works became a staple in the education of generations to come, and the effort put into the understanding of them enriched and ennobled those who made such efforts and fed our later understanding of human behavior within a developing modern society. The humanity in many of Shakespeare’s plays and characters may have been idealized, but, with effort, the ideal could, in real life, be attained.
But in the America of 2010, the effort to raise the level of sociopolitical discourse has failed miserably.
More and more, people’s access to the thoughtful articulation of ideas is becoming limited by the powers controlling such information’s dissemination. One has to merely scan the top 20 television shows to understand how low things have become; one need only listen to the rancorous rhetoric among political representatives of increasingly polarized parties an splinter groups, the low-brow demonization of various religious sects and social classes, the untethered metaphors used to condemn the very things upon which the decriers have themselves depended for years. Ignorance has replaced introspection. What a piece of dumb clay is man, how unreasonable and ignoble.
In what is sure to be a continuation of this deeply entrenched trend, the upcoming midterm elections do not bode well for displays of civil democratic discourse. Hell, the election of this country’s first black president has plunged the already neurotic faction of ignorant Americans into a palpably psychotic episode in which every possible cartoon accusation has been hurled at the duly elected president and everyone who, by extension, voted for him. There is no thought to comity or sense or cooperation or self-realization that we all sink or swim together. No effort made to repair the fragile anatomy of Liberty,no effort to reclaim it for future generations. Intellectual ignorance and societal sloth know no future.
And it seems so much easier to be cruel than to make the effort to face hard truths and, thus, attain a kind of grace; the effort which William Shakespeare and Jesus Christ and Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy laid out in their words, and proved through activation of those words into deeds.
But lately the work required is just too damn hard. To the people who pull the strings, who calculatedly parcel out the data to a hungry mass, better to wallow with beasts than consort with angels.
The casual cruelties, the ease with which patently false memes gain purchase over simple truths is astounding and utterly detrimental not only to our country but to humankind. For the United States to void its obligation to reach higher and achieve more by allowing the greedy and the power-mad to oversee the dumbing down of democracy is to waste its greatest opportunity.
When George Bush told Americans after 9/11 to go shopping, he epitomized the nadir of what depths the American character has sunk to. And the fault, dear America, is not in Islam, Barak Obama, death panels, social security, health care, education, art, but in ourselves. And the lack of effort.
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