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May 11, 2006

Essay - When Passivity is a National Pastime

Today's Essay courtesy of English-blog contributor Melissa Z.

America's Passive Society

With such strong sources in media today, the American society is able to witness many different events and happenings all over the world. With such media, more inspiring events can be witnessed, including student revolts, blue-collar protests, and rallies. Of course in America there are protests and rallies, but how far is America willing to go to preserve its' motto; "Land of the free"? It may seem as though Americans do all that they can to obtain such a free society, but next to other countries, such as Poland, Germany, and other surrounding countries, can the drive and determination of America even compare?

In the film Generation '89 by Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz (see full article HERE), young Polish students lead a revolution in their country in 1989. The reason for this revolution was . . .

. . . to protest the strengthening grasp of communism on Poland, something other European countries were dealing with as well. These Polish citizens, unlike American citizens, did not have many rights under communism rule. In order to have a country-wide revolution against something as "big" as communism, the youth involved in the protests had to go through many processes so as to have a successful demonstration. A lot of time and organization had to go into such protests as well. This revolution, tracked by Generation '89, was quite the success. It helped break down the heavy influence that communism had over Poland, as well as pave the way for the youth of the future to fight for their rights and beliefs.

In present-day America, a revolution of this kind is somewhat unheard of. It is not uncommon to hear complaints, and even insults about a certain political leader on the news, yet how often will these complaints be brought to a nation-wide protest? Of the few protests of such a size, how many could be even considered a reason for a significant change? In recent years, just how determined have the citizens of America been in voicing their opinions and fighting for what they believe in?

Some may argue that the American society is far from passive. They may argue that certain aspects of American law forbid protests to such an extent. Such an argument can help confirm the accused passive nature of American society. If one has a desire to protest what they believe to be wrong, if one feels the need to stand up for their rights as American citizens, why not fight for more freedom? The United States Constitution states that "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances". With such an amendment to the United States Constitution, which clearly states the right to peaceably assemble, how can the government and law enforcers deny a protest to any American? Sadly, this entire amendment is rarely ever taken into account. Many protests turn into violent riots, going far beyond the right of a peaceful assembly of citizens.

A riot is a basically an unruly group of people formed together for a basic, common interest at mind. This assembly usually results in panic, chaos, and a forcible end by police equipped with proper protection and ammunition. The amount of "three" is rarely ever the head count for a riot. Most riots usually include a number of out-of-control protesters ranging between 30-70 people. The amount and seriousness of injuries, and even death, varies depending upon the resistance of the rioters. Although some of the protests involved in the film Generation '89 resulted in some injuries, jailing, and deaths, none of the protests were considered "wild disturbances" created by a large number of people. Of course, there very well could have been a few protesters who behaved in an immature, wild manner, but these small groups were not nearly strong enough to turn the attention away from the revolution in progress.

The citizens of America seem to have different ideas on what matters in a country. In today's day and age, society seems to focus on the entertainment aspects of life, such as the hit television show called American Idol. This show is the self-proclaimed "search for a superstar". The idea around this series, currently running on its fifth season, is to find the America's most talented, undiscovered singer. Each week, the contestants are narrowed down by three judges based on their singing abilities. Once the contestants are narrowed down to a "Top 24", the viewing audience is called upon to cast their votes for their favorite singer. Each week one unlucky person is voted off of the show, this eventually narrowing the contestant count down to just six. In the show's fourth season, over 500 million viewers voted for their favorite singer in the show's top six. This number may not seem quite as large based on such a strong influence on television media alone, but once compared to a presidential election, 500 million may begin to seem much larger and shocking.

In 2004, the incumbent Present George W. Bush was re-elected into office. He defeated his fellow presidential candidate by a small margin of electoral votes; thirty five. The number of United States citizens of voting age is 217.8 million. Right at the start, it is plain to see that even if the 217.8 million citizens of legal voting age were to cast a vote, the turnout would not even be half as high as the 500 million who voted for contestants on American Idol. Nationally, 8.6 million new voters turned out for the 2004 election. While this was quite a success, as opposed to the declining number of voters in past elections, this number is quite small in comparison to the rising number of voters each season in American Idol.

With both records shown, although it is very hard for one to argue the relevance of one to another, it is very possible and understandable. For example, one might argue that voting for an American Idol contestant is open to nearly anyone who has obtained the correct telephone number and is able to pick up a phone and dial that number. On the other hand, voting for a presidential election is only open to certain individuals who meet the specific age criteria. With the number of citizens who are of voting age being compared to the large number of able and coherent citizens, it is no question as to why the votes for entertainment reasons would be much higher. This is true, but could it all boil down to the influence both mediums have on viewers? Representatives report that the majority of the American Idol audience ranges from fifteen to twenty-five years of age. For those viewers who are fifteen to eighteen, voting has already become a normal part of their lives. This age bracket of American citizens should be educated on the importance of voting for a more stable, useful figure in American society, such as a president. Although the entertainment aspects of the aforementioned television show are basically harmless, the act of maintaining such a high voting rate from teens and young adults remains to be a knack which political candidates have yet to master.

Based on research, prior knowledge and exposure to the ways of American life, it has become quite clear where the citizens of America place their values. It is also quite a foreshadowing of the future youth of America. In Generation '89, the youth of Poland knows that much has to be changed in order to preserve their rights as human beings. These rights had been obscured by the strong communist influence in Europe at the time. If the youth of America can remember to watch a television show every week and be a devout voter and viewer of the next flavor of the month, it should not be very difficult to form an opinion, realize their rights and beliefs, and vote for a political figure that will protect those interests. Mahatma Ghandi once said, "you must be the change you wish to see in the world." (see commentary HERE) Instead of making proper changes in their lives and standing up for rights and beliefs, America would rather complain about what they do not possess and who does not represent their beliefs than take a stand and fight for things which they deserve.

Maya Angelou once said, "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain." This quote bluntly states a proper conclusion. Much of the youth around the world, as well as many other age brackets, have come to the realization that they will not maintain or obtain their god-given rights as humans by just sitting back and waiting for someone else to stand up and do it for them. While others around the world are also fighting for rights, standing up for beliefs, and taking part in putting proper figures in government offices, they are watching and being entertained by television, clearly enjoying the fruits of their labor.

~Melissa Z.

Comments for Melissa's article "America's Passive Society?" Please leave them below:

*Read more English-Blog essays HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at May 11, 2006 02:09 PM

Readers' Comments:

Melissa,

Today's news includes reports of telephone monitoring of about 10 million Americans. This is the largest database in world history - and each of us is probably in it.

Am I being paranoid - or is this the creepiest precursor of a Big Brother/police state ever?

I have been increasingly horrified by my rapidly declining civil rights - but this is truly beyond imagining.

If you have read George Orwell's 1984, this smiling (or is it smirking?) supervision "for our own good" in the name of national security gives me both a sinking feeling regarding our government and its increasing centralization and disregard for our constitutional rights and, in America, where we have always been proud of our level of participation in government, where is the
outrage?

There is no way that there could be 10 million terrorism suspects. The Feds are clearly using that data base for some far more sinister intent.

And they are banking on American passivity...

Morf

Posted by: Morf at May 11, 2006 06:34 PM

Melissa,

The thing is, Americans are not passive. Look at the recent immigration protests. It is easy to shake a finger at the average American for not geting involved but really who has such faith in any politician. The Polish who demonstrated are probably not happy with new leaders or soon will grow tired of them. all over the world people try to imitate America's Democarcy but it isn't easy to get it right. Americans would protest more than anyone if their situation was as bad and they thought it would be of any benefit.

actually here in Korea there are protests against Americans and bases. I think many protests are wrong. For instance, The American base in Yongsan Seoul is a very large base and they are relocating to outside of Seoul in the country side but protesters object to the American military taking more land. actually they are giving back land and takin less. Farmers are bein well compensated for their loss but many are going crazy.

see http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2006/05/12/200605120040.asp

And besides these interests protests by farmers are also against American Rice enterin the market.

http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2006/05/12/200605120031.asp

this is even more crazy. The rice is cheaper but farmers here are worried. It is due to a free trade agreement so if Korea wants to sell Hyundai cars and Samsung TV screens they have to allow rice to be sold here in Korea.

America may seem passive but it is the biggest economy in the world. Let's put the protestors back to work!

Kevin

Posted by: Kevin Landry at May 12, 2006 12:57 AM

I just want to say that this was fascinating and very well written! Happy to have discovered this blog!

(I´m just thinking: Maybe this could be just the right man to answer the question in my latest blog-post?)

Posted by: Rambukk at May 13, 2006 12:03 PM

Morf,

Orwell 1984 indeed!

In the context of the market economy, I think one of the more progressive political agendas is New Labour's Communitarianism (Gordon Brown and allies rather than Blair)- we have rights only in accordance with our obligations (be that with respect to the welfare state, helping the elderly, the homeless and so on). Of course, this is only in relation to the current status quo rather than a proposition for social change, and one might easily point out that free market economics, as endorsed enthusiastically by New Labour, are at odds with their model of a 'progressive' community project social model. (And of course, only in the context of a welfare state in the UK).

How to reconcile the interests of the collective with the needs of the collective is the question... (an interesting analogy drawn to the Pop idol tv generation above, perhaps?)

@Kevin- it's true of course that many Americans are far from passive, but in the context of corporate self-interest and increasing media control, when are the voices of dissent ever "really" heard? And how can we make them heard? Dissemination to a mass audience is probably one of the greatest challenges. Look who invented p.r. and propaganda...they well understood the need for mind-numbing spectacle! Does tv entertainment, such as Pop Idol, just induce political disenfranchisement- the masses fed on a diet of televisual spectacle, so that even the very possibility of political agency has become a distant memory...Can we separate the form from the content? Or will politicians just become "bite-size" caricatures, and which is more dangerous?? A small number of politically aware voters, or the large-scale involvement of people who vote depending on spectacle? I think the the hypnotist in the corner of the living room has had a lot to bear in this relation, but perhaps the next generation of Web 2.0 will herald change by virtue of the social models being developed...

Anyway, this is becoming a long "stream of consciousness" post, so I hope my contribution is coherent and of interest to some!

Have a nice day :-)

Taton

Posted by: taton at May 14, 2006 03:28 AM

Sorry, but what have any of these posts got tp do with ESL, TEFL, TESOL?

Posted by: Mole at May 14, 2006 02:49 PM

Mole,

Ah, so what does passivity and the resultant discussion have to do with ESL?

I guess my brain interprets this conversation as one aspect of culture, not only expressed BY language, but embedded in it.

For example, American English is distinct from British English in several way, and in a sense, it is American passivity (or even porousness) which allows the language (in contrast to French, for example) to absorb not only random vocabulary from virtually any language, occupation or "life-style" (pop culture, computer jargon and gay or gang slang are only a few examples).

My personal bias is that some terms, like "Whatever" or the ubiquitous "Awesome" exhibit a reflexive (that is, non-mediated,essentially brain de-activated) slogan-derived response to the complexities of life.

For whatever reason, America has become estranged from its inherently democratic roots - where to be a citizen, for example, meant to be a participant in the political process. Now we have an increasingly centralized - and censored - political environment.

Historically, to be an American has meant to question authority. And literacy has always been the ultimate tool for fighting oppression.

What happened?

Morf

Posted by: Morf at May 15, 2006 07:22 PM

Lee,

This blog seems to be a forum for discussion which may not be "ESL, TEFL,or TESOL" directly but it seems a good topic. I think to learn English interesting topics can generate attention and promote learning by creating a personal involvment in class. Oh and about Idol.

my buddy HUD says

vote:

http://jameshudnall.com/blog.php?/weblog/vote_for_taylor/

Kevin

Posted by: Kevin Landry at May 16, 2006 08:16 AM

Lee,

One cool resource I just found is Blinkx.com - it is an indexed (yay!)collection of video clips. You can search for people, places or titles.

I just looked at a Stephen Colbert goes to journlaism school video that was hilarious and would be a good ESL tool.

Best,

Morf

Posted by: Morf at May 16, 2006 10:02 AM

-------
Note from Lee:

Commenters, thanks for these great remarks. I thought you might be interested to read Melissa's reaction to your comments, as recently emailed to me. I've re-posted them below. Warning: the video she mentions is about an hour long.
-------

Hello Professor Hobbs,

In light of CNN's recent news of conspiracy and whatnot in the government, I thought I'd take a look at the video that's causing the present controversy. I've always been interested in documentaries, but since watching Maria K's documentaries (NOTE: see HERE and HERE and other places), I can definitely say I've come to have an even deeper interest in them.

Once I watched it, I was shocked. Although such videos can certainly be doctored, their accusations (much more like self-proclaimed "facts") are backed with so much "evidence" that it really made me wonder what the U.S. government really was trying to hide. I still don't know, for sure but I'll let the viewers decide for themselves . . .

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2023320890224991194

Have a great day!

Melissa Z.

P.S. Listen to the very end of the documentary. They sum up my essay in this post!

Posted by: Lee at May 18, 2006 05:25 PM

Melissa,

I wish I could be writing a response right now and telling you how wrong you are, but every day I see it more and more. I came home this summer after my first year at college still with all of these fresh, revolutionary ideas in my mind: “American main stream media has corrupted our society, I’m weaving in and out in-between zombies every day on my way to class, Why am I the only one who thinks that we don’t deserve what we have?” So I get home to my fully furnished American house. I pull up in my dented, loud idling, 93 Pontiac Grand AM. My parents expensive Dodge Magnum is parked in the driveway with it’s tinted widows as black as night to keep hidden what ever it is that fuels the lies of the American dream. I always tell my dad I hate riding in the piece of crap. The handling is so fine-tuned that you never feel the bumps in the road as you plow over them with your eight-cylinder Hemi engine. The weather stripping seals so tight that a scream from the outside would be easily forgotten by a simple turn of the knob of it’s 5 point surround sound system. He just looks at me like I’m nuts. “Why the hell would you not want to ride in it?” He says in his mind, “It’s the first car I’ve ever bought brand-new.”

I walk inside. The air-conditioning hit’s me. It’s a perfect climate. Everything is cleaned and vacuumed and in the proper place. The huge living room is empty with space that’s filled with stagnant air and every once and a while a body thirsty for a perfect place to read a magazine kicks it up. I hurry past the living room up the stairs to my room. Everything in it went through this miraculous change since I was away from college. Somehow it came out clean like the rest of the house. I changed that quickly by throwing all of my crap in there from my dorm room. Home at last.

My mom comes in the doorway, never any further in fear of the objects protruding out of the carpet, and says, “So I’ve been talking to your friends mom, she says he got a lot of new songs for his band and that you wrote them. She said they were good. How come you never let me read any of your songs?” I looked out the window at the perfect brick driveway lined with lampposts painted with this specially designed paint to give them that aged look. Then the all trees with mulched around the bottom making a perfect circle. I look back at her. “I didn’t think you would get any of them.” I say, “but if you really want to I guess you can see them.” She just smiled and said, “Ok” like she thought that they were going to be about flowers and happiness and not about how much a hate the middle class American life style and all of it’s hypocrisies.

I sat her down at the computer. She read through my life and all the cloudy ideas surrounding it for the past year and a half. Once she got through some of the ideas that I’d spent that whole time period contemplating and molding and expressing she called me from the other room and said, “I don’t get any of them.” She didn’t even read through all of them. Obviously here mind never veered in any of those directions before. And just like in George Orwell’s 1984 it was like she never heard any of it. So that night I wrote this poem just for her; I hope you enjoy it:

The Silent Witness

I’m so sick and so tired
Of being the silent witness

The world is on fire
And we’re stagnant water

And if you don’t get this
I’m calling for change

Don’t you get it?
The world is on fire
And WE’RE
WE’RE THE WATER!

And I, I’M SO SICK!
So sick and so tired
Of being the silent witness

Because we’re just sitting around.

-Sam H.

Posted by: Sam H. at May 28, 2006 12:18 PM

---------
Note from Lee:

Thanks for that Sam. Don't feel alone, many of us have had that experience with our own parents. Remember the "Matrix" analogy? It's easier for some to live the lie than to confront the truth. Best wishes to you!

Posted by: Lee at May 28, 2006 04:04 PM

Hmmmmm.....

I just returned from a national convention for Rescue Missions (I currently work in my local Mission as an instructor). A speaker that addressed many of these issues was Ray Bakke. Ray has published many books - most with an emphasis on global urban dynamics.

The other day he talked about the general atmosphere of fear among white Americans. This fear of the future (and other people) is reflected in the "protective" actions we see the wealthy embrace - whether SUVs, gated communities, home schools and much more. White Americans are retreating from the world in a powerful and highly visible way.

There is a clear sub-culture - based on exclusion. Consider your typical church experience
for example - is there a more segregated time or place than church?

The irony, of course, is that Jesus was incredibly cross cultural (look at the opening geneology of Matthew - which most people skip over - look particularly at the women - they are all non-Jewish).

Yes, the world is on fire, whether you want to look at collapsing public schools, corrupt politicians, disintegrating public infrastructure (bridges, freeways, levees and much more) or the economy (consider how the average young couple might be able to buy a house these days, for example) or how about the increasing price of gas - which will affect everything that is transported.

And, as Sam implied, the classic American response is to obsessively clean as the world shuts down around us - this would be the American corollary to Nero fiddling as Rome was burning.

And politically, to do nothing is to endorse the status quo. And, to add irony to irony, in the USA, a nation that markets itself as Christian (look at the life of Jesus in the Gospels and compare it to the imperialistic self-righteous blandness of "Christian" politicians for example or look at Ezekiel 49 starting with verse 25 for the REAL reason for the destruction of Sodom (hint: it wasn't homosexuality) we see this odd sort of Krispy Kreme glazed Christianity where everyone is white and middle class and we have a Christian president who can do no wrong and as long as we keep our lawn mowed and vote for the republican candidate of our choice, God will bless America.

Yes, the world is on fire alright.

So do we care?

Posted by: Morf at June 1, 2006 03:15 PM

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