A highlight of my TV viewing during my days in law school was the preternaturally humorous program, Arrested Development, starring Jason Bateman in a glorious acting comeback. Gone were his days on The Hogans; gone were his days playing second fiddle to pin-up (for a few months in junior high, anyway) sister, Justine, who’d made a splash in Family Ties. (who doesn’t love Meredith Baxter-Birney?)
No, these days (specifically 2003-2005) belonged to Jason, or in the program, Michael Bluth. Arrested Development was a fantastic show, for the first two and a half seasons, before the writers turned it into a raunch-fest more appropriate for the questionable taste and limited range of someone like John C. Reilly.
Michael Bluth, pictured at the top of this post, was the serious-minded, hard-working son of a weasel real estate tycoon. Surrounded by an overtly stereotyped family complete with the dim-witted younger brother, the gadfly socialite mother, and the doofus sister (among others), Michael did his best to keep the company going and to keep others in line. He failed consistently, and the tension between the pseudo-priorities of his family and the real priorities of business in a competitive environment created many spectacular scenes of genuine humor.
If you have never seen Arrested Development, please do. Seasons 1 & 2 in particular are nearly divine. Season 4, an ill-fated attempt to reproduce the magic, is not worth watching. Sorry, Ron Howard, I guess not every project is a blockbuster.
Which, as is my custom, brings me to the point of this post. Arrested Development presented the viewer with a case study in entitlement and arrogance, leisure and abundance. It demonstrated, through various characters, the often banal and vapid pursuits that become a priority when people no longer are required to genuinely exert effort to gain the essentials of life.
I’ve made mention from time to time of the “Every Kid Gets a Trophy” Generation. This is the group that came of age just after I was finishing high school. American culture in the past twenty-five years has reached its natural culmination, with respect to the “child-centered” phenomenon rightly begun when compulsory education was adopted by Mississippi (the last state to do so) in 1917. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_education
Child labor laws were passed in 1938 (after failing to pass in 1924 & 1937). http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/us_history.html
These laws were good and I’m not advocating we turn back the clock on them. But, my review of recent American history leads me to believe that once true injustice has been rectified (slavery, woman’s right to vote, civil rights, etc.), we look for new “causes” to pursue. Each new cause is less significant and less unjust than the former causes, which seems to lead us to attack them with even greater fervor until we become like the carnival huckster, screaming for $1 to look at the bearded lady, who is really just the weight-guesser’s wife with magic marker stubble. So it has become with our focus on children.
It began with Jean Piaget, a well-known psychologist, who introduced the “child-centered” model for education, which really got the ball rolling on our collective romp to be more and more sensitive to a child’s way of thinking and, ultimately, feeling. We have become extraordinary enablers of our children’s dreams and ambitions while not requiring any genuine pain, sacrifice or effort (I’m speaking collectively – I realize that many kids work very hard – but our local school system just did away with letter grades. Now, we give them categories of progress). http://hamptonroads.com/2013/05/va-beach-elementary-schools-phase-out-letter-grades
Which brings me back to Arrested Development. You see, with each successive attempt to be more sensitive to the feelings of our children, our own behavior bends downward. Actions that are tolerated by a child because they are immature begin to seem less troublesome and eventually, even enjoyable. As each generation lowers the bar, in time our entire culture is barely off the ground. Noble pursuits are abandoned for more entertainment and more contrived “rights” (benefits that are somehow magically granted by virtue of simply living in Western Civilization, granted through the sacrifice of men and women who are now thoroughly disrespected and removed from academic life because they were probably racist or misogynistic or homophobic or some other attribute that makes them worthy of modern scorn).
It saddens me, which is hard to do. I’m an eternal optimist and I usually end my posts with some inspirational thought or hope-filled comment to remind us how great life is and can be. And it is. And it can be. But as I watch a culture of awards shows, video games and social media consuming the lives of my peers, I have to ask one simple question. Like Michael Bluth, I wonder, “Where are all the grown-ups?”