Wednesday: Popular American Culture and Politics

“What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in everything.”

-Lawrence Stern, A Sentimental Journey

When was the last time you learned something?

Like, really sat down to educate yourself on something you never knew about before.  Something beyond the pop-events of TMZ or the brevity of most current affairs?

There’s a shocking amount of ignorance in this world, and it is usually coupled with megalomania and disinterestedness.  This ignorance is at the root of everything from race riots to congressional ineptitude to “democratic” Egypt.  It characterizes foreign policy, social policy, and personal policy.

In the information age, much of our information is simply a sham.  It’s filler, fluff, sawdust.  To learn something, you usually have to do more than scan the first sentence and the last sentence.  You have to do more than scroll to the bottom of the page for the “popular video links.”  You have to do more than simply exist.

You have to try.

Try reading a book.  I’m halfway through The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper, and I’m mortified to say that I never knew Liberia was founded by freed American slaves jettisoned back to Africa and left to fend for themselves.  Pick up a book – you’ll invariably learn something new.

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Try watching a film.  Not a fluff piece.  Not a romp or a riot.  Watch The Iron Lady or Last of the Mohicans  or Charlie Wilson’s War and really learn something about why the world is the way it is.  Eschew the glitzy silver of the screen for the horrifying portrayal of real life and real death and real politics and real power.

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Try reading a newspaper.  Not watching the cat clips on CNN.  Not scanning the headlines.  Pick up the New York Times while you’re in line at Starbucks and read the front page.  

Try going to a gallery.  If you’re feeling mentally flexible, you may be able to crawl inside of someone else’s headspace to see the world the way they do.  I’m not saying go to the Rain Room to be able to trade in social currency.  I’m saying head to MoMA and read the writing on the wall by the abstract expressionist paintings.  Imagine you live in the 1950s, obssession-with-pre-fab, Honey-I’m-Home-What’s-For-Dinner world and really try to wrap your head around Ellsworth Kelly and Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell.

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Stretch.

Because the world does not begin and end with you.

#Low

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