Americans are crankier than ever.
A recent Gallup poll found Americans’ satisfaction with the way things are going has fallen to just 11 percent. That’s the second lowest number recorded in the poll’s 30 years.
According to Gallup, America has been growing increasingly dissatisfied since 2004, when national satisfaction slipped below 50 percent, it went below 40 percent in 2005 and 30 percent in 2009.
Americans used to be able to find refuge during the dark times and escape life’s troubles for short periods of time. Church events, theater, radio, movies, family outings, television, sporting events or just sitting out on the front porch and watching the world go by, were all geared toward what we once called “entertainment” to get your mind off the real world events.
Taking the place of those escapes from real world events, we now have a constant barrage of “reality” TV shows.
Times, attitudes, expectations, goals, aspirations and temperament all seem to be moving toward the extreme these days. We’re not just dissatisfied with how things are going, we’re downright frustrated. As frustration grows, people begin to take action. And those actions are showing up in every news story you come across.
It’s one thing for drunken sports fans to shout obscenities at opposing players, but when fans beat another fan and shots get fired at an NFL event, it’s gone way over the line. It’s one thing to discover a person on death row for the last 17 years is innocent, but another for the prosecutor to make the man admit killing three young boys so he can be pardoned and set free. It’s one thing for political adversaries to disagree, and it’s something else when a longtime elected official calls citizens “terrorists” and another tells a political party to “Go to Hell.” It’s one thing for a disgruntled student to get back at a school by phoning in a prank bomb threat, and it’s something very different to gather enough explosive material to detonate the material on the opening day of school. And these were just some headlines from last week.
Unless cooler heads begin to prevail, I fear our society is well down a path we do not want to be on. At 57 years of age, I don’t consider myself old or a prude, but when I start looking back and thinking about how things have changed over time, I feel somehow like the old curmudgeon warning the youngsters not to play with fire for fear of getting burnt. We find ourselves so frustrated over events and conditions of the day, but we keep playing with fire and then wonder where the burns come from.
As I look back, I can see how attitudes are changed by the information we are fed. We seem bent on stretching for the outrageous and gravitating to who can deliver the greatest shock value. In retrospect, when you compare the information we were exposed to in the old days, with TV shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Ozzie and Harriet” or a movie like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” we could laugh and reinforce valuable life lessons.
Compared to what we digest today as entertainment and acceptable society behavior, Real Housewives of (name your city here), sexual innuendo-filled comedies beginning at 8 p.m. in what use to be considered the family hour, Mature Rated Video Games for their extreme violence, or gruesome, violent packed movies that continue to portray a realism through special effects, is it any wonder why we are frustrated when real life starts to replicate the thing we gravitate to for entertainment? When our elected leaders, sports heroes, movie/television stars act this way and we glorify the extreme and outrageous in society, how can we expect to see a future filled with anything but what we digest when we are entertaining ourselves?
In years gone by, we had censors controlling the information we received and we all railed against censorship in favor of freedom of expression. I’m not suggesting we return to those days, but we must begin to realize that we are becoming a product of our own creation.
We need to reacquire our moral and social compass in order to put ourselves and our world back on a less destructive course and once again find the peaceful satisfaction with the world we all share.
Dan Alexander is publisher and owner of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.