Stupify: Make someone unable to think or feel properly.
Today I showed a clip from Ken Burns epic work Jazz to my 8th grade students. There’s an extraordinary moment in which Dave Brubeck recalls his father introducing him to a black man when Dave was a child. The man took off his shirt and displayed a brand on his chest, the kind they used for cattle. His father told Dave, “This is what we have to fight. This can never happen again.”
Dave Brubeck was in his 70’s during that interview and as he tells the story, he starts to tear up and you can see him reliving the pain of that moment from over 60 years ago. My mirror neurons kicked in, as did the 8th graders and a profound hush fell over the room. As it should have.
But because this clip was on Youtube and we were watching it on Apple TV, the moment it was over, a loud ad came on, “DOWNLOAD THIS COOL AP FREE!!!” and the mood was shattered. The contrast was a shock to the system and all I could think is that this is how we have become a people less and less capable of thinking or feeling properly. Stupified.
Stupified by 24/7 mindless, relentless consumerism. Get this! Buy that! Try this! It used to be just in magazines, television and billboards, but now it’s at the movies and on our phones and on the school Apple TV’s and in the sports time-outs and the billboards light up and move and glitter and catch our ancient hunter’s eye sensitive to movement and whether it’s a profound piece of music or devastating news, nothing is sacred, nothing can’t be immediately followed by an ad reminding us that Pepsi will cure our dismal sex life.
We have seen an epidemic increase in the number of voters incapable of rational thought and any genuine feeling beyond mindless anger and vile hatred. And to be realistic, this also was a problem long before media. But with tools and knowledge and the promise of wisdom learned from all that came before that worked so poorly, media can be a powerful arsenal in the bid to wake us up, bring us music of sophisticated thought and deep emotion, film with artistry, lectures that get our neurons firing. But mostly it has become a tool of stupefaction, putting us to sleep and numbing us with its constant stream of mindless consumerism and surface entertainment.
Well, I’ve been complaining about this for over 30 years, so what else is new. But that moment with Mr. Brubeck and Apple TV just sent me over the edge yet again. Check it out on Youtube (or get the whole Ken Burns’ JAZZ series at your local library). But be prepared to click “off” at the end before you are assaulted.