Perhaps itʻs “human nature” that makes us all want to judge. But reality TV has made this a fetish. And as we are caught up in the small thrill of judging others who have the audacity to demand our attention on American Idol, democracy is impoverished. Just as reality television allowed the viewer to control the direction of the show, our ability, and inclination, to control our own society – the basis of democracy – was eroded. American Political Science Review published an article in the aftermath of Bushʻs 2000 election that showed vote rigging had turned the tide of US leadership toward hereditary monarchy. Ballots that showed votes for democrats in every race mysteriously showed Buchannan as their presidential pick. Michael Moore documented the disenfranchisement of blacks across the country. But none of this led to an uproar, though other countries noted that it was something one might expect in a third-world failed state. We were distracted exercising our right to choose the next celebrity based on no real criteria whatsoever.
Even very sophisticated friends of mine who should know better seemed to have fetishized their own tastes in everything the culture machine had to offer. This led me to ask them (in my head): “what is is that makes you think your opinion is so important? Isnʻt it the same capitalism you despise?”
All of this seems to me somehow connected to the trend, since the 90s, of 80% of people thinking they are in the top 1%, but Iʻm quite sure how itʻs related. It was probably the conservative con game that led working people to vote against their own class interests – it was called identifying with the rich (and in some cases, famous). At least thatʻs changing thanks to Occupy Wall St.
It has been noted that too much choice tends to overwhelm us, and that our increased choice is mainly as investors and consumers, rather than as citizen-subjects. We should probably focus our energies less on choice itself and more on the ways we exercise choice. Republicans have drilled the idea into us that everything comes down to our choice, which is true, but the quality of choices available is something to which far too little attention is paid.