“After all the fire and storm of the historical process, the struggles between good and evil, progress and reaction, the long and difficult climb from barbarism and slavery up into the light of civilization and finally of free civil society, at last and at length we struggle up to the peak of the mountain to encounter the culmination of generations of human striving: Homer Simpson…. The world turns into a big mall, and we all go shopping: forever…. Were all the heroism of the past, all the suffering, all the passionate faith, the sacrifice, the religious and political contests, simply to build a shopper’s paradise?”
In conceiving his famous symbolic allegory of humans as slaves chained to their seats, staring forever at images flickering on the wall of a cave, Plato could never have imagined how fantastically real his vision would one day become in a world where people sit for hours each day in their chairs staring at images on their television and computer screens. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that television and internet programming and advertising assume an audience of morons who each have an attention span that can be measured in milliseconds. Tocqueville warned us that art in a democracy could easily become crude and shoddy and facile. Even he would never have dreamed that we would be so willing to stare all day at an endless procession of brutal, obscene, degrading, and smarmy shows and commercials that focus chiefly on over-consumption and titillating entertainment.
Imagine a thirteen-year-old boy sitting in his living room doing his homework, plugged into his earphones and watching MTV. “He enjoys the liberties hard won over centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism,” notes Allan Bloom, “consecrated by the blood of martyrs; he is provided with comfort and leisure by the most productive economy ever known to mankind; science has penetrated the secrets of nature in order to provide him with the marvelous, lifelike sound and image reproduction he is enjoying. And in what does progress culminate? A pubescent child whose body throbs with orgasmic rhythms; whose feelings are made articulate in hymns to the joys of onanism or the killing of parents; whose ambition is to win fame and wealth in imitating the drag-queen who makes the music. In short, life is made into a nonstop, commercially packaged masturbational fantasy.”