What Was Britney Thinking?
Kierkegaard (19th century Danish philosopher) wrote a great criticism of what he called “the present age” — in it, he essentially argued that it had no passion, that the people living in it were existing like zombies. His specific criticism is complicated, but the basic nuts and bolts of it are easy to state. He thought that our age (we are the present age) was too detached from life. We like, he said, to be spectators in life instead of participators. We like to dabble in meaningless topics that have little to do with our lives, and that we generally seek out anything that allows us to participate anonymously in conversations dominated by “them” (the crowd, the public).
Mostly we do this because we’re afraid of making commitments to living in passionate ways regarding the realities of our lives. For the most part, he thought that we ran from taking stands on our own lives, and how to shape them because devoting real time to committing to life results in U-Hauls full of anxiety. And people don’t like anxiety!
One of Kierkegaard’s main targets in his attack was the press. In Kierkegaard’s time, the mass-circulation press was still a fairly new thing. To Kierkegaard, the press stood for a great danger, because it allowed — for the first time — the temptation of “crowd dwelling” to spread even further than ever before. Through the media the spread of “them” grows with leaps and bounds. We feel the strong pull to get involved with the lives of distant others, to generate opinions based on little to nothing about topics we aren’t directly related to. Think of the National Enquirer or Star — or any of the millions of reality shows on television. Hell, think of Facebook! For Kierkegaard, it’s all just distraction from life.
This whole criticism was in my head today with all of this Britney Spears stuff going on. It made me think of that great SNL skit, “What Was Britney Thinking?” where Pat O’Brien is walking around repeating that question over and over while world shattering events happen around him (UFOs landing next to him, etc) but he doesn’t notice because Spears is all he can think about. (I tried to find the clip but it’s impossible to find).
Is Kierkegaard right? Is the modern age particularly non-passionate in this way? Do we now, more than ever before, live in an age of distraction, one in which we desperately seek to join the crowd through non-risky involvements in causes and topics that don’t really mean much to our actual lives?
Reality Check: We have two laptops and a desktop at home. On one laptop and the desktop my wife had the “live feed” from TMZ on to see if Spears would show up to court. I would wave my hand in front of my wife’s eyes and she’d just say, “What was Britney thinking?”
Okay, maybe I looked now and again too. Sorry, Kierkegaard.