The “Dumbing of America”

If I ate cereal, I would have upchucked it after seeing the relentless wedding coverage of reality television’s Kim Kardashian to NBA player Kris Humphries last weekend.  Magazine covers, Internet stories, blog entries, even a full eight minute segment on NBC’s Today show, with host Ann Curry calling the nuptials Hollywood’s “Wedding of the Year.”

I’m sad to say that in doing research for this article, I now know both Kardashian’s and Humphries’ annual incomes, his ethnicity, their work history, how much her ring cost and even what it looks like.  I feel like I lost some brain cells.  Aren’t there more important, interesting and relevant things to talk about in national media?

This is exactly the topic of Attorney and CBS Legal Analyst Lisa Bloom’s New York Times bestselling book “Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World.”  I must say, the book made me do just that: “Think.”  But not for the reasons outlined by Bloom.

In the book, Bloom cites why she feels “tabloid media…makes you a vain, self-centered idiot,” (ahem, Kardashian-Humphries wedding coverage, anyone?) she also tackles a number of other items in far-away lands and close to home. From media to education, housecleaning and child-rearing to international issues like poverty, oppression, global warming and human trafficking – the ground she traverses is vast and fertile. But mostly she wonders how, in the era post-women’s liberation, women have become more educated, yet less connected and less happy than our predecessors.

Bloom herself is amazingly personable and down-to-earth, yet the book had me underlining, scribbling questions and vehemently defying some of her concepts.  Though I marvel at her openness and penchant for “thinking” about issues, it’s clear that even through her many international experiences and interests, she comes from a distinctly American point-of-view.  But not just American, a subset of America—one that has the luxury to concern themselves with vanity, and resources to waste time on technology, including our fancy phones, television and Internet (Yes, with my unbridled addiction to Facebook’s “CityVille” game, this includes me).

She deftly discusses our obsession with beauty and the rewards girls are offered to be “hot” rather than “smart,” citing that 25 percent of young girls would rather win America’s Next Top Model and 23 percent lose the ability to read than lose their figures. But this viewpoint seems more a cultural bias, because oft it’s the majority culture that buys into these premises.  Minority populations – whether from culture, race or ethnicity —  tend to have a different view than the body ideal and attitudes discussed in “Think,” so many of Bloom’s arguments seemed like common sense.  That being said, we should note that as “minority” populations assimilate into America’s majority culture, two things are happening:  1) Beauty ideals of the majority are being adopted by its sub-cultures and more minority young girls are falling prey to this way of thinking than in decades-past; while 2) Beauty ideals of the sub-cultures also, slowly, are seeping into our overall consciousness (Think JLo’s posterior, or Angelina Jolie’s lips – assets that may not have been celebrated even just a decade ago now are all the rage.).

Which creates another alarming topic tackled in the book: The rise in use, and misuse, of plastic surgery to achieve sometimes impossible beauty standards.

Beyond beauty and vanity, Bloom goes on to provide amazing data regarding climate change, including documentation by the National Climactic Data Center that “2010 was the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880.” And if we continue as is, cities like Tokyo, London and New York could be underwater within a century. She makes human trafficking real, and shows why, even a world away, such actions affect us all, and argues why we should care.

The second half of the book is my favorite, providing solutions to the myriad problems addressed, and again, though I argue with some of the suggestions (What is considered “news,” going to market weekly to “buy a ton of food,” hiring a housekeeper); others are irrefutably genius: “Choice of friends is just as important for adults and possibly even more important than choice of spouse,” “Poverty is miserable. But after our basic needs are met, money does not buy happiness.”

All in all, I think it comes down to invaluable lessons Bloom gleaned from “Fox,” her late grandmother – “Those who rejected all the negative cultural messages about what women weren’t supposed to do and instead just got on with their lives on their own terms.”

That’s what this column is about, and in a nutshell, I think that’s what Bloom is trying to impart – get out of your shell, get to the business of living instead of just floating through life, and for goodness sake, pay attention to what’s happening in the world.  Think.

For more information on Lisa Bloom’s thoughts, visit Think.tv


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