The truth is, nobody cares that America and European culture are on the downswing. It’s one of those problems that most people are at least peripherally aware of, but it’s hard for anyone to care. Some individuals are struggling to make it in a dying economy. For them there is nothing but the immediate question of making a living, paying the bills. Others are already successful, and profiting quite well from the general decline, slowly running bloated corporations and agencies into dust. Others are blissfully ignorant or intentionally blind to it.

A vast majority, however, are simply distracted by the pop culture. It is an increasingly vapid, meaningless thing. Consider that the Western civilization that produced Shakespeare, Voltaire, Michelangelo and Einstein has resorted to glorifying Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Snookie, the Kardashians and Nickelback. I have a Facebook feed covered in meaningless quotations (often falsely attributed), pithy memes, invitations to play cartoon games meant for children and the humorous, but oddly depressing Youtube videos displaying the idiotic antics of my generation.

This particular gem shows a woman trying to twerk, that is to say display herself sexually in a particularly laughable manner, and instead breaks a table and lights herself on fire. This video made national news and shows up multiple times on my Facebook feed. There’s something important here. It’s hard to imagine anyone of vaguely European cultural persuasion being so enthusiastic about something this stupid 60 or 70 years ago. This woman is a defective product of a bankrupt culture. It’s sad, not funny. Note: it turns out the video was faked, but that’s not really the point. The point is this is what passes for pop culture entertainment today.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Today’s pop culture has amazing production values. The special FX in the movies are spectacular, the light shows and pyrotechnics at any major concert are positively religious in their power. The big box stores, even Wal Marts, are cleaner and better built than stores 60 or 70 years ago. They have branding, color coordination. There is a subtle feeling of normalcy about them. The layouts are thought out by hundreds of office workers and marketing professionals employed solely to give you that feeling. Go into a chain restaurant and you will see style coordinated expensive fixtures and a much cleaner presentation than the locally owned greasy spoon. There is a “chain-like” feel that actually serves to attract people in droves to these places, even when they say they appreciate local culture and are against big corporations.

It’s such a powerful force, that it’s easy for any of us to spot a “fake” chain restaurant or store. There is a local Tampa restaurant named for Lee Roy Selmon, and it started out as an experiment by the owners of Outback Steakhouse. For a long time, it was just a single concept restaurant, but you could tell walking into the place that it was a chain-style build. Now a few more of them are popping up in the region, and eventually in your own neighborhood, you are likely to see your very own Lee Roy Selmon’s.

On the other end of the scale was a local competitor to Cinebistro, the restaurant-theater chain. The owner of the independent restaurant-theater put together an impeccable build with expensive imported tile, fancy materials for the bar area, expensive sound systems and perfect seating, yet somehow it didn’t have the chain feel. It was a combination of things, from the slightly odd location, the positioning of the lighting, some inconsistencies in the color scheme and placement of movie posters. It was an almost-chain, a small business trying to replicate on an individual level what an entire army of marketing and production professionals provide for the real chains. Mark my words, it will fail within the year. There is no room in America for nice, clean places if they are not chains. Americans are brand-Nazis, cleansing the market of the lesser brands and almost-chains. Product quality is almost irrelevant.

Perfect packaging, impeccable production values and scientific marketing surround stale, defective products. Everything from actors to politicians, pop stars, chain food and that iPad you bought last week are subject to the same rules. You will either go to the chain, or to the dive. There is nothing in between.

We are a civilization of manufactured people with manufactured lives. Are those lives any better than the stale food at your local Applebee’s?

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