Walking down the street in my hometown, I find a man passed out on the bench lying beside the library. How do I react? Easing around the man, I look away ignoring his existence. How many of us have had this reaction? I’d contend that most of us have made this same choice multiple times in our lives. It is our apathetic attitude that has perpetuated this kind of scenario to replay over and again.
I propose that the most prevalent issues within society spring from a distracted society—social apathy. One may dissent with my theory, because they too are apathetic and do not realize it. Apathy has become normalized. Why should I care that suicide hotlines were overloaded with calls after Trump’s election and at least eight people committed suicide? Basic human decency should make you care, but aside from that, whether or not you think Trump is a terrible human being, society has taken his rise to president-elect as a signal to feed the tendrils of disdain that reach every corner of not only our ignoble nation, but the world.
Let us take, for example, the issue of rape. Remember, your president-elect has been accused of this crime. That fact alone will feed rape-culture and we will lose much of our already limited ability to convict. One may say that rape is a crime of power—that it is about power and aggression. What power is gained from the rape of another human being? Certainly, it does not have anything to do with social standing. One is labeled for a lifetime after the act so where does power fit into the mix? Power in such an act can only be derived from theft of a commodified—to be made a product of—human body, the degradation of character, and alienation of the individual. Once a rapist, always a rapist. So here it is, we have a president-elect that was accused of rape and the shame we place on other rapists is not thrown on an elected official.
Remember when we were outraged by a Stanford swimmer who got away with only six months in prison—and let out in three? The media backlash was everywhere, but where are we when Donald Trump is elected as the potential president of the nation? The likely executive leader of our country gets away with it and no question is raised—and if we do, we are demonized by the majority vote. So where does this come from? Why are we not yelling it from the rooftops, or making a stand? It is because we have become so complacent, lethargic and apathetic that our leaders get to do anything with our livelihoods.
How have we landed ourselves in this careless predicament? I will move away from the politics involved and return to societal apathy. In Guy Debord’s La société du spectacle, or The Society of Spectacle, he claims “The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation” (5). What Debord is declaring is that in spectacular accumulation man has lost himself to production becoming a representation of self, rather than actualizing in his/her individuality, or a sort of enlightenment. What this has to do with societal apathy is when an individual lives her/his entire life as a representation of self rather than a self that is completely their own (or at least something that they have come to stand for without the need for spectacle) they are subject to ignore certain issues, or sufferings based on the sole fact that stopping to interact with that suffering human being, or assist in adjusting the issue can alter or, more accurately, harm the image of them in a social sphere. The concern that once existed for the fellow man on the street no longer exists.
We tell our kids not to talk to strangers, because we do not trust them. Why shouldn’t we talk to strangers? Unknown people on the street are seen as threats, and I get it some can be, but we project our fear of fellow human beings on everybody we run into. The fear is perpetuated by the fact that we live in a convenient realm of selfishness giving us complacency to society at large, which in other works that I have submitted in the creative, academic sphere “[leads] to complacency, which, in turn, [leads] to apathy” (4).
It has been suggested that the interactions and conversations that we have with strangers are the most legitimate form of communication that an individual can have, because there are no preconceived expectations in the interaction, but in our society it has dwindled to stock questions with stock responses. Quite frankly, nobody cares and if we are to define apathy as the lack of interest, or concern and more accurately an obtuse selfish nature, we can then jump to the realization that our apathetic culture has perpetuated the rise of such leaders as Donald Trump, the bigot, and Mike Pence, the guy who thinks he can electrocute homosexuals until they are heterosexual. We have no excuse, we become so involved in our own little lives that we cling to one statement. We grasp like a newborn child and refuse to let go until the metaphorical fat lady sings.
What evidence do I have to provide you with? Admittedly it’s mostly anecdotal, but even if we were to believe that Trump is not a bigot, which is a far cry from the truth; assuming we all watched the debates, at least subliminally, we know. His V.P. according to Time Magazine claims that “gay couples signaled ‘societal collapse’” (Debald). If anything, gay couples are more involved in societal reconstruction, because they have to be. When an ostracized group of people seek recognition and equality they have to paint themselves as societally constructive—in order to do so they must be active in the community, be aware of others, be institutionally involved. Essentially, the existing stigma must be replaced by action amongst the community across the nation, which is something someone with hetero-normative white privilege does not have to worry about. by working for equality these groups of different race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and/or religion must be amongst the least apathetic in the stratosphere of society.
Does that mean that all marginalized groups lack apathy; No, it does not. It means that, for the most part, those marginalized groups will attempt to be seen and heard; they will attempt to paint themselves as an image that promotes forward motion for society. Outside of spectacular distraction, which includes fear-mongering in white Anglo-Saxon America and media’s sitcom-esque news stations, we have other reasons to be societally apathetic: the largest of which is the time we commodify and perpetually claim that we do not have. Guy Debord has this to say about the commodification of time “[t]he social appropriation of time and the production of man by means of human labor were developments that awaited the advent of a society divided into classes” (40). I claim, in explanation, that those who have time have been appropriated with wealth, or power; however, those without time to spare lack power, lack education, lack wealth and the means by which to be more involved with the concerns of society, while those who possess the time to spare are ignorant of the very same concerns, or are unaffected by them.
We marginalize suffering by saying things like “they put themselves in that position,” “they chose that life,” or by telling our kids “don’t talk to that man he’s dirty, a drunk, or a drug addict.” What those people need are people that have a sincerity that will lend a hand of assistance, rather than a dealt hand of judgment. But in our environment we are too concerned with what others might think if we were to be caught conversing with the scum of the area, or the gutters of America. Until we can through off the iron cloak of spectacularism, we will never be free from the grip of apathy. As we form meaningless relationships with our spectacularly awful social media sites, television, and representations—rather than actualizations—we can never move forward, but will continue to move backwards.
Debord predicted a distracted society and he hit the nail on the head. We are so invested in the spectacular that we forget the relevant, if not obligatory, mediocrity that pushes a society forward. Speak with strangers on the street; have real conversations with them; notice and assist the suffering in your neighborhood; continue to be in the exact moment and time that will allow you to have deep and meaningful relationships with members of your community. These are things that a developing society need. Distractions are just that and they serve to function as a grounds by which our leaders make moves behind our backs and limit our ability to become enraged by the infringement. It is all relevant. Nothing can be done in a world of societal awareness that does not accept the status quo.
Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Smith. N.p.: Zone, 1994. Print. Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. Donald Smith. N.p.: Zone, 1994. Print.
Drabold, Will. “Here’s What Mike Pence Said on LGBT Issues Over the Years.” Time. Time, June-July 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
Sandy, Michael. Doc. Martinsburg: n.p., n.d.
Written by Giovanni Albanese Jr. | Published on August 14, 2015. “Violent Video Games Create Aggression, but Do They Cause Kids to Commit Crimes?” Healthlines RSS News. N.p., 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.