This must have happened to all of us at some point. You know. That moment when you wake up and wonder “Just when did the entire world go stupid?” This moment occurred about 8 years ago when my wife and I tuned in to (what we thought) was a TV documentary on weight loss. Imagine it – a bunch of people turn up to a health farm and everything seems normal until the trans-gender personality turns up and the video diaries turn into rants. Then we realised that we had been duped. It wasn’t a documentary at all. It was “Reality TV”. That was it. The age of stupid had officially begun. Endemol had won.
Every day it gets worse. Between satellite and cable we must have well over a hundred channels, but nothing is ever on. Even if you boil it down to just the documentary channels then the daily schedule looks like endless repeats of war history, monster trucks on ice, lions fighting sharks… And so on – ad nauseum. Will any of this really matter to a single soul in High Wycombe? No. Nope. Not a jot. (Not many Russian Tanks on the High Street. No lions bugging the sharks down on the Rye. No over-sized SUV’s doing hand-brake turns around the Eden Centre.) The things that really matter…. Well, you don’t hear about them. They don’t get a lot of airplay.
Why do we tolerate this endless parade of irrelevence on our screens? It is in marked contrast to the fact that there realy is so much real “reality” out there in the world. Really interesting stuff. A couple of weeks ago the BBC showed a landbreaking documentary of the future of farming in a resource-depleted world. It was on prime time. It revealed just what kind of transformation our modern industrial agricultural system would have to undergo if it were to sustain in the second half of the age of oil. This stuff is really, really (I mean REALLY) important. But it merits less attention in our TV schedules than an update from a Dog Show. How did we get to this state of affairs? Why do we have to be so stupid? Is the real real world so terrible that we have drifted off into a fantasy version? We should be glued to our screens nightly trying to understand the intimate details of Climate Science and how it will effect our food chain. The DIY stores should be full of people hunting down solar panels and extra loft insulation. The TV schedules should be full of it as a public service. We should be realising that our lifestyles are about to change.
But isn’t that the problem? “Lifestyle”. The very word conjures up all that is ephemeral and passing. Cosmetic. Fashionible. Last week’s rubiks cube. Next week’s skateboard. We crave something that is continually changing and somehow ‘new’. We are bored of Climate Change. So bored that we don’t even want to consider what could be even worse than Climate Change. We confuse stuff we need to know with stuff we don’t. If we ignore the problem long enough then just maybe it will go away – all by itself. As humans we have a very short attention span for anything that passes in Geological time. Human life is too short. We can’t be bothered. On a planetary scale we revel in our own stupidity because focussing on what is wrong (for long enough to change it) – well, that take too much effort. We like our lifestyles of consumption. Anyone who suggest this paradigm may have to change is a kill-joy, a bore, a meany – but to ignore this problem only makes it worse. We could transition slowly and gentley to a world of scarce & expensive food and energy. Or we could change very quickly and painfully – at the last minute, when we have to, when it is of least convenience and it will cause the most damage. Gee, we are so stupid. This is like waiting until your 64th birthday to think about saving for a pension.
By the time it is too late we will look back at the mess and wonder “What were we thinking?” Why did we have to spend so long living in the past? We could have recognised that fossil fuels were only a temporary, and highly polluting, interlude in human existence. Yet we cling to them as like a junkie to his crack pipe. It is such a tipsy-topsy-turvy world were the crazy voices (who insist that there is no alternative other than to fill our little world full of long-buried-carbon) can even dare to paint themselves as “modern”. How did they carry off that propaganda coup? So, c’mon everybody! Let’s all live in Museum-High Wycombe where everything is just fine, now and forever. It isn’t.
Technology has moved on now. Our understanding has grown. We have the tools to change. We are meant to be smart, not stupid. The opportunity is there for the taking. But we don’t transition because soft and gentle voices whisper soothingly in our ears that we have to stay firmly in the reassuring past to be futuristic. So we sit comfortably somewhere between the Steam Age and the Petroleum Age. We move through the past looking for a future… Embracing coal and rejecting wind, getting our basic foodstuffs from further and further away – it takes a peculiar form of self-censorship to maintain this delusion…. That the past is the future. This strange ability to hold two completely opposite views, of reality, inside your head, at the same time and treat both as if they are true, was a concept adopted by George Orwell in “1984” in order for Winston Smith to love Big Brother.
So here we are, full circle – back to Endemol and the advent of the age of stupid. I hope that, when you read this, you have a very non-stupid moment and decide to spend just a little time ignoring all those little voices whispering “consume, consume, consume”. Instead, listen to the voice that says “its in the cinema, stupid”.
The Movie “The Age of Stupid” Premieres Sunday 15th March (Maidenhead now sold out) and goes on general release from the 20th of this month.