The Distrust and Downfall of Authority
A new movie came out this past weekend which is sweeping across America. It’s called “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
The critics reviews have been scathing. Slate.com gave it a 10 on scale of 100. RotttenTomatoes was far more generous, scoring it a 29/100. One critic wrote: “….another incompetent endeavor from an almost shockingly untalented filmmaker.” Another penned: “There’s not an ounce of fun to be found in the film’s entire two and half hours.” Then, there was this zinger: “If Christopher Reeve were alive he’d be suing for character libel.”
Despite the scorching criticism that was resounding, no one out there seems to be paying much attention. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” earned a whopping $250,000,000 within just the past three days, making it the sixth-highest grossing film opener in cinematic history. That’s right, a shitty movie made a quarter of a billion dollars in a single weekend. So much for the opinion of The New York Times film critic.
We don’t listen to the experts anymore, not about anything. Their advice is ignored. When it comes to their opinions, we don’t care. This self-centered blindness isn’t merely cultural. It’s pervasive in everything — from media to politics to science. And that’s where things are getting dangerous. We’ve crossing some serious lines here. Call it a march across the Rubicon by a clueless mob.
What’s with the widening divide and acute disconnect between two distinct camps of people — those who supposedly engage in fields of study and who presumably know far more than the rest of us….versus the public at large which ignores advice and is stubbornly convinced that it knows just about everything? Why aren’t we listening to the experts in their areas of expertise anymore? Since when did authority figures become so utterly inconsequential?
No matter what the subject matter, there’s been an alarming substitution of alternate universes out there which have supplanted better-qualified judgement. Seismic shifts in public confidence and shorter attention spans are proving to be suffocating, noxious even, yet no one has the power to stop it. Empowered by the scourge of social media, everyone’s opinion now matters, especially those who are rich and famous, who’s opinions matter most. Credibility no longer requires academic credentials, nor years of study or experience. Instead, celebrities have become our guideposts and watchtowers, most alarming — on things that actually matter. We breathlessly await the next Tweet from Lebron James, Justin Bieber, or Taylor Swift advising us what to do. And when celebrities don’t chime in about the latest controversy, then someone and everyone else in the universe most certainly will, down to the very last attention-seeker trolling on Facebook. We’ve become a drunken scrum rushing the stage determined to grab the microphone.
Question: What are the three words you’ll never see on social media? Answer: “I don’t know.” Alas, everyone knows everything.
Meanwhile, newspapers continue shutting down. Remember newspapers? They used to provide us with a daily dose of news generated by writers and reporters, you know, people trained to do that sort of thing. Newspapers still in business struggle to maintain a declining consumer base of readers that’s rapidly aging. Sure, these shifts in habits are due in part to newer technologies which have expanded access and accelerated speed. Then, there’s cost. Why pay for a subscription when thousands of online websites exist giving away the news for free, much of it foamed with the latte of our preconceived biases? While the Internet and social media’s transposition as the primary source of information has produced some obvious positives, nevertheless, the devolution of the credible news media has splintered into mass confusion and a grotesque amount of ignorance, even about elementary topics. Worse, it’s created what now appears to be an unbridgeable separation between camps, increasingly isolated within various echo chambers based on age, interest, and ideology.
Consider the big three most-popular television networks which tend to provide the most political coverage. The average age of the FOX News viewer is 67. On MSNBC, it’s 64. With CNN, it’s 61. Meanwhile, the average age of Americans is a much younger 37. Those who are most engaged in social media are even younger, many hopelessly lost in a palm-sized screen.
This distrust and downfall of authority on virtually all fronts could produce some perilous future consequences for us all. We’re already seeing evidence of a breakdown within society when it comes to public safety and criminal justice. Indeed, should there be any doubt as to this vulnerability, then consider the growing mistrust and aggravation against police, which are now endemic in many communities. This isn’t just an urban problem. In rural areas too, we’ve seen outlandish acts of civil disorder. A riot in Ferguson and an armed standoff on a wildlife refuge in Oregon might not seem to have much in common, but the underlying suspicion of authority is the same. When large segments of the population no longer believe in law enforcement, we’re all headed towards a slippery slope, with a potentially catastrophic fallout.
Not only don’t we believe the critics, the media, our politicians, or the police anymore. It’s gotten to the point where many of us don’t even believe scientists. Despite an overwhelming consensus among the scientific community on the question of man-made climate change, tens of millions of Americans with no scientific training, no background, nor any formal education whatsoever dispel the academic findings and dire warnings of scientific authorities, opting instead to stick with their own moronic opinions. They’re proof is, it’s snowing outside — so global warming can’t possibly be real.
Politically, economically, and socially — our collective mistrust of “the system” and every component aiding its proper functioning has morphed into two popular grass-roots movements. Both would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. This is to say, the anti-authority movement is bi-partisan an not restricted to any particular mindset. The attack on authority is indiscriminate.
On the Right, Donald Trump has given voice to millions of angry and disenfranchised citizens, many working-class White voters, who are convinced their country has slipped away from them. Promising to “make American great again,” they see Trump not so much as a savior, but as a human monkey wrench willing to lob himself like a hand-grenade into the establishment machinery, blowing up the whole pathetic mess. Whatever your view on Trump, this is without doubt a loyal constituency that’s not looking for compromises. They want asses kicked and sparks to fly. What started out as a something of a protest candidacy given no shot whatsoever by the establishment of winning the Republican nomination has somehow evolved into the ultimate repudiation of that authority. Most alarming, even if Trump loses, they aren’t going away.
Over on the Left, Sen. Bernie Sanders has garnered a similar level of enthusiasm. Although that’s where the similarities between these two disparate presidential candidates end, there’s no doubt that Sanders’ appeal among young people in particular is the manifestation of mass frustration as well as a growing resentment towards the status quo. Young people, many mired in student debt and looking at a future prospects with upward mobility in a rigged economic system, don’t believe the big lie of the so-called “American Dream” anymore. Not with town factories boarded up and the only jobs available paying $8-an-hour. Hence, Sanders, who promises a drastically different alternative and who is determined to change the rules of the game, becomes appealing. Like Trump, win or lose, the Sanders movement isn’t aren’t going to fade. They’re here to stay. Continued disenchantment will only spur greater disaffection, leading to activism.
Individually and collectively, we have just about given up on authority — all across the board. Yes, they have screwed us. Big time. They’ve lied to us. They’ve been wrong about things that were really important. Authority has given us the likelihood of perpetual war. Authority given us credit card interest rates at 24 percent. Authority has given us racial tension. Authority has given us an incompetent do-nothing government. Authority has given us everything we own and use, now made in China. Authority has given us 875 cable television stations, and not program on at 10 at night that’s worth a damn. Authority has given us a bloated intelligence bureaucracy that spies on everyone and reduces us to strip-searches when boarding an airplane. Authority sucks.
But, what’s the alternative?
While the empowerment of individuals and the protection of rights is critically important to a functioning democratic society, dispelling all forms of authority (with it) carries precarious consequences. When it comes to deciding what movie to go and see, I’d still much rather rely on the film critic who takes in 350 films a year and can put the experience into some credible context. On the other hand, I don’t much give a flying fuck what Kim Kardashian’s 10 million Twitter followers think about a movie, or much of anything else. And, I certainly don’t have any desire to know what they think of presidential politics, race relations, climate change, or economics.
And that might be the cruelest twist of all. For, it’s very much what they think about everything that matters most, as they are the ultimate deciders of just about everything — from which movies get made to who’s going to move into the White House next. Unlike what the experts say, what they think matters. Indeed, that’s the most frightening truth, especially given that we no longer listen much to authorities anymore, leading to the summation that our problems are likely to worsen.