Dumbing down a baby boomer’s world

One of BoomerCafé’s original contributors has sent us a rant. And we have to say, we agree. As Larry Lefkowitz writes from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the world is dumbing down … and people in the media are the targets.

Each day as I listen to the news, I find myself automatically filtering what I hear. This is learned behavior due to the sensationalizing of everything from a lost dog to the weather. The new news paradigm is to hook you with coming attractions of major importance and then present them in a dire fashion.


A parody of television news.

To combat this, I have learned to ignore broadcast news. Instead, I do the unthinkable: I read the news. It is not so old-fashioned an idea. I can do it on my phone, tablet, PC, and laptop. There, I need only filter the headlines, which are written by semi-literate Neanderthals who think themselves future talking heads. Not to slander Neanderthals.

Larry Lefkowitz

Larry Lefkowitz

Among this aural and digital punishment is a loss of language that I find troublesome, to say the least. It extends from everything to simple instructions, to commercials, to all print media. I cannot even read a book any more without finding typographical, punctuation, and grammar errors. Granted, I am a professional editor, but aren’t all these media scrutinized by professional editors as well?

In recent months, I have become addicted to watching old movies on television, usually found on networks like TCM, POP, and Cinemoi. Made from the 1930s through the early ‘60s, these movies relied more on dialog and story than visual aids and shock glorification.

I am struck by the sheer amount of dialog, necessitating diction and eloquence of the actors and a good memory to boot. The skills are also required of the directors to help the actor emote through all those words, which are of a considerably higher level than current stories because they are used to describe so much more.

stack_of_booksNow, I like computer-generated imagery and some good old destruction of inanimate objects, but I love our language and love to see and hear it used properly. Listening to the radio, I wince in my car every time I hear someone say they “Shouldn’t have did that,” or “Let me ax you a question.” I have heard lawyers, obviously highly-educated, misuse words and speak in incorrect tenses. It astonishes me.

Taken to extreme, I fear that the general dumbing down of the world at large has helped to create a more savage era, disrespectful of human life and ignorant of the future beyond today. There is no heeding the lessons of the past because no one bothers to read of or from the past. If they did, they’d likely not understand it because history books are largely written in proper English.

The decline of literacy, then, portends the decline of civilization, I fear. Returning to the news and movies, if the producers cannot demand thinking of the viewers, the content suffers, and in the end, the recipients are the losers.

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  1. Hi Larry. I am also a lover of words, of the English language, and I have my fair share of language and usage pet peeves as well (there’s a recent trend in music lyrics where artists sing “Ima” in place of “I am going to.” Dear Lord.) I agree that both written and spoken English have been seriously “dumbed down.” Where I disagree is the total write off of movies and television shows since the early 60s. There continues to be a great deal of excellent work being done in these areas, and in music as well. I think anyone on a steady diet of old movies and oldies misses out on a vast amount of truly wonderful work. Good piece-thanks for sharing!

  2. I hear you, Larry! And who decides what’s newsworthy these days? Whoever it is certainly has a low estimation of our intellect. And the reporters … do they all do their internships with the tabloids?

  3. Larry, amen! Unfortunately, the purveyors of dumbed-down content are giving us what we want, judging by what I see around me today. Science is under attack, Fox News is many Americans’ preferred news source, kids are encouraged to spell phonetically in some schools…sorry, now I’m ranting. My point is that when the public seems to demand dumb, the media oblige. Fighting it would drive them out of business.

  4. I agree that news programming in the US is generally limited and shallow. It’s been heading south for decades. There are a lot of contributing factors, including (but not limited to) a change in America’s perception of education, politicians who serve the wealthy and powerful at the expense of their constituents, and the very thing that can help us improve our condition but is often misused: technology.
    Mark Twain said “out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.” America used to have a profound respect for education. Public schools were established here so that all citizens would have a chance at an education, not just the children of the rich. We did away with child labor, and required children to go to school. But today, what has happened to our schools? The ones that need the most resources are the most underfunded. Urban and rural school budgets are gutted; Pennsylvania’s schools suffered badly under the right-wing “conservative” administration of Tom Corbett. Republican Chris Christie has not been a friend of schools in NJ. Across the country, conservative lawmakers enact laws that force teachers to stick to curriculums that enable kids to succeed on tests, not to succeed at thinking, at life. During the last major (non-midterm) election, a southern politician wanted college students to have to pay more for classes in the Humanities (think English majors), because those courses were less “useful” than STEM courses. Never mind that a doctor or engineer or research pathologist who can’t communicate properly is not going to have much success. And higher education? College students in this country emerge from four-year undergraduate programs burdened with serious debt at serious interest rates, which is compounded if they have the temerity or tenacity to go on to grad school.

    And technology? The majority of people in the world, it seems, carry in a pocket a device that links them to potentially all the knowledge recorded in this world, to all the other people in the world. What do we use it for? Twitter, at 140 characters a pop. Facebook, so we can “check in” and let the world know we are at the nail salon. Instagram. Texting. While watching TV, we can chat about the current show. Whe split our attention so that we neither watch the show, nor give our correspondents the attention we should. Our attention spans suffer. And so many of these applications encourage us to communicate in the shortest possible number of keystrokes. #fedup. The material that presents itself as a news story online is often three paragraphs long.

    It’s not like this everywhere. On BBC America this evening, I saw a report about a high number of aboriginal women in Winnipeg, Canada, being victims of violence and murder. I was shocked that this was happening in Canada, and has been happening for a while. I went to the BBC website to learn more. There I found a well-written, well-researched, in-depth, lengthy article that presented the story and links to sources. I learned new information, and I was impressed. But then, it wasn’t American television or American research. It was the BBC.

    1. Such a fine rant, Estella, and not restricted to the number of words we are in writing articles! Perhaps you would contribute to Boomercafe in a more formal fashion? (P.S. Estella and I are friends.)

      1. 🙂 I could do that, although I must say your article touched on a topic that has bothered me for a while.

        I would have to remember that comments have less stringent length restrictions, though. To borrow from Ben Franklin: “I have already made this paper too long, for which I must crave pardon, not having now time to make it shorter.” Cheers.

  5. It’s great to be so much smarter than everyone else, isn’t it? By the way, you might want to read up on the (improper) use of the hyphen after words ending in “ly.”

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