For a nation that considers itself filled with maverick individuals, the U.S.A. is increasingly a land of followers: we follow the leader, we follow fashions, we follow The Influencers, we follow trends. And in doing so — coolly repeating lines from TV characters as if we thought them up ourselves — we are turning into a very boring, squishily malleable, easily influenced populace.
I thought of this the other day when I was buying glasses.
“Oh, these are trendy!” the saleswoman told me, pointing to a wall of thick-rimmed, black plastic atrocities that looked like what Clark Kent wears before he turns into Superman. (See? I can’t even dredge up a simile that isn’t linked to pop culture.)
“I wore a pair of those when I was 9-years-old,” I told her. “So did everyone. It was the trend in the 1970s.”
“But it’s the new trend now!”
Well, it is for the next six months or so, until at some point, when major players in movies and media shows switch back to cat-eyed glasses, or little round John Denver specs, or rectangular slits with jewels on top, the trend will change. And . . . people will follow.
So trained are we that the only opinions that matter are those promulgated by faces and names we recognize, that we discount our own thoughts, our own likes, our own desires, our own ideas. And if we are enough immersed in popular culture, we may not even know what we think, like, desire, and dream. But we can repeat the words of The Influencers. (By the way, that term — Influencers — is Orwellian in accuracy: they don’t teach, they don’t philosophize, they don’t empathize, they don’t care: they influence. Do we seriously want to be influenced by people we know nothing about other than what they tell us?)
Skipping the trends is not easy when they’re all you see on Facebook and in the box stores, but it’s not impossible. Thinking for ourselves has always been a matter of stepping away from the crowds, immersing ourselves in silence, and identifying the box we’re being shoved into so that we can step out of it.
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