Is It Cake? and the Age of Frivolity
Monday Motion: We're wasting our time.
The Masked Singer is amusing, I'll admit it.
But it's also a vacuous celebration of celebrity which incidentally highlights our cultural fragmentation when the gamut of celebrities runs from Twitch streamers to country music couples to former mayors of New York City.
It's about putting the people of the high life into extravagant costumes to sing and self-aggrandize.
I’m still able to enjoy it though, in a weird way.
I can’t ever make myself watch Is It Cake? though.
The entire concept repulses me on a deep, visceral level.
Cake is just cake.
The Masked Singer is fun because it's stupid.
But it's also a little depressing because it's a symptom of our cultural malaise.
We've become a society that values style over substance, entertainment over education, and celebrity over character.
It's the age of frivolity, and the fact there’s an entire show dedicated to guessing whether or not an item is made of cake only deepens my desire to pack up and go cottagecore or just become a woodland hermit.
It's not just the Masked Singer, entertainment over education is valorized in everything. From what we watch, to how we spend our free time, to the conversations we have.
This is a vacuous ecosystem we’ve built for ourselves.
And it’s an interesting paradigm we have here.
While we are in an era that’s financially squeezed by the cost of living, we do spend quite a bit on entertainment.
So much so we’ve built the creator economy. That’s not a bad thing by any means. After all, the creator economy is a culture of gratitude: audiences give back and they also give a little to get a little more.
But I do have to wonder if we might live our lives a bit more meaningfully if we had cabinets we could close our TVs in and go play catch with our kids.
This isn’t purely about being the Luddite that I am.
And while it would be possible to dovetail this tirade of mine into a social-scientific examination of our current conditions, I think I’m going to go another out.
What separates someone from watching Is It Cake? from going to an art museum and spending time with Renoir?
I suspect the primary question is the mindlessness or mindfulness of our entertainment.
Now, I have to soften my tone a bit here.
Some level of escapism is good, as it allows us to decompress.
Still, in a sea of content, we have to walk the line that is the Golden Mean.
How do we balance out the extremes?
And when considering the quality of mindlessness vs mindfulness, perhaps we have to ask ourselves about what dialogue we have with the art. What is its purpose? What response does it elicit from us?
This is not an easy distinction.
Even if we are not fully able to address the difference between art and content, it would be more troubling if we did not care.
Is art useful?
Insofar as it is an end-in-itself.
I have a hard time believing Is It Cake? and the Masked Singer are ends-in-themselves.
The “high culture” of ancient churches still served a purpose: the stained glass depictions told the stories of the Bible to the illiterate congregants.
The “low culture” of Americans during the Great Depression served a purpose: the songs the people sang or heard on the radio produced an empathetic and communal response.
Let’s face it, much of this blog is going to come across as the rantings of a 23-year-old fogey.
But whether or not you think I’m an art snob—and I am, I’ll settle the question for you —is the autoplay feature of Netflix making our lives any better? Do the hours spent on TV make our lives any better?
Life is spent most fully on what is meaningful: our friends, family, the arts, cooking, dogs and cats, etc.
This is about taking back our lives for meaningful things, instead of allowing ourselves to be captive to timesucks and mindsucks.
Time is better spent on our passions than it is spent on useless content.