In Defense of Max Bemis

Photo Credit: Neil Visel
Photo Credit: Neil Visel

Introduction

As I’ve said before, long-time fans of bands/artists tend to get very upset by change. So much so that (via the perspective of Internet and the occasional face-to-face conversation) many seem to take it personal. A handful of bands I can recall this happening to include Saves The Day, MGMT, Tokyo Police Club, The Beatles, Green Day, and Tom DeLonge’s Angels and Airwaves when blink-182 was on hiatus. (To the perspective of the diehard, now newly disgruntled fan) The music is suddenly no longer about “art” or “creation” or “artist’s self-expression”, but becomes a subject of ridicule and is dismissed simply because it is “different” from their previous material.

Here’s the deal:

As fans, it’s not fair to the artist to be so thoughtlessly critical. Stop acting so spoiled and self-centered. People grow and change. It’s a fact of Life. It’s happening to you right now. Everyone goes through different things, good times, rough patches. We meet people, maybe fall in/out of love and while involved in that thing called Life, we evolve; Ideologies blossom, maybe we develop food, drinking, and drug habits – for better or worse. Families are started or ripped apart, feelings and sentiments change. Thoughts never stop, just the subject matter changes. We stumble upon realizations, become more self-aware of beauty Life brings, or the feel the misery that accompanies it. Why should any of that ever prevent an artist (a person) for expressing themselves in any lyrical, artistic, or creative way they see fit?

Don’t you see? You’re the first to rile against the mainstream, denounce the overly controlling major labels, but when something different and unique comes to be, you reject it, demean it, ridicule it. Why? Get past your own preconceived notions and forget your friends and their opinions. Honestly come face-to-face yourself and confront the feelings said art/creation does to you? Let go of your assumptions that you “know” the singer and/or songwriter and stop hypothesizing reason why their latest work is “bad” or “not up to par” with their earlier material. What is happening inside you? Are you even mature enough to honestly confront those feelings within yourself?

What’s popular opinion isn’t always right.

If you are a true fan of any artist, you will at least give them/him/her a chance. Sorry they can’t recreate a nostalgic soundtrack to accompany your teenage high school angst. Those days have come and gone. Grow up. Look at the world around you. The thing is, it’s easy to admit you hate something. It takes real guts to admit you like something, especially something that may be considered unpopular or unworthy to others. So make sure you’re not just being a sheep and following the herd.

And I get it. I understand where fans are coming from when they say they only like a band’s “older material”. Listen to any band or artist and you can feel an huge presence of energy there. And I bet you that’s a combination of youth, the excitement of having nothing to lose and everything to gain, and the thrill of creating something for the first time. But bands can’t write about the same things for their entire career. In any business, hell – even in Nature you have to constantly change, adapt, and evolve if you want to survive.


With all that said, Max Bemis has been one of my favorite songwriters since about 2005, which was right around my freshman year of high school. I saw the music video to “Alive With The Glory Of Love” and was sucked in immediately.

Max’s lyrics and perspective have always been golden to me. I think he is the most unique songwriter and musician of I can think of. Say Anything’s discography is rife with key changes, time signature changes, and emotional dynamism ranging from screams to croons. Max has always had a very theatrical element about him in his vocal performance. His diction, emotion, and word choices have always had a Broadway musical-like quality about it (I mean that in the best way possible).

Say Anything’s latest album, Hebrews, was released to stream exclusively through Spotify around late last night/early morning. I’ve been following all the Hebrews related press probably since the album art came out. Hebrews does not have any guitars but is mostly an amalgamation of drums, live strings, and computer programming. I like that Bemis chose to do this because it was ballsy, risky, and (dare I say?) punk? By my definition it is. To me, something that is “punk” is something or someone that goes against the grain for a righteous purpose. The construct of Hebrews accomplishes this, IMO. I also think it totally works. Listening to it even inspires me as a musician to keep playing around with Pro Tools and Logic in my own musical endeavors and just create and write, no matter what the hell it is or how it’s made. It’s fun to play around with those programs and I can honestly say from a firsthand perspective that it’s fun. Also, sometimes a lot of ideas come to fruition by electronic/computer means that would not be possible to discover through writing songs with only a guitar.

In the words of Brittany Moseley from Alternative Press, the lyrical content of Hebrews ranges from “fatherhood and self-doubt to finding your religion”. Bemis also acknowledges the fans (discussed above) who think since becoming a more family-oriented individual, he isn’t the same angsty, bipolar struggling twenty-something on his previous records (spoiler alert: He’s not…and that’s okay). As a husband and now father, I believe he is coming to terms with how to view himself in these roles, not wanting to let his family down but love, protect, and be there for them. I also noticed a theme of birth/rebirth – Parallels between the birth of his daughter Lucy and perhaps the rebirth/changing of his musical-self. (Listen to “Push“).

The content of Hebrews is not only exceptional but more valuable than ever. In fact, what may be happening here is a disjuncture; A fork in the road. Though Bemis and his fanbase are getting older together (myself included), many fans are not where Bemis is right now: A new family man with self-doubt and still unanswered questions about Life, Love, and God. Those diehards you hear in the crowd shouting, “IS A REAL BOY! IS A REAL BOY!” are not in that headspace yet. They find it difficult to relate because they’re still at “misery loves company”…and they’re lonely now more than ever. Maybe they’ll get there eventually.

I’ve always viewed songs as having a mythological quality. Lyrics are essential for us as listeners to absorb so we may find ourselves in the world. Do you remember the first time music hit you the hardest? it was probably in your early teen years, right? And that makes sense because you were in such a early developmental stage and something came along and it just got you. Music contains messages that are waiting to be released into our minds so we may have a point of reference of emotion, feeling, sentiment, storytelling. At the end of the day, we must hold on the realization that we’re all cut from the same cloth and it’s the beauty of music that unites us and in a strange way, seems to understand us. So next time your favorite band puts out an album and it goes against the grain, don’t be so quick to judge the unfamiliar. Embrace it for all it’s worth.

Hebrews by Say Anything is officially available June 10th via Equal Vision Records.

Stream it on Spotify here:

Day 23: Publish a Roundup

Today’s challenge: Publish a roundup post that links to posts on at least three other blogs, and tell us why you love the posts — and why we should read ‘em”

Coachella is probably one of the biggest festivals in the US to date. Personally I’ve never been, nor have I felt an innate desire to go. In all honesty, I prefer singular shows to festivals. Festivals wipe me out and I’m not a huge crowd person. I like the intimacy of a singular venue, one show, a few bands, a few drinks – I’m good. Festivals are just overkill. Too many people, too many lines, not enough bathrooms, etc. I’ve been to Bamboozle a few times, I went to Projekt Revolution in 2005, Governor’s Ball in 2011, I plan on going to Warped Tour this year, but that’s really my limit.

A few days ago I got an email via Bob Lefsetz (I’m a Lefsetz Letter subscriber) entitled, “Insightful Article Of The Day”. Inside the email was a link and the title of the article, “Why It’s EDM’s Fault Outkast Flopped“. It piqued my interest. I’ve never been a huge EDM fan. I listen to dribs and drabs, but it’s not really my thing. It’s not something I believe in, unlike others. I’m not much of a die-hard Outkast fan either, but I got into some of their tracks; I knew classic jams like “Hey Ya!”, “Ms. Jackson”, “Rosa Parks”, “Aquemini”, “So Fresh, So Clean” , “The Way You Move”, “Morris Brown”, etc. I used to be quite an MTV junkie back in the day and they played Outkast videos all the time, but that was really the extent of my Outkast education.

So this article is on edm.com no less, so now I have to read it. In my mind not only is this official, but almost a ballsy statement. The title itself is basically insinuating EDM is to blame for Outkast’s poor performance.

I urge everyone to read this article because it really is well written (by Tim Hirsh) and thoughtfully organized; In short, the first day of Outkast’s reunion set didn’t go as well as expected.

Live hip hop was the most exciting game in town, and your average festival-attendee would…more likely to buy their ticket not with a “music festival experience” in mind, but with particular artists in mind. With the advent of the modern music festival, driven by dance music, this sentiment has shifted dramatically.

Yes! Just yes! To all of that. Personally, I only go to festivals if certain artists are playing. That is the experience to me – Seeing those specific artists playing songs because I want to see them play. A lot of the music festival experience is now enhanced by drugs, which of course go hand-in-hand with music (and insane light shows) but that’s not my M.O. I don’t like all that artificial junk. If I can’t enjoy the music sober, it’s really isn’t worth my time (IMO). If I can enjoy the music sober, that is usually an indicator of its authenticity and musicianship, two things which I value highly when it comes to any kind of music. (And I’ll probably enjoy it more if I do decide to partake in drinking and the like) And not to say EDM doesn’t have that; Some of it does. But if the reason why you’re going to a music festival is to get fucked up, you’re just a different festival-goer than I am. At present, there is a shift in values at hand.

You can plop down hundreds of dollars without knowing a single artist and still know you’re going to have a blast. The needle has slowly shifted away from “music,” towards “party.”

To reiterate, music is no longer the main course, it is now a side dish. The new main course is the reaching the limits of individual sensation. How high can you get?; The feelings enhanced by certain substances bring this to the forefront and then is accompanied by the music. Otherwise, why go? Broadly speaking, of course.

When you’re accustomed to thousands of perfectly synced strobe lights and the energy-building peaks and valleys of a common electronic dance music set, suddenly, watching a guy pace back and forth on stage uttering halfway-audible lines isn’t as entertaining anymore.

As much as I love Hip-Hop, I have to say this is true. Lyrical Hip-Hop translates best when it’s up close and personal. When it gets put into an arena or festival type format, words get lost and aside from the beat or hook, that’s the whole point – for you to hear the words. I saw Big Boi at Governor’s Ball about 3 years ago and honestly, from what I remember of his performance was eh. I wasn’t blown away, I wasn’t wowed. It was okay. I applauded at the end of each song. Though I hate to admit it, EDM is just easier to follow: 4 on the floor, maybe a few samples, a rhythm, a beat, the bass drops, little to no words, and you dance. Hip-Hop is intellectual, Hip-Hop is about a message. EDM is about moving your body and losing your mind. (Conversation vs. Sensation)

[There]…was a generational disconnect, mixed with a mismatch of expectations…The bar for energy and excitement has been set too high, and the mainstream interest at attending music festivals, driven by the proliferation of EDM mega-fests, has brought in a wide swath of people who simply aren’t what readers of a site like this would consider music fans…You can’t expect someone who just staggered away from getting their brain rearranged at an explosive, confetti-filled…performance is going to respond in any meaningful way to lyrical hip hop, unless they’re already a fan.

And this is what gets frustrating when attending these massive festivals with (dare I say it) too diverse of a lineup. It gets hard to locate your hardcore fans, your main demographic, you have no idea which person is there for what act. Are they buying their ticket because Outkast is playing or because Skrillex is? Or do they not care and just wanna pop Molly and have a good time? It’s an interesting discussion to have, especially when many core values and expectations are in flux.

Consequence of Sound posted an article today reporting that Outkast’s second performance was much better than the first.

Big Boi and Andre 3000 seemed to take…criticisms to heart, as they unfurled a revamped setlist that featured shorter solo sets, more hits in the middle portion of the set…and much more energy.

I think that was a smart decision on their part. Some artists could stubbornly protest the problem is with the crowd, not them. But in any customer service field as well as in music it’s important to realize and accept, the customer (or crowd/audience) is always right. It’s a difficult battle to sway a crowd, get them to move, dance, pay attention. But thus is the  21st century entertainment industry. I’ve struggled with it myself (of course, on a much smaller scale).

If you want to peep Outkast’s 2nd Coachella setlist and their upcoming tour dates, definitely check out the COS article.

To those who want to read more on Molly and EDM, this is another great article: Finding Molly: The Most Popular Name in EDM. It gets real.

Day 12: From Comment To Blog Post – Be Inspired By The Community

Today’s assignment: Write a post that builds on one of the comments you left yesterday. Don’t forget to link to the other blog.”

Alright, so yesterday I commented on three blogs and after weighing the comments I left and debating how much I was inspired by the posts, I decided I wanted this post to be about Cosmos and why I believe it will positively impact the future of pop culture.

I commented on the ALL THINGS SCIENCE blog (You can see my comment here) expressing my excitement for the return of intellectual/scientific programming to a mainstream media channel (even if it is FOX…). In my eyes, this is huge.

Last night’s episode was killer, by the way. It talked about COMETS, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Halley, and stars. I love the graphics, the animation, I love Neil deGrasse Tyson narrating and leading this “Spacetime Odyssey”, continuing to carry the still-blazing torch of Carl Sagan. It’s awesome, inspiring, enlightening, and absolutely refreshing to this a show like this make headway, even with the controversial creationists nipping at Cosmos’ heels. We get to see the both sides of the public’s reaction to science in real time and no matter what the other thinks or believes, this can mean nothing but good because we are finally talking about these things out in the open. Science is making good dinner/social media conversation, making up for lost time when it fell out of the regular conversation scope for awhile; Blame it on the postmodern age if you must but whatever the reason, science has made a comeback in our daily dialog and these conversations won’t be going away anytime soon.

Another thing I mentioned in my comment yesterday, was how happy I was to see Star Trek-alum Brannon Braga’s name in the Cosmos credits. Good for him playing a critical role in Cosmos (Executive Producer) and ensuring its success! The world of science and the world of science-fiction are very closely related in my opinion.

When in comes to fantasy and science-fiction, it’s believability that is important; When it comes to real life scientific facts and calculation, it is the imagination that must be called forth so that the scientist may be encouraged to continue discovering. The two are crucially linked. For example, warp drive and transporters – They don’t exist in today’s world, but knowing how far we’ve come scientifically, technologically, we know that one day it may be possible, and possibility and believability are two skeleton keys on the keychain of innovation and can be the promise of a new tomorrow.

Before we accepted our solar system as heliocentric, something probed the mind of Copernicus. It must’ve been part imagination and part “what if”. Through observation and staring at the night sky, he somehow figured it out and let me tell you, his discovery was probably not motivated by prestige, popularity, money, or fame. The questions presented themselves to him and he fervently searched for the answers, devoting his life to something he cared so deeply about.

I’ve been watching Star Trek since I was practically born. There’s a home video floating around somewhere where at the age of 2 or 3 and while teething on a wooden spoon, I am captivated watching Next Gen or Voyager playing on the screen. And because of this early exposure to Star Trek, I’ve always credited Captain Janeway as being my first legitimate, positive, female role model (and these days I’m more vocal about it because I think it’s important to talk about) and I have my dad to thank for that; He was the one who realized the importance of presenting a character I could look up to as a young girl, especially within the strange, patriarchal-based world we currently live in. I don’t think he could have anticipated that that sense of allegiance continues to carry over now at 23-years-old, but I think I look up to Janeway more now than I did then. I will even go so far as to say I would not be who I am today, had Captain Janeway never been introduced to me. I’m 100% sure of that. (I can talk about how much Captain Janeway has influenced my life ad nauseam, but that is a different post for a different day.) 🙂

What’s so great about Star Trek is that it tells stories that are relatable, memorable, and innovative. After our planet had been explored and charted, where else were our stories supposed to go but to the stars? Gene Roddenberry was smart enough to realize that. Since TOS (The Original Series) with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, et al, Star Trek has projected an ideal future of people working together to solve problems regardless of their race, gender, (and in this case) species. It gave (and still continues to give) people a myth to live by, to follow (For more on Star Trek, myth, and Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ I suggest watching William Shatner’s 2012 documentary ‘Get A Life!‘ where all this is broken down really well), to better inform our lives somehow. There are archetypes that break through in every movie, in every installment of the TV series that personally reflects on our inner being and make us reflect on ourselves as human beings.

This is a great, wondrous thing. Despite television’s upsets, downfalls, and passivity and all the garbage that somehow makes it on to the screen (Neil Postman would probably have more to add about this), here we have a phenomena of sorts: A fictional TV show so uplifting and marvelous it has inspired, encouraged, and motivated hundreds if not thousands of people to become doctors, astrophysicists, scientists, engineers around the world. These stories are real. They have been documented and cataloged, especially in quite a few Star Trek documentaries. This continues to fascinate me and I think it is an important thing to recognize – Pop culture can lead to marvelous, positive things!

When a show like Cosmos gets put on the air, it is no small order. It is a massive step (the first of many, I hope) towards progress, towards uplifting the human race to get out there, explore, learn, think, do the most with our corporeal bodies as we humanly can. When children watch this show they are captivated, when lost 20-somethings like myself watch this show we are temporarily calmed about our futures and eager to learn more. TV shows like this have the capacity to change, change for the better. This is the stuff that makes kids want to be a part of this world. Not feel the need to participate in a decaying social construct that encourages destructive behaviors and habits and treating human relationships with disdain and not compassion (i.e. the majority of Reality TV).

If we can collectively make a pact to create and influence positive pop culture, I am sure we can make this world a better place to live in, to be a part of, emotionally and scientifically. This is the beauty of Cosmos, the beauty of Star Trek, and the potentiality we all have to play a role in making good things happen in our world, by encouraging these wonderful things. We have been starved for too long. I welcome Cosmos as our first dose of delicious pop culture nutrition, and I for one can’t wait for my second helping.

 

Building For The Future: GoldieBlox

GoldieBlox

Oh my gosh. Have you guys heard about GoldieBox?! It’s the newest company on the market of building games for girls, with hopes of opening them up to the world of engineering at a young age. These cool inventions also come with a read-a-long book series that follows the tales of protagonist/girl inventor Goldie, as she creates inventions to help her friends. When playing and building with these toys, these little engineers probably don’t even realize is that while they’re having fun, they’re also working on improving spatial skills, engineering principles, and creating self-confidence in problem-solving [GoldieBox].  Plus there’s more than one way to complete a project, so girls don’t feel restricted to one right answer. This is what I’m talking about when I go on about how pop culture can influence society. Toys are part of pop culture!

GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine
GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine

Engineer, founder, and Stanford ’05 graduate Debbie Sterling created a whole line of engineering toys for girls to help inspire them and spark their interest at a young age. How genius! In fact, “she has made it her mission in life to tackle the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math” [Engineer Girl]. The line has been very successful and reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. I had the chance of catching her short interview on ‘CBS This Morning’ and was inspired in the 5-10 minutes Ms. Sterling spoke about her wonderful idea. Drawing from her own personal experiences, while at Stanford she realized how much the engineering field was dominated by men (Female engineers only make up 11% [The Mary Sue]) and when suggested by her high school math teacher that she major in Engineering, Sterling was embarrassed to admit at the time, she didn’t even know what it was. Interestingly enough, she also descends from a line of strong women pioneers as her grandmother was, “one of the first female cartoonists and creator of ‘Mr. Magoo'” [Engineer Girl].

More Than A Princess
More Than A Princess

GoldieBox started out as a successful Kickstarter project in 2012, which then developed into a thriving toy business.  It raised, ” over $285,000 in 30 days…and has been featured in numerous publications such as The Atlantic and Forbes” [Engineer Girl]. Before the Kickstarter project went live, Sterling was told, “‘construction toys for girls don’t sell’ and ‘you can’t fight nature'”, but like all great success stories the people who dared utter those statements were proven wrong. When asked why people love Goldiebox, the response was perfect, “‘I think it’s in part because the passivity of the average girl-marketed toy is frustrating to so many people from all walks of life. We’re not interested in condemning femininity or suggesting that a girl shouldn’t be a princess if she wants to be. We’re about giving girls the freedom to use their entire brains, whether they build a rocket launcher, or a parade float, or a catapult. It’s up to them'” [Intuit Small Business Big Game]. Isn’t that AWESOME?! See this super cool commercial featuring the Beastie Boys’ “Girls“:

As an interesting side note, Sterling/GoldieBlox was recently sued by the Beastie Boys for using this song for their “commercial” without proper licensing [SF Gate]. Granted, I understand that Adam Yauch (a.k.a. MCA), “requested in his will that the Beastie Boys songs never be used in advertising” [GoldieBlox] but this isn’t some heartless company trying to sell beer or cigarettes or cell phones, this is a company that has the potential to change and influence an generation of girls to believe they’re worth more than the bombardment of pink packaged toys they constantly see in every toystore. Something as great as GoldieBlox can help break gender lines for an entire generation. Surely MCA were he alive would’ve realized the honor in contributing to that. Not only did GoldieBox transform a sexist song (namely, the last verse) through empowering lyrics encouraging girls to build things, and besides the fact that hip-hop is a culture primarily BASED on sampling and reappropriation, Adam Horovitz (a.k.a. Ad-Rock) is married to world-renowned feminist, riot grrl pioneer, female advocate and musician Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, The Julie Ruin, and Le Tigre. What a confusing move. I won’t say anything more as I do have great admiration and respect for both The Beastie Boys/Ad-Rock and Kathleen Hanna. But come on. I think the commercial is a great bit and the song was an excellent choice, both catchy and easily recognizable just trying to motivate young girls to believe they can be more than a princess.

Debbie Sterling was actually in the audience of Stanford graduates when Steve Jobs made his famous, now viral Commencement Speech [Huffington Post].  And because of that it should be no surprise that after hearing that speech firsthand, she was been so successful at passionately pursuing the project and tearing down barriers. Sterling has been quoted as saying, “we don’t have a national shortage of princesses, but we do have a national shortage of engineers” [Intuit Small Business Big Game]. I stand by her and her ideas and wish her all the success in the world.

On a personal note, as a young girl I was raised to think outside the princess bubble.  Sure I had Barbies and dolls and played dress-up from time to time. But I was constantly showered in books, encouraged to write, draw and paint, and at the age of 4 or 5 began watching Star Trek Voyager with Captain Kathryn Janeway in command. She served as a positive female role model then and continues to hold that role today in my life as 23-year-old young woman.

I watched the Magic School Bus, Bill Nye The Science Guy, played computer games that taught me musical instruments of the world, how to problem solve, and how to read. I was told that instead of being a cheerleader, I could be my own cheerleader and was actively involved in piano lessons, gymnastics, karate, soccer, basketball, and softball. I was a die-hard Yankees fan at the age of 7 and independently picked up a guitar at 14. Perhaps these are all things not part of a stereotypical girl’s childhood. Maybe it doesn’t even matter if it is or isn’t. What I know is that the way I grew up and the things I did and the fact that I was allowed to follow my interests made me the woman I am today. I think it is important that Ms. Sterling is focusing on trying to open up an area for young girls they didn’t even know existed, and making them feel welcome and inclusive in world that has for so long been dominated by boys. Sterling says, “The biggest challenge is one of alienation and not feeling understood by your peers. It’s important to stick to your guns and maintain your perspective” [Huffington Post]. I believe Sterling also understands that how a girl or any child grows up and what toys they play with/gravitate towards, is the beginning of a lifelong process which helps cultivate interests and can determine the direction of their futures.

Sterling is helping to encourage and inspire an entire female generation that they can excel in fields that have so long seemed out of reach or vacant by their fellow female friends. I can’t wait to see how far GoldieBlox gets and wish them all the best. I hope parents and teachers alike embrace this wonderful new product, along with the future little engineers in hopes that they’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed learning about it. The future can sometimes seem bleak but when I hear stories like this, it makes me beam from the inside out. To echo Rosie the Riveter, “We Can Do It!”

“For the past 100 years, construction toys have inspired our boys to be thinkers, builders, and inventors. Our girls deserve the same…I created GoldieBlox because I believe that every girl is more than just a princess” – Debbie Sterling [Intuit Small Business Big Game]

Declining American Education

Now that there are no quickly escalating international or domestic crises to report, the media has come around once again to discuss our declining education system.  But this is commonplace in the show business of entertainment news, is it not? So as a recent ‘finished product’ of the American education system, I feel as though I have a valid right and proper experience within the system to discuss such a topic.

A report was issued yesterday documenting our nation’s educational decline based on a global survey of test scores in various subject material – Reading, Math, Science, etc.  If you’ve even so much glanced at a television screen within the past few years, you know this is nothing new. I admit, I have not looked into or specifically researched how these scores were gathered and compounded into statistical data or what kind of testing this report is actually based on (probably standardized), but in any case I do not believe that matters because either way you slice the pie, I believe the problem is the same.

In reaction to this report, US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan is quoted as saying in this NBC article, “We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators”. As a public high school and liberal arts college graduate, I have to say I only agree with the first point, “We must invest in early education”. Yes we must, but in a different way than implied here. Not to literally invest with dollars, but mentally invest with a cultivated, genuine, authentic interest in learning, reinforced by a foundation of positive pop culture – A foundation which our nation desperately lacks. The rest of the Duncan’s quote is representative of a flawed thinking that plagues most American adults approximately aged 40+.

With all due respect, individuals who tend to hold nostalgic views towards how the US educational system ‘used to be’ when compared to other countries need to drop their sentimentalism and focus on the now.  In this case, the past does not hold the answers for you.  The solutions you seek cannot be solved by pouring more money into a program that is already receiving more funding than the countries who have come out ahead of us this report, namely China and Japan (Morning Joe. Msnbc. New York. 3 Dec. 2013. Television).  You want to know what is really wrong with American education?  Lack of interest. Kids don’t care anymore! They haven’t for a while now. It’s that simple. Not only have I bore witness to this sobering fact but I have also personally experienced it within myself during my years being a part of this broken system.

I don’t mean to sound like teenage killjoy but it’s 2013 and we have to start thinking progressively in order to save the human race from its rapidly approaching downward spiral towards self-annihilation. Let’s talk about parents for a minute because that’s once facet of where the education conversation tends to end up. Okay, parents.  Facebook-using, iPhone-addicted, Candy Crush-playing, Words With Friends-attached parents.  Not saying parents don’t deserve a break every once in awhile. Sure it’s nice to unwind with a little social networking/game playing BS at the end of the day. Who doesn’t? But think about what your kids are learning from this behavior. These technological distractions that are totally within the realm of social acceptance are now the new drug of today. If parents are not neglecting their children with it, they are giving it to their children to calm them down and shut them up.  Hello, Huxley. Hello, Brave New World and behold our Soma of today! If we grew up as a society regularly drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, snorting cocaine, or injecting morphine from childhood how would our test scores be then? Think I’m overreacting? How long have you been on the computer or your phone before reading this? How long will you continue to be on until you turn away from it, because we don’t even shut things off anymore.  Technology can be used as a very positive thing, don’t get me wrong. But it is how and how frequently we are using it that is in my opinion, frightening.

Our youngest generation is submerged in a whirlwind of technology, entertainment, and instant gratification. They’re drowning and they don’t even know it. We are too and until we accept the fact that we are drowning, we cannot help those who already are. This problem is as much personal and individual as it is national. Because what Secretary Arne Duncan suggests: “raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators”, it won’t do us any good. Raise academic standards? So that everyone fails even harder? Make college affordable? So more kids can get in to escape their parents an drink copious amounts of alcohol and still get their degree? Recruit and retain top-notch educators? Well, if the kids don’t want to learn in the first place how the hell is that going to help you?

My generation is apathetic, self-centered, and self-destructive.  We drool for hours watching Jersey ShoreReal Housewives, and Tosh.0 which offer no ideals, no philosophic inquiries, suggest no introspection, evoke no emotion rather than spend any time watching things like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, any episode from any Star Trek series, or even 5 minutes of current events on the news. We fuck around on Buzzfeed for hours, Instagram our food, Facebook our daily schedules, and tweet celebrities we know will never tweet us back. We listen to Top40 radio as we aimlessly drive around in our parents’ cars wasting gas. We’re living on our own though we can’t afford it and we drink to excess every Friday and Saturday. We’re running from something but couldn’t tell you even in our highly inebriated state what the hell we’re actually running from. Well, fucking around on Buzzfeed won’t cure cancer, Instagramming food won’t make you more self-aware, Facebooking your daily routine won’t write that paper for you, and tweeting your celebrities begging for a follow just wasted 5 seconds of your life and at least an hour’s worth of self-inflicted sadness that you’ll never be able to figure what it’s from.

We need to scrap the dated national school system we’re in and start focusing on improving everything around us because as long as our education placement ranking declines and crumbles, so will the world around us. We need to find something to care about.  Because what happens once your iPhone battery dies and there’s a power outage? Then there’s nothing but you and yourself and maybe your books if you haven’t forgotten how to read. We are human beings. We are the most advanced species on our planet.  How can we let it come to this? How can we let it come to steady decline when we have already gotten so far? Tap into the history of founding fathers. Tap into the history of the Roman Empire, the Egyptians. Read about Indian philosophy and thought. Come to realize that all the wars ever fought were for nothing and that every book ever written and every discovery made throughout the course of time was paramount to the development of the human race. And now the torch is within our grasp.  We must carry it forward, not extinguish it out of ignorance and carelessness.

Now that world has all been discovered and we have no place left to go but the stars we need to unite, put aside our differences, and embrace our mind for what it’s worth.  Learn something worth learning, teach something worth teaching. Your iPhone does not hold the answers for you. It is the embodiment of marketing, fulfilling a need you didn’t know you had because it does not exist. It is a want and it is unnecessary. Education is necessary. How else are we to move ourselves forward if we’re surrounded by apathy and degradation? Yesterday, a high school freshman on Facebook posted a status that read, “dear board of education, so are we”. And my inward reply, “How sad,”. But here my outward reply is, “So what can we do to fix that?”

Let’s do something meaningful. Let’s accomplish great things. Otherwise, why not kill ourselves now? Why wait?