The increasing celebration of mediocrity in western society

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  01 January 2013
I agree with a lot of what you said, Leigh. Seeing the dysfunctional, and self-indulgent ego-maniacs on reality shows who are revered as celebrities nowadays is a perfect example of how mediocrity has become something to celebrate. It's kind of unsettling!

Apparently, Brad Bird must share similar concerns about society's celebration of mediocrity. It's alluded to several times in THE INCREDIBLES.

Dash: You always say 'Do your best', but you don't really mean it. Why can't I do the best that I can do?
Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

Bob Parr: "It's psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional... "

Syndrome: "Oh, I'm real. Real enough to defeat you! And I did it without your precious gifts, your oh-so-special powers. I'll give them heroics. I'll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen! And when I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions so that *everyone* can have powers. *Everyone* can be super! And when everyone's super... NO ONE WILL BE."

I'm also reminded of what someone once said, "Mediocrity is the only behavior above suspicion."
“I will never be a fan of any kind of political correctness: I think it's instant death to creativity." - Mads Mikkelsen

Last edited by webhead : 01 January 2013 at 06:17 AM.
  01 January 2013
This is something that I definitely agree with and I have seen it first hand in some of my classes over the past few years. It is something really bugs me especially when I am told that my own work is great when I know it isn't because I didn't put the time into it.

I pretty much taught myself After Effects in high school and got a job doing animatics not long after graduating. It was a couple years later when I started at the college I am about to graduate from so I had an advantage over other students that I added to by learning 3D about a year before my first class.

In an online 200 design class at the end of my second year, we were given an animated text project in the form of a website banner. At the end of the project, I critiqued another student's work by sharing my honest opinion as it was part of the grade. Now this student had a decent concept that, if I recall correctly, involving the word falling letter by letter from the sky. What she turned in was very different, made no sense, and was nearly illegible. I told her this and gave her another way to do the project, the way I would have approached it.

The result was a an email from the instructor scolding me for being harsh saying that he would never say that to a student that early into the program and that I was out of line. In addition to that, the student submitted maybe 1 other project the rest of the quarter.

Personally, I don't think my work is critiqued enough and I am tired of just hearing that my work is good.
  01 January 2013
Originally Posted by Horganovski: A fresh eye is very valuable, no matter how experienced you are and we all get blind to our own work at times.

Yep. The only way if you work solo is taking a good break. As mostly amazing art is produced by a team, which gives a very valuable feedback to you after you've been looking at it 200 hours long.

Back to the others points:
Devaluing and, as rightfully being said, equalization (a nice term for those processes, which we should perceive from the scientific point as a good standard of thinking) of work of photographers, 3d-designers and so on is a natural process and it's not because there are many people having access. It's just the technology changes, not people. I think it also has good points, like some areas become not as elitist and giving access to almost anyone who has talent. And I like th idea X-Factor gives hope not only to young and good-looking. I like that many young people have their photos edited to fashion-like magazines, feeling like they touch their dream and are not as distant from it as it was to pre-digital era.
I think that equalization is a good thing for mental health of people, giving them the right to voice their opinion based on intelligence (hey, I wouldn't have being able even to post here, probably wouldn't even hear anything about anyone from other countries, living in the slums of a poor country). Right now I'd like to mention, that it's not just the intelligence, but also other values, which don't fit into classical aesthetics. But there are new criterias, other than beautiful, ugly and so on. Those are "new", "hyperlinked", "labyrinth", "bodyness" and so on. Also the factor of being famous also goes to our instincts, and is not something people can easily ignore. As we know something famous can't get being one if it's not strong enough to stand out (though it's a false thing today, it's still working). ""There is a huge social aspect to media consumption/art appreciation where people will bend their views of what they like if their friends or idols do it. This has everything to do with our brains being wired to live in groups-" - I totally agree to it. And I like those trends. It's not something new, but it's yet to be accepted as something, which also matters as much as being beautiful or aesthetic. People now participate in art themselves, posting different stuff, and I also like it. Mentally it's better "you can if you want" rather "you can't". Most people won't try too hard anyway, if it's not something of their true passion (but they will know they still have this freakin chance. Give them at least a hope damnit). So professional people need to market themselves hard (a good point brought by others here).

Leigh said" And I think that, just like someone who goes to university and spends years studying law to get a good job as a lawyer, someone who puts in that time to develop and master artistic skills also deserves to be able to make a living putting their skills to use." - unfortunately, many branches of development die, change or devalue. Deserving something even if you're talented is not the case in life. The person needs to fight his way to what he wants.

Leigh said
"My concern is that if things continue in their current vein, in a few decades we could end up with a world where the truly creatively skilled can no longer stand above the tide of mediocrity that's swamping them, and that people may no longer be able to make a reasonable living in their respective creative pursuits. I worry that art will lose its meaning to the point that we won't recognise excellence anymore, instead surrounding ourselves with meaningless creations that no longer truly inspire or provoke. "
Probably there will be some mechanisms to equalise that as well, like X-factor. Like, is someone does something creative (writes and sings his own song), it gets at least 10,000 views for free, and people will support it at free will. Also consider Kickstarter and other possibilities. I think we get a lot of good in this direction, isn't it?

About people being equally talented, it depends on what talends I suppose. Some children may be very thinking and analyzing, and the others may be very firm and active. Those are a bit different kinds, an it's partially genetic (at least the second type hardly can and wants to become the first one. It's those who you hate in the offices, and who become bosses, rather than scientific workers in 3d field. Those are not badm they just fit to different positions, if some acpects combine well. And it's not often the case).

""Perhaps Computers/TECH have given too many a false sense of PRIVILEGE-"" - it's who pays decides in the end. So you can be supertalented classical music player, but if you don't adapt, you won't get famous simply because it's not your time. Time is changing, and what was cool 100, 500 an 1000 years ago differs greatly. Time changes, and we will pass away with our idols, values and the new will come. We can't be new and in demand always.

""In general your point of "bad art diluting the good stuff" doesn't make much sense. We are a servants to our society because that is where our money comes from. If society doesn't appreciate your work either make something they like or convince them that your work is good. Because it is all subjective you can actually convince people of that." - that's a bad thinking fo marketing ourselves, but good for understanding there never been art appreciated by many. It was so confined in what was in demand the more you look back in time. Which definitely exploded in the last several centuries, but not more. Only when we got art being as business investment, we saw "ugly", "pointless" etc,, which expanded those matters and fit them into artistic vision. Now is the time for scientific(?) concepts to this, or rather, trends of expansion, equalization and such.

Last edited by mister3d : 01 January 2013 at 03:47 AM.
  01 January 2013
There's never been a lack of talentless twits, who think their shit is special. What's changed is how easy it is for them to receive attention, from other twits, in this age of instant communication and way of mass spreading their crap all around the world. I'm looking at you internet.
  01 January 2013

Originally Posted by spurcell: There's never been a lack of talentless twits, who think their shit is special. What's changed is how easy it is for them to receive attention, from other twits, in this age of instant communication and way of mass spreading their crap all around the world. I'm looking at you internet.

I agree, people just post pointless comments with many words which have little meaning at all. Hehe, looking at myself.
  01 January 2013
As you get older you become more and more right wing I guess. For the most part I agree Leigh, but the route to success isn't all stick either, you need a little carrot now and then, the rest has to come from being a self motivated er... donkey... person... thingy.

I do have a question though - do you not believe we are all vying for position within mediocrity?
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  01 January 2013
Funny, last Wednesday I was talking to a bud of mine who is a writer and we were talking also about this.
And I agree most of what Leigh said.

Self delusion is something that I am seeing more and more in the arts across the board in and it is bothering the hell out of me.
We were talking on how a lot of young musicians cannot read music to save their lives.
How a lot current generation Hip Hop artists don't know their own history.
They cannot tell me the difference between Tupac, Biggie Smalls or Rum DMC.

How a lot of young directors don't care to know who people like Capra, Fellini,Méliès, Ford or Copolla are.

For a lot of young artists that i have encountered don't want to be bothered in learning the fundamentals of their trade. They want to be on the big leagues NOW became their self inflated egos tell them that is were they belong.

The American Idol culture has created a nihilistic version of culture where learning the history and foundational knowledge of a craft is for suckers.

I left to believe that Talent is something that we are inherently born with, you like like they are all Mozarts.

Sadly there was only one Mozarts, and what most of can hope to be is a decent Salieri .
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Last edited by RobertoOrtiz : 01 January 2013 at 06:45 AM.
  01 January 2013
In my opinion, many of these issues start in education. I won't get on a soapbox about it, but just in general from my own experience.. this is where our society is taking a big crap on itself.
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  01 January 2013
HAVING SAID THAT, NOT ALL YOUNG ARTISTS ARE THE WAY I described them in my last post. I have meet a ton of cool young talent that DO give me hope.
And don't get me started about how I fell the current generation of tweeners.

A lot of kids for that generation that I have encountered (raised on the middle of this economic downturn) are really tough.
I do have hope FOR THEM.
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Last edited by RobertoOrtiz : 01 January 2013 at 06:44 AM.
  01 January 2013
Quote: If everything is art, then art loses its meaning. It's like if everyone is special, then the word special ceases to mean special, because it just becomes the norm. See, it's not that I care that people are posting "wow" comments to strangers' work. It's that this attitude is ultimately devaluing art.

Originally Posted by darthviper107: It was really annoying then to receive praise for things I knew to be not very good just because other people in the class were so far behind. I really didn't learn much in my animation classes that way.

Im afraid that you are barking at the wrong tree. As the bottom quote shows, it has been long time since self educated or people with opportunity through one way or another has been able to have edge over common people. We are living times where the gap between someone surfing and getting basics of composition etc through the vastly more effective mediums like youtube can start produce content that is technically almost as good as professional stuff.

What you see today is just that its very hard to see the difference between the two. Maybe give it one generation and the difference will be more apparent. But thats not because someone gets more skilled. Its because the audience who provide this apparent feeling of being special to the very few whose opinnions are now getting to any content that looks decent.

So truly creative people have lost the advantage of knowledge. Now it all boils down to true imagination and creativity. And this is very likely just temporal phenomena since as I said generation or two later the commonplace is where it is in respect to today standards, but yet the more aware audience of tomorrow, as soon as they catch up with the ability to see the difference between artist who is technically good and who has truly creative content.

It is not by accident why one rather creative person said "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is all we know and understand, but imagination embraces all that will ever be known or understood". In artistic context it splits the technical superriority of shooting with buying DSLR and make proper composition to those who go beyond the known visually appealing guidelines.

TLDR version: Audience havent yet catched up with the new generation of artists who have so much better starting point than so so many of this forum great artists to go beyond being technically good and having possibility to actually leverage their creativity.

Edit: I intentionally omit the psychological side of the "patting on shoulder" in this situation. Many already mentioned points are valid that it is not helping. I just say that given the above, it is hard tor human to oppose the "majority" feedback in social situations. In individual situations exceptions exists naturally, but given the scale of how well this modern world communicates the impact is visible in the Leigh observations

Last edited by Cromfel : 01 January 2013 at 09:51 AM.
  01 January 2013
Isn't much of this discussion/issue not simply related to the fact that many youngsters now grow up with MTV, X-Factor, Talent this/that, awful rap-music and social pressure of being cool through an urge for fashion clothes, iDevices, Beats by Dr. Dre headphones etc. etc. I could go on endlessly.
We all want to be part of the main stream or are pushed into it by the above stated.
You don't belong to the big flock if you can't talk about silly talentshows, wear fashion clothes, have iDevices etc. etc.
People naturally want to fit in.

"They" (the mediocre praising) are being 'bombed' with brain-killing silliness and all kinds of standards which they're being told or made to believe to be the evolutionary end.
All of the above mentioned is the norm/standard for these people.

By being 'bombed' with this silliness, how on earth can they tell whether something is good if they are never exposed to it before?
I think it's mostly due to plain ignorance, caused by the human tendency to flock together which is being cleverly abused by big corp money-making strategies.

Hence the fact that nowadays fewer and fewer people pursue a job in say, science.
I think many here agree that besides arts also science contributes to a more healthy society.
They want to make money, much and fast, to buy as much crap of the above as possible and to watch the crap of above on a screen as big as possible.

So I may have written this a bit simplistic, but I'm really convinced that Leigh's (very good outlined) issue is really related to current society being dumbed down to worrisome levels.


What could contribute to fixing this issue, for instance, is to take a few steps back in the current school/teaching system.

I, 31 year old, was amazed by how much in-depth aspects my parents needed to know for every class they had in school.
A very simple example: they knew basically every medium-sized or greater town in my country. I have been taught the biggest towns only. Kids today only know frikkin' Amsterdam.
Ok, this might be a bit exaggerated, but the situation is really like that.

A big difference though is, that my parents and I only had about 7-8 classes at highschool's final years (about a dozen before that).
Nowadays kids need are having many more classes and what do they learn? A little bit of everything, but nothing really useful, all a bit of nothing.

Some may see this as an "everything used to be better" argument, but I'm convinced kids nowadays leave highschool dumber than years ago, due to the school system as well as factors I outlined above the edit.

Last edited by Tangled-Universe : 01 January 2013 at 11:17 AM.
  01 January 2013
Originally Posted by Tangled-Universe: I, 31 year old, was amazed by how much in-depth aspects my parents needed to know for every class they had in school.
A very simple example: they knew basically every medium-sized or greater town in my country. I have been taught the biggest towns only. Kids today only know frikkin' Amsterdam.
Ok, this might be a bit exaggerated, but the situation is really like that.

Today, as we can look up those towns on the net, is it really necessary to know them by heart? What do children really need to know? We in the USSR had very strong math and chemistry etc classes in general schools, but it was because the country needed scientists for military purposes. The same with exercising. There was nothing to develop you to think like an individual and estimate the information of different kinds.
With today information accessibility, we need to know where to find information, rather than knowing it. We also had astronomy, geography, useless biology, Russian literature and many other disciplines which give you so little in the end, but the amount of time wasted was incredible! I could become professional in two fields for that wasted time in school with those. And yet, it's a very good time for learning. We didn't have so much opportunity as children today, and I think it's good for them.

Last edited by mister3d : 01 January 2013 at 12:50 PM.
  01 January 2013
IMO, the "dumbing-down" trend we are witnessing globally is a deliberate & calculated social engineering strategy carried out by the ruling elites, mainstream governments & politicians, the major corporations, and the mainstream media, with full knowledge of just how much damage this does to developed societies & humanity itself in the long term.

Let me give some real world examples of this strategy at work:

- Corporations want "dumb consumers" who buy an iPhone that costs a mere 130 Dollars to manufacture in China for a whopping 650 Dollars or more, thinking, erroneously, that they are getting "the best fricking phone in the world", which of course isn't objectively true. Many phones can do what the iPhone does, and cost considerably less. They want consumers to think that paying 3,500 Dollars for an Apple laptop buys you something "really special", even though a no-brand Windows laptop costing 1,600 Dollars or less has the same hardware specs, and is capable of doing the exact same things. (Actually more, if you consider the huge amount of software, games and other apps available for the Windows platform).

- Media wants "dumb viewers" because creating content for dumb viewers is quick, easy, and costs 1/5th of creating more "sophisticated" content for educated viewers (with proper investigative journalism, fact checking, bias/opinion balancing and so forth). A good real world example is the British SUN newspaper. Everything about "The SUN" is calculated to appeal to the lowest, most poorly educated, most unsophisticated classes in British society. Its Sex, Celebrities, Gossip, Astronomy, Weird News and Sports formula makes it one of the most idiotic and useless newspapers ever published, yet 3 million odd people in the UK buy and read The SUN every day. Here's a great screenshot illustrating just how dumb the whole operation is:

Other good examples of dumbing-down in the Western media is the fact that Iran's TV channels, for example, have been thrown off 4 different major TV satellites in the past months, for reasons unknown ("supposedly unknown" would be better, since the political motivations for this are pretty clear... In the event of a possible war with Iran, the West doesn't want ordinary people to have access to the Iranian viewpoint on things).

AsiaSat, EutelSat, Arqiva and Hispasat have stopped airing Iranian TV channels altogether, because Western politicians don't want ordinary people to "experience an Iranian perspective" on things.

In the same vein, many Americans refuse to watch the pretty mainstream - and almost boringly so - "Al-Jazeera" English language news channel, because they are told that "it is the news channel of the Enemy", which isn't true of course. But people actually believe this - that watching even a couple of minutes of Al-Jazeera news reporting is to "strengthen the hand of the Enemy".

The fact that many people think this way makes it difficult for Al-Jazeera to secure distribution with many American Cable TV companies - if people don't want your channel, you don't get distributed in the U.S. Cable TV market. Simple as that...

Lets move on to Politics:

- Dumbing down political issues successfully means that many people will be tempted to vote for the exact opposite of what is actually good for them. For example, voting for the Left in a election is likely to strengthen the Wellfare State in a country - a good thing if you are poor person and un- or under-employed. But if you dumb the political messages down sufficiently, and put the right spin on things, people who should be voting Left, for their own personal financial security and benefit, suddenly wind up voting Right instead. What does this? Dumbing down and spinning of issues.

Films and Television:

- Dumbed down, mediocre, derivative and repetitive works in the Film/Television Space cause people to not think deeply and correctly about many of the issues being covered. For example, there are many TV shows and Films out there where the bad-guys are stereotypical, dark skinned, Eastern-looking Muslims. It may be great fun for Western viewers to watch the heroes of a show make short shrift of these "Evil Muslims", but its a bit of a pickle if you happen to be living in the West, and you are of Eastern descent and looks.

People who watch these shows tend to believe - falsely - that anyone who looks like the Muslim bad guys on these "Cops & Bad Guys" shows may be a bad guy in real life, too.

Concrete Example of where this leads: Good luck paying for a Hotel room in the West in cash these days if you are "Eastern looking". Chances are about 50/50 that the Hotel staff will get suspicious of you, and report you to management as "acting suspicious". Then management may actually call the cops on you, thinking - erroneously - that you are some kind of "security threat", because you are Eastern-looking and you - OMG! - paid for a hotel stay in cash...

I could go on, but I think this is enough for now for discussion's sake...

I'm sorry if some people find my examples somewhat "political" for a CG forum. But this discussion simply isn't complete if you don't get into the politics of things - the thing that is actually causing the "dumbing-down of all things important", and the "celebration of the mediocre".
  01 January 2013
DePaint, I'm sorry to hear about those issues. Unfortunately propaganda was and will be for an indefinite time, it's just when you get more educated you see how abrupt and ugly it is.

On the other thing, how many people watch clever movies like arthouse cinema? And so on and so on? People don't not because they are dumb, but because people need not education, but recreation and rest. People much more need rest than education with their hectic life. Do you really want to live in a society where everybody is utterly educated, competitive, and you'll have to learn as much just to be on par? I'm just curious how would society look.
For example prior to USSR there were elite schools (not for everybody, only for the rich), where they studied very hard and were very intelligent by today standards. They studied logics, were great at politics, knew several languages and so on. Those were very strong people, but those were the elite.They all were terminated like very dangerous.
Then this comes down to something like Chinese living with constant practising and getting better till you die, having little rest and so on. Like musicians who play 12 hours a day. Is it what we want the society to look like?

PS: people praise for geniuses, but from what time it became prestigious or desired to be an unhappy person with your talent, which chose you? Where's the benefit? Who said it's cool? Who said educated people are necessary happier? I agree some kind of education makes people happier, but not any at all.

Last edited by mister3d : 01 January 2013 at 01:45 PM.
  01 January 2013
Originally Posted by leigh:

The colosseum had a _continous_ success of almost 400 years...making it one of the most succesfull entities of human entertainment.

IMHO the shear _variety_ of ways to entertain us today is the only reason we can call us "more" civilised.
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