Where culture leads, must I follow?

A funny thing happened the other day as I mowed my fenced-in yard while listening to talk radio on my iPhone. I was streaming a station out of Los Angeles, the so-called City of Angels, though the narrator for The Big Lebowski, Sam Elliot, “didn’t find it to be that exactly.”  Having lived there in the 1980s and ’90s, I’d have to concur.

What caught my attention wasn’t the content of the radio show (and it was highly politically charged stuff) or even its Los Angeles setting, but the commercial breaks — every one was loaded with advertisment spots from the DHHS. That stands for Department of Health and Human Services for those who either 1) haven’t yet been bombarded by its slew of propaganda, or 2) having been so inundated have become almost immune to the social department’s name. Mowing the lawn made it difficult to do some accurate accounting, but at a rough count, I’d have to say five of every six advertisements was a DHHS spot.

During the course of a couple of hours of mowing, emptying the catch bag and listening to the latest political debates, for some reason all I could think about was adopting one of the “millions of cats that go homeless each year,” or that I should probably schedule an appointment to “down the gown” and have my prostrate examined, or that “1-in-8” of my neighbors was short on food and that I should donate to a nearby foodbank, so long as, of course, no one in the food bank was praying.

As if these weren’t pressing enough, the DHHS had the nerve to actually ridicule my choice of the incandescent light bulb, calling it “archaic” and scrapping it to the trash heap because it was invented before the “jet airplane” and “moving pictures.” I was waiting for, but didn’t hear, the ad telling me which vegetables I should eat. Though, I did hear one telling me to stop grilling meat or my chances for getting aforementioned prostrate cancer would surely double.

Isn’t there something just slightly creepy about all this? Images from George Orwell’s “1984″ and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” began to creep up from my sub into my conscious brain, until it occurred to me that perhaps it was “Brave New World” that paves the road for the advent of “1984,” and that maybe the Brave New World is here.

Whatever it is, it’s certainly different from the age I grew up in. Back in the 1980s I never heard ads like these — and I listened to my fair share of radio programming even then. In fact, the only prodding from any agency outside my parents was my neighbors, my wonderfully kind grade school teacher the beloved Mrs. Nelson and the regular old dose of peer pressure.

From these I learned, respectively, that if I didn’t eat what my mother made for dinner I wouldn’t eat again until breakfast; that I shouldn’t eat lunch just before jumping into the swimming pool or Mrs. Cable said I’d get a cramp; that I should stop talking to my friend Don Parodi during singing class or I’d never learn to sing properly; and that my pants were floods (high-waters), which would get me nowhere with the girl who had captivated my every thought, Maria Medina.

This is what went through my head as I scanned the yard and the fence that enclosed it. I couldn’t help thinking that the fences that once had insulated my peers and I in our youth while growing up in California, had been retracted, drawn in, and shortened.

I don’t know when it happened, but it certainly did happen. Somehow and somewhere someone decided that my parents, my neighbor, my lovely teacher and those annoying challenging peers of my youth weren’t enough; society needed me to fit its agenda.

And I have to say, knowing it’s wholly biased, that I don’t care much for the Brave New World that has supplanted the one I grew up in. The kids aren’t as nice, nor for that matter are the teachers, and I don’t know what’s become of parents but they seem fewer in number and lesser in presence.

I don’t claim to be a prognosticator, but I don’t think you have to be one to say this. I don’t know which road the DHHS is herding us down, but it certainly isn’t a road we’ve been down before, and I’m pretty sure we won’t like where it leads us.


Josh Schatzle has served as lead pastor at Hope Church in Carbondale since November. 

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