The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster
in Japan, along with the catastrophic earthquake plus tsunami that caused it, is over two months old now--which means that in our media-junkie culture, where the average attention span makes a mosquito look like Copernicus
by comparison, it's dead. Old news. Fuku-what? Who cares, as long as we can find out what happens to Nicole Polizzi, alias "Snooki,"
and Mike "the Situation" Sorrentino
next week on Jersey Shore
But my friend Dan conceived of an interesting link between the two: yes, between four nuke reactors on the brink of a meltdown that bode fair to poison half of Japan, and a reality-TV show featuring the meathead sex life of a pack of Garden State knuckle-draggers.
Remember how, on TV yet, eggheads measured the nuclear disaster in milli- and micro-"Sieverts" (named after Swedish radiation expert Rolf Sievert)--each unit of micro-sievert equalling a unit of human exposure to lethal radiation from caesium-137, iodine-131, etc? Well, what we need, Dan wrote me, is a metric that calculates each unit of mental poisoning we suffer from exposure to the toxic imbecility of reality TV.
In other words, micro-Snookis.
Micro-Snookis, I thought, Yes! Every minute of watching Nicole (or Pauly D, or JWoww) pout, bitch, badmouth, flirt, fight, snog and chug Ron-Ron Juice equals one toxic micro-Snooki. The next step would be to determine safe background levels, and then, at steadily increasing levels of exposure, the points at which sickness, coma, and possibly death-by-inanity might ensue.
You think I'm kidding? Exaggerating? Well, consider this:
Long-term TV viewing, through its effect on gamma, theta and other brainwaves, has been proven to reduce attention levels, dull reasoning, and induce passivity. The average American watches over four hours of television per day.
Consider this also: Reality TV shows are breeding like rabbits on Viagra. Snooki is getting her own independent show, and so are co-stars Mike "the Sitch," Pauly D and JWoww. Now Snooki's father is demanding a spin-off. I'm not kidding here! Khloé Kardashian, Charlie Sheen, Danielle Staub, all jumping on the bandwagon ... Pretty soon there will be nothing to watch but reality spin-offs, including Jersey Shore Cancún, Teen Mom 5, Desperate Housewives (of Saugus, Montclair, Palo Alto, Grosse Pointe--you name it). And every one of these so called "reality" shows adds a big fat zero to our knowledge of the world and the shape it's in.
Now let's consider the shape of the world. Every day roughly 30,000 people--four-fifths of them children--die of starvation. If you add poverty-related causes such as AIDS and malaria you can bump that up to 50,000 daily: 18 million a year. The UN this month boosted its estimate of the world's population in 2100 from 9 to 10.1 billion (it is currently over 6 billion). Half of the planet's population lives on $2 per day or less. According to various sources the world just manages to produce enough grain to feed everyone now; due to a combination of factors, including decline in water reserves, grain production is likely to start tanking over the next two decades. All that is without global warming, which most experts believe will flood vast amounts of agricultural land in the Third World by 2100, causing a further decrease in grain yields that cannot be offset by better crops in northern latitudes. The growth-crazed governments of the world, at venues such as the Kyoto, Rio and Copenhagen summits, have consistently refused to make the painful cuts in carbon emissions that might limit damage from global warming. It seems inevitable that more and more humans will die of poverty and starvation over the next ninety years--and I have not even begun to factor in other problems arising from poverty and income inequality. Such as depression. Such as epidemics. Such as war.
This is where micro-Snookis come in. What we all really need is for people to pay attention to a planet that is going to hell. What we need is for TV viewers to sit up and say, "Wait a minute--what kind of hellish world are my grandchildren, or even my children, going to have to live in?" What we need is for everyone to turn off the goddam TV and go out and do something about all of this. Lobby for population control, for carbon emission limits, for safe nuclear power--just for starters.
But no. Everyone has already absorbed a dangerous amount of micro-Snookis. And the problem with Snooki radiation is, not only does it carry a huge opportunity cost in terms of all the human-hours wasted that could have been used to do something more useful, it is also addictive. In other words, as little as 50 micro-Snookis creates in the average American viewer the sick need to expose himself to many, many more micro-Snookis. Two episodes of Jersey Shore, apparently, and she or he is hooked. He microwaves popcorn, she snaps open a PBR, they wait for the next episode.
I guess it's understandable. Who wants to concentrate on depressing stuff? I sure as hell don't. Anyway, gotta go--Jersey Shore Miami will be on in five.
with thanks to Dan Hamilton