29 May, 2011

Critics in the Age of Consumerism

Published May 27, 2011 on Freezetag1688

Since the internet became one of the main mediums, our generation has embraced consumerism as never before. In the last ten or so years, we have been able to purchase items from anywhere in the world with a simple click. Likewise in other parts of the world, they too have been able to purchase items they had never been able to purchase in years past. It's gotten to the point that even the knockoffs have matched quality and aesthetics to the originals. With this new found power on hand, (purchasing power) there seems to be an overall increasing sense of entitlement among the masses. We're not just referring to "shopping power," it's also permeated all aspects around us.

It seems that with the rise of "reality television," we created an entire mass of "armchair critics." We're quick to pass on our opinion about other people's performance "they suck, they rock" with just a simple text message from our handheld communication devices. We're able to become "armchair NFL GM's" during football season as we create our Fantasy Football teams. We can throw our clout around in local business we frequent if we obtained a level of status on review websites such as Yelp. Yes, we're quick to criticize but slow to actually participate. At one of my former church, my pastor joked with me during the football season:

Pastor: Jarrett, I know you're a diehard Raiders fan, I'm wondering how hardcore of a fan you really are. Do you know the definition of a football game?

Me: I didn't know there was an actual formal definition of a football game. I guess I'm not that hardcore of a fan after all. What is it?

Pastor: A football game is an event such that there's over fifty people on the field in desperate need of rest, while there's over fifty-thousand people watching on in desperate need of exercise.

His point, without actually participating, we've become entitled critics.

When I review most restaurants on Yelp, I critiqued the different locations as someone growing up in a family of three generations who worked in the food and beverage industry. I myself worked my first job for five years in a snack bar, and eventually learned to make espressos, lattes, and mochas at my sister's cafe and grill. I remembered my training on my first job with the emphasis on customer service and customer satisfaction. If they were unhappy with the food item or drink, replace it asap. When I was three, I'd often sit in the front counter of my grandmother's takeout. Not only was she conversing with her customers, she also cooked and prepared the food in the kitchen. It's not that I critique businesses on Yelp with a sense of entitlement, I critique them knowing what it takes to provide quality goods and service.

Recently there's been a public backlash against former NBA Scottie Pippen because of a comment he made about the possibility of LeBron James surpassing Michael Jordan as the NBA all-time great. I don't follow professional basketball enough to know what it would actually take to be considered as the "all-time greatest NBA player." What I do know is that a lot of folks who's never played in the NBA were quick to slam Pippen for his comment. Funny part about all of this is that there's little comments in the media made by NBA past and present players, but sportswriters and fans have been more critical and vocal. Now in all honesty, I've never observed LeBron playing ball so I have no idea and no reference to what he can do compared to Jordan. The real issue here is that why are folks who's never played on that level are quick to criticize someone who has actually played on that level making such a statement. As I said earlier, I don't follow basketball, but I'd be more open and curious to why a former teammate would make a statement before reacting about what he doesn't know. Then again, viral attention is a result of the consumeristic, entitled, armchair critic of the public, isn't it? It jams the phone lines on every sports call-in show. Jammed phone lines on the radio means more advertising dollars, right? More advertising dollars, more time for the critic to spew their venom. More rewards for the public critic, more entitlement here.

Unfortunately it doesn't just stop with the restaurants, stores, and media.

Our spiritual centers has been hijacked by the consumer-minded, entitled critic.

Worship centers nationwide of all different religious background face the weekly dilemma of figuring out how to deal with the critic who visits their spiritual sanctuary, bringing along with them the mentality of "what's in it for me in exchange for the one-two hours of MY time?" In the different places of worship that I've visited over the years, I've been treated to gourmet coffee, buffet spreads, dim sum, a "give some-take some" offering place where the visitor has the option to take the cash on the plate, performances by visiting professional musicians and other performing artists, and performances by theatrically trained pastors and/or guest speakers. Now there's absolutely nothing wrong with offering such options. However when the emphasis in offering those options has the critic in mind rather than the spirit, then it becomes a problem. I often found myself leaving a place of worship wondering why I was there in the first place. I attend with the expectation and the anticipation of connecting: with other folks, with God, and I leave feeling as if I just left a shopping mall. But hey, at least I left with a full stomach!

When did we become less of a doer and more of a critic? I think this connects to my path of personal development because of the emphasis to re-pursue lost dreams, lost visions. We become cynical towards others once we drop pursuit of our own dreams. In fact there's a distinctive difference between feedback from the entitled critic and feedback from a dream pursuer: specificity and technique based type of feedback from the doer, while the feedback if you want to call it that from the entitled critic is worded in a way to tear down. A singer who's actively pursuing their dream as a singer doesn't critique other singers in the same manner as an armchair critic. An athlete in training doesn't critique other athletes like the armchair quarterback. It's just that the mass critics far outnumber the dream pursuers and active doers.

So what's the solution?

You bring the dreams the hope and the possibilities back to the masses. It's simple.

Not necessarily easy.

But the more we commit to doing so, the easier it'll get.

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