The Tragedy of Rising Expectations

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The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson

Judging by what happens on Facebook and reality television, it has become obvious, at least in the United States, that the tragedy of rising expectations has reached a new climax.


People who are naturally nobody have become the somebodies, and those who are somebody by virtue of education, experience, knowledge or even wealth are routinely attacked as nobodies.

Beautiful celebrities are exempt from this academic characterization, of course, since beauty and fame trump accomplishment every time in the ginned up corporate media world we now all live in. That’s one reason the new Web Press is important, but there is more to it than blogging and sharing.

Let’s look back 30 years or so and see how we got here.

When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Paul “Bear” Bryant was still the greatest living football coach and the most famous person from my native state, I happened into one Political Science class taught by a professor from Jamaica. I can’t recall his name, and searching through my files brings up nothing from that time period, so I’m working from memory.

There two things I remember from that class. One, he was teaching a theory about a “New World Order” that had very little to do with the United Nations and nothing to do with the current popular misconception of the idea about One World Government. The way he taught it, the New World Order was an idea being pushed in the Third World (countries like Jamaica) where expectations were rising because people wanted the same level of freedom and economic opportunity as First World countries, mostly like the U.S., of course.

Everybody in the Third World wanted to come to the U.S. or be like us then, back before George W. Bush invaded Iraq based on a bad idea and faulty intel and nearly destroyed our reputation around the world.

The academic theory I am calling the “tragedy” of rising expectations has a long academic history in not only Political Science, but other social sciences including Sociology and Communications research. It basically says the more material success people have, the more they want, so they are never satisfied.

You can Google around and find some of this research. Here’s one example of how it has been expressed which should tell you what you really need to know.

In a paper called Improved Conditions, Rising Expectations, and Dissatisfaction: A Test of the Past/Present Relative Deprivation Hypothesis, by Marylee C. Taylor, published in Social Psychology Quarterly published by the American Sociological Association, it is expressed like this:

A related proposition, dubbed the “rising expectations” hypothesis by Geschwender (1964) states that improvement in material situation will be accompanied by exponential growth in expectations, and thus dissatisfaction. Feierabend and Feierabend (1966), for example, suggest that the satisfaction of a few wants has a “feedback effect” leading to new wants and ultimately to frustration.

If this academic mumbo jumbo is just over your head and you would rather have a journalist’s layman explanation, how about this one?

Picture a short, fat, ugly, poor trailer park chick in the South going on television and expecting to meet a tall, good looking, millionaire who wants to marry her. That’s pretty much how far out of line our expectations are in this country. Everybody wants to marry a beautiful millionaire — and thinks they are entitled to expect it.

I expect thanks to the spread of U.S. television around the globe is fouling things up in a similar way in other countries.

Teachers and parents are still telling children they can grow up to be anything they want to be, including president of the United States or a star in the NBA. But this can’t be. Everybody who has ambitions to be president is not going to grow up and get elected. The very idea is absurd. Every kid who wants to grow up and become a rich and famous professional athlete is not going to achieve that because the number of slots on all the teams in the world is a finite number and everybody does not have the physical attributes or the skill levels anyway.

I mean there are nearly 7 billion people on the planet.

There are only 30 teams in the National Basketball Association, and each team is limited to 12 players. That’s 360 players. Seems to me a lot of kids are going to grow up and be disappointed if this is their ambition.

Part of the problem we have in this country, and it is certainly true in other places, is that the media contributes to the problem. Not just the news media. But the entertainment media, mainly television, as well as social media now. Anyone can become a broadcaster on YouTube and a headline chasing blogger on Facebook, but that does not mean that they will get rich and famous doing it.

Some dumb ass rednecks will get famous on reality television, like the idiots on Duck Dynasty, mainly because there are a lot of other dumb ass rednecks who will watch and wish they could be so lucky.

Of the 7 billion people on the planet, 1 billion are now on Facebook. But that does not guarantee that many people are going to notice them. If they are just on Facebook and do not have Websites designed to generate revenue, most people are never going to make a dime at it.

Granted this is not everyone on Facebook’s ambition. Many of them just use it to hook up with friends and share photos and such.

But it does seem that many people are logging on every day trying to get famous as some sort of pseudo journalist. A few years ago, and maybe still, that’s what some bloggers do. They think they are the new, new, new journalism.

They can blog and Tweet and share all they want, but in the end, most of them are not going to make it. Sorry to burst your bubble if you are one of them. But there is more to this than being able to take a photo with your phone, write a headline and share a thought.

There is a need for a new kind of journalism on the Web. Newspapers, radio and television are no longer what we need if we want to at least take a stab at creating a more level playing field where some people with the right level of education and experience can show us a better way to get more accurate information.

If you study the academic literature on this, you might stumble onto a vein of it that comes to this conclusion.

In a book called, Comparative Perspectives on Social Movements: Political Opportunities, Mobilizing Structures, and Cultural Framings, part of which you can read as a Google book, you will run across this bit of knowledge. I have been saying this in various forms for the past nine years. But don’t just take it from me.

News media in the United States and increasingly in other Western democracies, as in most capitalist nations, are profit-making institutions by design. In the United States they depend as much on advertisers as on consumers for these profits, if not more. As a result, it is argued, they can be expected to select and shape the news in ways that do not threaten their own or their sponsor’s interests. Therefore, we expect minimal reporting of issues that might threaten those interests.

The problem is, it does take a lot of money to actually produce the stories we need to really make a difference in this world. And so far the experiments with non-profit media are proving not to be enough.

So that’s why I created a news organization that is practicing a new kind of journalism based on a new economic model. Advertising has always been the primary funding mechanism for media since Ben Franklin published his newspaper in Philadelphia. News content was generated that drew advertisers interested in the content and reaching an audience interested in the same news.

For the past few years on the Web, Google advertising used keywords to serve up advertising messages related to the news content on Websites devoted to news. This was first called “synergy” back in the 1990s in the days when I first came up with the idea to publish a magazine called The Southerner.

But that alone is not what is needed. Now there is a such thing as blog advertising where interested advertisers can reach a similarly interested audience and actually fund a different kind of journalism. One that is not subject to the constraints imposed on media organizations funded primarily by large corporations like the oil giants such as Exxon and BP, power companies like Southern Company and Alabama Power, pharmaceutical conglomerates and their insurance companies.

Non-profit organizations, labor unions, trial lawyers and others interested in seeing this new kind of journalism develop and flourish have an opportunity to create another kind of New World Order, one where run amok corporate capitalism does not control the field.

But I am here to tell you that “free” media and “social” media are still no substitute for education and experience and media that is funded by a healthy does of advertising. It can be done tastefully without popup ads and sensational drivel designed to drive traffic to any little trivial news byte from reality television.

I expect this will become more obvious in the years ahead. Although I could be wrong. I suppose it’s possible that all the corporations in the world will all merge into a new One World Government and enslave us all. But I highly doubt it.

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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