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The Golden Age of Mediocrity

by Mad Dog

        The history of mankind is broken down into eras based on the technological advances which move it forward. Thus the familiar sequence of the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Machine Age, and the current Seinfeld Age, which is evidenced by our sudden propensity towards excessive whining, abundant and overt display of neuroses, lack of personal direction and motivation, and the ability to love completely unlovable people, probably because you're grateful they're not related to you.

        But of all the possible ages, it's the Golden Age we really look forward to—years of peace, prosperity, and happiness. Sooner or later every society has one. It's much like a debutante's coming out, except unfortunately the phrase "coming out" has an entirely different meaning these days. Cultures rise and cultures fall. The Mayans had their day. The ancient Egyptians theirs. Even those diabolical people that brought us Beanie Babies had theirs and we can only hope and pray that it's over.

        The Golden Age also refers to things other than civilizations. The Golden Age of Hollywood was in the 40's. The Golden Age of rock 'n roll was in the 60's. And the Golden Age of television was in the late 50's because it was live, vibrant, and, even though Urkel hadn't been invented yet, it was still better than staring at a radio and clicking a remote wondering why there was never any picture.

        Some say all the Golden Ages are behind us, but that's probably because everything looks better in the rear view mirror. Everything except that semi which is six inches from your ass and gaining quickly. Recently, an article in Time magazine declared the New York Times to be in their Golden Age. They came to this conclusion because the Times finally discovered that printing ink comes in colors other than black, that there is occasionally a story more worthy of the front page headline than the Andorran Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and, if you want to know the real truth, USA Today turned down the honor.

        One thing's for certain, the current historical period will never be called a Golden Age. The Aluminum Can Age, perhaps. Maybe even the Disposable Age. But most likely it will go down in history as the Age of Mediocrity.

        For some reason we, as bland tasteless Americans, have decided that okay is good enough. Things don't need to be good as long as they're consistent. It's more important for hamburgers to be served quickly than for them to taste like meat. Books don't need to be written by writers as long as the author is a well-known TV star whose name recognition is higher than that Pynchon guy, what's-his-name? Movies make the most money when they have more bombs than brains. And Starbucks is more popular than the little coffee shop on the corner because, well, it may not be great, but you know what you're getting.

        Bagels are a prime example. They used to be a joy. Having been raised outside New York City I teethed on stale bagels. Or so I'm told. Since the bagel's popularity has soared, they've gone from chewy delights to bready doughnuts. Even the best bagel shop in the world in Teaneck, NJ—Boy, will that declaration start a fight!—was sold and now the bagels are no better than those peddled in chain stores where they're more concerned with whether people will buy Chocolate Chip Jalapeno bagels than whether they're edible.

        That's right, the chain stores. Another indication that we're not only in the Age of Mediocrity, we're in the sub-era known as the Homogenous Years. If you don't believe me, hit the main street of any town, no matter how small. The line-up is the same: Wal-Mart, McDonald's, 7-11, etc, etc, etc.

        Apparently people would rather not have surprises, as Holiday Inn pointed out with their ad campaign a few years back. But when everything's homogenized we lose the highs along with the lows. Please, it's worth risking buying a so-so pastry from an unknown bakery rather than shovel another Twinkie down your throat because you know what you're getting. Okay, maybe that's a bad example. Who knows what's really in a Twinkie?

        Historical perspective is important, and we don't have that yet. Maybe while it's occurring, every time period is considered to be the Age of Mediocrity. While we consider the 5th century B.C. to be the Golden Age of Greece, the Athens Daily Enquirer & News-Review probably wrote countless editorials bemoaning Sophocles' Oedipus Trilogy.

        "Goodness griefious, Sophocles," the editors wrote. "Can't you come up with something new and fresh rather than mining that same old Oedipus-The Sequel stuff again?"

        As they say, everything old is new again. But the mediocre new stuff sure does get old fast.

1997 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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