What the Hell is Wrong with Our Society?

The drawbacks of living in a society where fitting in is the new standing out.

Did you know that the Shouts & Murmurs column of the New Yorker was originally the personal column of Alexander Woollcott? Alexander Woollcott originally named his column after an “old London playbill in which the job title for a stagehand who specialized in sound effects was given as Shouts and Murmurs.” Woollcott used his column to criticize the culture and society of the day — current Shouts & Murmurs columnists still use this purpose today. Society is definitely a chaotic subject to talk about, but the chaotic nature makes it an interesting dinner table discussion topic. I was drawn by the Shouts & Murmurs column when I first received my subscription from the New Yorker. The Shouts & Murmurs column updates me with weekly societal criticisms. The articles are never too serious like the news section of the magazine nor too lighthearted like the humor section. They are just the right amount of sarcasm and sincerity. Furthermore, once I finish reading an article from the Shouts & Murmurs column, I begin to question society more and more. And, you will too once you finish reading these annotations.

“Child Spa”

Paul Rudnick. The New Yorker. April 6, 2015

“The spa industry has begun to target children in a big way. . . .”

In today’s society, we see children as young as five-years-old worrying about their “pre-K glow” and their growing “nasolabial creases” as stated in the article. Paul Rudnick steps into the shoes of Ava, a fictional character who is only five-years-old. Throughout the article, readers can casually laugh at Ava’s little rants. For instance, since Ava is not four anymore, she can’t get away with a few extra pounds. All of her friends will say “ O.M.G., who’s that fat girl who ate Ava?” And “Is Ava really depressed? Because she should be.” I guess five-year-olds are already worried about gaining a few pounds and being called fat. Ava’s friends and she get excited to visit “Little Miss Lovely,” their local child spa to get in shape. They do everything from doing an hour of Princess Yoga to receiving Moroccan thermal espresso-mud wraps.

Paul Rudnick gives his audience constant giggles and a bit of comic relief as they read his article. However, he wants to prove that child spas are constantly being institutionalized like an epidemic. Children as young as five are already worried about developing nasolabial creases around their mouths. I, myself, have no idea what a nasolabial crease is. Children are receiving Moroccan thermal espresso-mud wraps and detoxifying wild-lime silk-oil treatments to feel “toned, poreless, and ready to attract the right kind of little boys.” These are the kinds of facials even adults have trouble receiving on a regular basis. Rudnick highlights that children aren’t the same anymore — growing up isn’t the same. Spa dates and getting fit are more important than dolls and video games. Children are more worried about getting freckles than scabbing their knee while playing outside with their friends. It’s already bad enough that children are too immersed in their new iPads. But now it’s even worse. Little girls are way too focused on becoming this “perfect little barbie doll” that they’re beginning to lose their own personal colors. Hence, both childhood and individuality will not be the same anymore.


“New SAT Practice Questions”

Cora Frazier. The New Yorker. March 10, 2014.

“The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions… to make the exam better representative of what students study in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college and afterward.” — The Daily News.

The reading comprehension section of the newly revised SAT continues to use mundane passages from nineteenth-century writers that many students dread. However, the newly revised questions give students some breathing room. Instead of the common “How would you title the above passage” question, the revised question reads “How would you title the above passage to generate the most “likes”?” Also, instead of merely using sections from early twentieth-century classical literature as passages, sections from erotic novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey are being used.

In “New SAT Practice Questions,” Frazier exhibits twelve newly revised practice SAT questions. For instance, one of the optional essay questions asks students to:
• Write a controlled yet scathing Yelp review that conveys just how profoundly wrong your waiter was to refer to you and your friends as an “especially large” party, causing this waiter deep moral shame and personal fear. Therefore, as readers begin to meticulously read these questions, they’re all probably thinking the same thing — these questions are purely ridiculous.

In this article, Cora Frazier steps into the shoes of twenty-first century students and perfectly revises the torturous questions that many students dread upon. With the help of these revisions, students won’t have to memorize vocabulary words that they’ve probably never seen or heard before. However, the author isn’t trying to empathize with these so-called millennials of the future. She is out-right criticizing them for their constant complaints about how the material they learn in high school and the numerous standardized tests they must take won’t help them out in the future. Yes, Frazier understands that words such as elocution and permeated are ridiculously difficult words for a sixteen, seventeen-year-old to process, but she highlights that it doesn’t make it okay for students to have words like “shade” and phrases like “she can’t be serious” in their permanent vocabulary. I am embarrassed to say that words such as “bae” and “swag” have been officially added to the English dictionary. However, the problem with society is that once a trend hits the season, it’s like an epidemic: once a new word like “shade” is out in the open, everyone has to follow and say it with the rest of the crowd.


“Your New College Graduate: A Parents’ Guide”

Simon Rich. The New Yorker. May 17, 2010.

“Congratulations! It took four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you’re finally the parents of a bona-fide college graduate. After the commencement ceremony is over, your child will be ready to move back into your house for a period of several years. It’s a very exciting time. But it can also be stressful.” So, good luck!

Simon Rich’s article “Your New College Graduate: A Parents’ Guide” basically explains itself. The guide is designed to answer any questions and give parents the information they need to care for their new college graduate because it’s not always so easy. Rich’s fictional guide does answer real-life concerns that every parents goes through when their child graduates, such as “ Why is my college graduate so fussy?” “ How do I teach my college graduate independence?” It is definitely a scary time for parents, and Rich understands that. He answers all these FAQs in the most sincere way. He knows that college graduates are fussy because they feel “ frightened, vulnerable, or confused.” Someone probably suggested to your recent college graduate that he should “look for work.”

However, Rich points out that this is a problem. No parent should be doting their recently GRADUATED COLLEGE student. Once a child graduates college, they should be old enough to vote, drink, and get married. However, the problem with college graduates is that they retain the mentality of their old college-freshman self. They are still eighteen or nineteen in their minds. For instance, every night is “Thirsty Thursday.” Most nights requires six to eight beers, plus occasional “shots” throughout the week.

Hence, it’s odd to see recent college graduates who are fully grown adults climb back in the embrace of their parents. It’s interesting to see how when you’re in college, you can’t wait to be live on your own and do adult things. You’re so glad your parents don’t have to tell you what to do and give you designated curfews. But when you’re out of college, you wind up crawling back in their house and living off their wages.


“People Are Looking at Your LinkedIn Profile and They’re Laughing at You.”

Colin Stokes. The New Yorker. October 17, 2014.

“People are looking at your LinkedIn profile, and they’re laughing at what you, in a public forum, have decided to present as your professional identity.”

LinkedIn is a popular profiling website that help people connect with each other in society. Do you have a LinkedIn account? If so, when’s the last time you’ve updated it? In this article, Stokes writes a fictional letter in order to highlights an issue on how people present themselves in society. In this fictional letter, the whole LinkedIn team writes to a LinkedIn member and criticizes the member for his poorly updated account. Since LinkedIn is such a popular website that is used for work-related and societal connections, Colin Stokes states that it’s not just a profile that people just skim over. Stokes states that a LinkedIn is like any other social media account: people scroll through each one of your hobbies and skills and break into fits of laughter at each one.

Hence, Colin Stokes gives his audience some advice. First, he warns people not to write racquetball and social-media as a skill because it is not professional in any sense. Second, he states that people should update their profile often. Stokes underlines that most people use their old high school pictures as their profile picture. The photo looks like “you cropped yourself out of a photo you took with your high-school girlfriend at prom. Was prom the last time you wore a suit?” And lastly, another solution to stop the hysterical laughter is to add more connections: “a childhood friend who you no longer speak to and maybe even the professor of that class you dropped after one week.” Overall, if you don’t start putting more effort into your LinkedIn account, not only do people at LinkedIn laugh at your profile, but any employer who looks at your profile will probably start laughing and toss your resume in the trash.


“Let’s Get Drinks”

Kelly Stout. The New Yorker. January 12, 2015.

A: Want to grab drinks?
B: Yo!!!!! Sorry it took me so long to respond. I’m the worst…Tuesday?
A: Ugh, Tuesday is my friend Rachel’s birthday. I am the actual worst. What about Weds?

We all have this everyday conversation with our friends and co-workers. In “Let’s Get Drinks,” Kelly stout uses a classic two-person dialogue structure to reveal how horrible society is at making plans. In the article, readers find that the two characters are impetuous at keeping up with their plans. The author has the two fictional characters constantly making excuses on how they forgot about their hang-out and has them constantly pushing back the date. Also, to add a little humor, the characters use unreasonable analogies, such as “ hopefully I’ll get my shit together and stop being the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami by next week,” to describe how they’re “the worst.”

Although there is a satirical factor in this article, Stout subtly highlights one of society’s biggest concerns: our social life has become the biggest burden on our lives. Having a busy life is the best kind of life in today’s society. Society’s tendency to multi-task as many social events as possible while balancing day-to-day activities like work and family is the underlying problem. Kelly Stout also highlights the fact that society is more focused on the guilt that comes with bailing on plans and having to reschedule than on trying to get more organized and prioritizing what’s really important in life.


“My Brain: The All-Hands Meeting”

Hallie Cantor. The New Yorker. August 24, 2015.

During the first quarter of the day, people usually get up, makes themselves a pot of coffee, and if they are lucky, get a little protein in their systems. If so, what really gets people functioning throughout the first quarter of the day?

Weed? Coffee? P.M.S? Is there correct answer?

Hallie Cantor satirically answers that question for us in this article. Coffee, weed, and P.M.S definitely play a part in giving people energy in the morning. However, Cantor states that sleep, antidepressants, protein, and exercise also get people functioning in the morning. Like a screenplay, Hallie Cantor uses dialogue and parentheticals in her article in order to paint a picture of an imaginary meeting between the narrator and all of these different factors that supposedly get you through the first quarter of the day in her readers’s minds. Cantor’s imaginary meeting mirrors what an ordinary meeting would look like with all the characters suggesting new ideas and constantly bickering with one another. For instance, coffee sneers at sleep’s conclusion that the narrator does not need coffee but “nine, ten, even eleven hours [of sleep] to get her through the day.” Therefore, the constant bickering between the narrator and the characters in the meeting allows readers to visualize the constant chaos that goes on in a person’s brain when they try to be productive throughout the day.

Throughout the whole article, the narrator hesitates between whether she needs more coffee, therapy, or even weed to function in the morning. Therefore, Hallie Cantor highlights this societal concern that people are neglecting the benefits of sleep and abusing other products and services to compensate for the sleep they have lost. Many people, especially college students, are obsessed with the effects that energy drinks and coffee have on their bodies. Since college is a time for frequent all-nighters at the library and fun nights at the bar, sleep is automatically cut in half. The rest of the half is compensated by multiple cups of coffee or antidepressants.

However, in the end of the article, it is clear to the audience that the true remedy to get through the day is sleep.

“Me: Fuck it. Sleep, you’re in charge.”

“A Perfectly Reasonable Request”

Mindy Kaling. The New Yorker. September 14, 2015.

“What I’m asking for is not that much. I just want a boyfriend who is sweet and trustworthy. That’s it.”

In Mindy Kaling’s “A Perfectly Reasonable Request,” the narrator is a perfect representation of the average women’s standard to finding their significant other. The narrator states that “he doesn’t need to have a perfect body or look like George Clooney. Just someone who is impatient with the same things I am. A guy who is a feminist and knows that all that means is that men and women are equal. I don’t need some uber-rich hedge-funder. He just needs to be successful enough financially to support himself. And me and our children if I take time off from work after the babies are born.”

Sounds like Prince Perfect to me.

In the article, the narrator presents a “perfectly reasonable” list of traits that most women, or all women, want in their partner. However, despite the author’s light-heartedness that comes from the humor in the article, Mindy Kaling emphasizes a common issue with the women of society. Kaling is not stating that these traits are impossible for a man to have, but she underlying states that a man with all these traits are the witty, rich, and handsome characters people see in movies. Women always fantasize about their Mr. Perfect, while constantly complaining about why they’re single. Women always casually start off with a reasonable trait such as “he just needs to be successful enough financially to support himself.” No problem in the characteristic there. It is a characteristic that is highly reasonable to anyone’s eyes. However, it gets unreasonable when they start saying that he has to financially support “me and our children if I take time off from work after the babies are born.” He must get paid enough to “give me the option to go back to work part-time.” Although these traits aren’t impossible, it’s actually unfair, in my opinion. Like my mother always says, if you want a successful and handsome partner, you have to be successful and beautiful yourself.


“Can I Borrow That?”

Jenny Allen. The New Yorker. August 22, 2011.

“Can I borrow you lawnmower?”
“Can I have your beach house?”
“Can I borrow some of your frequent-flier miles to get to the beach?”

We all have that one friend who always borrows our clothes and never gives it back. Sometimes, it almost seems like we are obligated to let that one friend borrow everything he or she wants. Jenny Allen’s article “Can I Borrow That?” goes hand-in-hand with this theory. In her article, Allen reenacts “that one friend we have” who always ask to borrow stuff. At first, the characters ask to borrow normal girl appliances like a black pushup bra and some heels. Just normal everyday wear that is not too bad to lend. However, the characters starts to get irritating when she asks to borrow her friend’s beach house and even her friend’s husband. “Just send him over later to put the cartridge in, with an extra, if you have it, and the juicer, and my spatula. And the bra and the heels, and two Martini glasses and some small green olives.” That already sounds like trouble.

But, we all have that one friend.

Jenny Allen’s purpose in this article is to get women rallied up. Allen wants to prove that it isn’t always okay to lend stuff to people, even if they’re your closest friend. Like the picture above says, “Can I borrow that top and never return it to you?” Yes, the bigger picture the author is trying to pinpoint is that society is like that. Once we get used to borrowing other people’s materials, we get comfortable with demanding more and more. It’s almost like letting someone “borrow” your homework. Once you let someone borrow your homework, you become the “homework girl” and eventually become obligated to share it with he whole entire class. Therefore, another problem erupts: the hesitation to say “no.” For instance, once you start being the class’s reliable resort for homework, you get pressured and have a hard time saying “no.” That’s the problem with society: we use innocent people for their kindness and leave them when there’s no more use for them.


“To Fall Out of Love, Do This”

Susanna Wolff. The New Yorker. January 19, 2015.

“The following questions are part of a follow-up study to see whether the intimacy between two committed partners can be broken down by forcing them to ask each other thirty-six questions no one in a relationship should actually ask.”

What really gets people to fall out of love? I’m not quite sure; however, Susanna Wolffe can answer that question with the thirty six study questions asked in her article “To Fall Out of Love, Do This.” Some of the questions are:
8. Name three things you find irritating about your partner.
13. Between you and your partner, who is the better gift-giver?
26. Do you not think our relationship is strong enough to handle these questions?

If these questions don’t get people falling out of love, I don’t know what does. Hence, Susanna Wolffe is trying to prove that exact point. Often time in relationships, we ask our partners questions like “ which one of us would you rather have die first?” It’s pretty excruciating and an non-ideal question for a date night, but there are people who ask these kinds of questions on a daily basis. However, it’s funny to see that the people who asks those unappealing questions gets easily hurt when the answer is something they don’t want to hear. I always hear some of my friends ask their boyfriends questions like “do you think i’m prettier or Blake Lively is prettier?” Their boyfriends obviously answer that they are prettier, but they suddenly get all mad saying that their boyfriends are lying. Therefore, the lesson Wolffe is trying to prove is that the best way to avoid doubt in your partner is to stop asking these ridiculous questions.


“Geoff Sarkin Is Using Twitter!”

Mike Sacks. The New Yorker. April 5, 2010.

“Yes! Yes, I do take Helen to be my lawfully wedded wife! Rabbi, please respond when you receive this tweet.”

Mike Sacks criticizes society for using social media for EVERYTHING. Whether it’s taking a picture of your food to post on Snapchat or writing a rant about your ex-boyfriend on Twitter, today’s society turns to social media as their soap box. Mike Sack’s article is consisted of different tweet the groom himself is lively tweeting at his own wedding. He posts live tweets of himself fixing his bow tie, walking down the aisle, and saying “I do” to his new wife. An odd sight to see at a wedding, but it’s scary to think that this could be an actual situation.

Technology has definitely become a blessing to the twenty-first century; however, it has also become a downfall. Life is less romantic. It’s less interesting. It’s less private. In the article, we see the groom tweeting about his wife and him making love. How unappealing. Way too much information for sure. And, instead of sending out “Thank You” cards to all the guest, the groom has resorted to send a little mass e-mail to say, “I love u all, even if I did forget some of your names.” It’s a shame to see that people have no sincerity in anything they write now. Mike Sacks highlights that technology consumes us humans. If you think about, when is the last time you wrote a hand-written letter? When is the last time you looked up from your phone on the bus and talked to the person next to you? Probably never.


Conclusion

Hopefully, these ten articles give you an idea of how unoriginal our society has gotten. It almost seems as if technology has taken over, beauty standards have skyrocketed, and people these days crop their high school prom pictures as their LinkedIn profile pictures. So, what the hell is wrong with our society? Why is everyone trying to fit in with the crowd? I thought the purpose of life was to be original and show your true colors. It’s a shame that society is overshadowed by unreachable standards and degrading ideals. So, to hell with society. Stay true to yourself and live by Dr. Seuss’s words:

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”