Jimmy Kimmel has become known in some circles as the moral conscience of America. Thanks to emotional outbursts about healthcare and gun-control, he has been catapulted from the realm of comedy and entertainment to the realm of public policy and ethics in the minds of everyday Americans. But what nobody seems to be asking is why we listen to Kimmel on important, complex matters that deserve expert treatment and sophisticated opinions.
Kimmel has no formal education in public policy or ethics. He has demonstrated no real signs of significant research and self-education in these fields either. Yet, Americans have elevated his platform of comedy to a platform of political and ethical education with no apparent good reasons to do so.
This isn’t an attack on Kimmel. It isn’t even an attack on his ideas. This is an attack on the tendency of Americancs to substitute research and intellectual tentativeness with snappy, entertaining sound-bites from entirely unqualified figures that they follow in a cult-like fashion.
There’s nothing wrong with anybody having an opinion, and I want to emphasize that I’m not simply dismissing Kimmel’s. The problem is the substitution of opinions from the Kimmels of the world for serious self-education on important issues.
This seems to be part of a broader problem with Americans taking their favorite entertainment figures and giving them authority where they have no business doing so. I’ll refrain from making a comment about Americans making a reality tv star the President of the United States, but I will point out that Kid Rock is making a run for senate that has more than non-negligible support.
All Americans should find that terrifying, but way too many of us are busy spectating the beef between Eminem and Kid Rock over their opinions on Trump. Yet how many Americans have done serious scholarly research into the efficacy or lack thereof of the Trump administration?
We should all agree that the Kimmels, Kid Rocks, Eminems, and entertainers per virtue of being entertainers alone don’t deserve the prominence we give them on issues pertaining to ethics and public policy. That’s not to say entertainers cannot also become experts worth listening to. The point is that Americans don’t care to discern whether they are.
I would like to end by suggesting that Americans have become desensitized to the difference between entertainers and experts. News channels, needing to entertain their audiences in order to survive, are filled with far more entertainers than experts. But part of the whole act for these entertainers is convincing Americans that they are experts.
Thoughtful Americans should tremble at the very idea of this kind of scenario. Ethics and public policy are hard. They are complicated. They matter. The decisions we make in the public square have immeasurable consequences on the lives of us and those who will follow us. This is no place to replace thoughtful, careful minds with talking heads.
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