This article was originally posted on August 6, 2011. Enjoy.
Thanks to the implied omnipotence of the media, in American society, someone is only as good as their last performance. And, thanks to the endless stream of information coming from every angle: talking heads on television, satellite radio, internet blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc, it’s impossible to remember everything. In comes the media to develop our memories. As sad as this may sound, Comcast, Direct TV, or Dish Network decide what we are supposed to remember. And with our exceedingly fickle, instant gratification social order, we’re prompted to only remember what just happened.
Nothing illustrates this more than the world of sports. The sports world is the epitome of Social Darwinism, and a recent victory places you at the top of the food chain … until you lose. A perfect example is Dirk Nowitzki. Prior to this year Nowitzki averaged 23 points and 8 rebounds per game for his career. He was considered a great player, but his reputation that was portrayed by the media was of a guy that is extremely soft, doesn’t play any defense, and could never lead his team to win a championship. At the end of the 2010-11 regular season, Nowitzki averaged 23 points and 7 rebounds per game. His reputation going into the playoffs was the same as it had always been. The media *made* us remember Dirk as the guy who won an MVP award but lost in the 1st round of the playoffs. Dirk has career playoff averages of 25.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. During his championship run, he put up 27.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. I understand that numbers don’t tell the entire story, but Nowitzki has always been a good playoff performer. Now he’s been compared to Larry Bird, called the games’ most clutch player ever, and dubbed an all-time great. These and similar statements were made so frequently, we’re almost *made* to remember Dirk as Mr. Clutch; not even remembering for a second that the extremely soft guy description of the Dallas superstar even existed.
Alex Rodriguez- Once considered cursed, a choker, cheap, disingenuous (probably true), and too soft to play in New York. We used to be *forced* to remember Rodriguez as a purple lipstick wearing, playoff choking, ball swiping, shirtless park tanner who dropped his wife for Madonna. The media wasn’t fond of A-Rod, so we were *made* to remember him as a loser. Thanks to the Yankees winning the World Series in 2009, A-Rod is now essentially above reproach (unless he does stupid things like engage in illegal gambling, get popcorn fed to him on national television, or pose for pictures like these).
We’re never reminded of his previous playoff failures; it’s like they never happened. By the way, A-Rod’s career playoff OPS is 925, which is better than what Jose Reyes, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira have done so far this year.
Kobe Bryant- After the Mamba won back to back titles without Shaq in 2008-09 season and 2009-10 all of his sins were forgiven. The media *caused* us to remember Kobe as the best closer in NBA history, and as an almost god-like figure. We were never reminded of his quitting in game 7 against the Suns in 2006. We’re never allowed to forget how Lebron allegedly quit on his team, but Kobe’s quitting never happened, because we’re not instructed to remember it. Talking heads repeatedly say that people like Jordan or Kobe would never do what Lebron did … problem being that Mamba did essentially the same thing just 4 seasons ago.
The same concept can be applied to politics. Our 40th President Ronald Reagan has been lauded as a shrewd economist for years by Republicans, and more recently by Democrats. The media reminds us that he lowered taxes in order to stimulate spending. We’re never reminded that he was president during the stock market crash of 1987, that he raised the debt ceiling 17 (or 18) times, raised taxes 11 times, and that the national debt reached a then record of 2.85 trillion under his watch. These things don’t exist because the media doesn’t remind us of such. In a similar vein, it isn’t remembered that Obama was supposed to have an exceptionally successful presidency because he won the election in a landslide, he had the luxury of a Democratic majority in congress, and he carried the young vote. None of this matters now because he’s presiding over the US when the economy is in shambles, America’s foreign reputation is exceedingly negative, and his own party thinks he gave all the power to the GOP. We’re reminded of this fact every day, whether it’s on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, or Comedy Central.
It’s a sad, sobering ideal, but the media is responsible for formulating our memories in the information age. Such a scenario is grand if you’ve had recent success like Dirk Nowitzki, Michael Vick, Will Smith, or even Kyle Orton. The memories can be spun to be more acerbic if your name is Lebron James, Brett Favre, Tom Cruise, or amazingly even Timothy Richard Tebow. This societal form of survival of the fittest will shape this generation, and push people into an omnipresent state of mediocrity. Maintaining a firm grip of the middle is safer than being lionized initially and then subsequently demonized. Welcome “Middle America.” A place where the media decides what you remember, but eventually no one will be brave enough to become memorable.