The Cultural Cliff

I recently went out early one Saturday morning to attend a community parade. People from various locations in the area had set up their lawn chairs along the route and were awaiting the various entries. Local leaders, school bands and other organizations came down the street, and everyone shouted their support. Then came a group of young girls who were supposed to be cheerleaders. I don’t know that they actually had a team somewhere to cheer for, but it seems that they are enrolled in an organization that teaches them how to be cheerleaders.

While I always thought that students with significant school spirit simply tried out for cheerleader, and those who didn’t make the squad became pep-club members, I’m surprised to find out that girls can start cheering at a young age without any school affiliation. I suppose that when they get certified, they might become a sort of adolescent soldier-of-fortune where they support the team who pays the highest price.

Loose ranks in the parade.

Loose ranks in the parade.

I really don’t know the purpose of all this extra-curricular cheering, but if you’re going to walk in a community parade with a banner that identifies you as a cheerleader, I’d expect at least two or three out of the dozen girls to actually perform a cheer. At the very least, raise your voice above a whisper and give us the impression that you’re enjoying yourself.

Instead, these surly girls meandered about aimlessly, not holding any sort of line or maintaining a uniform distance while a couple of adults, one assumes spirit-filled moms, occasionally shouted “Woo-hoo! Wooooo-hooo!!!” while the girls frowned or looked down at the ground.

Moms screaming "Woo-hoo!" every few feet does not convince me that these girls are great at cheering.

Moms screaming “Woo-hoo!” every few feet does not convince me that these girls are great at cheering.

I could imagine them gathering at the end of the parade route. There would be no admonitions of how they could’ve been better. Perhaps one mother alone with her daughter in the car would mention something about how she’s wasting her money and her time getting the next top cheerleader to those classes, but somehow, it seems that shouting “Woo-hoo! Great job!” excuses a poor showing.

While enjoying a live performance one evening, a promising young artist was invited to the stage. We were told that he was very creative, had written a number of his own songs and was poised for discovery because he was all set to take off on an amazing musical career. Who told us this? The promising young artist himself. I will say that he did things with a guitar that I never thought possible. I could bear it only because I stopped listening and was concentrating on coming up with something nice to say when he finally got off the stage.

I don’t know how long he played, but it finally ended. One very kind person said, “Well, he tried, and I give him all the credit for having the courage to get up there.” Perhaps it was courage; perhaps it was foolishness. It seems I was the only one willing to admit that he’d unleashed something terrible through his incessant strumming.

There have been other times recently when I’ve experienced less than stellar performances. A standup comedian who’s performed on television got on stage at a world-famous comedy club to read jokes from a sheet of paper. This wasn’t even new material, as I’d heard 90% of it performed six weeks earlier from the same sheet of paper. How hard is it to memorize a seven-minute routine that you wrote and have been performing every week for two months? You’re lucky enough to have landed such a great venue, and you owe it to your paying audience to show up prepared.

I get requests to read manuscripts and writing samples from time to time, and I really enjoy the opportunity to be among the first people to see what creative individuals are doing. However, one thing that really bothers me is when I read a first chapter of a published e-book or begin to read a blog that’s been posted only to be stopped in my tracks by blatant misspellings or words used mistakenly because of the writer’s haste.

The spelling is sometimes the worst part, and it’s the thing that stands out before I even get to the rest of my concerns such as sentence fragments and one-word sentences that make me feel as though I’m riding in a car where the driver is slamming on the brakes every few feet. I’m not a fan of stories that begin like this:

As the sun was rising that winters morning Chance Harding had already admited to himself one thing. It was going to be a long ride. A very long ride. A long ride so long that would mak for a very long day. He loked across to the epassngers seat and said to Mona. “Mona, its going to be a very long day, and the day is only getting startd.”

This is not to say that there’s not a good story in there somewhere, but a good amount of re-reading, polish and the advice of another person, if not a professional editor, is always helpful. This is especially true of writers who are somewhat out of practice.

A writing sample recently came my way via social media. I stopped reading in the fifth paragraph when the writer used “irregardless.” Since I knew the author, I sent a note suggesting that she correct the typo before someone made an issue of it publicly. I haven’t gone back to check because I’m afraid that she’s left it alone, and I’ll be tempted to be the one to make a public issue of it. I can only be so strong.

I’ve noticed that the lackadaisical approach isn’t confined to the amateur musicians, the beginning writers or the as yet undiscovered comedians. We see it every day in the singing sensations that don’t bother to sing with consonants (and I’m speaking to you Ariana Grande and Nick Jonas) or to people on reality shows that have no specific talent for entertainment purposes. They often command attention by being really unpleasant people, but as long as they perfect their looks and create newsworthy sensations, it doesn’t seem to matter that they don’t actually do anything worthy of paying them any attention.

Jumping into the spotlight and wasting our time shouldn’t be enough, and screaming “Woo-hoo!” a thousand times doesn’t make a performance, a story or an exhibition better. Nor is unpolished work ready for our attention. Culturally, we’re headed for a cliff if, in fact, we’ve not already gone over it. As music lovers, readers, audience members and generally good people, let’s give our time and attention to those who have worked really hard at their craft, and soon those who plainly refuse to do so will fade from the cultural stage and reflect quietly that their fifteen minutes is over.

© 2015 by Patrick Brown

Visit my author page at to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”