Thursday 12 June 2014

How wrong can you be? - Saul Bellow writing 24 years ago (pre-internet)


Tocqueville predicted that in democratic countries the public would demand larger and larger doses of excitement and increasingly stronger stimulants from its writers.

He probably did not expect that public to dramatize itself so extensively, to make the world scene everybody's theatre, or, in the developed countries, to take to alcohol and drugs in order to get relief from the horrors of ceaseless intensity, the torment of thrills and distractions. 

A great many writers have done little more than meet the mounting demand for thrills. 

I think that this demand has, in the language of marketing, peaked.


Saul Bellow, writing in 1990 - i.e. before the internet. Far from having 'peaked' the public continues and continuesto demand larger and ever-larger doses of excitement, and increasingly stronger stimulants.

An essay called The Distracted Public - in It all Adds Up, 1994


1 comment:

jgress said...

I think the impression of widespread abuse of drink is rather specific to the UK. Over here in the US alcohol abuse is not considered quite the public scourge that it is in Britain; obesity, on the other hand, is a constant topic of debate.

According to this paper, alcohol consumption in the US peaked around 1980.

And certainly I have an impression that American alcohol consumption was much higher in the years leading up to Prohibition, and indeed widespread alcoholism was the main factor in public support for a total ban on alcohol.

What's also interesting is that, at least in the US, alcohol use is positively correlated with socioeconomic status and education. While poor Americans are more likely to eat fatty diets and smoke, they are less likely to drink. I don't entirely know the reason. One could be that alcohol is expensive, though cigarettes are also getting more expensive. I also suspect some of it is American car culture and stricter penalties for drunk driving in recent decades, both of which discourage drinking among people who are dependent on their cars for most of their daily needs.