In one of the foundational works of western philosophy, “The Republic,” Plato forecast a warning for the potential damage that could be wrought to entire societies through the dangerous weapon of mass media. Plato’s great fear was that the more people were exposed to lesser examples of mass media–poetry, in his day–the less they would be able to detect the difference between reality and fantasy. Buried within the subtext of Plato’s worries is another issue of great concern. And that issue is the domino effect created by repeated exposure to content of mediocre quality.
Quality in the world of media publishing, as in every other aspect of society, is entirely subjective. One simply cannot state with any genuine authority that one magazine is objectively of higher quality than another; this remains true even comparing an article in Hustler Magazine to one in the New Yorker. What is substantially more objectively verifiable is that repeated exposure to publications that feature sexual imagery as a means of enticement rather than the reward of less tangible aspects like increased insight, knowledge or awareness of the world around them inevitably leads to intellectual impoverishment. That perceptual dwarfism originates with a slow, but inexorable decline not just in the ability to judge gradations of quality, but in the desire to seek out content of higher quality.
The fault lies not just with those who have succumbed to this process. Indeed, they are really more the victims of intellectual subjugation than the perpetrators. And yet, the real victims are those struggling majestically to keep themselves above the intellectual poverty line. That is because every time another individual becomes victimized by those occupying the seamier districts of the publishing industry that trade skin for dollars, they become a member of the ever-increasing collective to whom those outside that seamier neighborhood must target their offerings in order to merely survive.
Supply and demand economics simply has far more impact on standards of publishing quality than the quality of the publication itself. As the ability to recognize and seek out content of higher quality becomes embodied by fewer members of society the subsequent effect is a readjustment of the line of mediocrity. As that line gets lower it exposes the flaw in the system of judging quality based on majority rule. The process is so clearly defined that predicting the future is no longer a gamble.
The only way to defeat the decline and fall quality in all aspects of media is, paradoxically, to raise the bar of mediocrity to a height not seen in the lifetime of anyone today. Content of consistently lower quality cannot compete with increasing acceptance of explicit sexual imagery. In fact, lowering quality only contributes to a self-defeating system. The only solution to prying a dying mind out of the fog of intellectual displacement is by offering an alternative to the lowest common denominator, not actively–if unintentionally–assisting in the process of lowering it. No, you don’t compete with the easily administered pleasures of offering sexual content with an alternative that is even emptier. You compete with mediocrity by offering an alternative capable of filling those already empty holes in their character with the promise of pleasures and experiences they never imagined could exist.