ITHINK I'VE BEEN in college too long. When I was younger, I was completely in tune with popular culture. I watched all the TV shows, went to all the movies and knew all the cool things to talk about. Since I've been burying myself in academics, I think I have missed out on some important cultural changes in America.
For instance, when did hit-men become affordable to middle-class Americans?
I realize, in the 1990's, that I should probably say "hit-people"--I didn't miss out on that big cultural step. But regardless of what I call contracted murderers, I still can't comprehend why ordinary American people are putting out hits on their neighbors.
For years, the crime of middle and lower-income America was insurance fraud. People would slip out of American existence and onto some tropical island with millions from Omaha Mutual or Met Life.
IF A FAMILY had problems with their neighbors, it would let its dog walk all over the flower garden or blast music at 3 a.m. And if parents really wanted their children to be chosen for a team or get elected to an office, they would bake dozens of cookies to bribe the other students.
But that doesn't seem to be good enough anymore. Now, if your neighbor does something annoying, you take out your shot gun and blow a whole through the front door. If somebody cuts you off on the L.A. Freeway, you knock out his or her tires with an unregistered semi-automatic weapon.
The scariest prospect of this new violence is that ordinary American citizens are hiring hit-men to bump off their enemies, their competition and anyone they don't really like.
Considering what people watch on TV these days, it's not that surprising. Among "Rescue 911," "Trial Watch," "Divorce Court," "Unsolved Mysteries" and "A Current Affair," people can get a skewed idea of what is an acceptable way to solve a personal problem in a country that values rights and liberties.
The networks are very fond of these low-budget reality shows, but one downside is that they distort reality for viewers whose only moral and educational influence is television. People who really want to be on TV might try to submit a video to air on "America's Funniest Home Videos," but would readily settle for a spot on "America's Most Wanted" instead.
These shows are especially hard to cancel as they tend to perpetuate themselves. A tragic story profiled on a show inspires another tragic story, which in turn, is profiled on the same show. The more Americans take these programs seriously, the deeper we fall into a sad new era in American culture--low-budget American realism.
IN THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS, cases of contracted murder by middle-class Americans have played themselves out in the media in full technicolor. We have been innundated with information about the Charles Stuart murder mystery, the Pamela Smart case and most recently, the Cheerleader Mom in Texas.
A similar story, used as the premise for "I Love You to Death," was actually a big draw at the box-office and in video rentals. In the movie, Tracey Ullman hired William Hurt and Keanu Reeves to kill her husband, Kevin Kline, for $500.
Is this the top price for murder these days? I suppose if a person is willing to commit a heinous crime for money, it's not that hard to believe that he or she would do it for a ridiculously small sum.
When the prices were higher, hit-men used to be solely the domain of the richer, and ever so much classier, Mafia-types. They remained shadowy underworld figures who hid Uzis under their trench coats and worked for world terrorist organizations.
Remember "Prizzi's Honor"? Do you think normal Americans could afford to hire Jack Nicholson or Kathleen Turner? Most Americans can't even afford cable TV.
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