toxic culture usa

Back in 1989 we dubbed Adbusters "the journal of the mental environment," and since that day we’ve explored this terrain and tried to give it the respectability and prominence it deserves. We’ve watched the "battle of the mind" intensify to the point where thousands of commercial messages per day are now discharged into the average North American brain. We’ve tracked the rise of addictions, anxieties and mood disorders as they have grown into what some public health officials now describe as an "epidemic" of despair. We’ve watched the media megacorps merge, consolidate and vertically integrate until a mere handful of them now control the bulk of all the news and entertainment flows around the planet. Throughout this journey, we’ve marvelled at human resiliency. Just how toxic would the mental environment have to become before some threshold of tolerance was exceeded, and people got pissed off and demanded a cleaner, less cluttered, more democratic mass media?

So far it hasn’t happened. Nobody is throwing their TV set out of the window, in hopes it will land on Rupert Murdoch. No anti-trust legal action is pending against AOL-Time Warner. No media reform movement has gelled. The best that media activists have been able to muster is lots of loose talk about media democracy, public access to the airwaves and a fundamental new human "right to communicate" for this communications age of ours.

But now a number of provocative psychosocial studies have appeared that may rejuvenate this whole debate. These groundbreaking studies point to a growing toxicity in American culture. They suggest that cultural toxins have now reached dangerously high levels, helping to explain the high school shootings, the skyrocketing use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs, our growing problems with obesity and psychosomatic illness, rage in public places, and the general sense of cynicism and hopelessness that is enveloping our culture.

Yet because these studies are so controversial, because they point an accusing finger at American culture and suggest that the "American Dream" itself may be one of the root causes of our deteriorating mental health, they remain in the margins – disputed, denied and ignored. So, as the journal of the mental environment, we figure it’s up to us to set things straight and give these studies the prominence they deserve. We surveyed 15 of them and in the following pages, offer brief synopses of the most compelling. Detailed summaries of all 15, with references and hyperlinks, can be read here.

This is fascinating, alarming, revolutionary stuff. Enough of this kind of research may finally politicize the mental environment the way Rachel Carson politicized the physical environment 30 years ago. See for yourself. Wade in, be skeptical, but don’t ignore the alarm bells in your head. This new evidence could transform you, if you haven’t already been transformed, into a mental environmentalist, fighting to stop pill-popping American spiritual emptiness from spreading across the globe.

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