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The kiddies at Rutgers shocked the nation last week when we learned their student body plunked down $32,000 for a speech from reality star and…author (that hurt to type) Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi. The chunky check is $2,000 more than what Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison will receive when she delivers the University’s commencement address in May. Rutgers released a statement; “the Rutgers University Programming Association exists for the sole purpose of bringing entertainment to campus.” The association is apparently student run and student funded thanks to “student programming fees” (wouldn’t that be tuition—or do these students pay a separate fee for entertainment?) No matter.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that a reality star makes more in a few hours than many American households pull in a year. That’s where it’s at, friends. But if we want to get out of this economic mess and empower the next generation with tools they can use to compete on a national level, we must realistically change with the times and understand we’ve got “a situation.” 

We’re not our parent’s generation. It serves the best interest of corporations, media conglomerates and even the American government to keep the majority concerned with anything else but the real issues. Mass media tells young women their value is determined by the size of their a** and simultaneously convinces young men their worth depends on the size of their wallet. Our kids are being discouraged to pay attention and encouraged to ignore their own reality. 

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If young students concentrate on becoming reality TV stars, they’ll forget that out of 34 countries, the U.S. ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. 

If young women are dead set on becoming “Housewives of (insert your state here)” and locking down a pro-athlete, they’ll forget to stand on the front lines and continue the fight for women’s equality in the workplace. Women earn about 80% of the salaries of men, according to the 2011 White House Report. But, forget about it—a toast to wealthy baby momma’s!

Why Ph.D. when kids can GTL and make millions? Celebrity culture sells unobtainable lifestyles, which leads to misused resources and less focus on solutions. If people constantly want “more,” the Republican Party has less opposition while they cut funding for education, Medicare and childcare subsidies (as reflected in the GOP’s current proposed budget cuts). I mean, sure our government could stop spending billions on war, tax the top 2 percent or even cut back on defense funding—but who’s paying attention? Besides, the corporate elite controls media…so hoorah!

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In 2010, Americans had a median household income of $54,000 and worked longer hours for less pay with little or no vacation time. If we’re working so hard, why aren’t we encouraged to look after our mental well being, to spend time with our families or travel and learn about the world/other cultures? We’re the only civilized country without a health care system. But why sweat the quality of our own lives when the Kardashian sisters made $64 million last year? It’s all good. Bottles up!

Pop culture is our country’s biggest export, and while many Americans can’t even make ends meet, it’s no coincidence that our culture glorifies celebrity like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It’s a sign of the times, and anyone who reads the paper or watches the news gets what’s happening here.

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So what’s the solution? President Obama so eloquently stated, “We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.” True, and our government needs to step up (they clearly could use some encouragement from citizens) and make sure scientists, teachers and all American workers are properly compensated with benefits. Parents need to strategically drop knowledge on their children the same way they’ve been strategically hiding vegetables in their meals since the beginning of time – or our kids will no doubt end up emotionally, economically and scholastically malnourished. 

Young people are the future, and while a lot of them work hard and make amazing contributions to their communities and society, many continue to fall through the cracks. We (not the government, not mass media—WE) need to empower kids with knowledge—their own reality is more relevant than anything on cable TV.

Kim Kane 

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