As our population eclipses 300 million — bigger and better every day — we are less inclined to appreciate (or even acknowledge) anything that is accomplished on a small scale. “Go big or go home” is the mantra. Should one score a minor triumph, the emphasis is on the minor aspect. We are a country of major.
When we discuss the YouTube phenomenon, it is in terms of millions of viewers and billions of dollars and trillions of lawsuits. Someone somewhere may have created a short film that is beautiful, illuminating, and possibly important. But unless it registers countless views and a cover story in Newsweek, it’s akin to a tree falling in a celluloid forest.
When we discuss the lasting gifts a kind person has given this world, too seldom do we focus on her acts of spiritual generosity. We’re fascinated by the buildings that got built, the foundations left behind, and the power that was passed to another big shot.
Instead of “how deep?” we ask, “how much?”
Few people genuinely care about what is contained between the covers of a book. They’re more concerned with how many copies it sold. Few people genuinely care about what is communicated from the stage of a live music venue. They’re fixated on how many patrons attended the event. We love numbers, not content.
This is why few commentators (aside from moral scolds with an evangelical agenda) fret about the depravity and hollowness of our national sports and entertainment culture. The discussion is not about how empty, how utterly devoid of quality most of our popular diversions are. It’s about how many people have been seduced, how widespread the phenomenon is — how much.
Well-meaning pedants teach us that it is quality that matters in life, not quantity. But as with so many other nice-sounding concepts — “public service,” “civil liberties,” “journalistic objectivity” — the truth, one discovers with experience, is that bigger is truly better, and those who operate in the realm of single-digits are doomed to irrelevance.