Throughout my time at Drexel University, I have always found myself outnumbered as an English major. When I meet another student in my major, it’s refreshing to know that I’m not insane, that there is someone else out there who finds value in the humanities and art.
As our society becomes more and more technologically advanced, it seems fewer and fewer people are choosing to study humanities. In 2013 at Stanford University, only 15 percent of students majored in the humanities. Yale University has seen a 60 percent decrease in graduating English majors over the last two decades. Yet in 1966 the University of California, Los Angeles conducted a study and found that 86 percent of students in the U.S. stated they intended to have a “meaningful philosophy of life.” Why did our interests take such a drastic turn?
Some may say it was around the time technology started to further integrate into our everyday lives with computers and the Internet. It may even be when we started cutting back on music and art programs for schools, telling young children that these programs aren’t as important as science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes.
There is no doubting the importance of STEM programs, but humanities serve an equally important role in education. E.O. Wilson, a renowned scientist, stated “[humanities are] the natural history of culture, and our most private and precious heritage.” The humanities help us understand what’s going on in the world around us by transporting us to a different time and place.
Take for instance George Orwell’s “1984.” He saw the drawbacks of big government and shared it with the world in a way that made people listen to what he had to say. What other options did he have? Stand on a street corner with a sign saying “The End is Near?” Or maybe in modern times he could have made a video with some fancy animations and shocking numbers that went viral for a few months but would ultimately be forgotten.
But odds are if you gave someone the option to read “1984” or watch six straight hours of cat videos on YouTube, the latter option would be chosen. While I enjoy a good cat video every now and then, I can’t help but be saddened by the ignorance shown toward great art today.
This is where you yell at me and say you’re not ignoring the arts or humanities. You listen to the radio every day. You subscribe to Spotify. You can sing every word to “Baby Got Back.” (Don’t worry, I don’t actually think this about everyone.)
Take a minute to consider that from 2008-2012 there were 66 No. 1 songs, but almost half of these songs were by the same six artists. Want to take a guess as to who they were? If you said Katy Perry, Rihanna, Flo Rida, The Black Eyed Peas, Adele and Lady Gaga, you win. If you didn’t say any of these six, kudos for breaking away from mainstream artists and finding meaning and value elsewhere. If you own any of these artists’ songs, how many did you pay for versus illegally download?
It doesn’t matter honestly. Because either way we’re focusing all of our time and resources into the mainstream media and killing smaller artists. No this is not Charles Darwin’s theory at work, this is the big labels picking a pop-star of the year and pushing out the smaller artists — and we’re letting this happen. There is some value and purpose for mainstream artists, but our culture has the issue of becoming obsessed and ignoring everything else out there. “50 Shades of Grey” being the most recent example of mediocre art making its way to stardom, while erotica novelists around the world shake their head at the imposter.
As individuals we need to be more conscious of the decisions we are making. Instead of watching cat videos and refreshing our Facebook newsfeeds, we should pay attention to all of the great aspects that make up our culture. We need to be more understanding of the fact that we can learn from the Orwells and Dickens in the world. That there is more to music than big butts and living life in the fast lane. That paintings are representative of much more than some colored brush strokes on canvas.