Avoid the trap of sensationalism

by Kenneth Leonard

The word “sensationalism” ordinarily describes a branch of journalism characterized by fierce exaggeration for the purpose of inciting reader intrigue. Edging contemporary semantics aside, “sensationalism” connotes a slightly different idea to me, one that derives its meaning from the root: sensation.

My definition of the word—before knowing its original journalistic connection—pertains to a philosophy that’s rather prevalent in our generation. This philosophy is manifest in the pursuit of things that gratuitously arouse the senses in an endless and voracious cycle; in other words, forever seeking the next “big feel.”

Unfortunately, many are preoccupied with filling the seemingly insatiable void with these fleeting pleasures: a raucous party, alcohol, drugs, a meaningless sexual encounter. Even then, the pleasures sought may not be so serious or addicting, but still induce a heavy impact.

Reader, I’d like to warn you before entering the heart of this discussion to please take my words with a grain of salt. I’m not writing to call those of this generation—our generation—heathens or hedonists or anything of the sort. It would certainly be fallacious reasoning, and I tend to be optimistic in my assessment of humanity. I’m merely writing because I’ve begun to notice an unhealthy pattern.

In the midst of my first semester at this university, I developed a very critical nature and found myself attaching numerous phrases to my feelings about society. These feelings most often arose from conversation. I coined the unconventional definition of “sensationalism” after speaking with an acquaintance about her habitual drunkenness.

Though that particular discussion didn’t happen until a few months later, I remember the first weeks of college brought a similar feeling. The whole atmosphere was novel and strange and I couldn’t help but notice this emerging culture was present, though it was not true of every person or social circle I encountered.

Through many interactions, there was an overarching theme of the ominous “-ism” dictating a large portion of daily decisions. Quite frankly, it was frustrating. I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand how a person can function while living on the transient high of one party to the next, thrive on the thrill of the weekend, allow relationships to become inferior to the gods of sex and alcohol and allow friends to become devices in the pursuit.

This may have already been apparent. I found it was dangerously easy to succumb to hasty generalizations. Very quickly, in my mind, everyone became victims of the same disease. All were superficial; all lacked the capacity to supersede the curse of sensual gratification. But I soon realized I was being unethical in and precariously illogical in my assumption. Who am I to judge? After reflection, I cannot deny I am also guilty to a certain degree. I want adventure and fulfillment like any other, though my desires reside on different avenues.

The era of our lives between late adolescence and early adulthood is incredibly formative and crucial in creating the men and women we become. Many are solidifying the last facets of their personal identity and convictions while seeking intimate, lasting relationships. But this process becomes convoluted with the unnecessary exterior influences that impede judgment. Though I may only provide my singular experience, I will say, very candidly, I cannot identify a time in my life when I felt more confused by the simplest of life’s questions. We must ask ourselves: Do we really want to cloud our minds with needless decisions and excessive stimulation?

As a remedy to this precarious moral reasoning (or lack thereof), I considered coining another “-ism,” but decided against it, because the “-ism” is only another paradigm we should evade. We don’t need gregarious social movements or prescriptions, just conscious and intelligent resolutions. So this is what I suggest: For those of us who struggle with any of the aforementioned sensations, practice moderation. “Everything in moderation,” as my mother always says. Or, with motivation and resolve, choose to remove the thing from your life. You don’t need any of these things. Perhaps, with its influence absent from your life, you may be able to focus on understanding yourself and other people in a new way. It’s okay to be the sober one on the side. I’m sure you’ll have a hell of a time watching everyone else.