In regard to people wearing vapid smiles in photographs:
A bank in St. Louis produced a flier promoting auto loans. It depicted a young, bearded male (to say “man” would be absurd), gripping a steering wheel, and wearing blue jeans, baseball cap, orange jacket, jogging shoes with orange laces, and an inane smile. Bank officers worthy of the name “men” in the 1930s or 1950s would have looked upon it as something out of a carnival sideshow and consigned it to the nearest waste basket. But bank officers today approve it, either (a) because they themselves are adolescent-witted or (b) because they seek to attract adolescent-witted customers. The same bank now plays rock “music” to make doing business there “fun” and entertaining.
This is part of the calculated dumbing down of Americans. Everywhere I look, people are smiling and offering cutesy-poo small talk in place of substantive conversation or silence. I open a current magazine: Hundreds of people in pictures are smiling for no discernible, sensible reason. I sift through junk mail, shop for groceries, or stop at my bank: The ads, the solicitations, the clerks, the tellers all smile at me on cue, address me by first name, and tell me that they are my “friends”. Public libraries now entice people to visit them – to read, perhaps, but most assuredly to join in the “fun”, the movies, the music, the games, and the prizes.
Your older readers and I could name hundreds of similar examples of the decline of a nation of grown-ups into a nation of perpetual adolescents. But Diana West has done a good preliminary job in that regard in her book The Death of The Grown-Up.
Compare high school or college class graduation photos from today with those from the 1920s or 1940s or with current photos of Chinese or Japanese graduating classes. Compare the adolescent-witted apparel and demeanor of today with the restrained, sober demeanor and apparel in the other pictures.
I remember American culture as it was in 1959: A civil culture run by and for grown-ups. Today it is a nationwide amusement park run by and for perpetual adolescents.