Wow - a lot of big themes interwoven here.
I think the audio vs video point is very interesting. To my mind it's more about the hardware and the environment than about the format per se. What video hardware is pushed as sexy at the moment? Large full-HD TVs and Blu-Ray players. What "audio" hardware is pushed as sexy at the moment? iPhone. This would be partly industry-led and partly necessitated by circumstantial factors: people normally watch movies sitting in a room at home, and normally listen to music on the move. I don't buy the "if you provide higher-resolution audio formats, people will flock to it" argument. CD is better than MP3 and sales are dying. The convenience of MP3 (especially considering how much easier it is to steal than CD) outweighs the sonic degredation for the majority. And furthermore the industry has made no attempt whatsoever to "hype" better-quality audio in the way that it has with HD video.
It's worth remembering too that we are a visual-dominant species. We are inherently more discriminating visually than through any other modality. Anecdotal example concering the point above: my girlfriend loves the picture quality of Blu-Ray on our 42" plasma, but thinks I'm nuts for commenting on how good the uncompressed 24-bit audio sounds through even a mid-range hi-fi - and she's an accomplished musician. It takes years of practice for our discrimination of audio quality to reach the level of visual acuity that we all have hard-wired from birth.
This is important in understanding not only the relative priorities of consumers (convenience over resolution etc) but also the apparent failings of noob/amateur AEs/mixers. The ear-training curve is super-steep! I'm now listening to mixes I did less than a year ago, which I thought sounded great, and being stunned by the catastrophic depth of their deficiencies. I hasten to add that I'm a total amateur, and I guarantee that the defects in what I do now will be painfully obvious to seasoned pros, even if barely discernible to me at this stage.
Bottom line is - the work of anyone below you on the ear-training curve will probably sound incomprehensibly terrible, but we all have to remember that there's always someone above us on the curve too...
Then of course there's the skills angle: the mixing tricks, the workflow aspects, the mechanisms for referencing properly etc. On this point I cannot stress enough how beneficial it is to witness a pro at work. I was really struggling to improve at the rate I wanted, and so hired Mike Senior to mix a track in my room, with me in the "assistant" chair. This is without a doubt the most cost-effective "investment" I've ever made to improve my mixing, including acoustic treatment!
(Incidentally, the room was untreated when Mike did his mix, which kicks ass. With the treatment I now have, he probably could have reached the same end point more quickly, with greater certainty, but it would have been the same result in the end.)
So I completely second LCressy's plan of hanging out with an ME - don't buy that shiny new mic pre, buy some time with someone higher up the curve and see if they can pull you up a few notches!
Respect to everyone out there who still cares about audio,