Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Kowtowing to the Kids

Anybody who doesn't know this is brain-dead or a girl.
Or a college professor. Go ahead. Watch in widescreen.

TIME TO START A FIRE?  Drudge has an item about this, and various other news outlets are covering it as well. The Drudge link is to a story that puts a positive spin on it. To wit:

The Class of 2014 thinks of Clint Eastwood more as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry urging punks to "go ahead, make my day." Few incoming freshmen know how to write in cursive or have ever worn a wristwatch.

These are among 75 items on this year's Beloit College Mindset List. The compilation, released Tuesday, is assembled each year by two officials at this private school of about 1,400 students in Beloit, Wis.

The list is meant to remind teachers that cultural references familiar to them might draw blank stares from college freshmen born mostly in 1992....

Being aware of the generation gap helps professors craft lesson plans that are more meaningful, said Ron Nief, a former public affairs director at Beloit College and one of the list's creators.

Nief and English professor Tom McBride have assembled the Mindset List for 13 years. They say it's given them an unusual perspective on cultural shifts.

For example, as item No. 13 on the list says, "Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation."

With far edgier content available today, such as "South Park" or online videos that push the envelope, there's something quaint about recalling the hand-wringing that the MTV cartoon prompted, Nief said.

"I think we do that with every generation - we look back and say, what were we getting so upset about?" he said. "A, kids outgrow it and B, in retrospect we realize it really wasn't that bad."

Here's the actual source. And the provenance of the list, which is as follows, with comments of my own in square brackets and italics:

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2014

Most students entering college for the first time this fall—the Class of 2014—were born in 1992.

For these students, Benny Hill, Sam Kinison, Sam Walton, Bert Parks and Tony Perkins have always been dead.

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive. [More true than most adults believe. Worth an essay of its own.]

2. Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.  [A true and dire development. Can't wait for publication of the "Tweets and Text Messages of the Female Poet Laureate of the U.S. of A." That'll be such a, uh, cool addition to the canon.]

3. “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia…and learn Chinese along the way.” [A smug professorial imposition.]

4. Al Gore has always been animated. [As in Manbearpig. Disingenuous smuggery.]

5. Los Angelinos have always been trying to get along. [A joke without a punchline.]

6. Buffy has always been meeting her obligations to hunt down Lothos and the other blood-suckers at Hemery High. [And Holmes was always hunting Moriarty. Point being...?]

7. “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo. [And a "brown cow" and a "black and white malted" were indispensable to higher education in their day. Not seeing the diff.]

8. With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities. [There have always been annoying annoyances.]

9. Had it remained operational, the villainous computer HAL could be their college classmate this fall, but they have a better chance of running into Miley Cyrus’s folks on Parents’ Weekend. [HAL? Isn't he the guy who fell for a fat Gwyneth Paltrow?]

10. A quarter of the class has at least one immigrant parent, and the immigration debate is not a big priority…unless it involves “real” aliens from another planet. [When has this not been true? Until the word 'illegal' is used.]

11. John McEnroe has never played professional tennis. [Indicator of an outrageous time trick played repeatedly in this list.]

12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry. [Pretty sure there's a gender gap on this one.]

13. Parents and teachers feared that Beavis and Butt-head might be the voice of a lost generation. [uh, still do. With good reason.]

14. Doctor Kevorkian has never been licensed to practice medicine. [See Number 11.]

15. Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause. [See Number 11.]

16. Korean cars have always been a staple on American highways. [See Number 11.]

17. Trading Chocolate the Moose for Patti the Platypus helped build their Beanie Baby collection. [Show of hands. Who cares? At ANY age.]

18. Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess. [As if either ever mattered.]

19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone. [I'm older than dirt and even I don't remember this as any kind of issue.]

20. DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed. [See Number 11.]

21. Woody Allen, whose heart has wanted what it wanted, has always been with Soon-Yi Previn. [See Number 11.]

22. Cross-burning has always been deemed protected speech. [11.]

23. Leasing has always allowed the folks to upgrade their tastes in cars. [11.]

24. “Cop Killer” by rapper Ice-T has never been available on a recording. [Who? Ice-T? Never heard of him.]

25. Leno and Letterman have always been trading insults on opposing networks. [Who? Insults? Don't you mean Stewart and Colbert?]

26. Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides. [Lucky them.]

27. Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive. [What's a CD-ROM? Is it anything like a 'stick'?]

28. They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day. [Really?]

29. Reggie Jackson has always been enshrined in Cooperstown. [Who's Reggie Jackson? What's Cooperstown? Is this something about Calvin Klein scents?]

30. “Viewer Discretion” has always been an available warning on TV shows. [Warnings on TV shows. Like that shit about the FBI coming to get you? Right]

31. The first computer they probably touched was an Apple II; it is now in a museum. [Wrong. It was in a museum long before they were born.]

32. Czechoslovakia has never existed. [11.]

33. Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen. [Yeah, they've grown up with made-up science.]

34. “Assisted Living” has always been replacing nursing homes, while Hospice has always been an alternative to hospitals. [And they've grown up with political correctness too.]

35. Once they got through security, going to the airport has always resembled going to the mall. [Huh?]

36. Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones. [11.]

37. Whatever their parents may have thought about the year they were born, Queen Elizabeth declared it an “Annus Horribilis.” [Another joke without a punchline.]

38. Bud Selig has always been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. [uh, in case you weren't paying attention, college students are now girls. We don't DO baseball. Sorry.]

39. Pizza jockeys from Domino’s have never killed themselves to get your pizza there in under 30 minutes. [Cool!! When did they do that?]

40. There have always been HIV positive athletes in the Olympics. [Wow. Cool. Didn't know that. Didn't they always used to have things on their face back then?]

41. American companies have always done business in Vietnam. [Oh, come on.]

42. Potato has always ended in an “e” in New Jersey per vice presidential edict. [A political comment and nothing else.]

43. Russians and Americans have always been living together in space. [See Number 41.]

44. The dominance of television news by the three networks passed while they were still in their cribs. [What? An actual time reference without the words 'never' or 'always'?]

45. They have always had a chance to do community service with local and federal programs to earn money for college. [Community service? Do we have to wear orange jumpsuits too? No thank you.]

46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station. [Yeah. So what?]

47. Children have always been trying to divorce their parents. [Then who would pay off the Visa charges?]

48. Someone has always gotten married in space. [Are they gay? Then what's the big deal?]

49. While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States. [Proving only that poetry has been dead for twice their lifetimes.]

50. Toothpaste tubes have always stood up on their caps. [Well, that's earth-shattering.]

51.  Food has always been irradiated. [What? No wonder we're dumb as all fuck.]

52. There have always been women priests in the Anglican Church. [What's an Anglican Church? Is it a Gaia thing?]

53. J.R. Ewing has always been dead and gone. Hasn’t he?  [Who's J. R. Ewing?]

54. The historic bridge at Mostar in Bosnia has always been a copy. [Excuse me?]

55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties. [Well, duh. And the significance would be...?]

56. They may have assumed that parents’ complaints about Black Monday had to do with punk rockers from L.A., not Wall Street. ["May have"? What an odd tense to introduce all of a sudden...]

57. A purple dinosaur has always supplanted Barney Google and Barney Fife. [Barney Google? How old are these guys?]

58. Beethoven has always been a dog. [This is just dumb.]

59. By the time their folks might have noticed Coca Cola’s new Tab Clear, it was gone. [We feel pretty much the same way about Coke Zero..]

60. Walmart has never sold handguns over the counter in the lower 48. [Do they now? Where? How late are they open?]

61. Presidential appointees have always been required to be more precise about paying their nannies’ withholding tax, or else. [And withholding tax would be...?]

62. Having hundreds of cable channels but nothing to watch has always been routine. [uh, not that much different from having three channels to watch and nothing on.]

63. Their parents’ favorite TV sitcoms have always been showing up as movies. [It's like sometimes they're funny. If you're stoned enough.]

64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely. [That sounds like Economics. We're majoring in 'Superheroes in a Feminist Counter-Revolution Against the Secret-Identity Patriarchy.']

65. They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus. [Sanctimony, pure and simple.]

66. Galileo is forgiven and welcome back into the Roman Catholic Church. [Another secularist political comment.]

67. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court. [Tell me about it. She looks even older than that.]

68. They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S. [Unless they keep up with the news about Putin.]

69. The Post Office has always been going broke. [Yes. It has.]

70. The artist formerly known as Snoop Doggy Dogg has always been rapping. [If you could call it rapping. Which we, frankly, don't.]

71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing. [Yup.]

72. One way or another, “It’s the economy, stupid” and always has been. [Yup2.]

73. Silicone-gel breast implants have always been regulated. [Dirty old men must have their day.]

74. They’ve always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi Channel. [That's just plain insulting. Save it for the geeks.]

75. Honda has always been a major competitor on Memorial Day at Indianapolis. [If you're a girl.]

I have a few observations. This list wants so much to be hip, humorous, and provocative. And I know it means well; that is, the aging professors who drew it up want to remind their colleagues that kids do have a different frame of reference. Which is undeniable for anyone who knows kids, interacts with them on a regular basis, and pays any attention to what they say, know, and do not know.

However. I'm struck by the simultaneously obsequious and belittling nature of the items the professors have chosen. It's obsequious because it seems to imply that the elders are always supposed to put things to the kids in terms that fall within the kids' presumably tiny range of knowledge and experience. (If I treated Brizoni that way, he'd have my head on a pike and rightly so.) Belittling because it also seems to assume that the only concept of time kids have is their own lifetimes. If the former is a correct perspective, we may as well jettison Shakespeare from all curriculums right now and forever. If the latter perspective is true, Beavis and Butthead are the MOST we can ever expect from the Class of 2014. There's a third disturbing tendency in the list -- which is to suggest to the rest of us that clicheed liberal and politically correct orthodoxy is so ingrained in these kids that there's literally no point in challenging it.

And there's a truly alarming assumption that today's kids have such minimal interaction with parents and grandparents that they are completely divorced from any sense of the continuum of American and even human life. As if their lives have been so solipsistic that there really isn't any time before their own births. What is has always been. And we should somehow endeavor to accommodate what if true, amounts to a profound and debilitating deterioration of human consciousness.

I'll say this part straight out. If the kids in college now know nothing of the lives and experiences of their parents and grandparents, civilization itself is finished. Maybe it is. But the correct response is not to cater to it. It is to dynamite it.

I'll add, though, that I don't believe most of the list. Item Number One is the most serious, and I may write about it another day. But the pace of change is so fast today that even the kids are aware that technologies are coming and going all the time. Their universe is far less static than ours was. There's no way they can't know there was a before -- including a before them. The constant refrain in the list's litany of 'always' and 'never' is more an indictment of the old farts who wrote it than it is relevant to the kids it's intended to serve.

What concerns me is the possibility, however remote, that the professors who made the list are using the terms 'always' and 'never' to signify a lack of curiosity on the part of youngsters they're trying to teach. The kids know there was time before their appearance on earth, but if they are wandering through life never asking themselves or anyone else what was on Route 4 before it was lined with strip malls and McDonalds and Pizza Huts, then, yes, we are in trouble. Much more trouble than the flip, smug, mildly mocking tone of the list would indicate. If there was never a Cold War, a Vietnam War, a World War II, or a Barney Fife or a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, we are doomed. But I think there was.

I grew up in an age when men no longer carried pocket watches. Which is why I came to admire them over wristwatches. In time, I acquired a couple of pocket watches and the vests and fobs and so forth that made them seem cool to me, which I wore with the jeans and bootchains that also semed cool to me. It's natural to scavenge the past for old ideas that can be made new again in a different context. None of us escapes history. Even in the most evanescent media. There is no Lady Gaga without Madonna.

I don't even think wristwatches are done. Two reasons. There will always be instances -- especially after you've started working for a living -- when you want to know the time without consulting something big enough to span the distance between ear and mouth. When just a carefully quick and utterly discreet glance is all that's permissible. AND there's also a soul-satisfying sensation associated with analog time versus digital time. Digital time chops your life into a kind of incremental countdown. It's 2:46 and then it's 2:47. With an analog dial there's all that time in between, when it's neither 2:46 nor 2:47.  That would be human time, the continuum, the ceaseless flow of life.

We're none of us microprocessors. That's why we're human. We live in the moments between. I can't think of any generation in human history that's more likely to yearn for that, ultimately, than the kids of today.

But, then, I'm even older than the glib, condescending professors who made up this list.

And, as always (or mostly), I conclude with this: What do you think?

UPDATE: Doc Zero offered an email gem:

Something tells me students at Beloit don't get through a semester without hearing more than they want to about "potatoe" and Female Poet Laureates.

So many things to say. So many ways to get into illimitable trouble. Pass. Just this once. And, as I told Doc Zero, I know when I've been topped.

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