Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Another Mind Numbing Mindset List (and My Attempt at Some Alternate Entries)

Beloit College recently released its latest Mindset List, an annual exercise ostensibly aimed at pegging the proclivities of its incoming freshman class--in this case, the Class of 2016.

I applaud the presumed intent of the list--beyond getting national press each year for the small liberal arts college--which is seemingly to note how our world changes, and with it, the reference points of 18-year-olds.

As an advertising copywriter, it is important to remind myself that younger generations may be rather oblivious to touchstones that are second nature to me, whether the names of the four Beatles, the notoriety of Oliver North, the exploits of Refrigerator Perry or simply "the Yellow Pages."

But as I ranted about in depth two years ago upon release of the Class of 2014 Mindset List, with several laudable exceptions--and this year's rundown seems a bit stronger than some recent ones--I believe the Beloit list makers miss their mark in large part.

Although the introduction to the list describes it as "an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation," to me, too many of the items included fail to be substantive earmarks of how society has shifted.

I get that part of the point of the list is to alert the older crowd to things that teens are likely not tuned into, so it's okay to cite some things that adolescents may never have heard of. I also realize the difficulty of citing truly transformative changes that are native to a single year any more so than the few before or after it. And noting the preponderance of Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iPhones and texting is not only a bit too obvious, but now somewhat dated.

But--as pointed out by a critique of this year's list that I enjoyed--per #4 on the Beloit list, does anyone really consider Michael Jackson's family American royalty? Or, per #37 (see the whole list here), has the fact that "Martin Lawrence has always been banned from Saturday Night Live" really affected a generation's mindset? Or anyone's? And per #39, has the fact that "The Metropolitan Opera House in New York has always translated operas on seatback screens" truly altered the consciousness of your average teen?

While insights like #13--"They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it"--and a number of others are rather astute and reflect a difference between the proverbial then and now, too much of Beloit's list consists rather flaccidly of simply "Things that happened in 1994" (i.e. the birth year of most new freshmen).

Yes, in 1994 or early 1995, (#10) the movie Dumb and Dumber was released, (#36) Steven Breyer joined the U.S. Supreme Court, (#43) the World Series was cancelled, (#44) Aleve first became available, (#49) the World Trade Organization was formed, (#50) L.L. Bean changed the name of their hunting boots, (#64) Robert Osbourne has been hosting films on TCM and (#75) The Sistine Chapel ceiling was cleaned, but I fail to see how these things--and several similar examples--have genuinely affected the mindset of teens. Or that their ignorance to some of these things really differentiates their outlook from those of people a bit older.

For other reasons, I also have a problem with two of the list's football tidbits. (#14) says "There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles." This would be rather shrewd if the word "pro" was added before "football." As it stands, #1 ranked USC might take offense. And given that Beloit is in Wisconsin, I get the appeal of (#19) "The Green Bay Packers have always celebrated with the Lambeau Leap." But given that those born in 1994 would be acutely oblivious to anything that occurred before 1998 at the earliest, I think something such as "Aaron Rogers is the only quarterback they've seen lead the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl victory," would be a bit more telling. Noting that Brett Favre's greatest glories--relatively recent for many of us--are almost a full lifetime ago for college freshmen is, IMHO, more revelatory than the Lambeau Leap inception date.

Anyway, with the caveat that my suggestions below are also imperfect, partially because I could easily have repeated many of the 20 things I cited in my 2010 post--such as noting that Generation Z has likely never used a physical phone book or map, will never speak to a travel agent or open a car door with a key--here is Seth Saith's list of things that might significantly distinguish an 18-year-old's mindset from my own, soon-turning-44, worldview (I should note that I don't have kids and am rarely around teenagers, making many of these more presumptive than observational):

1. They never saw (or don't recall seeing) Michael Jordan play basketball, except possibly with the Washington Wizards.

2. They don't remember when Apple made products that didn't begin with a lowercase i.

3. Many have likely never ridden in a car that didn't have airbags.

4. Lollapalooza is known to them only as a festival held in Chicago.

5. They have never seen a good new Keanu Reeves movie.

6. They have never personally asked to sit in a smoking or non-smoking section.

7. They are unaware that Dave Grohl was in a band before the Foo Fighters.

8. The Curse of the Bambino means nothing to them.

9. They have never looked for movie showtimes in a newspaper.

10. Eddie Murphy's claim to fame is as the voice of Donkey.

11. The alternative to Internet Explorer has never been Netscape Navigator.

12. They have never used a cassette and likely never seen one.

13. They don't know how Princess Diana died or who she was with when she did.

14. They have never used a card catalog in a library.

15. They couldn't pick Al Gore out of a lineup.

16. Friends and family have always been reachable, even while driving.

17. They have always been able to see Olympic events in real-time. Err, scratch that.

18. They don't know what 35mm refers to.

19. Steroids have always been more prominent in baseball than Astroturf. 

20. They have always been able to see openly gay characters on prime-time network TV. 

21. They have never licked a stamp, and possibly never used one.

22. The most successful golfer of their lifetime is (half) black. The most successful rapper is white.

23. They don't remember the squeak of a 56K modem.

24. They have never used a pay phone.

25. UFC is a credible sport covered on SportsCenter; boxing is a joke in which the best fighters avoid each other.

26. They may not realize that George Bush declared war on Iraq in 1991, before his son did in 2003.

27. Julia Roberts isn't all that famous.

28. Any prime-time programming they've seen has potentially included ads for Viagra and other erectile dysfunction medications.

29. The best player in baseball today was a high school senior when they were freshmen.

30. Dracula was once the only significant pop culture vampire (until the Interview With A Vampire movie was released in 1994?)

31. The Kardashians. Enough said.

32. They've probably never gone to a store named Kinko's.

33. Jeremy Piven has always been more famous than John Cusack. 

34. They've never laughed at The Far Side.

35. Only Christian Bale has been Batman.

36. They know the songs from Wicked better than those from The Wizard of Oz.

37. Being able to see satellite imagery--and street views--of your home is no big deal. 

38. The futuristic Guggenheim museum designed by a visionary architect named Frank is in Bilbao, Spain, not New York City.

39. They don't know how astonishing it is that Keith Richards is still alive. Or who he is. 

40. They have never waited in line to buy tickets. 

41. Paul Newman is known as a purveyor of pasta sauce and salsa, not one of the greatest movie stars ever. 

42. One day they'll be surprised to discover that Words With Friends is a lot like Scrabble. 

43. They don't find it strange--still--to see the Manhattan skyline without the Twin Towers.

44. Stadiums have always been named for corporations. 

45. They seemingly don't realize that jeans were once designed to cover one's behind.

46. The Jersey Shore has always been represented by Snooki, not Springsteen. 

47. Many have read every Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games book, but not The Da Vinci Code and nothing by Stephen King. 

48. They have never seen a Woolworth's store or a Service Merchandise catalog. 

49. Most have never tried to see 3D images in a Magic Eye illustration.

50. They have never needed to use a 9-volt battery.

They may not be able to fill in many of the following blanks:

51. Roget's ____________

52. _______ & Ebert at the Movies

53. Calvin & _________

54. Ross, ________, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and _________

55. ________ Expos

56. Hootie & the _________

57. Hanging _had

58. The ______ Gretzky

59. "MMM____" by Hanson

60. The _ _ _ Bug that was supposed to strike at the turn of the century.

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