Friday Quick Take: The News as Standardized Test

In an offline discussion today, e-migo (and should-be Rotten Chestnuts blogger, hint hint) Nate Winchester made a great observation:  Kids today — which means, effectively, anyone who is in college or wishes he were — respond to news “stories” as if they were standardized test questions.  For instance, you read some piece in which an African-American is mentioned.  The story may not even be about him, but his name isn’t immediately followed by hosannas.  Do you:

  • a) assume he’s somehow germane to the story (e.g. it’s about a fatal car crash and he’s a witness);
  • b) figure he’s there for some other news-worthy reason;
  • c) not care, because you “don’t see race;” or
  • d) start yelling “rayciss!”

The answer, of course, is D, and since your whole life, K-thru-PhD, is controlled by standardized tests, you know it unthinkingly.  Why or how is the story racist?  Doesn’t matter — there’s a Black guy, he’s not the Reverend Doctor so-and-so, ergo the coverage is racist.

The Last Psychiatrist is sadly long defunct, but it still exists, and is worth reading in full.  He spends a lot of time breaking down ad campaigns and news stories, always with one simple point: They’re not teaching you what to want, they’re teaching you how to want.  Here‘s a fantastic example.  It’s about an ad campaign in which a young boy gets his toenails painted hot pink by his Mom (who, in the ad, is the president of J. Crew).  The usual suspects got incensed in the usual way: “the ad is promoting transgenderism!”  Alone (the author’s nom de blog) breaks down just how and why this is wrong.  The ad isn’t about the kid.  It’s not even about selling nail polish, let alone “raising brand awareness” for J. Crew.  Rather, the Mom is the product.

The woman in the ad is attractive but not in a vulgar, sexual way.   Supremely comfortable with herself, her life.  It seems effortless.  And she’s the president of J Crew.   And she has her son with her.  She’s the product.  The image.  You don’t like the polish, fine, J Crew has other stuff to make you into her.  In other words, she is you, the aspirational you….

She’s the product, all those things around her are accessories.  The polish is an accessory, and its color has been enhanced to better broadcast the message.  The kid is an accessory, and he’s been enhanced to broadcast the message.  Clean, vibrant, simple, alive, happy, fun…

“But now there’s a possibility the kid may become gay, or transgendered.”  The word you focused on is transgendered, the word J Crew wants you to focus on is possibilities.  The kid with the painted nails is young, doing something out of the norm.  He embodies possibilities, so J Crew embodies possibilities.

See what I mean?  It’s an ad, but it doesn’t even bother trying to sell a product.  It sells a lifestyle, a message — it sells you a self-image.  You’re the kind of effortlessly-attractive-even-on-the-weekend woman who, if you choose to have kids, would have one who…. etc.

The news, as Nate says, does the same thing.  You’re the kind of person whose anti-racism deflector shields are always turned up to full power, because you’re the kind of person who always knows The One Right Answer.  You tested at grade level on you NAEP test, didn’t you?  Aced the SAT (or would have, if not for reasons)?  Since America is a two-parent household and the other parent is TV, you get a pat on the head and a cookie every time you get one of these questions right.

Gotta love Pavlovian conditioning.

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7 thoughts on “Friday Quick Take: The News as Standardized Test

  1. Morgan K Freeberg

    We’ve got a lot of people walking around among us who need a good reminder that the first syllable of “Dopamine” is “dope.”

    They make decisions that affect the intimate aspects of life for other people. Share busy highways with us, in command of many tons of metal. Free to vote as you & me.

  2. Frip

    Severian: “They’re not teaching you WHAT to want, they’re teaching you HOW to want.” Teaching us “how” to want doesn’t make sense and you don’t even bother with it after you said it. You probably meant they’re teaching us “how to want to be.” Which is what aspirational advertising has always done. Only now they have yet another selling point with politics. I agree with you though, in that lovely virtue has never before been such a powerful enticement.

    Your post got a little condescending and enthusiastic over a truism, so you’ll allow me to be a bit dickish in return.

  3. Frip

    Possible. Anyway, one should rarely criticize someone for their enthusiasm. Especially since there’s so many cynical know-it-alls out there. Your conversational verve is why this blog is such a fun read. As a college student the crazy Left got me down in a bad way. You said you’re oddly invigorated by it. It shows.

  4. Nate Winchester

    Another example:

    “I can look after myself,” said my 17-year-old.

    “But men are stronger than women,” I said. “When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage.”

    “That’s a sexist thing to say,” she replied.

    A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

    “But it’s a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact,” I said.

    “It’s sexist,” she reiterated firmly.

    1. Severian

      There it is. I remember walking a class of mostly science majors (!!) through this. You agree that testosterone stimulates muscle production. You agree that therefore, all else equal, individuals with higher free testosterone will have more muscle (and you of course agree that more muscle = more strength). You agree that testosterone production is regulated, in part, by the Y chromosome. Therefore, you MUST agree that, all else equal, men — on average — are stronger tha…..

      Nope. They just wouldn’t do it. STEM is no defense against the poz, because mere facts are powerless against the poz. To say nothing of reason, inference, deduction….

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