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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 10:51 am 
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I was reading a Cracked article today, and it mentioned something that is an ongoing pet peeve of mine that is often thrown around my Graduate department as truth: the idea that we as a society (and perhaps as a species) are growing steadily stupider due to the "willingly uneducated" out breeding the intelligent. The supposed evidence for this is our pop culture; the music, television and movies most consumed by the mainstream. Which, by the standards of this most-intelligent group, are made for the drooling idiots by other, more crafty drooling idiots.

I had a most frustrating professor last semester, a professor drowning in his own pretension, who made us read an essay from the 50s arguing the "truth" of this point.* The professor's course is required, and frankly I think he feeds the giant pumpkin heads cultivated in my grad program. And from speaking to others outside our own program, I'm certain that this view is held by many in academia.

What is angering is how absolutely STUPID this view is. Just maddeningly idiotic. And I feel I'm alone in a dark room screaming at the walls when I argue that:
1. Average IQ is rising, to the point where "average" (100pts) is readjusted regularly**
2. Pop culture is a stupid way to judge societal intellect of the past and present because:
a.) Only the best of the past is archived and remembered while the worst, even if popular in its own time, is tossed out like so much trash. In Austen's time, it's not like everyone wrote like Austen and she was remembered as a representative. No, she was remembered because no one else wrote like her. Shakespeare was awesome, but there were plenty of godawful, popular plays, songs, and puppet shows that are long gone now. And some of Shakespeare's own stinkers are in that mix of chaff!
b.) People like to be entertained by entertainment. And sometimes shutting down for a stupid laugh is what's wanted after a long day. And that's been true for as long as recorded history. Look up some of Ancient Greece's bawdier plays.

Now, do I think that the U.S. has an education problem? Sure! Do I think stupid people exist? Of course! Do I think some of our pop culture is stupid? You betcha! But do I think our society is going to come crashing down around too many Flava of Love shows and Gossip Girl books consumed by the growing population of stupids? No. Not at all. Never. And I think it's arrogant, classist and borderline eugenic to think so. And I'm sorry that so many of my peers are locked into such a blindingly goofball worldview.


*Essentially, it said that things like the Honeymooners was keeping the working class man down, as it forced people to not think while absorbing pop culture. And that TV is a blight on society for not being culturally engaging.
** I understand that it's controversial to say that actual intelligence is rising with that rate. There could be many factors behind the rise in IQ. But at the very least, the pool of stored knowledge has certainly been growing, and more people have access to it today than in any other time in history.

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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 11:33 am 
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The argument that this is due to breeding tendencies is extremly dubious.

Genetic disposition for intelligence is AFAIK still something, where we have not figured out where exactly in the genes it is, but it would be a save bet, that it is a complex matter depending on many genes, rather then a simple smart/stupid switch. So logically to breed intelligance or it's lack you need quite a lot of generations.

So who does really believe that for many generations a) intelligent people did breed less and b) intelligent phenotype had a one to one correlation to intelligent genotype (while there are some people arguing that today we don't have any class barriers that keep lowerclass born in lowerclass regardless of their intelligence, few argue, that this was already the case generations ago). And if not both is the case, we can't experience genetic effects on intelligence already.

Other factors that create the degeneration impression:

Some arts (primarily books and movies in my case) that have been great when i was young, are mainly cool due to nostalgy factor now not because they really are that great. Basically because my demands have increased. So fewer new things are satisfactory.

Some "light" pop culture has some actual philisophical content. It just is not very obvious about it and if you don't care about the matters raised there or if you don't consume enough to see a pattern, you will not see it. So its quite easy that one generations popculture transports philosophic content, that most of the previous generation simply overlook.

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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 1:21 pm 
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weatherwax wrote:
The supposed evidence for this is our pop culture; the music, television and movies most consumed by the mainstream. Which, by the standards of this most-intelligent group, are made for the drooling idiots by other, more crafty drooling idiots.

This is always the view the intelligentsia hold of pop culture - it's vulgar, crass and detracts from (and distracts people from truly appreciating) "real" culture. I could completely picture them standing around some faculty cocktail party, lamenting the absence of sophistication among the masses. And probably suggesting that the best solution would be to ban pop culture for the good of society.

Says more about the so-called intelligence of the intelligentsia than anything else, I think.

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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:32 pm 
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weatherwax wrote:
But do I think our society is going to come crashing down around too many Flava of Love shows and Gossip Girl books consumed by the growing population of stupids?

*quickly, but carefully, pulls down Chuck Bass poster on wall*
I completely agree with you, madame! People tend to forget that popular culture is generational. These pretentious professors are not part of the larger target audience. They have their Beatles, I have my Owl Cit- I mean, Flogging Molly. They have Twilight Zone (don't get me wrong, it's one of my favorites), I have Fringe. The generation that's after the current majority will be even more different. It's not getting dumber, it's merely evolving.

Of course, in my defense, Chuck Bass is what every man should strive to be.

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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 4:44 pm 
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OldCrow wrote:
This is always the view the intelligentsia hold of pop culture - it's vulgar, crass and detracts from (and distracts people from truly appreciating) "real" culture. I could completely picture them standing around some faculty cocktail party, lamenting the absence of sophistication among the masses. And probably suggesting that the best solution would be to ban pop culture for the good of society.

That's not something to do with intellectuals, that's just how people react to pop culture that isn't their own. You didn't have to be elite to think that rock and roll or hip-hop music were corrupting the youth.

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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 8:42 pm 
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Try telling that to your average group of French Deconstructionist 20-somethings at one of the larger Liberal Arts schools, like Berkley.

OK, maybe the concept of an average group of French Deconstructionists is a bit absurd...but I guarantee you that their opinions on pop culture are nothing short of loathing, even though they are the so-called target population to which it is supposed to appeal.

And part of the idea of "pop" culture is exactly that it's popular - as in the culture of the masses. This isn't the mere objection to a certain kind of music, or taking offence at trousers that are too baggy. This is the dismissal of wide swaths of societies preferences as being vulgar, unworthy and inappropriate. And by hypocritical snobs, at that.

Think the sort of people who look down their noses as the "consumerism of the masses, with their video games, football and beer" while swilling $200 a bottle champagne at a gallery opening for an artist whose work consists of nailing raw steak to balsa wood crucifixes as a commentary on the lack of passion in modern society. Or some similar nonsense.

And yes, such people do exist. I've been forced to spend time with them.

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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 8:59 pm 
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OldCrow wrote:
And yes, such people do exist. I've been forced to spend time with them.

I'm sad for you now.

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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 9:06 pm 
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Intellectual snobs who think they're better than pop culture are insufferable. But they're not the only kind of snob there is. The Indier-Than-Thou hipsters who feel the need to 'like everything before it was cool' and sneer at people who aren't as 'fringe' as they are. Stuck-up WASPs who think above-ground swimming pools are louche are mortified if you refer to their 'boat shoes' as loafers. Even the so-called reverse snobs, who think that only effeminate Euro-trash losers eat things like sushi, and that you're not a real American if you don't like football, are pretty much doing the same thing.

It's all about "my type of people are better than your type of people", and they all do dismiss large swathes of society for not being like them.

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 Post Posted: Mon Jan 31, 2011 9:31 pm 
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I'm a snob and as a snob I'll give you a view of the world from my eyes.

I don't like most sports. I don't like most pop music. I don't like a large amount of commercial TV. I prefer a higher quality of beer than VB or XXXX. I won't drink instant coffee.

I am quite happy for you to like these things. I understand that you won't like a lot of what I prefer.

I can quite happily live my life enjoying what I enjoy while you enjoy what you enjoy.

However while you can easily avoid my hobbies/music/TV shows and the like, the popularity of something means that it is much more difficult for me to avoid being bombarded by a lot of pop culture.

When you turn up to work any you have the option of joining a conversation about Big Brother or joining a conversation about AFL you tend to feel outcast and can't help but resent this just a little.

When a lot of the things that I prefer require an intellectual insight to enjoy them it is difficult not to extend the intellectual superiority over those who wouldn't be able to understand to all those who enjoy the pass times which don't require this intellectual insight.

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 Post Posted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 12:08 am 
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As an aside, not all academics are snobbish about pop culture, many sociologists and anthropologists devote a goodly amount of their lives to studying it. They don't think it's mindless trash (or at least, not purely mindless trash), they think it can tell you a lot about how people perceive and understand themselves, society and the world, and also plays a very important social role.

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 Post Posted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 12:23 am 
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Steave wrote:
I'm a snob and as a snob I'll give you a view of the world from my eyes.

I don't like most sports. I don't like most pop music. I don't like a large amount of commercial TV. I prefer a higher quality of beer than VB or XXXX. I won't drink instant coffee.

I am quite happy for you to like these things. I understand that you won't like a lot of what I prefer.

I can quite happily live my life enjoying what I enjoy while you enjoy what you enjoy.

However while you can easily avoid my hobbies/music/TV shows and the like, the popularity of something means that it is much more difficult for me to avoid being bombarded by a lot of pop culture.

When you turn up to work any you have the option of joining a conversation about Big Brother or joining a conversation about AFL you tend to feel outcast and can't help but resent this just a little.

When a lot of the things that I prefer require an intellectual insight to enjoy them it is difficult not to extend the intellectual superiority over those who wouldn't be able to understand to all those who enjoy the pass times which don't require this intellectual insight.



I'm here with you. I try not to lord over people, but it is hard when all some people want to do is watch a rerun of Cops that they have seen who knows how many times and I want to get an idea of what's happening around the world in news and politics. I don't care about the latest tween star going to rehab, it does not impact my life. However, in some ways, unrest in Egypt might.

I'm with you on the food too. I just chalk that up to picky eating though. Real maple syrup as opposed to maple flavored HFCS. Stuff like that. I prefer shopping at a farmers market rather than the local grocery store.

I prefer talking religion, politics, and history instead of who scored what where. (although I do have a soft spot for ice hockey.)

Still I think these are just choices that separate people. It may make some appear snobbish or what not. I just say it is differences that causes cliquing up.

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 Post Posted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 11:48 pm 
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Kea wrote:
As an aside, not all academics are snobbish about pop culture, many sociologists and anthropologists devote a goodly amount of their lives to studying it. They don't think it's mindless trash (or at least, not purely mindless trash), they think it can tell you a lot about how people perceive and understand themselves, society and the world, and also plays a very important social role.

So does reality television signal the transition from consumer capitalism to our new kind of "fairy capitalism", in which the acquisition of material wealth and security tends to occur at absolutely random for no good reason at all, and withdraw for the same reason?

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 Post Posted: Sat Feb 05, 2011 12:36 am 
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It's not new. It's just Cargo Cult economics with a modern American flavour, which actually makes it quite regressive.

Speaking of reality television and Cargo Cult economics, is anyone else simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the show Bridalplasty? I've only seen parts of two or three episodes (when my wife calls me over because she's fascinated and repulsed by watching it). But it's like watching a Boa Constrictor eat a small child...you feel sick and horrified, but you can't not watch.

Anyway, it's definitely a Cargo Cult mentality in action.

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 Post Posted: Sat Feb 05, 2011 5:41 pm 
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Bridalplasty as Cargo Cult economics? i.e. goods and money that "should" go to the "rightful" members of society but don't because of economic voodoo is the same as rebuilding oneself into a social idea of beauty ground into women from a young age that only really exists through starvation, photoshop and plastic surgery?

Can you explain your use of the term Cargo Cult economics to describe Bridalplasty? I'm not being a smartass, I'm intrigued and I can't quite make the leap by myself to see the connection.

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 Post Posted: Sat Feb 05, 2011 7:24 pm 
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weatherwax wrote:
Can you explain your use of the term Cargo Cult economics to describe Bridalplasty? I'm not being a smartass, I'm intrigued and I can't quite make the leap by myself to see the connection.


So, Cargo Cults were (there's not many real ones left now) societies in the Pacific who during WWII noticed that visitors to the island kept bringing goods to the island in airplanes. After the war, the visitors, Japanese and Allies alike, closed down the makeshift airfields and went home, but the native societies kept wanting the goods to arrive. So, they'd build facsimiles of the airfields they'd seen. They'd build the runway, put beacons on the side of the runway, put two people in a wood shack with headphone-like hats on, and then they'd wait for the planes to arrive. In essence, they'd mistaken the form of the airfield, for the reason that the cargo was arriving on the island.

By analogy, Cargo Cult Economics is when you go through the motions of economic process without actually stimulating economic growth, or alternatively, when someone goes through the motions of doing something, while missing the important component that would actually generate the results.

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