Thursday, June 26, 2014

Homer Simpson Syndrome

The dean.
I know that educated people like to downplay the effect media has on kids -- it's up to the parents to watch and correct, they say. And they are right. But media does have its effect. It give kids (and everyone) an implication of how they are "supposed" to react to things and what they are "supposed" to say in certain circumstances.

This, of course, does not happen directly -- something registers on a s subconscious level with the developing mind and even with the adult mind. People use each other as models for behavior. How much of the affectation of kids do you think comes from TV? Eye-rolling is a learned behavior; parents-as-dorks is television amplification. (I say amplification, because I think there are certain natural perceptions made by kids...)

But, like I said, it is not only kids. Adults catch patterns of thought and speech. It does not only come from TV. We are social animals, we humans, and we look for grooves to fit into; we look for our models of behavior, too. I can't claim to be different than anyone else in that regard. Hopefully, my personality is original, but there is no denying that it is a tapestry of all of the personalities I have seen and admired from birth to now. A say a million things the way my dad did; I use expressions my mom used; I joke in the style of my best friends; I present myself in the classroom in the vein of my favorite teachers from the past...

What we can't afford to do, though, is to forget to think about a situation. We need to reason it out before we parrot reactions that we have heard in similar situations.

In a local town, a school board member made a financial mistake. This mistake is going to cost the townspeople about $400 in extra taxes this fiscal year. The sutuation stinks and the taxpayers are going to get the short end of the stick. This is all horrible. But, from a communicative standpoint, this kill me:

Here is what the man who made the mistake said, at a public meeting:

"I put the money in the wrong column. Now that's all I can tell you. I made a mistake with it."

A citizen's reaction to the situation in a TV news interview, afterward:

"Someone should be held accountable and no one wants to take the blame..."

[crickets chirping]

I get that this is what is usually said about these meetings, but...if there was ever a more classic case of jumping past listening and reasoning and into speaking...

Somewhere in this woman's head, there was a pattern to follow. This is simply what gets said on a TV camera after a meeting of this type. No matter what actually happened -- she had a script to follow.

It's comical and frightening all at once.

I remember an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer goes back to college. The dean presents himself to the students and he offers them all free pizza and beer and he jams in front of them with a rock band, having announced that he once played bass for the Pretenders. After the presentation, Homer narrows his eyes and speaks, driven by every college movie he has ever seenL "I'm gonna get that crusty old dean..."

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