Mindset List is a “map for marketers”?

Last fall Professor Angry and I were contacted by Zach Brooke from the American Marketing Association, who wanted us to unmask ourselves to comment on the Mindset List for an online piece he was writing. We declined. The piece was published in November as “The Mindset List is Taking Marketers Inside the Minds of Future Generations.”

Here is the first two paragraphs:

Each year, brand executives from all over the globe pore over a simple collection of facts compiled by a trio of researchers at a small Midwestern liberal arts college. Their work, known as the Mindset List, has been incorporated into sales presentations and customer relations policies.

It’s a map for marketers, which can capture the precise moment the recent past becomes the distant past, and suggest a path toward the future.

I can believe the part about the BML being incorporated into sales presentations because its brand of fact-free hokum seems like a good match for the advertising industry. But does anyone in marketing take the BML seriously? Don’t they the skills needed to look up when things happened in relation to when people were born? Brooke provides no evidence that anyone in marketing finds the list useful so perhaps this introduction is just more marketing puffery.

The article repeats many of the familiar canards about the BML. One of the things I didn’t know (or had forgotten) is that “In the past, the authors have helped put together specific Mindset Lists for African-Americans, Mumbaikars, New Zealanders and Jamaicans.” I have yet to find those online, but if anyone has a copy of any of these, please send them our way.

Beloit Mindlessness is described by Brooke as coming “via WordPress” as though our use of a popular content management system bears on our arguments. I don’t know what to make of that. Is there a more authoritative software package we should adopt?

McBride’s response to criticism, as we’re heard before, is that “the list was never intended to be anything beyond a conversation starter,” which essentially undercuts all the highfalutin claims earlier in the article about its precision.

The Onion Looks at the Class of 2019

Kudos to The Onion’s “A Look At The Class Of 2019,” which effectively sends up the Mindset List.

Some of my favorite items:

  • Most were only 12 years old when 2009 happened
  • They have never known a time when the majestic woolly mammoth roamed the Great Plains
  • Chalkboards, paper books, and VHS tapes are all items they’ve been told they don’t remember or recognize
  • Do not personally know anyone who perished in the Y2K disaster
  • More or less indistinguishable from the class of 2018

Vox: Mindset List Is “Missed Opportunity”

Last year I noted that “almost nobody cares much about the list anymore,” but my summary of commentary on the Mindset List still included eight articles. This year I hadn’t seen anything worth mentioning until Vox.com published this article by Libby Nelson. While conceding that the list does succeed in making people feel old, Nelson calls it a “missed opportunity”:

College campuses are filled with faculty and administrators who seemingly don’t understand 18-year-olds these days, what with their Snapchat and their trigger warnings and their inability to date. If the list actually tried to explain students’ mindset, explain how communication has shifted, or even demonstrate that 18-year-olds, in many important ways, haven’t changed all that much, it would be performing a service.

But it doesn’t.…

The Mindset List assumes that 18-year-olds managed to graduate high school and get into college while remaining unaware of concepts like “history” or “progress,” certain that nothing of import happened before they were born and that life has always been exactly the way it is today. It gives exactly one insight into how college freshmen think, the same insight it offers every year: These people were not alive all the time that you have been alive, and they might not remember things that you remember!

And in doing so, rather than helping students and professors connect, it puts even more distance between them. The list reminds faculty that they are old and out of touch, and that their students are young and with it. It reinforces the idea that the pop culture that matters is the pop culture of a generation ago or more, not whatever 18-year-olds are watching and discussing and creating. It defines a generation by how they relate to the past, not how they’re shaping the present.

Nelson categorizes the items on the list into three categories: “possibly useful information that could come up in class,” “pop culture anniversaries,” and “factoids.” (My eightfold classification is here.)

Given that Vox.com “updates” and re-runs the same stories over and over, I look forward to re-reading Nelson’s story every August until the Mindset List is finally put out of its misery.

What Other People Are (Not) Saying about the Class of 2018 Mindset List

Last year we ran several posts on media coverage of the Beloit Mindset List, including coverage that was critical of the list. This year’s coverage suggests that almost nobody cares much about the list anymore. It is reprinted and/or linked on numerous web pages of local newspapers and T.V. stations, but I found very few examples of media taking it seriously enough to editorialize about it, have a reporter investigate a local angle, or otherwise suggest it’s anything other than just another listicle.

A few exceptions:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story by Karen Herzog that mentioned Beloit Mindlessness, quoted my post from the day before the list ran, and added this endorsement of our work:

While Nief and McBride spent the past year researching historical and cultural references from 1996, their detractors spent the year methodically ripping the 1,000-plus items that have appeared on the Mindset List since its birth in 1998.

(We were also endorsed in this post in the Jacksonian American blog, which also notes that “the original Beloit List for this year is not very interesting. I remember the mid-1990s as a much more exciting and revolutionary time, but maybe that’s just me.”)

Scott Jaschik, who last year wrote a story featuring Beloit Mindlessness, posted a perfunctory piece giving several Mindset List items and linking to last year’s story for a example of “some criticism” of the list.

Michael Leddy calls this year’s list “a particularly tasteless and clueless array of hastily selected cultural fragments” in a short post and links to his previous posts bashing the list.

Dawn Dugle of The (Jackson, Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger calls the list’s creators “a little out of touch with this generation,” citing Facebook and Skype as technology students aren’t likely to use.

A few stories quote Messrs. McBride and Nief. Here is McBride in a Wisconsin Radio Networks story displaying his characteristic derision for professors:

He says it helps to explain to educators some of the cultural divides they may experience with students heading into a new school year, which can be used to adapt how their classes and lectures are run. McBride says that, while some professors may prefer to see their material as “platinum-encased, time honored, and universal,” the truth is that time passes and things need to change. Being able to understand what students have experienced can help improve efforts to teach them. (Emphasis mine)

A blog post by the aforementioned Karen Herzog of the Journal Sentinel,includes more of Nief’s ramblings, including the too-good-to-be-true suggestion that the pair are thinking about retiring from their list-making:

Mostly, the annual list sparks conversations among those who enjoy lists, and makes baby boomers feel old, according to Ron Nief, 71, who retired five years ago as Beloit College’s director of public affairs.

Given previous pronouncements about the Mindset List’s importance, it’s good to see that Nief recognizes that its real target audience is people “who enjoy lists.”

Nief for the past 17 years has been co-authoring the Mindset List with Tom McBride, who spent 43 years in a Beloit College classroom before retiring earlier this year as professor of English emeritus.

Next week, the two will begin working on a list for next year’s freshman class, culling newspaper microfilms for headlines and ads from the year that class was born.

At some point I’d like to put together a story on the pair’s changing accounts of the origins of the list and how they compile it. At one point, they claimed that the ur-list was written by someone else, they were mistaken for the authors after they distributed it and then decided to do one themselves. The more recent origin stories omit that detail. There is also a new claim that the list was always about defending students from people accusing them of ignorance, which seems risible given the list’s portrayal of students as solipsistic idiots.

I think the bit about getting to work on the list a year ahead is recent as well. And if you’re going to spend an entire year reading a previous year’s worth of newspapers, wouldn’t you want a product more substantial than a list of 55 items, like a book, or a magazine article, or a series of entertaining blog posts?

“I keep thinking that when the lead item is: ‘There’s always been a Mindset List,’ maybe that will be the time to let someone else do it,” Nief said Monday. “In two more years, they will never have lived in the 20th century.”

Er, in two more years matriculating college students will have been born in 1998, which would seem to be part of the 20th Century.

Finally, here’s another telling account of their research methods from a Chicago Tribute story by Lisa Black:

“You start with the baseline of the year they were born,” said McBride, adding that the two scour the Web, search microfiche and talk to older students, parents, faculty and others. “We get together, figure out what we have found, what factoids stand out and what sort of ways does the culture of the youth generation connect to the adult culture.”

So they talk to older students, faculty and others? Did it ever occur to them to talk to actual members of the Class of 2018?

Look at Who Else Is Mocking the Mindset List: #2170BeloitMindset

There is a #2170BeloitMindset hashtag on Twitter, which includes tweets such as these:

Look at Who Else Is Bashing the Mindset List: A.V. Club, etc.

Our latest round-up of Class of 2017 Mindset List mockery:

The A.V. Club (Milwaukee edition) reports that “Beloit College releases lame Mindset List, wonders what’s up with kids and their Nintendos or whatever“:

The 2013 Mindset List—which examines the born-in-1995 class of 2017—is equally lame and random. For 18-year-olds, according to Nief and McBride, “a tablet is no longer something you take in the morning” (get it?), and “PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend on line.” Incisive cultural analysis or a collection of Jay Leno-worthy groaners that betray a desperate “Old Man Yells At Cloud” fear of technology and youth? You decide.

Happily, the list has been drawing a fair amount of local and national criticism.

Bloggers at Unqualified Offerings and Orange Crate Art both offer some item-by-item criticism. The latter (Michael Leddy) links to his more in-depth critique from 2010:

What bothers me about the Beloit list involves some unspoken assumptions about reality and young adults. The list reads like a nightmare-version of the proposition that begins Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921): “Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.” “The world is all that is the case” — all that is the case, that is, in the life-experience of a hypothetical eighteen-year-old American student.…

The Beloit list seems to suggest that if it hasn’t happened during your lifetime, well, it can’t really be real (witness the weirdly Orwellian statement that “Czechoslovakia has never existed”), or, at best, that you cannot be expected to know or care about it.…

An interviewer once asked the poet David Shapiro to name his favorite living poet. Wallace Stevens, he said. “But Stevens is dead,” the interviewer objected. “But not for me!” Shapiro replied.… I suspect that among this year’s incoming freshmen are some for whom Wallace Stevens (or Emily Dickinson, or E.E. Cummings, or Langston Hughes) is still living, for whom a pocket notebook and pen or pencil are tools of thought and introspection, and for whom Czechoslovakia is as real as it gets.

Finally, Hudson Hongo at Thought Catalog offers “The Real Mindset List for the Class of 2017” with entries such as these:

1. For this generation of entering college students, born in 1995, ALF, Ricky Martin and Queen Victoria have always been dead.

5. Thanks to global warming, they have zero words for snow.

6. “Eminem” has always been a scowling white man and if presented with an actual M&M an 18-year-old would die of shock.

7. They have never seen a squirrel.

12. “Sexting” has always been something you do with a phone, not a sextant.

19. College professors have always been able to trick lazy news editors into posting academically-flavored linkbait.


Class of 2017 First Day Media Roundup

Here are some highlights of first day media coverage of the Class of 2017 Mindset List and of Beloit Mindlessness:

As we discussed in an earlier post, Insider Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik reported on our valient efforts in Whose Mindset?

We also received coverage from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in Karen Herzog’s article “Is Beloit College’s Pop Culture Review a Mindset List or Mindlessness?” which includes a defense of the list from Tom McBride:

McBride said they “welcome critiques of all sort” because the list is intended to spark discussions.

“The most important thing, I believe, is the two at beloitmindlessness seem to be in a distinct but very small minority,” McBride said Tuesday, after this year’s list was released.

“Millions seem to look forward to the list every year — we get constant contacts about it, and the number of hits on the Beloit College website each year is in excess of one million,” he said.

They work hard on the list “to make sure its research is accurate and that we stay within time lines,” McBride said.

One out of two ain’t bad?

“But the main thing to know is that the list is just the tip of a much more thoughtful set of ideas and reflections about what is after all the subject of ‘King Lear’ and of nearly all Shakespeare’s comedies: the generation gap.”

So he’s claiming that he has access to a “much more thoughtful set of ideas and reflections” but gives us the Mindset List instead?

As a discussion-starter, the list provides a chance for those of different generations to trade “when I was 18 stories,” McBride said, “and it’s a great stimulus for discussion of such issues as the cost of college, the perils of multitasking, the meaning of entering ‘cyberspace,’ and whether or not this ‘sharing’ generation — for that’s what we think they are — will become the next great force in American life.”

McBride and Nief are asked every year to speak around the country about the list.

“Yes, you do have to be a bit thick-skinned,” McBride said of critics, “but we wouldn’t give anything for the fun we’ve had in so many conversations about the generation gap and the future with people from so many walks of life.”

We also were mentioned in an article in the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

As we discussed here, Daniel D’Addario bashed the Mindset List in a Salon article titled “Beloit College Is Trolling Us All.

Finally, a couple of radio personalities at Madison’s WMMM (105.5 FM) mock the Mindset List here. It’s probably most cogent discussion I’ve ever heard on FM radio.


What do people at Beloit College think about the Mindset List?

We’re curious about what Beloit College faculty, staff, students and alumni think about the Mindset list.

We’ve run into a few of their opinions online.

In the comments section of today’s Inside Higher Ed story, Beloit student Abby R. offers this defense of this list:

As a current Beloit student going into Public Relations after graduation, I see this list every year and I’m happy because for once people know what Beloit is. Maybe it doesn’t really represent the interests and views of Beloit students, but it’s really a hit with a lot parents that might tell their kids to look more into the school as a future college option. A lot of Beloiters don’t really like the list or it’s funny, but like the bell run (look it up or ask a Beloiter), it’s a strong tradition and it’s probably here to stay.

That’s as honest a defense of the list that I can imagine: It has nothing to do with Beloit college students. They don’t like it or think it’s funny, but it has the word “Beloit” in the title.

It’s the old “I don’t care what you say about me, just spell my name right” approach, attributed to P.T. Barnum, an appropriate patron saint for the Mindset List.

A couple people with Beloit connections commented on Linda Holmes NPR blog post “Do College Students Really Think Beethoven Is a Dog?

An alumna (Kate Morgan) says she is pained to hear her alma mater bashed based on its connection with the list:

In reading down some of the responses in the comments section (always a slippery slope), it was a hard pill to swallow. The most challenging being some of the glib accusations being tossed around concerning how this reflects on the college. Beloit it a tiny campus, there were something like 1,200 students when I was an incoming freshman. You know everybody really well after four years. Doubly so for profs. So hearing people slam on McBride for being out of touch is weirdly personal. It is such a head trip for me to see people picking this apart. I’m certainly no official voice for the college, but despite what you think of the list, Beloit in all its parts amount to more than this.

Beloit “faculty wife” Melinda Newton suggests that Beloit professors wouldn’t approve of students submitting something of Mindset List-level quality, but they like getting to contribute items to the list:

I live in Beloit and my husband teaches at the College. The makers of the list poll the professors every year for items to add to the list. My husband was proud that he added an item (a couple of years ago) that Snuffleupagus was always visible to this generation. He still talks about it now. This is why the same references end up on the list year after year. In my opinion, the list writers could use a tough editor before putting out a press release. Also, those same professors wouldn’t let students write papers making huge generalizations about a group of diverse people. But I’m just a faculty wife. What do I know?

If you’re connected to Beloit College and want to share your view on the Mindset List, comment on this post or send me an email at:



Look at Who Else Is Bashing the Mindset List: Salon says “Beloit College is trolling us all”

Daniel D’Addario has an insightful article up at Salon titled “Beloit College is Trolling Us All.”

Some highlights:

Over time, Beloit’s professors ran out of things like “the AIDS crisis” and delved deeper into arcana or just meaningless incidents; the list’s entries often read like the setup for an observation, one that the list-makers aren’t willing to make but are happy to imply. Here are the only types of entries on the mind-set list:

  1. [any celebrity or public figure] has always been [either dead or, more commonly, famous]
  2. [something completely random that one thinks about quite infrequently] has always been the case
  3. College freshmen have never seen [consumer product that is an easy punch line — think eight-track tapes, Betamax, etc.] OR have always been able to [thing you can do with technology]
  4. College freshmen have never known about or experienced [news event from the recent past that everyone — EVERYONE! — has heard of or experienced]
  5. Bad puns about technology…
Aside from the hackiness of the puns, the thing that jumps out is that the majority of these things governing a student’s “mind-set” are actually not that important. Does an incoming college freshman have any idea who Bill Maher is? Has a spray-paint ban in Chicago any connection to, well, anything other than aspiring Illinois graffiti artists? The list’s particular obsession with technology signifies both a nostalgia that’s deeply uninteresting (these kids with their iPads — things were so much simpler when we all played “Pong,” or better yet, stickball in the street!) and a willingness to make sweeping implications about the degree to which Technology Has Changed Everything that is many things, but is not academic.

Look at Who Else Is Bashing the Mindset List (Class of 2014 version)

Every August our fondest hope is that the latest Beloit Mindset List will be met with widespread scorn and disgust. And every August we are disappointed. However, the list is often met with selective scorn and disgust. 2010, when the Class of 2014 list was released, was a banner year for anti-Mindlist essays.

At NPR Linda Holmes asked, “Do College Students Really Think Beethoven Is A Dog?

There’s nothing wrong with startling adults with how terribly old they are; it makes for a lovely little joke between 40-year-olds: “Wait, that movie came out that long ago?…”

But the fact that we feel old is not the responsibility of the class of 2014. Our sense of displacement when we realize how many years have passed since the last time we checked on something — how old Scott Baio got while we were off getting jobs and having families and voting for a series of presidents — isn’t their burden to bear, and assuming that they have ignored everything that happened before they were born is an awfully blunt way to measure “mindset.”…

This list isn’t about the mindset of the class of 2014. It’s about the mindset of the people who write it. It’s about what makes them feel ancient. It’s not about how college students think at 18; it’s about how we think at 40 and 50 and 60. It’s about how we think about the markers we once drove into the ground to mark what we considered Now, and how alarming it is to note that they are farther away than they used to be.

Interestingly, Holmes’ column takes particular aim at #58—”Beethoven has always been a dog”—but (as someone in the comments pointed out) the item was subsequently changed to read “Beethoven has always been a good name for a dog.” We can only hope that our item-by-item examination of every Mindset List can produce the kind of change that Holmes did.

Seth Saith posited that the “Latest ‘Mindset List’ Seems Terribly Out of Touch.

Instead of “College Mindset,” I think the terrible 2010 list should simply be titled “Some things that happened in 1992.”…

Rather than simply an amalgamation of things that didn’t exist before one’s birth year, I tend to think “mindset”–whether individual or collective–is primarily culled from things that occur after we develop an awareness of the world around us. Though I have no kids, I’m apt to believe that most 18-year-olds don’t acutely remember or have much affinity for the way things were before Y2K, plus or minus a year or two in regards to certain things.

In his essay, “The Beloit College ‘Mindset’ List,” Kenneth Green proposes a “Reverse Mindset List” written by students.

Could I pass a version of the Mindset List, developed by college freshmen and focused on what they know and have experienced? That list would be laden with individuals, events, and references that are contextually important to undergraduates.

There is a good chance that that I would be clueless about many of the items on the “Reverse Mindset” List. What about you?

Finally, Beloit alumnus Adam Reger reveals his deep embarrassment with the list in “The Doleful Sigh of the Beloit College Mindset List.

If current students are anything like my contemporaries, I can say that Beloit College students are probably rolling their eyes at this dumb thing. It’s condescending, even insulting… Worse, it does the opposite of what the Beloit student spends his/her time learning and striving for: it makes a teeming mass of individuals, bright and focused young people with well-developed skills and articulated goals, into a monolith; one, moreover, mostly notable for what they don’t know.…

[T]he sheer dumbness makes me want to shield my eyes. From the trying-too-hard (“Potato has always ended in an ‘e’ in New Jersey per vice presidential edict”) to the head-scratching-but-also-irrelevant (“While they were babbling in strollers, there was already a female Poet Laureate of the United States”), the Mindset List is dependably embarrassing.