The latest version of the Beloit Mindset List has been released and it looks like it’s once again a “compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations.” My faint hope that sociologist Charles Westerberg would bring evidence to bear on the list has not been realized.
In anticipation of the new Mindset List being unveiled Tuesday, I thought I’d look over some of the stuff the Mindset gang has put out since last August. While Ron Nief and Charles Westerberg apparently have other things going on, Tom McBride seems committed to sharing all of his half-baked thoughts with the world. A quick round-up of items by McBride:
- Mindset lists for Baby Boomers and Generation X, both of which have the same low quality and lack of insight as the annual lists.
- A bizarre screed titled “Is The Mindset List a White Colonial Plot Against Yoko Ono?” It has to be read to be believed. Apparently, a student in a class on “Critical Identity Studies” at a “liberal arts college” (Beloit?) made a poster critiquing this BML item: “A significant other who is a bit ‘too Yoko Ono’ has always created tension.” McBride accuses the poor student of “McCarthysim” and “guilt-by-association,” and calls the poster “defective, anti-intellectual work—an effort of sophomoric propaganda.”
- A history of sex titled The Great American Lay. Clearly McBride is up on the latest slang.
- Weird, fact-free video rants (each posted at least twice on the BML Facebook page). In the strangest, titled “American society is meaningless. Thank God!”, McBride claims that in “modern societies” “we are largely disease-free and pain-free”(!) and, thus, “meaningless.” “Meaningless societies are generally successful societies,” he declares.
I’m sure the Internet is filled with low-quality social analysis along these lines, but it’s sad that McBride couldn’t have used ownership of the Mindset List to produce something more worthwhile.
Messrs. McBride and Nief seem set in their ways, but one day they will shuffle off this mortal coil—hopefully at an old age and in the bosom of their loved ones. If the Beloit Mindset List lives beyond its makers, what could be done to turn it into something less worthless than it is now? Here are three ideas:
1. Collaborate with someone who knows something about college freshmen. It’s not as though there is a lack of good information about young people. The Higher Education Research Institute has been surveying college freshman for decades. The Pew Research Center has been conducting research on Millennials. Many of the publications from the National Study of Youth and Religion, like Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, are relevant to understanding college students. Books are regularly published on college students; I’ve just purchased Paying for the Party. The Beloit Mindset List could collaborate with actual experts to produce some sort of hybrid report that would contain some factual information and throw in some of that “stuff that happened before college students were born” material that some people like.
2. Gather information from incoming Beloit College freshman. I discussed this idea in a post last month. Send out a survey to incoming Beloit College freshman and ask them about their favorite celebrities, movies, T.V. shows, and other topics that Messrs. McBride and Nief just make up now. The results of this could be interesting and it is compatible with #1.
3. “Crowd source” the list to Beloit College freshman. After a student is accepted at Beloit, they get to log in to a Mindset List forum. The students propose items to the list and other students vote them up or down in conjunction with lively online debate. It would be a great perk to attending Beloit and would produce a list that, whatever its flaws might be, would actually be produced by the people it claims to be speaking about.
But preferably, the list should just be destroyed.
Threatening to shut down the government during Federal budget negotiations has always been an anticipated tactic. (Class of 2017, #17)
Growing up with the family dog, one of them has worn an electronic collar, while the other has toted an electronic lifeline. (Class of 2017, #18)
The Mindset List web site used to claim that it started as “a witty [sic] way of saying to faculty colleagues ‘watch your references.’” The line may be insulting to professors, but its meaning is clear.
In the past year or so, the line has been changed to “a witty way of saying to faculty colleagues ‘beware of hardening of the references.’” Huh?
The creators of the BML are an English professor and a P.R. flak so you’d think they would be able to write comprehensible English rather than the tortured, convoluted prose they regularly turn out. Since apparently nobody at Beloit College has stepped forward to edit the lists before they’re published, Professor Angry and I would be happy to lend our services. For my audition, I’ll rewrite the two choice Class of 2017 items above.
- “The threat of a government shutdown has always hung over Federal budget negotiations”
- “Their dogs wear electronic collars; they carry electronic lifelines.”
Accuracy is harder to fix.
Messrs. McBride and Nief like items that connect something that happened around the birth of the class to something that happened recently. Republicans in Congress shut down the government in 1994 and again in 2013—so it didn’t happen for first 18 years the Class of 2017 was alive. Since it’s a tactic used by Republicans against Democratic presidents, it wasn’t even anticipated for most of their lives.
Electronic shock collars for animals have been around since the 1960s so it’s unclear why it shows up on the Class of 2017 list—or how many Class of 2017 pets wear them given the controversy that surrounds their use.
College students being “connected” has been in the news for years, e.g., the Pew Research Center’s informative 2010 report “Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change,” so I suppose it was just a matter of time before the BML stumbled upon it, connected it to a more questionable assertion and turned it into a poorly constructed sentence.
Captain Janeway has always taken the USS Voyager where no woman or man has ever gone before. (Class of 2017, #22)
Bill Maher has always been politically incorrect. (Class of 2017, #59)
How hard could it be to figure out what T.V. shows were the most popular for a birth cohort? Nielsen collects this sort of data. Naturally, the Beloit Mindset List instead just names a couple shows that premiered around the year the cohort was born.
Star Trek: Voyager (starring Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway) was cancelled in 2001, when the Class of 2017 was six years old. Politically Incorrect (hosted by Bill Maher) was cancelled in 2002, when the Class of 2017 was seven. (It premiered in 1993, when the Class of 2015 was born, but maybe Messrs. McBride and Nief were running out of Class of 2017 material and had to dig into their old notes.)
Shows cancelled before your parents let you watch them aren’t part of your “mindset.”