#40 in a Series Examining Every Item on the Beloit Mindset List

They never tasted the “texturally enhanced alternative beverage” known as Orbitz. (Class of 2018, #29)

They have probably never used Netscape as their web browser. (Class of 2018, #46)

Boeing has never had any American competition for commercial aircraft. (Class of 2018, #51)

The Class of 2018 Beloit Mindset List has only six “never” items, which may be the fewest ever. Although I don’t see how something a group of people has never experienced could be part of their “mindset,” there could be some value in learning about these non-experiences—if the things they didn’t experience had any significance for the people who did experience them.

Orbitz was a soft drink that was introduced in the 1997 and quickly discontinued because nobody wants to drink something with little balls floating in it. Consuming it was never an important part of anyone’s life.

When web browsers were a new technology, people imagined that there might be important differences between them. The government even filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft over how it bundled its browser with its operating system. Two decades later we know that web browsers are basically the same. It doesn’t matter that the Class of 2918 didn’t use Netscape Navigator because there wasn’t some “Netscape experience” that was much different from the experience of using any other browser.

In 1997, Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas to become the only U.S. manufacturer of commercial jet airliners. Would the lives of the Class of 2018 be much different if the two companies had remained competitors? Probably not.

I’ll look at the other three “never” items in another post to see if they are as trivial as these.

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?

#39 in a Series Examining Every Item on the Beloit Mindset List

During their initial weeks of kindergarten, they were upset by endlessly repeated images of planes blasting into the World Trade Center. (Class of 2018, #1)

I’ve assumed that Messrs. McBride and Nief read Beloit Mindlessness because how could you not read a web site devoted to the destruction of your most famous creation, but item #1 on the Class of 2018 Mindset List clinches it.

The item appears to be a direct response to one of the most pointed criticisms we’ve made against the Mindset List (see here and here), the 9-11 Problem:

The Beloit Mindset List has never made a direct reference to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Or the subsequent wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Or the rise in security procedures or any other policy changes that took place after the attacks.

But how could it? These events happened in the past 12 years and the central premise of the Mindset List is that the mindset of a birth cohort—its set of “cultural touchstones”—is concocted from events that took place the year its members were born.…

9-11 and its aftermath must be more significant for understanding the “mindset” of American young people than roughly 99% of the trivia on the Mindset lists, but the Mindset Method dictates that they can’t be directly referenced.

Indirect references are okay as long as they are connected to something that happened roughly 18 years earlier.

So, perhaps thanks to our critique, the latest Mindset List opens with a reference to 9-11— even though it took place while the Class of 2018 was in kindergarten! Thirteen years after coordinated terrorist attacks on American soil killed 2,977 people, resulting in two wars and countless other consequences, Messrs. McBride and Nief have come to the realization that the attacks actually affected people who were older than infants when they occurred. So hooray for that, I guess.

Of course, the item misses what was most significant about the attacks for the Class of 2018—it wasn’t being upset by watching the attacks on TV. Also, the rest of the list is the same brand of pointless trivia we’re come to expect from it. We’ll be digging into that in the days to come.

Mindset List vs. Mindlessness List (Class of 2018)

The Class of 2018 Mindset List is upon us and we’ll soon be scrutinizing its items and examining media reaction. But first, we’re going to compare it to our own Beloit Mindlessness List.

We generated the list using the same method that Messrs. McBride and Nief do:

Without any assistance from or knowledge about anyone in the Class of 2018, we wrote a list about a bunch of things that happened roughly 18 years ago with some additional items based on lazy stereotypes and trivia of interest to us. Nobody checked it for accuracy or comprehensibility.

Last year we, predicted around 20% of the Mindset List in ours, but this year we had only six seven items in common. (In the each pair, the Mindset List item is listed first, then ours.)

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetime are Tupac Shakur, JonBenet Ramsey, Carl Sagan, and Tiny Tim.

For this generation of entering college students, born in 1996, Tupac Shakur, JonBenét Ramsey and George Burns have always been dead.

We got two of their four, but I’m surprised they went with JonBenét Ramsey. The BML usually lists dead celebrities on its “never been alive” list; this is the first murdered child I’m aware of.

On Parents’ Weekend, they may want to watch out in case Madonna shows up to see daughter Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon or Sylvester Stallone comes to see daughter Sophia.

27. Madonna has never performed a song worth listening to, but she might show up to parents weekend. Peter Frampton might be there too.

Kids of celebrities born 18 years ago is a Mindset List mainstay. It doesn’t matter if they are actually going to college this year.

16. Hong Kong has always been part of China.

 6. Hong Kong has never been a British colony.

The Mindset List usually includes some 18-year-old international event that most 18-year-olds probably know nothing about.

23. Hello Dolly…cloning has always been a fact, not science fiction.

9. Scientists have always been cloning sheep, but cloning humans has always been illegal.

Dolly the Sheep was cloned in 1996.

35. Yet another blessing of digital technology: They have never had to hide their dirty magazines under the bed.

29. Thanks to federal courts, smut has always been legal on the Internet.

In 1996 federal courts began striking down indecency provisions of the Communications Decency Act.

47. Everybody has always Loved Raymond.

21. Everyone has always loved Raymond—the Ray Ramano character, not the Perry Mason actor, who has never existed.

Everybody Loves Raymond premiered in 1996

Starting later today, we’ll be scrutinizing the Class of 2017 Mindset items, and we invite the Mindset team to do the same to ours. And as we claimed in the introduction to our list:

Even if the Class of 2018 Mindset List isn’t identical to ours, they are equally valid, accurate and useful. So feel free to mix and match items as you choose.

UPDATE: Here is another one:

6. Celebrity “selfies” are far cooler than autographs.

19. Their parents went to photography studios; they take selfies.

The Class of 2018 Beloit Mindlessness List

This year’s entering college class was born the same year as Copernicium and Tickle Me Elmo and surely that must mean something. They grew up with Blue’s Clues and Game of Thrones, but they never had a chance to join the Heaven’s Gate Cult.

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List and (barring divine intervention) will release another one Tuesday morning. We have no inside information on the contents of the list so we’ve created our 2nd Annual Beloit Mindlessness List using the same method: Without any assistance from or knowledge about anyone in the Class of 2018, we wrote a list about a bunch of things that happened roughly18 years ago with some additional items based on lazy stereotypes and trivia of interest to us. Nobody checked it for accuracy or comprehensibility.

Even if the Class of 2018 Mindset List isn’t identical to ours, they are equally valid, accurate and useful. So feel free to mix and match items as you choose.

The Beloit Mindlessness List for the Class of 2018

For this generation of entering college students, born in 1996, Tupac Shakur, JonBenét Ramsey and George Burns have always been dead.

1. Their conception may have involved the Macerena dance craze.

2. They may have fallen asleep in their cribs playing on an Nintendo 64.

3. Computers have always been beating grand masters at chess.

4. They have always feared Mad Cow Disease.

5. Titanic has always been a movie about a boat and never been a boat.

6. Hong Kong has never been a British colony.

7. Their parents may have bought them diapers at Woolworth’s, but never back-to-school clothes.

8. The Heaven’s Gate UFO cult has never been accepting new members.

9. Scientists have always been cloning sheep, but cloning humans has always been illegal.

10. Heavy metal has always been nü to them.

11. They have always been watching old sitcoms on TV Land.

12. The whining of Alanis Morisette from their parents’ stereo may have kept them awake in their cribs.

13. Copernicium has always been an element.

14. The first book their parents read them may have been Game of Thrones.

15. The Notebook has always been a romance novel, not a small book with ruled pages for writing notes.

16. Their parents may have been arrested in a melee that erupted over who would buy the last Tickle Me Elmo in the store.

17. France has never tested atomic bombs.

18. Major League Soccer has always existed.

19. Their parents went to photography studios; they take selfies.

20. Blue has always been looking for clues.

21. Everyone has always loved Raymond—the Ray Ramano character, not the Perry Mason actor, who has never existed.

22. Han never shot first.

23. They know Burt Reynolds as the porn auteur in Boogie Nights. Who are Smoky and the Bandit?

24. Emails have always outnumbered U.S. postal mail.

25. They have always been raiding tombs.

26. Their parents may have missed their first steps because they were watching the “dancing baby” on their computer screens.

27. Madonna has never performed a song worth listening to, but she might show up to parents weekend. Peter Frampton might be there too.

28. They’ve never watched certain sports teams play in particular stadiums because those teams moved or got new stadiums.

29. Thanks to federal courts, smut has always been legal on the Internet.

— August 25, 2014

Could the Beloit Mindset List Be Salvaged?

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.

Questions about the Class of 2018 Beloit Mindset List

Professor Angry and I have mixed feelings about tomorrow’s expected release of the Beloit Class of 2018 Mindset List. On the one hand, we’ll get to start debunking another poorly researched and written list of trivia unconvincingly connected to incoming  college freshman. On the other hand, since our goal is to destroy the Beloit Mindset List, its continued existence is a painful failure.

We already know a few things about the new list. It won’t be funny. It will have little to do with the “mindset” of new college students. Here are a few questions about the new list that we’ll learn the answers to tomorrow.

1. Will the list be as error-ridden as previous lists? As I examine items from past lists, I continue to be amazed at how many easily checked errors they contain. It would seemingly be simple for Messrs. McBride and Nief to hire a couple of student fact-checkers to check their work. However, if they have any interest in accuracy, they’ve kept it well hidden.

2. How will media respond to the list? If last year is any indication, fewer media outlets are publishing the Mindset List uncritically and more are critiquing it or mocking it. This is a trend I hope continues. In the age of Buzzfeed, the Mindset list is just one of countless pointless listicles floating around the Internet. What sets it apart is its academic pedigree and unwarranted attention from the media. While not as satisfying as complete destruction of the list, having it mostly ignored would be a well-deserved fate.

3. Will the list change at all? The Mindset List for years has contained familiar tropes and tics. The meaning of words change. People are shaped by the events that took place in the year of their birth. Things that happened over 18 years ago never happened. Do Messrs. McBride and Nief have any new ideas? Probably not.

We expect two more posts here before the new Mindset List is released: (1) an essay on how the Mindset List could actually be improved (if it continues to survive destruction) and (2) Prof. Angry’s and my Class of 2018 Beloit Mindlessness List, which like the Mindset List itself, is just a bunch of made-up stuff.

#38 in a Series Examining Every Item on the Beloit Mindset List

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.

#37 in a Series Examining Every Item on the Beloit Mindset List

Jurassic Park has always had rides and snack bars, not free-range triceratops and velociraptors. (Class of 2017, #26)

Here’s another example of a “words develop new meanings” item that makes little sense.

Jurassic Park is a 1990 novel by Michael Crichton. A Steven Spielberg movie of the same name was released in 1993. A sequel to the book, The Lost World, was published in 1995, the year when much of the Class of 2017 was born. That book became a movie in 1997. A third movie came out in 2001. A 3D version of the first movie was re-released in 2013 and a fourth movie is planned for 2015.

Jurassic Park: The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood opened in 1996 with other versions opening later in Japan, Florida and Singapore.

There have also been Jurassic Park comic books, video games and toys.

There are two obvious directions for the BML to take regarding Jurassic Park. First, Jurassic Park has always existed for the Class of 2017 (since they can’t remember a time when it didn’t exist). Second, Jurassic Park never existed (or at least is not important) for the Class of 2017 (since it came out while they were babies).

As evidence that either approach would work, we can look just one year back when the Class of 2016 list used one approach for The Santa Clause and another for Pulp Fiction even though both movies were released during the same year:

There has always been a Santa Clause. (Class of 2016, #53)
Pulp Fiction’s meal of a “Royale with Cheese” and an “Amos and Andy milkshake” has little or no resonance with them. (Class of 2016, #69)

(See more about this contradiction here.)

Instead, the BML goes in a third direction, suggesting that the Class of 2017 can recall the ride but not the premise of the movie or book, i.e., “Jurassic Park“ has a new meaning.

Ron Nief, one half of the Beloit Mindset List brain trust, is a Beloit College P.R. guy so it’s bizarre that this item seems drafted by someone with a complete misunderstanding of how marketing works. Jurassic Park is a media franchise with multiple products that increase awareness of each other. You might as well claim that “Beloit College is ‘a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations,’ not an institution of higher education.”

#36 in a Series Examining Every Item on the Beloit Mindset List

As kids they may well have seen Chicken Run but probably never got chicken pox. (Class of 2017, #7)

In their first 18 years, they have watched the rise and fall of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriguez. (Class of 2017, #33)

The Celestine Prophecy has always been bringing forth a new age of spiritual insights. (Class of 2017, #37)

Being selected by Oprah’s Book Club has always read “success.” (Class of 2017, #55)

They have always known that there are “five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes” in a year. (Class of 2017, #60)

Barring a miracle, the Class of 2018 Mindset List will be released sometime next month. When we are closer to that regrettable occasion, I plan on posting a list of ideas for making the List somewhat less worthless than it is now. Here’s one idea now:

Instead of making up what movies college freshmen like, what celebrities they care about, what books they’ve read and so on, Messrs. McBride and Nief could ask some of them—send out a survey to incoming Beloit College students and ask them about their favorite stuff.

The Celestine Prophecy, published two years before the Class of 2017 was born, is likely less significant to understanding their mindset than whatever books they would report being their favorite, most influential or most read.

Does the Class of 2017 know about or care about Tiger Woods, Alex Rodriguez or Oprah Winfrey? Ask them who their favorite celebrities are.

Have they seen Chicken Run? Maybe, but I’d rather hear about what their favorite movies are.

Do they know the lyrics of a love song from the musical Rent, which was released when they were in diapers? Do they know the songs from any musicals? Ask them.

I’d actually be interested in the favorite books, movies, celebrities and whatnot of entering college students, even if the information was based only on Beloit students—far more than in the made-up stuff now featured on the Mindset List.