A Society of Aliterates?
May 14, 2001 8:34 AM   Subscribe

A Society of Aliterates? Confused article in the Washington Post Style section indicts an aliterate society (one where people can read, but choose not to) for selling its soul at the going rate of 1 pic = 1000 words. Conflating "printed material" with "reading" and then with "quality", the author completely ignores what information people actually take away from different media (eg, doesn't notice that "reading" may be crappy s-f [hey, I had to give romance novels a break], while tv can be Frontline or 60 Minutes). Further, they throw in a brief screed against multimedia including highway signs. Bizarre and hypocritical, or maybe just illustrative, in that the writer completely forgoes logic and goes for scare tactics like:

You can walk through whole neighborhoods of houses in the country that do not contain books or magazines

in addition to the old stand-by of ignoring any real historical trend in reading. I want to say it's just some old crank, but can't quite, because the article was passed along by a friend earnestly worried about our aliterate society.
posted by claxton6 (36 comments total)
Perhaps perception-poor people's propensity for pre-arranged, pre-packaged, pusillanimous pedantry prepares them poorly for penetrating, say, Pushkin.

Oh wait, that's an alliterative society. my bad.
posted by FPN at 8:47 AM on May 14, 2001

Claxton, have you read Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman? It's a pretty interesting look at the effects on rational discourse on a society that doesn't read. If you haven't, you may find it interesting.
posted by Doug at 9:17 AM on May 14, 2001

LMAO... Oh, that was good. Very very good, FPN.

Personally, I feel that this is getting to a point where it's true - I know whole blocks in my neighborhood that don't get a newspaper at all. I know kids who can't read - their parents encourage them to practice their basketball instead of doing their homework, on the longshot chance that they'll bee the next Kobe Bryant or whoever the hot star is these days.

I still think we need to get back to basics in schools... Reading, Writing, Math. There's too much basis on 'feeling good' in schools... and we're gonna be in trouble someday soon because of that.
posted by SpecialK at 9:21 AM on May 14, 2001

Thank you so much for not using the standard "Riting and Rithmatic" SpecialK . . .

While there may be some weak points in the article, I think it's wise to call attention to the distinction between illiteracy and alliteracy - in my opinion, the latter is a far greater problem, especially as it's clearly exemplified by our commander in chief (sorry, I just couldn't help myself).

I take exception with claxton, however. To me, reading is always a good thing. Even if people are reading romance novels and SciFi books (many of which are quite compelling, I should say) they are still actively using their minds. It's far different from passively absorbing material through the television.

Anyhow, there are all sorts of initiatives out there to combat illiteracy, how does one go about stemming the tide of alliteracy? All those old school "Reading is Cool" promotions never seemed to do the trick.
posted by aladfar at 9:37 AM on May 14, 2001

I only clicked on this thread to make the same joke FPN did, but he did it better than I would have.
posted by straight at 9:40 AM on May 14, 2001

doug: Thanks. I've read Technopoly but not AOTD. Postman has the sort of perspective that I think the article would have benefited from, namely:

The invention of the printing press is an excellent example. Printing fostered the modern idea of individuality but it destroyed the medieval sense of community and social integration. Printing created prose but made poetry into an exotic and elitist form of expression. Printing made modern science possible but transformed religious sensibility into an exercise in superstition. Printing assisted in the growth of the nation-state but, in so doing, made patriotism into a sordid if not a murderous emotion.

from a talk titled Informing ourselves to death. However, in Technopoly anway, Postman too forgot his own lesson about the relativity of things, and went a little reactionary, I thought.

specialk: I guess my thought is: (1) there have always been those blocks where no one gets the paper. I'm not saying it's not a problem, or a good thing, just that I disagree with the article's contention that it's something new. And (2) there should probably be a visual literacy component to education, to help people learn to focus more on actively understanding the images they confront everyday.
posted by claxton6 at 9:45 AM on May 14, 2001

I don't get the newspaper, I read articles online. :-) And SOMEBODY out there is reading all of those Harry Potter books. *grin*

When people look up information on the Internet today, Albert explains, they are "basically scanning. There's very little actual comprehension that's going on." I scan all the time because I'm very good at picking out what's relevant to me. Sounds like comprehension to me. "People don't take the time to read anything," explains Jim Peters, editor of BrandPackaging magazine. "Marketers and packagers are giving them colors and shapes as ways of communicating." Have you READ the crap that's on, say, the back of cereal boxes lately? It's worse than fluff. What's to read? "If you don't read much, you really don't know much," he says. "You're dangerous."Sounds like intellectual snobbery to me. Some of the wisest people I know don't read much. But then, I've never been one to unilaterally equate "wisdom" with "knowing stuff" or even "being informed".

Having said all of that. I used to be a voracious reader. Particularly sci-fi and fantasy. Then I read a lot of nonfiction self-type books. The last few years I haven't found much worth my interest (J.K. Rowling aside *grin*) as far as books go. Interestingly enough, I'm also a writer and produce an e-zine. It will never be defined in the same category as Hemingway (?) but it's still interesting to a lot of people.

And a light in the darkness, Many of the messages that we have to interpret in day-to-day life, Thompsen says, "use multiple communication media. I think it is important to realize that as our society becomes more accustomed to using multimedia messages, we must also expand our thinking about what it means to be 'literate.' " When I was a technical writer, I got so good at multitasking that I could write a software manual while holding casual conversation with coworkers - we CAN multitask and are getting really used to it. If a "book" is going to deserve my time, it's going to have to engage me on many levels. Perhaps what is dying is just the old types of 'literature' and we're only looking at what's going away, not necessarily what new forms or expressions are coming to be. Letters are symbols too, are they not? *grin*
posted by thunder at 9:48 AM on May 14, 2001

I still think we need to get back to basics in schools... Reading, Writing, Math. There's too much basis on 'feeling good' in schools... and we're gonna be in trouble someday soon because of that.

Can you provide any references to studies, or is that just a gut feeling, SpecialK?

While aliteracy is a problem -- if only because text is the often the best way to communicate a great deal of detailed information (Tufte's Napoleon map notwithstanding), statements like this make me cringe:

To draw you a picture: Where we once deified the lifestyles of writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, we now fantasize about rock-and-roll gods, movie starlets or NBA super-studs (e.g. MTV's "Cribs"). The notion of writer-as-culture-hero is dead and gone. Comedic monologuists such as Jay Leno or David Letterman have more sex appeal than serious fiction writers.

What the writer is talking about there isn't a cultural shift away from reading; what he's talking about is a shift away from aggrandizement of writing. If writing isn't a high-status pursuit (or at least not one that's accepted as such by the majority of Americans), does that prevent T.C. Boyle or Dave Eggers from writing good novels? Does that prevent the publication of serious, thought-provoking non-fiction? If I buy a book by a novelist I know nothing about, am I therefore contributing to aliteracy?

The article's focus the literary canon was also puzzling:"It's the kid who spends hours and hours with video games instead of books, who knows Sim Cities better than 'A Tale of Two Cities.'" If a child is going to like Dickens, she is going to like Dickens, but I don't think that most children like Dickens. Thunder is right -- kids do read Harry Potter (and before that, the Goosebumps books). Why no mention of these low-status books? (Or, as alluded to by Claxton6, romance novels and sci-fi? Tom Clancy novels? These are books outside the canon with fairly widespread popular audiences.)

Finally, the road sign thing was incredibly bizarre. I don't know what I was supposed to gather from that.
posted by snarkout at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2001

---- Minor Flame mode ON ----

No biggie, everyone reading a considerable amount of book/newspapers/magazines sooner or later realizes he/she is not alone, but in a group composed by very few persons.

The trend is now inverted thanks to Internet, but as soon as massive multimedia reaches the net we'll see our loved txt-only pages slowly disappear ; I personally enjoy multimedia as an enrichment of text, but still believe that text reading and understanding is the best way to learn any concept.

I'd also like to point out that the quality of printed media is strictly correlated to the quality of the writers ; unfortunately the classification and industrialization of books market has reduced the number of well-written paper and that , obviously, doesn't encourage reading at all.

----Minor Flame Mode OFF----

Now , what about the article...let's examine it together from the point in which the author is asking to:

Internet Developers: William Albert has noticed one thing that's already well known: people want information from the net and they want it quick ; that's not a sign of incipient a-literation , but a sign of "no time" available era.
Quick is the golden rule ! Must-have-profit-NOW !

Transportation Gurus: symbols are better then text on the highway ; it's-so-fu*****-OBVIOUS ! You don't have time to read Dante's Inferno while driving ! That's not a proof of a-literation trend either, unless you want to crash on another car while reading directions.

Packaging designers: shape is important, true. But tell me HOW do you tell a box from another without anything written on it ? The fact that many people don't read the composition of what they're going to buy/eat is not a proof of a-literion, is proof of human stupidity.

Later in the article, Trelease says "The time argument is the biggest hoax of all" ; he got a valuable point here. But let's consider the Time Hoax from a different perspective, the consumer one.

Rational customers give a value to any good, but the value isn't necessarily measured by money ; it could be measured with an "entertainment" meter.

Different consumers evaluate items differently, so some consumer may be using an emotional meter that favors quick-entertainment..(society of the easily amused anybody ? ;) ).

So many customers may be using a ENTERTAINMENT/TIME
= value equation , even if they're not completely aware of that. Time-spent plays an important role in this equation.

Ugh gotta go work now. My entertainment level was 69/100 while writing this msg :) Hope to hear comments/critics from you guys soon.

P.s. Sorry for my bad grammar and other errors but english isn't my motherlanguage, I'm still learning it.

posted by elpapacito at 10:03 AM on May 14, 2001

Reading is an elitist thing and those who try to foist it off on us think they are better than the rest of us! Look at all those people who read the bible. They are still unable to play Doom, another classic from way back in bible times.
posted by Postroad at 10:26 AM on May 14, 2001

Language is a somewhat unnatural construct. What's wrong with learning and communicating through images?
posted by thebigpoop at 12:08 PM on May 14, 2001

While I believe that people should read more and that reading is fun (unless your earliest models and instruction makes reading akin to visiting a dentist's office, in which it is no fun at all), I have to take exception to this idea that we once idolized Fitzgerald (which - in my opinion - does not speak well of "us") and Hemingway and now we idolize athletes and movie stars. That may be true for an elite portion of the populace, but history shows us that the athlete, the outlaw, the singer, the actor/star, the professional celebrity (be she debutante, scandal-survivor, or outrageously rich and famous), the general, the charismatic leader - and yes - the writer - have all been idolized often throughout history

I'd wager that the boxers of the 1890s through the early part of this century had as many - if not more - fans as did F. Scott and Zelda. Hell, Jenny Lind sent people rushing halls throughout America a century before the Beatles arrived. The notoriety of Lizzie Borden in her day seems to exceeded that of OJ in ours. The ancient Greeks had a God-athlete connection that makes us look like pikers.

This kind of revisionist history - the past was better than today! This is why the modern era sucks! We need to return to that time! - completely undercuts any parts of the article I might agree with. It's part of an elitist glamorization of the past that completely irks me.

Knowledge is acquired in many ways, and to make one way better than all others is dangerous. If I learn that Zsa-Zsa Gabor claims to have lost to her virginity to Ataturk via her autobiography, that bit of knowledge is no more special or sacrosanct than if I had seen her say it on Biography, or heard it on the radio, or on the back of a box of Zsa-Zsa brand cornflakes.

None of those vehicles is more sacrosanct than the others - and the key piece of the equation is how the individual uses the information he gleans. (For the record, I doubted Zsa-Zsa immediately.)
posted by julen at 12:26 PM on May 14, 2001

thebigpoop: Hmm. Let's see. You are from another country, where men wear skirt-like garments. You want to go to American restroom at a restaurant, department store or public building. Someone points to a sign, one with a one-dimensional shawdow-like rendering of a human in an upright position, the other in the same position but with what appears to be a skirt-like garment. There are two restrooms, and the person comes back to you for assistance. How do you tell the person that, in America, men don't wear skirts, so you go to the one with the person not in a skirt-like garment? Point? What if he still has no idea why you pointed him to the particular bathroom locale?
posted by raysmj at 12:32 PM on May 14, 2001

Part of my dismay over aliteracy—and yes, I do think that many of the points in the article are more than a bit right on, and I'm detecting some defensiveness in the replies here—is that it further reduces the amount of beauty one can experience in life. I firmly believe that there's something quite unique about reading a book, something that informs many thought processes, from imagination to creative visualization to influences on written communication to learning a new nugget for your vocabulary, in a way that visual media can't. Think about the outcry that occurs, on varying levels, when various books are announced as becoming movies.

And you can point to phenomena like the Oprah Book Club, or the Harry Potter books, but it's the anamolous nature of those sorts of publishing mega-events—a big-selling book hardly sells as much as, say, what "No Strings Attached" sold in the first week—that makes them so noteworthy.

(Of course there's no direct correlation between being able to read a lot of books and being smart. That's why the adjective "well-read" is in the language.)

Full disclosure: I make a bit of money off of reviewing books, a job that not only requires that I read, but one that requires other people to read, too, since, well, the rules of the market have lately been dictating whether or not I'll have a section to write for ... but the detrimental effects of bottom-line impositions on journalism are a different kettle of fish.
posted by maura at 12:45 PM on May 14, 2001

Olympic hopeful Jeremy Spreitzer plans to become a teacher and maybe go into politics someday. For now, he's just trying to get through graduate school.

He watches a lot of television. "I'm a major surfer," he says. He watches the History Channel, A&E, Turner Classic Movies and all of the news stations.

"I'm required to do a lot of reading," he says. "But I do a minimum of what I need to do."

Mmmm. So to give the article a nice human face, they picked--surprise!--a lazy dumbass.

This article pines away for a society that never really existed. More people are aliterate now because, thanks to mass education and globalization, more people can read. This is basically Chicken Little taking time out to look down her nose at you.

Defensive postscript, as while previewing, I saw maura's post: I read lots! ;)
posted by Skot at 12:53 PM on May 14, 2001

You are from another country, where men wear skirt-like garments.

Such as, perhaps, Seattle?

I have no comment on this article. Its point has been made before, a hundred times over, and it's no more true nor relevant now than it has been in the past.

posted by Mars Saxman at 12:54 PM on May 14, 2001

julen: Celebrity culture is a meeting of democracy and mass media. It did not exist before the 1920s, really. Or, rather, it exploded then. Whether this is an improvement over past forms of human worship of other humans is up for debate. To me, it only proves that we take a couple of steps back with each step of "progress." But celebrity culture is totally different from past cults of personality, myths (or humans turned into myths), etc. Daniel Boone was a man and a myth. George Washington was a hero and a man/myth. Neither was a celebrity. The paper may be wrong about the time in which celebrity existed. That it was born when mass media (by which I mean the penny press, radio, movies, newsreels, then eventually TV, etc.) came to be is not up for debate. That it has even accelerated over time, as images have taken the place of print, is also not up for debate.
posted by raysmj at 12:54 PM on May 14, 2001

Another crucial difference between reading and consuming other media is the degree of temporal control and responsibility reading gives you. An album, a film, a tv programme are media with fixed durations. Starting to read a thing, though, is committing yourself to something that will take as long as it takes. This I think is an important thing in a world where time has become so commodified: a tiny reminder of autonomy in a cultural environment sliced up hour-by-hour by media producers.

(This is also why 'time-wasting' activities like videogames are good, but that's another subject entirely.)
posted by freakytrigger at 1:02 PM on May 14, 2001

(Off-topic to Mars: That Utilikilts guy? Old friend of mine. He used to do a lot of backstage work for us at our theater. It's been freaky{trigger} watching his Utilikilts get so much press.)
posted by Skot at 1:08 PM on May 14, 2001

What do you mean it's not up for debate?!

The celebrity culture may have had a different face and been more localized in the past, but I still believe that - in its generalized form - it was there. Look at ancient graffitti! Look at the Oral traditions of story and news-telling!

Look at the Roman Gladiator who had freakin' buns formed roughly into his shape, who had factions of fans who breathlessly followed him (ok. I'm extrapolating on the breathless part!)around, and whose exploits spread out of the city as fast as did the gossip about the emperor! I could go on (I do agree with the acceleration part), but it is off the topic of the thread.
posted by julen at 1:21 PM on May 14, 2001

I do think that many of the points in the article are more than a bit right on, and I'm detecting some defensiveness in the replies here...

Hell, no, Maura -- I'm working my way through two novels and rereading The Seven Types of Ambiguity at the moment. I love books; I just need more convincing that a shift away from reading as popular entertainment results in an aliterate society, or that an aliterate society is, by necessity, less informed than a literate society. (If one's options for news gathering were reduced to watching Frontline on PBS or reading USA Today, which would result in a more informed audience?)

I mean, it's a style section article; it was a puff piece that didn't need to make that case. Which is good, because it didn't.

And you can point to phenomena like the Oprah Book Club, or the Harry Potter books, but it's the anamolous nature of those sorts of publishing mega-events...that makes them so noteworthy.

Well, you're conflating a few things, here, I think (note that the author also conflated them). Let me try to explicate the questions I think this article raises (or, you know, could theoretically raise).
  • Are we becoming an aliterate society?
  • Is that a bad thing?
  • Does a decline in the average person's familiarity with serious literature indicate this aliteracy?

  • On that last point, I'll note that neither Dickens nor Melville was considered an author of serious literature during his lifetime; until a relatively recent point in Western literature, "serious literature" meant poetry.

    [Re: the culture of "celebrity"] That it was born when mass media (by which I mean the penny press, radio, movies, newsreels, then eventually TV, etc.) came to be is not up for debate.

    But the mass media dates back to Gutenberg, right? One could well argue that Lord Byron fit the definition of a mass-media celebrity. (I'll certainly grant that television and radio make for celebrities with wider distribution; the phenomenon of a teenager in Thailand being familiar with Julia Roberts and Shaq is a fairly new one.)
    posted by snarkout at 1:28 PM on May 14, 2001

Closing a tag. Move along.
posted by snarkout at 1:28 PM on May 14, 2001

snarkout: The media dates back to Gutenberg. The mass media does not -- more with the penny press of the late 1800s. "Mass" implies wide, near-univeral distribution, and accessiblity (which means understandable and attractive to people of all classes) and practically instantaneous communication, or as close to instantaneous as you could get. It's been about faster, faster, faster in news reporting, for instance, all along.

Just for the record, I don't like the article. It is a hack piece, overdrawn. The quote from the Olympic "hopeful" toward the end regarded Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone." His book does not have anywhere near the scorn shown for the Internet that is reflected in the article. He sees the Net as having enormous potential in social/political networking, actually.
posted by raysmj at 1:38 PM on May 14, 2001

Language is a somewhat unnatural construct. What's wrong with learning and communicating through images?

Huh? Could you clarify your statement about language being an "unnatural construct"? To my knowledge, there is much research demonstrating that language is at least partially hard-wired in the human brain because it's been so vitally important to the survival of the species.

For example: When you toss together a bunch of adults who don't understand each others' languages, they will come up with a pidgin "language", which will likely be crude and lack grammatical constructs and eloquence of expression. But if those adults have children, those children will create a grammatical language (called a creole) from what they're given. Some syntactic structures, at least, seem to be instinctual.

I could go on at length, but I'm more curious about what evidence you have that language is "unnatural".
posted by binkin at 1:48 PM on May 14, 2001

I don't know. I always want to agree with anyone who says we're not reading enough, but that's just my idealistic young English major perspective.

Two major problems with this article: first, who the hell cares that we're not reading street signs? I sure as hell don't, as much as I enjoyed reading them as a kid. (I did! I also read the ingredients in Diet Coke, and, strangely enough, still drank lots of it.) Second is the distinction it makes between everything printed and everything else. Reading a newspaper can be classed with reading a novel, but the Internet (and most of what I do on the Internet is reading text) is classed with television.

One time the article gets at something but doesn't go far enough: mentioning the teacher who has you watch Gettysburg instead of reading The Killer Angels. Put that way, it doesn't seem that bad, but when you consider that about half my history class was spent watching movies, and then you consider that, in my American Lit class in high school, we watched movies of Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter instead of reading them... I think we have a problem.
posted by dagnyscott at 1:49 PM on May 14, 2001

julen: It was humans worshiping other humans, or admiring them, or starting cults of personality. But it wasn't celebrity culture. There now exist hundreds of people who you may only know a couple of details about, but thousands of people know their names. It's regular people too, or rather, they came from similar lowly origins. Sure, that happened in the past too, but those people grew into myths, something larger and sometimes vastly scarrier in their own way. This is why Andy Warhol's 15 minutes line still rings so true. He didn't say, "In the future, everyone will have a cult of personality or a worshipful series of cave-like drawing built around them for 15 minutes." It's democratic. It's another animal entirely.
posted by raysmj at 1:55 PM on May 14, 2001

correction re myself: That Warhol line was people would be "famous" for 15 minutes. But you know what he was talking about, and if you don't, a few minutes with an older copy of Interview should do it. Featured and fawned over in the mag were people famous for, pretty much, being famous -- or at least fairly famous, on their way to possibly being famous. Readers even learned about some of these famous peoples' (read: celebrites') problems and faults, fears, insecurities, favorite movies, Andy, etc. Celebrities also interviewed other celebrities, as they still do in the magazine.
posted by raysmj at 2:11 PM on May 14, 2001

Oh, hell, doesn't anyone remember that RIF campaign? "Reading is fundamental."

Also known, of course, as "reading is fun and mental..."

posted by metrocake at 2:25 PM on May 14, 2001

The last para of the article says it all. Athlete Spreitzer defends his learning all he needs to know about Putnam from TV.

Spreitzer: [Putnam]'s on the news all the time...On MSNBC and other places. Those interviews with him are more invaluable than anything else.
posted by caraig at 2:40 PM on May 14, 2001

I understand your point, raysmj, and I'm in less disagreement then I thought, but there's still the trace of disagreement that I suspect emerges from somewhat different definitions of celebrity culture (and mine is rather looser than yours). I think the twentieth century's descent into a dominant celebrity culture (at least in the western world) has been highly intensified by these advances of technology that allow for greater quantity in whole new realms of expression.

Furthermore I think the manifestations of celebrity focus, cult of personality, and human worship, are much more distinct today than they were in the past. I think the combination of technology bring more widespread things closer (i.e. the newspaper, the telegraph, the radio, the tv, the internet) has encouraged this modern-date specific instantiation of the cult of celebrity. I would also suspect that in 2000 years, the then-Cult of Celebrity will make us all look pikers now.
posted by julen at 2:45 PM on May 14, 2001

julen: It's also social, political and economic movements that have affected fame, if you want to call it that, too. This is why the Saddam posters you see all over in magazine portraits of Iraq come off as so bizarre and deliriously backdated.

Could you imagine huge pictures of Dubya and Bill everywhere, gigantic versions of those tiny ones you see in federal buildings? Even having a president who calls himself Bill or Dubya is pretty democratic type of fame/celebrity. (And I don't care what sort of family Dubya is actually from.) You didn't even have that 50-60 years ago. No one called FDR "Frank," although calling Sinatra that was fine. No one called Wilson "Woody." Harry Truman was very much a Harry, on the other hand. Americans just never became as familiar with him as they did with, ahem, Bill or with Ronnie. I remember seeing a diagram of Ronnie's colon when I was 14 or so. Maybe we should have a giant photos of the president's colon everywhere. Maybe that's what humans will be doing 200 years from now.

It's all hilarious, when not totally appalling, but I can pretty much assure you that neither presidency nor the people have benefitted from such treatment. I groaned when I heard the justification for the huge blowup of Kerry-in-Vietnam story: He could run for president. Even if you take away the 'Nam story and his leftie politics, he could never be president. The White House is the locus of our national infotainment culture. Bob Kerry is/was not cut out for that.
posted by raysmj at 3:09 PM on May 14, 2001

Could you clarify your statement about language being an "unnatural construct"?

I'd say this applies more to written language than to spoken. We must still be taught to read and write, and some of us never quite get the hang of it.

(Nice to see someone else has read The Language Instinct, though!)
posted by kindall at 5:08 PM on May 14, 2001

I'm not sure I count - I'm a linguist (in training), so of course I've read it. ;) I can certainly see, though, that written language is somewhat hard to get one's mind around - chalk it up to me being a) a pedant and b) always on the lookout for a language debate.

You might also be interested in a book I'm currently reading, called How Children Learn the Meanings of Words by Paul Bloom. It's pretty new, and somewhat controversial, but very interesting and accessible.
posted by binkin at 5:16 PM on May 14, 2001

The White House is the locus of our national infotainment culture. Bob Kerry is/was not cut out for that.

Way off topic, but, after spending my formative years under Kerry's stint as governor in good ol' Ak-sar-ben, I'd have to say his make-up could definitely be construed as celebrity oriented. Much hay was made over his relationship with Debora Winger and he used the notoriety quite effectively.
posted by BoyWithFez at 9:15 AM on May 15, 2001

BoyWithFez: Oh, definitely, but wasn't he still a smidgen above the fray, or attempted to make himself look that way? Or maybe it's just that he's become a lot weirder since then? He's a Bob, sure, but he's not quite the regular sort of Bob. Not a Bill or a Dubya, or even a Ronnie. Or maybe he strikes me as too different for the White House ever now that candidates and presidents are now expected to totally grovel or make complete idiots of themselves?
posted by raysmj at 10:08 AM on May 15, 2001

raysmj: I think Bob learned early on that the best way to control his image was to project an air of being above the fray (as you say) and allowing his staff to run spin. He was instrumental in the whole Keno in Nebraska movement and survived a lot of allegations about poor business ethics, but these never seemed to hurt his image in ways that the same faults would kill other pols.

Perhaps you are correct that he is not suited for the infotainment-in-chief position but only because he seems to have a streak of humility buried somewhere about his person that may actually be real. I do feel sympathy for him over this baby-killer scandal, and I believe he is honestly, severely troubled by the incident. Yet he also had no qualms about playing fast and loose with child labor laws in his restaurant operations back home.

In short, he is a tough nut to crack. He would do so much better than recent officeholders, but the chances of him actually attaining the position are negligible - which is kind of sad really. You're right in that his public image is not a Dubya or Ronnie. He's a Bob in the same way that Abe was an Abe, although I wouldn't draw the parallel much further than that. However I would still argue that he is a fame seeker and willing to exploit the cult of celebrity for personal gain.

Finally, in passing, I support your post that generated this side discussion. Your topical arguments were right on. I still chuckle at the though of Saddam-sized banners of Dubya's colon or Dick's heart flying from the WashingtonMonument.
posted by BoyWithFez at 10:48 AM on May 15, 2001

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