Culture Notes


Issue: "Army's new MP's?," May 31, 1997

Image is everything

Postmodernism favors form over content, image over truth, desire over reality. This is why contemporary educational theory is not much interested in teaching anything and why today's politicians can be so free and easy with the truth. Now, this postmodernist skepticism has made its way to the advertising industry. The latest fashion in commercials is to have a clever ad without bothering about actually showing the product being advertised. Some Nike ads have little to do with shoes, presenting only the logo of the swoosh. A Mercedes ad shows only a giant yellow duck, with logos for eyes. The Honda Acura commercial depicts a blur and a whoosh, but never shows the car. In these postmodern commercials, there is no real content, just rhetorical persuasion. Image really is everything. Perhaps the oddest ad campaign in this vein is the series of Nissan commercials. A road cuts through a surreal landscape, with no car in sight, as an actor pops up with a sign that says, "Smile." A boy chases a baseball into a barn, where he falls into subterranean garage filled with Japanese cars. A G.I. Joe-figure steals Barbie away from Ken, as they drive away in a toy sports car. All of these advertise Nissan automobiles. What ties the commercials together is the appearance of a zen-like Japanese guru in a bow tie and baseball cap. He is supposed to represent Yutaka Katayama, the original head of Nissan operations in the U.S., known as "Mr. K." Though these ads have won advertising awards, critical acclaim, and wide attention, according to a Wall Street Journal report, they are not selling many Nissans. The public has no idea what the ads are selling, and car dealers are complaining to the company. Next year, the ad agency is promising more conventional ads. The problem with postmodernism-as is evident in education and politics no less than in advertising-is that style is ultimately no substitute for substance.

Just friends

The newest trend in school-age socializing: sleepovers, with both sexes invited. Fifth-grade birthday party sleepovers are now often co-educational. Parents are increasingly renting hotel rooms for their high-school children and their friends of both sexes after the prom. And according to experts, the growing acceptability of this new mixing of the sexes is due in large measure to the church. Parents who allow co-ed slumber parties insist that the children are "just friends," that everything is platonic, and that the parties are well-structured and supervised. Often they are. Family therapist Susan Mingesz, however, discourages the practice with its explicit message that it is OK to sleep together. Sexual activity does sometimes take place at these parties. Having counseled young people who succumbed to temptation, or watched others do so, Ms. Mingesz says, "Unless the parents are there, I mean right there in the room, it's not a good idea." Another counselor, Mike McGowan, also criticizes the practice. "Sexual activity in kids is a lot higher than parents want to believe," he points out. "Children's development needs to be respected. These kids are not necessarily ready to deal with the situations that adults think are cute and charming." Ironically, those who have studied the phenomenon have traced the vogue of mixed-sex overnighters to that staple of church youth group activities: the lock-in. Though having the church's young people spend the night in the fellowship hall typically involves lots of supervision and structured activities, the law of unintended consequences may still be at work.

Sex on TV

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"Ninety-four percent of sex on TV is among people who aren't married to each other," reports researcher Marion Howard of Emory University. This contributes to children's widespread confusion about marriage. "Everything they see on TV says that sex isn't only for marriage." Furthermore, Mr. Howard observes, "The majority of children know marriage isn't forever," based on their experience with divorce on the part of their parents or other adults they know.

In case of emergency...

A recent poll asked, What book would you most rather have if you were shipwrecked on a desert island? The top choice was the Bible, though it garnered only 17 percent of the respondents. Second choice, at 4 percent each, was a thriller by Stephen King or John Grisham. Apparently, those respondents considered a desert island to be a day at the beach. The Bible, as emergency reading, was equally popular among both sexes and all ages, with the significant exception of those between 18 and 29 years old. In other reading news, a survey found that 45 percent of those living in the western United States purchased at least one book in the past month. Forty-four percent of Easterners bought a book, as did 37 percent of Southerners and 35 percent of Midwesterners.


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