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Culture Notes

Culture

Issue: "Hong Kong," June 28, 1997

Talk to your tots

New studies suggest that the number of different words an infant hears may be the best predictor of later intelligence, success in school, and social skills. These words have to come from a human being-words on the radio or TV apparently have no effect. According to research conducted by Patricia Kuhl, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington, an infant's neural connections in the brain are organized by language. As early as six months, babies have learned the sounds of their native language, and the foundation for rational thinking is established as early as one year. Simply talking to one's babies can have an enormous impact on their later development. This research shows that infants need more than pacifiers and caregivers-they need active, verbal parents. It shows that in an image-dominated age, language is irreplaceable. Furthermore, it gives evidence to support the biblical principle of the centrality of the Word.

Barred Bard

Although Shakespeare is making a comeback in Hollywood, he is getting bumped in the nation's top colleges. According to a study by the National Alumni Forum, of 70 colleges surveyed-including the U. S. News & World Report top 50-only 23 still require English majors to take a course in Shakespeare. Instead of studying the greatest writer in the English language, these schools are substituting classes in works that are emphatically not great. Georgetown dropped its Shakespeare requirement but offers four courses in detective and prison literature, including one on "The Gangster Film," which can count as a requirement. Duke offers "Melodrama and Soap Opera." The University of Virginia's senior English seminar features such topics as "Marketing Miss America," "Monticello and Graceland," and "White Trash." The phenomenon reflects the postmodernist academic establishment, in which high culture is replaced by pop culture. Some of what were once America's finest schools, seduced by relativism, are rejecting the very concept of excellence.

Disneyfying the Bible

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After mining American history, fairy tales, Greek mythology, and literary classics for material, it was only a matter of time before Disney took on the Bible. This time the entertainment empire put on a Broadway musical, King David. With music by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors) and Tim Rice (Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar), the saga of David from shepherd boy to King of Israel was presented as a pop oratorio. The show closed, to lukewarm reviews, after a limited run of only nine performances, but Disney officials described it as "a work in progress." This probably means that Disney's David will be back, perhaps as a cartoon. Be ready for Bathsheba dolls, Canaanite action figures, and Goliath Happy Meals.

Soaps on the rope

Soap operas-long the staple of daytime TV-are fading in popularity. Since 1985, the serial dramas have lost 31 percent of their prime viewers, women between ages 18 and 49. Bill Bell, creator of The Young and the Restless, blames the decline on the O.J. Simpson trial. "O.J. was like a narcotic," he complains. "It was its own serial." Other observers point out how the public's taste for watching mixed-up people's entangled relationships is now being satisfied by real-life talk shows. "Suddenly," observes Rick Schindler, an editor at TV Guide, "you could watch Ricki Lake and see characters far more outrageous than Erica on All My Children." In other words, soap operas are declining because real life is becoming a soap opera.

Train-spotting

The latest manifestation of our culture's death wish is a bizarre and deadly game called "Catching a Breeze." Teenagers go to the railroad tracks and stand between two passing trains. The thrill comes not only from the danger but also from the feel of the wind as both locomotives rush by. Since trains are two feet wider than the tracks on either side, railroad safety experts point out, it is extremely difficult to judge exactly where to stand. Also, the force generated by the trains can pull a person under the wheels. In Wisconsin, two young men who caught more than a breeze were killed in two weeks, and other fatalities are being reported across the country.

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