Culture Notes


Issue: "Federal Testing," Sept. 13, 1997

Psychology follies

Members of the American Psychological Association, meeting in Chicago for their annual convention, did their best to feel good about themselves, but ended up damaging their self-esteem. The assembled psychologists began by voting to have their members stop treating homosexuality as a psychological problem. Choosing to ignore the success stories of therapists who have helped homosexuals change their sexual preferences, the APA ruled that same-sex relationships are just as normal as heterosexual relationships. But another item of business proved more problematic. The group planned to bestow a lifetime achievement award on Dr. Raymond B. Cattell, a 92-year-old psychologist renowned for developing much-used intelligence and personality tests. But Dr. Cattell was one of the founders of "Beyondism," a New Age movement that teaches eugenics, euthanasia of unintelligent groups, and various neo-Nazi ideas, including the defense of Hitler. When Dr. Cattell's religious and political beliefs were exposed by Dr. Barry Fehler, director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism, the befuddled APA postponed the award ceremony until a committee could investigate the matter. "We gave [the award] to him for his distinguished contributions in psychology as a science," insisted Joseph Matarazzo, chair of the APA's awards committee. "We did not give it to him for his social views on eugenics."

Pro-TV ads bomb for ABC

ABC's promotional campaign to bolster the image of TV watching has apparently backfired. The so-called "TV Is Good" campaign plastered happy-face-yellow signs on billboards and buses with slogans designed to promote television as a guilty pleasure. Slogans such as "It's a beautiful day. What are you doing outdoors?"and "Hobbies, schmobbies" stressed the value of couch-potatohood. "Don't worry, you've got billions of brain cells" justified the mind-numbing quality of most TV shows. Another slogan, "Books are overrated," was axed by ABC affiliates, who felt it went too far. But the effect of the widely ridiculed ads-which were intended to be hip, humorous, and ironic- seems to be to remind people of how bad television actually is. Local affiliates are complaining that the $40 million devoted to the campaign should have been devoted to advertising the new fall season-especially since Disney-owned ABC has been dead last among the major networks in the ratings. The campaign was developed by the same advertising agency responsible for the Nissan ads, which consist of enigmatic imagery that says nothing about the product. Auto dealers are complaining that these postmodern ads may be clever, but they are not selling cars.

Requiem for a princess

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The beautiful princess married the handsome prince and they lived in a big castle-but she didn't live happily ever after. The death of Princess Diana was a tragic ending to a distinctly 20th-century fairy tale. The Princess of Wales had beauty, wealth, status, and fame-everything that most people yearn for as the keys to happiness-but she lacked the ordinary satisfactions of life: a good marriage, time with her children, and space for herself. She became plagued with eating disorders; her royal husband's unfaithfulness led to unfaithfulness of her own; and after bearing the future king of England, she and Prince Charles divorced and became just another broken family. For contrast, see TIME's 1989 interview with Mother Teresa, who died last week But what she still had was celebrity. For all of her appeal, she was painfully shy and hated to be in the public eye. But the public wanted to know everything about her private life, buying up gossipy tabloids and creating a profitable market for the paparazzi who mobbed her on the streets to take her picture. In the postmodern popular culture, people achieve fame not necessarily for what they have done but because their image is multiplied in the media. They are famous for being famous. Character gives way to celebrity, and human beings become consumer commodities. And Diana was consumed. In the wake of Diana's death, expect the pop culture now to elevate her to the status of a secular saint, or even goddess. She will be exalted into the pantheon of Elvis, John F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and other popular icons who died young and who subsequently acquired an almost spiritual status by their death, complete with shrines and cult followers. She would have hated it.


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