Landmarks for freshmen

Terry PlumbAugust 24, 2008 

Every year, wise guys at Beloit College, a private institution in Wisconsin, issue their "Mindset List," reporting on the "cultural landmarks" the nation's incoming college freshmen have grown up with.

This year, for instance, the young men and women who make up the freshman class have lived their entire lives with such landmarks as GPS, caller ID and online tax filing.

Authors of this annual report claim its purpose is to clue in professors not to assume that "their" landmarks, such as the Watergate scandal or Johnny Carson, are known to these kids. The profs then can adjust their lectures accordingly. Baby boomers know that this is a smokescreen; the real purpose behind this report is to humiliate us. ("Can you believe it? Those geezers didn't have cable when they were our age! They used typewriters instead of laptops!")

What frustrates their parents and grandparents is that absent shared cultural landmarks, meaningful dialogue with younger Americans has become exceedingly difficult. In the interest of enhanced communication, therefore, I have prepared a brief synopsis of key cultural landmarks predating the iPhone.

Frosh, you need to know the following:

America was discovered in 1942 by Bill Gates and some investment bankers from Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, which later merged with Bear Stearns. At the time, North America was populated by Indian tribes, but early pioneers convinced them to take out ARMs and soon foreclosed their teepees.

Some revisionists think the first Americans were badly mistreated, but they were well compensated for their land. In return, they were given professional sports franchises, known today as the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins.

George Washington was the first president of the United States, but many younger Americans don't realize that his vice president was George Herbert Walker Bush, who liberated Kuwait, thereby guaranteeing a supply of oil for those gas-guzzling SUVs that Detroit once made.

Slavery was an unfortunate chapter in our history. A group of Commie sympathizers started it to create a supply of cheap labor to harvest their potatoes, which they used to make vodka. It lasted two or three decades, until benevolent leaders, led by U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, persuaded colleagues that slavery was a poor economic model.

You may find this hard to believe but the United States once was a nation of small farms and factories. Astute tycoons with Archer Daniels Midlands and other agribusiness giants replaced inefficient family farms. They did this the American way -- by buying off Congress to pass laws subsidizing corn production, banning cheap Cuban sugar and diverting federal dollars into their own pockets.

Americans used to make things, like cars and textiles, but Sam Walton and other farsighted leaders determined that the Chinese, who had more nimble fingers and would work all day for a bowl of rice, were better suited for such menial tasks. This move led to an abundance of inexpensive stuff, which coincidentally can be found at your local Wal-Mart store, and to an explosion of service sector jobs in the United States.

The latter trend dovetails nicely with the devaluation of the dollar. Because America is now viewed as a bargain by people from what we used to refer to as the Third World, upon graduation you will find excellent employment opportunities at McDonalds and other emporiums that serve tourists from Asia and Europe.

Enough about that most dreary of sciences, economics.

You freshmen certainly know YOUR entertainment landmarks, but did you know that before there were iPods and Facebook, the only way your parents could communicate with friends was by smoke signal or tin cans connected with string? We are forever grateful to such American inventors as Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison who gave us call waiting and the cassette player, respectively.

Before there was Brittany Spears or Paris Hilton, our goddesses consisted of such beauties as Marilyn Monroe and America's wweetheart, Madonna. The very first movie -- an antiquated term for "film" -- starred Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.

Freshmen, I hope you took notes. This stuff will appear on a test.

If there are no questions, I'd like to ask one of my own: What's a GPS?

Plumb, retired Herald editor, can be reached at terry.plumb@gmail.com

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