Dude, remember when a chat involved talking?

Aug. 24, 2013 @ 11:15 AM

Several weeks ago, a snarky email rebuked us for some error in The Herald-Sun of omission or commission. I can’t remember the details of our transgression, but the email closed by saying something along the lines of “no wonder your industry is dying, dude.”

I thought about that in reading the annual Beloit College “Mindset List,” to which I look forward every August.  It began in 1998 as an effort to give professors a gentle, good-humored reminder that many shared experiences and popular culture touchstones they took for granted were mysteries to the 18-year-old freshmen arriving on campus.

This year’s list notes, among its 60 mindset-reminders, ““Dude” has never had a negative tone.”

Based on that recent email, I’d beg to differ. I don’t think the sender meant to compliment me by calling me “dude.”

On the other hand, a 20-something colleague laughed when I read it aloud. On the bright side, she said, when was the last time someone called me dude?

True enough. Not a normal part of my vocabulary, or a word my younger friends and colleagues who throw it around casually had ever, that I could recall, applied to me.

Which helps to capture some of the attraction of the Mindset List, at least to us aging baby boomers who never have quite adjusted to the fact that The Grateful Dead, “All in the Family,” cassette tapes and “flowers in her hair” aren’t cool anymore.

We do appreciate that Google can give us a shot at seeking instantaneous translations of the latest hipster slang (and recapturing that song lyric that bounces around, frustratingly incomplete, in our head).

But especially in a metro area into which thousands of students flood at this time every year, it’s good to be reminded of those things that once seemed normal to us that would befuddle our new neighbors.

“For this generation of entering college students, born in 1995,” the Beloit folks caution us, “Dean Martin, Mickey Mantle, and Jerry Garcia have always been dead.”

Some others that struck me as especially relevant in reminding us of what might now be irrelevant:

-- “Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents’ weekend.
-- “GM means food that is Genetically Modified.
-- “As they started to crawl, so did the news across the bottom of the television screen.
-- “Having a chat has seldom involved talking.
-- “They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay.
-- “Their TV screens keep getting smaller as their parents’ screens grow ever larger.”

You get the idea.

I’ll confess that the Mindset List has declined somewhat in recent years. What seemed like a bright idea when the first one emerged 15 years ago seems a bit dimmer today. Many items on the list feel like the authors are trying too hard to pad a two-page term paper idea to five pages.

But I’m not nearly as turned off (hmmm…is that a dated term?) as a couple of folks who have launched a blog assaulting “Beloit mindlessness.”

The website Inside Higher Education quotes from the diatribe:

“The List is a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations, insulting to both students and their professors, and based on nothing more than the uninformed speculation of its authors. It inspires lazy, inaccurate journalism and is an embarrassment to academia."

The fierceness of the attack recalls the cliché that academic politics are so bitter because the stakes are so low. The best response to the bloggers may well be, hey, this is all done in good fun.

Lighten up, dudes.

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or at bashley@heraldsun.com.