Inconspicuous Mixed Messages from the Media

From left to right: Alex Trebek, Ken Jennings, Watson's avatar, and Brad Rutter.

As I watched Morning Express with Robin Meade shortly after I rolled out of bed this morning, they presented a story about the performance of Watson (IBM’s supercomputer for natural-language processing) on Jeopardy! last night, after which the newscasters—the show’s host and namesake, Robin, and meteorologist, Bob Van Dillen—offered commentary on how boring the news item was. This was followed by an interview with NBA player, Jerry Stackhouse, who elucidated the importance of education. Does anyone see what’s wrong with this picture? An apathetic attitude by the media towards a superlative achievement in science and technology—and, by extension, the necessary advanced education of people to make that achievement possible—juxtaposed against a sports hero attempting to inspire others to persevere with school. My spidey sense (for mixed messages) is tingling! In the mainstream of North American society, there exists a continuum of cultural aversion to the “hard” subjects (i.e., the various sciences, math, and computers) and to those who enthusiastically advocate them, with Robin’s and Bob’s dismissals of Watson (as being a snooze-worthy topic) on one end, and the subjugation of “nerds” to the bottom of the social totem-pole on the other. Those same media mavens wouldn’t have dared to refer to the Super Bowl as mundane. Maybe if Americans revered their scientists and mathematicians to the same degree that they venerate their sports gods, their kids would be more ebullient about science and math, and the United States wouldn’t be ceding the edge in scholastic achievement to Asian countries, such as South Korea and Singapore.

3 thoughts on “Inconspicuous Mixed Messages from the Media

  1. susie walker

    This morning, July 28, 2011, she and Bob were commenting on another Trebek story. He had fallen while running down the person who broke into his hotel room. He later explained his leg injury to the crowd at the National Geographic World Championship. He said he …”fell in an ignominious heap…” while chasing the burglar. Robin thought it was funny that Trebek had used that big word and dismissed it as something no one would know the meaning of. She seriously giggled at the word. The story thus becoming “Man Uses Big Word” instead of the focus being on Trebek’s bravery.

  2. Phillip Lemky Post author

    Hi @susie walker! Good catch! I noticed that too, as I watched Robin this morning. Is command of the English language so poor amongst the general public that usage of a fairly nondescript (though admittedly seldom employed) word, such as “ignominious,” should be spotlighted?

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