Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Depressing Propaganda

When I filled out the paperwork to get my master's degree, they entered me in the school's alumni database. This means that they regularly send me appeals for money, even though I am still here earning a modest PhD student's teaching assistent stipend.

The most recent one illustrates much of what is wrong with our educational system:

Dear AW, 
It's a great week to be a C.. Tiger!!
* C.. named a top 25 public university by U.S. News & World Report
* Three home football wins including a 38-24 victory against defending National Champion Auburn
* C.. ranked 21st in the AP Top 25 College Football Rankings
We are proving once again that ORANGE isn't just a color, it's a way of life. Show your colors and your determination to lead with this exclusive new T-shirt. We're counting on each of you to step up as leaders during the final months of ...
Make your gift today by...

Let's start with the grammar. The bullet points are inconsistent sentence fragments, and the wording implies that there were three football wins in one week. The use of double exclamation points, and putting a word in all caps, is simply unprofessional.

The first bullet point brags about a ranking that has been creeping down in recent years, from 22 to 23 to 25. I am reminded of the shrinking chocolate ration in 1984. The other two bullet points are about football.

The appeal is almost insulting. Be a determined leader by buying a t-shirt. The paragraph mocks and subverts the very idea of leadership; it is an impressive bit of newspeak, indicative of a postmodern mindset that attempts to redefine reality by words. Buying a t-shirt is the opposite of leadership, it is mindless herd-following and emotion-driven slacktivism.

This email was propaganda and manipulation in its purest form. It opens with a feel-good emotional appeal, devoid of substance, and then uses loaded words to try to turn that feeling into an impulse purchase that funnels money into the university.

But none of this is the really depressing thing. I see blatant advertisements all the time, and I see bad writing all the time. The really depressing thing is that the university is doing this because it works. People will buy that t-shirt after reading the email. The depressing thing about this email is what it says about human nature, and how it demonstrates how little that human nature is affected by graduating from what is supposedly a good school. Tribal instincts still rule over thoughtful calculation, and our top educational institutions deliberately encourage this process for their own benefit.

PS: I redact my name and the name of my university so they will not show up too easily in search engines. I have nothing to hide from friends and regular readers, but it is too easy to take random stuff out of context.

No comments: