When you work as a TV news anchor you are sometimes subjected to “coaching” by consultants to improve your delivery. When I first started out in this business, I once hired my own—a highly respected coach in New York who had worked with the best.
He imparted a piece of wisdom about on-air news types and news programming that’s stuck with me ever since: “The range of normalcy is very narrow.”
I think about that often. His observation is the very lens through which I judge, not just TV news, but a lot of things. We all know that TV news differs from town to town about as much as a Big Mac does from town to town. But I also wonder if this “narrow normalcy” in my profession is just a symptom of a larger dynamic in the culture. I wonder if we’re living in a new age of conformity, an era where contrarian thought is tamped down, where alternative ideas are rejected or ridiculed. In my mind, I wonder if we are living in a new 1950s, but in reverse. Let me explain.
I was interviewing a guest on a talk show the other day. She was offering advice on how to find jobs in corporate America, and she described how computers do much of the culling out of stacks of resumes in big companies these days. Her point was not to criticize this fact but simply to advise prospective job applicants to stick to—in my words—“a narrow range of normalcy” when crafting a resume. But this realization and this guest bothered me. There is a certain inhumanity to it all, I thought, as she spoke on. These resume computers are programmed, she said, to seek out key words, key phrases and the right kind of language. That, to me, meant they’re seeking out the right kind of thinking. I’ve since learned (excuse me for being behind the curve on this) that at many schools, computers are also used for scoring tests and not just standardized tests but essays, too. Here’s one example from a story in the San Francisco Chronicle.:
(01-29) 04:00 PST New York – 1999-01-29 04:00:00 PST New York—Nothing personal. But if your application to the business school of your choice is rejected later this year, a cold, unfeeling machine may be at least partly responsible.
Beginning early in February, the two essay questions on the Graduate Management Admission Test, taken by about 200,000 business-school applicants every year, will be scored by both a human being and an electronic robot called the “E-rater.”
I don’t know, but I suspect that a computer program that grades essays is not very adept at detecting nuance and subtlety, irony, or good writing from bad, or high morals from low. I got an inkling of how these kind of computer programs might work recently when I Googled one of my own Anchorman pieces from The Daily Caller. I wanted to find out who was linking to my piece titled, “You Won’t Find Me Drawing Mohammed Anytime Soon.” So, I copied and pasted the title in Google search, and pressed the return button. On the very first page result, I found that the story had been prominently linked to a website that features, of all things, camping chairs. My piece had been designed to convey, in a subtle kind of way, my fears of creeping Sharia and intolerant Islamism. In the piece, I had made an utterly benign reference to a Saudi neighbor of mine sitting in a camping chair. And, here was the piece front and center on some website that links to camping supplies websites. It reaffirmed my belief that any computer that grades a paper, or culls out a resume cannot possibly understand context. Further, it may be just as likely to pick a dolt over a genius, a butcher over a surgeon, or an ordinary job candidate over an extraordinary one.
On that same talk show where I interviewed the resume “coach,” I frequently interview “lifestyle coaches.” After having conducted many a lifestyle coach interview, I still have no clue what they do. I could understand the need for a lifestyle coach if you’re molesting small children or robbing large banks, but do we really need a coach to tell us how to live life? When I interview a “lifestyle coach,” the words of my TV news talent coach come back to haunt me, “The range of normalcy is very narrow.”
The progressive movement in the United States has a history of employing, for lack of a better term, “lifestyle coaches, “ although it never refers to them that way. In fact, Jonah Goldberg is his paradigm-shifting book, “Liberal Fascism,” points out the extremes to which this philosophy was carried out by the American Progressives of the early 1900’s. They were perfectly eager to do away with human life itself—at least those humans who were below—in my words—“the range of normalcy.” Their method was called eugenics. Their aim was to improve the human species through selective breeding, sterilization and abortion. Goldberg writes that Margaret Sanger, whose American Birth Control League became Planned Parenthood, was a chief architect of this movement. She wrote, “More children from the fit, less from the unfit—that is the chief issue of birth control.” The eugenics movement in the U.S. fell into disfavor by the late 1930s—just as it was reaching its peak in Germany, with all its resultant manifestations.
Goldberg reminds us that the Nazis and Hitler in particular, were obsessed with healthy lifestyles, and the governments role in shaping them. Their slogan, “Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz,” (“the common good supersedes the private good”) was their justification for pushing proper music and art, for advocating public health measures that regulated smoking and exercise, that promoted vegetarianism and organic foods, animal rights, environmentalism and a host of other things that might sound very familiar to any American today.
I believe that critics of my line of thinking—if they’re still reading—might scoff at any notion of a regulated orthodoxy in the U.S. today, “the narrow range of normalcy” that I’m conjuring up here. They might say, “Look at our youth!” Our diversity, our spectrum of skin color, our array of clothing choices, our piercings, tattoos, our music, our websites, our non-judgementalism. But I wonder if it’s just skin-deep. I suspect that the rainbow of surface choices hides a uniformity and regimentalism of thought. I sometimes think that it’s all a manifestation of what Orwell predicted.
Is “diversity” really just code word for conformity? Look at any college catalogue, and you see a “diverse” bunch of smiling students on the cover, but God forbid any of those smiling faces, should violate “the narrow range of normalcy” so commonly expressed in campus speech codes, sexual behavior policies, Title IX rules, admission quotas, tenured liberalism, or other components of campus life today.
When these students become citizens, I wonder why they so willingly accept the nascent big-brotherism and nannyism of their communities and governments. The red-light and speed cameras, the hidden fees and taxes, cell-phone bans in cars, MADD, child seats until the age of 8, gun control, salt and fat restrictions in food, militarized police departments with eager swat teams at-the-ready. I could write a tome about that, but there’s not enough recycled paper to print it all.
Maybe they just don’t see it. Maybe they’re too engrossed in their iPods and BlackBerries, tweeting their tweeps to see what’s happened around them. I want to tell them, “Dude! Look up from your iPod. See that big-box store where you bought that thing? Its square, man! Just like in the 1950s! Real square!”
P.S. I’ll leave you with this. I don’t know where it came from or who wrote it. Someone sent it to me in a blast email. And it says it all.
TO ALL THE KIDS WHO WERE BORN IN THE
1930’s 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s !!
First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/ drank while they carried us.
They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can,and didn’t get tested for diabetes.
Then after that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention, the risks we took hitchhiking.
As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.
Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.
We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.
We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this (and let’s not forget … ALL bottles were glass – no “safe” plastic).
We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren’t overweight because WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.
No one was able to reach us all day. And we were O.K.
We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo’s, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no video tape movies, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or Internet chat rooms……….WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!
We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.
We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.
We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them!
Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!
The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!
This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solver and inventors ever!
The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.
We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!
Anchorman a well-known news anchor from a top-10, big city station. The Daily Caller has elected to redact his identity to protect his anonymity