Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Age Ain't Nothing But A Number

There's a lot of sturmunddrang about the fact that teenagers are searching yahoo and tweeting, asking who this Osama bin Laden guy is. Before you start casting aspersions, I want you to engage in a little thought experiment.

Think of someone who did something that dominated the headlines when you were about six years old. They showed up again on the news when you were about nine years old. Now think about how much you would remember about them if they popped back up when you were sixteen.

Obviously, it's tough to find direct analogues to Osama bin Laden. The best I could do on short notice was Manuel Noriega. If in, say, the late '90s, Noriega had escaped from prison, I'm pretty sure my reaction would have fallen somewhere between "oh I remember seeing him on the front page of the newspaper once" to "who the f*** is Manuel Noreiega?" So, no, I'm not surprised that a decent number of teenagers have little no idea who Osama bin Laden is. Most kids don't pay much attention to the news at all, and certainly not before they hit their teens, and bin Laden just hasn't been much of a force in the U.S. news since the 2004 election. Remember, Nirvana is on classic rock stations these days, so don't go griping about how the kids don't have the same frame of reference for the world as you do.


TIm said...

Sorry, I don't buy it. I was approximately 6 when Iran-Contra was in the news. I absolutely knew who Oliver North was when he ran for the Senate in 1996. Osama bin Laden is a bit more notorious than Oliver North, to put it mildly.

I can only imagine that there was some sort of "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" thing going on with the adults in those kids lives, and the fact that he was not mentioned by name combined with the kids never watching the news or listening to NPR is probably what brought this on.

I also would be surprised if the % of teenagers who didn't know who bin Laden was wasn't incredibly small. The kids who knew who he was wouldn't have been asking, after all.

Nicholas Beaudrot said...

Damnit, I had a nice comment on this but it got eaten.

I'm a year older than you, I have no domestic political memories of any kind prior to the Bush-Dukakis election. I remember the Challenger exploding and Reagan giving a speech. In '96 I wasn't even aware that North ran, though in '94 I did know that Diane Feinstein's opponent broke the spending record, so I wasn't a total ignoramus.

I'd becurious what the actual percentage is.

Nicholas Beaudrot said...

Aha, a matched pair!

* I was 7 when Iran Contra broke
* I have no recollection of this scandal. None at all.
* The only political memory I have prior to was the Challenger explosion and Reagan's subsequent speech.
* I did pay *some* attention to politics as a teenager, enough to know the names of my home state Senators, plus maybe a dozen more; the President, Vice President, Newt Gingrich, and that Clinton's surgeon general had to resign for stating some obvious public health facts about masturbation.
* I didn't know that Ollie North ran for Senate in '96, let alone that he was a key figure in Iran Contra.

Are you from Virginia or did you live in the DC media market? That would explain increased exposure to political news...

TIm said...

I think we're the same age, actually.

I grew up on the East Coast, but not near Virginia. My parents listened to NPR frequently, and therefore so did I, so that might explain it. Of course, I'm also cherry-picking one example of something that stuck with me at the time. I'm sure there are several other things that I would not have remembered.

That said, I still find it unfathomable that anyone old enough to be old enough to be in a class where current events are discussed would not know who Osama bin Laden is. Do they not talk about the War in Afghanistan at all in their schools?

Heather said...

I remember ol' Pineapple Face, and I'm younger than you guys. But Osama and Noriega are on slightly different levels--this is more like not knowing that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Somebody's parents did an awfully bad job of educating them if they don't know who Osama is.