Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Functional Illiteracy And The Medusa

By Manifesto Joe

During Web surfing, I happened upon an ad that posed a question: "SHOULD MADONNA BE ALOUD TO ADOPT AGAIN?"

It would be just fine with me if Madonna were never allowed to do anything ALOUD ever again, certainly not music. Her songs all sound the same, anyway.

But, I found a certain appropriateness in this, an ad about "The Medusa" (as parodists have had their way with her), and the functional illiteracy of those who composed and posted this ad. I sincerely hoped that this was a joke.

Sadly, I don't think it was. Whoever did this was "computer-literate" enough to post this on a Web page, but so functionally illiterate in basic English as not to know how moronic this looked. And, there being no copy editors patrolling the Net, there was no one to correct it and get a belly laugh afterward.

I'd gauge that the spread of this public imbecility began in earnest around the time The Medusa scored her first pop-music hit. (Early '80s?) Anyway, TV had a seriously erosive effect for decades before then. But somehow, the group of Americans just about my age (I was born in '56, The Medusa in '58) was the first to put this gross ignorance on public display and somehow not feel ashamed enough to seek remedial education.

My high school was mediocre at best, but I went to a rather demanding college and discovered my educational deficiencies quickly. As a freshman I took some early beatings for one used to making A's, and then was making A's again by the time I was a college junior. But I got the impression that I was atypical. Many of the people my age just didn't care enough to address the gaps, even after they were made gapingly apparent.

Has the Internet contributed to more decadence since then? It's still a question for study, but I can't see how it has helped. Amid all the gaming, LOL and BFF horseshit, I've gotten the distinct impression that a new semiliterate culture has "evolved" around this technology. It's gone beyond the functional "TV" illiteracy that became so obvious in my generation.

Here's a link on which to ponder this question.

It's very sad that one has to do a double-take to realize that this link is a joke.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Marc McDonald said...

I've never been a fan of Madonna. But I do have to admit, she has released at least a couple of decent albums over the years. She is no better or no worse than any of the other Top 40 artists that clog up the charts and airwaves with their mediocrity.
Madonna's "Like a Prayer" is worth a listen. It actually had a memorable video that stood out among the utter dreck that MTV was churning out 20 years ago (and continues to churn out till today).
I guess my biggest problem with Madonna isn't so much that her music sucks: it's that I can think of dozens of other more worthy female artists who've never had a fraction of Madonna's popularity, even though they are vastly more talented (everyone from Kate Bush to P.J. Harvey).

Reas Kroicowl said...

Madonna's a business woman, plain and simple. She's not a huge talent, she's just savvy. Kinda like Oprah. That being said, "Like a Prayer" and "Ray of Light" are both excellent albums.

I'm compulsive about spell checking my entries before I post (I'm a horrible speller) and freak if I find some grammatical error that I made. I also tend to check how to use some words and/or punctuation because I can't remember all the rules. English is a complicated language.

But I would agree with you that as a nation, we're horribly under read and under educated. I have friends who are college professors and they complain about the quality of writing they see from their students. What's worse, they have to grade on a curve--a rant I won't even touch right now--so students are essentially rewarded for not knowing how to effectively (affectively? See? I get confused with these words all the time) put two thoughts together in a coherent fashion.

Cranky Daze said...

I couldn't agree more, Joe. What we see on the internet is, I think, a combination of ignorance and laziness. The use of such things as LOL, IMHO, etc., is not only lazy, in many cases I think it's people who know better, but simply think it's cute. This morning I was reading some comments left by people on a Washington Post article about Michael Jackson, and the spelling in some cases was absolutely atrocious. ("commun" for "common," and "croutch" for "crotch," among others). Is that carelessness, or rampant illiteracy?

I keep the icon for the Sage dictionary on the task bar at the bottom on my screen in order to check out any spelling or definition about which I'm a little uneasy. And as I get older, I find there are more and more of them. Like "Reas" who posted here, I tend to forget the rules. My most persistent problem being, is it "ent," or "ant?" Sometimes, I believe, we think we know what we're doing because we've been doing it for so long. When I got my first computer, and found the spell checker would not accept "cemetary," I looked it up and found that I'd been misspelling "cemetery," probably most of my life.

I read a lot online, particularly articles related to the Civil War which were written before 1900. They have been re-typed by human hands onto internet pages (as opposed to scanned pages) and the obvious problem is that the typist (nor anyone else) has bothered to proof read their typing). In some cases it is simply a typo; in others the entire sentence is so garbled it's impossible to even guess what the original author had in mind.

BTW, Reas, you're right. The word you wanted is "effectively."

OMG, I've crossed over and become one of THEM! (This is where I would add a smilie face, if such were permitted).

dr sardonicus said...

Is it that people are becoming illiterate, or does language, spelling and grammar simply reflect the ongoing changes in culture and technology? I know from reading classic literature that a number of words had different spellings and usages back then than they do now. A lot of the changes we are seeing today seem to have evolved from Internet shortcuts, texting, etc.

Madonna's songs are not all the same; though I would hardly consider myself a fan, she certainly has talent. The best I can say is that her strengths are almost all in areas I do not appreciate.

Anonymous said...

"Is it that people are becoming illiterate, or does language, spelling and grammar simply reflect the ongoing changes in culture and technology?"

Do you really think you should chime in on grammar, hmmmm???? Probably not the best idea considering your sentence.

dr sardonicus said...

The internets are full of gutless wonders who are more than happy to offer their criticisms.

Manifesto Joe said...

Let's try to play nice.

I think the doctor has a very good point -- that language is fluid, with effective communication the intent.

Problem is, what I'm seeing regularly on the Net is people not communicating effectively. Or, even when they do, it makes the reader LOL unintentionally.

Tim McGaha said...

Back in the old days, before one's words could be seen on the written page in a newspaper or in a library, those words had to be typeset by a fairly laborious process. The process was sufficiently labor-intensive that editors took some pains to ensure that those words were of sufficient quality to merit the expense of printing. In short, the bar was set pretty high, if you wanted to be a published author.

Today, all you need is a computer and a broadband connection.

It's not that we're getting stupider by the generation. It's just that more of us are able to play in the sandbox now. We're seeing the whole gamut of grammatical talent, as opposed to only seeing meticulously vetted products.

Manifesto Joe said...

Another valid point. But, at the risk of sounding elitist, I think the bar was held higher overall for previous generations. A high school diploma once really meant something. From what I can tell of H.S. grads anywhere from 10 to 30 years older than me, it was the equivalent of a couple of years of college now. I've heard horror stories, from credible sources, about what goes on in many "literature" classes in today's high schools. They don't really expect the students to read the source material. So the teacher will show them a video of "Hamlet" instead. Standards do seem to have slipped generally.