Friday, September 30, 2011

It had to happen: Sagan vs. Snooki

So, this appeared in my Facebook newsfeed, yesterday. Apparently, I should be congratulated:

I recognized Snooki in an instant; I know who Carl Sagan is, in a vague sense, but I can't say that I had any idea what he looked like. So, good for me - I am, apparently, what's wrong with the world. Here are all of the other responses to the picture, again from Facebook:

  • I know I've seen that guy before, but have no idea who the woman is.
  • Carl Sagan! Do I get "billions and billions" of Science Points for that? And no, I don't know who the other one is.
  • I don't know Snooki enough to recognize her on sight, so until reading these comments I had no idea who either person was.
  • Val is happy to report that still she has no idea who either of these people are
  • i can spot sagan at 500 paces... who is snooki?

(An important note: this was posted on the Fb page of a graduate student, and likely responded to by other graduate students. I don't know whether this means that they would be inclined to be disingenuous about knowing who Snooki is - that is, I don't know if they would lie in order to save face - but I wouldn't be surprised if these people are actually intellectual clich├ęs of the
I-don't-even-own-a-TV variety.)

Now, I get the joke. Carl Sagan could be any intellectual who is/was on TV and the point would be the same - people care more about vacuous celebutantes and reality stars than they do about substantive stuff, like how the universe works. Point taken.

But... for the purposes of this illustration, it's Carl Sagan and not Steven Hawking or, especially for us Canadians, David Suzuki. And that annoys me for a few reasons:
  1. Awareness of Snooki's existence does not necessarily make one a fan of her or of her show. Collapsing those two things into one-and-the-same makes no sense.
  2. Carl Sagan has been dead for 15 years, and his TV show first aired more than 30 years ago; that someone might not know what he looks like is probably not surprising. (Granted, his show's been aired many times since then. But, to use but one example, Seinfeld, which ended in the late 90s, is aired constantly in syndication - and despite that, it's usually the case that none of my 18-21 year-old students have ever watched it. Which brings me to a related point...)
  3. The comparison is ridiculously ageist. Because the Sagan reference is so dated, the person who put the image together must have known that virtually everyone under the age of 20 (if not 30) will have no clue who he is. So this isn't so much directed at the ignorant and intellectually-stunted - which is what the image implies - as it is at the young. (The choice of a smart dude and dumb woman also feels just a bit sexist.)
  4. Frankly, I'm actually more stunned that there are people who don't know who Snooki is. Snooki is everywhere: You go on the internet, she's everywhere. You turn on the TV, she's there. You wait in line at the grocery store, her face is plastered on tabloids and bad magazines. If you don't know who is, you're either terribly unobservant (which doesn't speak well for all of those grad students that I quoted above) or you've been purposely ignorant of her existence for two years, which seems like an odd use of one's energy. (Now, if you admitted that you do know who she is but you dislike her intensely, well, then we could bring this into a discussion of guilty displeasures. And that I can totally get behind...)

1 comment:

Nathan Plastic said...

I know that I'm a few weeks late in responding, but I wanted to add that points 2 & 3 are definitely valid. I've read several of Sagan's books and articles (I have a copy of 'The Demon-Haunted World' on my bookshelf) but I don't know if I've ever seen the man's face before.