NPR gave us a wonderful example of an aspirational kind of ideological subtext this morning in a story about an Iranian-American student at Columbia University and his long-distance relationship with friends in the homeland during these turbulent times. Near the beginning, the earnest young man reminisces about hearing his father talk about current events happening in Iran when he was a boy and tuning him out! Since I and my brother and most of the kids we knew hung on every word when adults talked about current events, I found it peculiar that this boy did not.
It does not matter if the Iranian college boy said it or not. He said a lot of things and the reporter chose to select that one detail of not caring about the news as a means to structure the introduction of the subject. Once more, the news director accepted this decision to have the young lad describe himself as a former dunce, just an average Columbia Joe until something or someone changed his life. Keep listening to find out…
The ideological subtext of this detail is clear: children are naturally uncurious and even anti-intellectual. To “not be an intellectual” has been one of the three basic foundation stones of aspirational subtext in the mass media since at least the 1920s, along with identify and follow the in-crowd and buying something brings happiness.
What has always puzzled me is why writers—the intelligentsia in any society—choose to be the instrument that conveys that to be smart is a bad thing.