The purpose of this paper is to analyze the website “dumbestgeneration.com”. This website is made in connection with the book: “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30)” by Mark Bauerlein (2008).
In his book Bauerlein presents his views on how digital technology has influenced the younger generation intellectually. Bauerlein claim that young people are using their time relating to each other, using the social networks of modern technology such as Facebook, My Space and You tube, and sending/ receiving e-mails and text messages. Internet is their main source of information and they expect immediate response and gratification (Drutman 2008).
Bauerlein say that as a consequence of this young people are less skilled readers and writers in general (Bowman 2008). They have dramatic little knowledge of History, Politics and Literature (Bauerlein 2007).
It is obvious that Bauerlein has strong points of view he wants to bring to the public. And Bauerlein seems to go to war. In this paper I will discuss the how the use of semiotic signs is used to communicate Bauerlein´s message to the reader with associations to war and propaganda.
When we first visit the website we are directed to the welcome page (figure 1.). Here we are introduced to the book and its main arguments, and we are also given the opportunity to navigate to other linked web pages at the website.
(Figure 1. The welcome page of the website “dumbestgeneration.com”)
The welcome page is dominated by the image of the book jacket. We get the impression that an important purpose for the website is to promote the book. In the image the largest text is the three words: “The dumbest generation”. The denotative interpretation of this text gives itself. Compared to other generations, this one is the dumbest of all generations. There is no question mark, so the statement gives no room for discussion. The selection of words leads us to discourses involving other generations that have been described by similar words. One very famous and interesting term is “The greatest generation”. The provenance of this term is the book “The greatest generation” by journalists Tom Brokaw (1988). “The greatest generation any society has produced” grew up during the great depression and fought the World War II. This is, as we shall se, not the only semiotic reference to war Bauerlein uses at this website.
The use of colour in the text, red and black, gives both seriousness and simplicity to the design. The red colour is used to highlight the most provoking word, “dumbest”, and connect the word to the under title which also is in red. Here Bauerlein´s point of view is more clearly expressed: “How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future”. The code here is not just the text itself but also the use of capital letters. It gives the words more weight.
The under title has a black star (*) at the end. This connects to the label printed under the under title. The label starts with a white star (*) and followed by the words: “Or, Don’t Trust Anyone/ Under 30 /Mark Bauerlein”. The label has the same expressive form as the label used on CDs to warn parents of the content of the lyrics. By putting his name in the label the author indicates that he wants to come with a personal warning. The choice of words may also refer to a famous slogan from the free speech movement in the 1960-ies: “Don’t trust anyone over 30” (Constitutional rights foundation 2009). The choice of words emphasizes a generation conflict between Bauerlein´s own generation and the young generation. It also turns the student slogan around with a twist to a slogan against today’s students.
The black and white of the label indicates that Bauerlein promotes black and white views. The use of the colours black, white and red is also used in traffic warning signs andsignify rules that we need to obey to have a secure traffic in our streets. The colour red gives also associations to propagandistic leaders as Mao and Lenin, historic revolutions and the union.
The only lively colours are introduced in the image embedded between the large text elements “dumbest” and “generation”. The image shows three figures that can be denoted as robots. The web page’s sours code says that meta name=»robots». It is therefore reason to believe that robots are the intended denotation. The robots seem to be a metaphor or a synecdoche of the young generation, playing with the technology. The figures can be interpreted as fun toys for boys, machines in humanlike shape or like people being more and more like playing robots. In any way it gives clearly masculine discourse.
One of the robots is carrying the American flag. The way the three robots are placed together with the flag have great similarities to the U. S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington DC. This memorial honours the Marines who have died defending the United States since 1775. It was inspired by a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of one of the most historic battles of World War II, which eventually led to the end of the war in 1945. The statue depicts the successful takeover of the island Iwo Jima when the American flag was raised. (Official U.S. Marine Corps Web Site 2009; Bernstein 2006)
The similarity between these images gives again strong associations to war and strengthens the impression that Bauerlein goes to war and also the masculine feeling of the site. But observe that the robots have not planted the flag in the land and therefore not still have captured it.
Over the image of the book jacket there is a moving text that comes in from the left. The text is red in the beginning but changes to black as it gets readable. There are five different texts where some main points of view of Bauerlein are given to the reader. The text changes rapidly and is therefore difficult to read. This can be seen as an example of how the quickly changing Internet distracts the reader. It also takes the attention from the slogan: “50 million Minds Diverted, Distracted, Devoured” that is written in light blue over the moving text.
In the upper left corner of the page we can read “The dumbest generation” in red. This is on every page and serves as a title for the lists of the eight links that are listed in grey on the left side of the page. The list gives a clean, modern and simple look. The list shows that the site has 8 pages including the welcome page. The other pages are Home, In the news, Reviews, Media, Articles, About and Buy the Book.
3. The other 7 pages of the website
The content of the homepage, together with the rest of the web pages, concentrate on communicating Bauerlein´s opinions to the public and promoting the book. The website uses multimodal modes. We find text elements with irony and humour (or mocking) and text aimed to scare. Credibility is tried to establish by referring to reviews, presentations and appearances in known news and media institutions. The available Mark Bauerlein articles about the topic, completes the picture of a propaganda site with no room for debate or response. The rhetoric and semiotic elements used in this website suggests that the main target group is over 30 years old.
The semiotic signs used in this website suggest that Mark Bauerlein uses his book and website to promote his war against what he thinks is the dumbification of the young generation by the digital technology. The rhetoric and semiotic elements used in this website suggests that the main target group is over 30 years old.
But one could still ask who his enemy is!
Bauerlein, Mark. The dumbest generation. 2007. 1 March<http://www.dumbestgeneration.com/home.html>
Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). New York: Tarcher, 2008
Bernstein, Adam. “Joe Rosenthal; Shot Flag-Raising at Iwo Jima”. The Washington post 22 August 2006. 1 March 2009 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/21/AR2006082100039.html>
Bowman, James. “Is Stupid Making Us Google?” The New Atlantis 2008. 1 March 2009 <http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/is-stupid-making-us-google>
Brokaw, Tom. The Greatest Generation . New York: Random House 1988
Constitutional Rights Foundation. Bill of Right in Action Summer 2000 (16:3) .
1 March 2009 <http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-16-3-a.html>
Drutman, Lee. “ Book review ‘The Dumbest Generation’ by Mark Bauerlein
How dumb are we? Thanks to the Internet, dumb and dumber, this author writes.” Los Angeles Times 5 July 2008. 1 March 2009 <http://www.latimes.com/features/books/la-et-book5-2008jul05,0,3980465.story>
Official U.S. Marine Corps Web Site The Marine Corps War Memorial 2009 1 March 2009 <http://www.mbw.usmc.mil/mcm_historydefault.asp>;
Chapter 1,2 3 and 4 are 1314 words.