Thursday, January 26, 2012

Doing Badly on Charles Murray's Bubble Quiz

I generally don't take Facebook quizzes that are mentioned by friends. But when I saw one recently that asked How thick is your bubble?, I was intrigued.

Devised by Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, the 20 questions on the quiz are meant to find out if you live a life that is isolated from "mainstream America." That's the subject of Murray's latest book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, which "explores the unprecedented, class-based cultural gap in America."

It sounds like it's basically a long-form recitation of Sarah Palin's "real America" smear. I guess when you don't believe in the real problems our country faces (global warming, racism) or don't think them important (income inequality), you can spend your analytical energy compiling data for the folks who think that "liberal elites" are running the country.

Here are the questions, my answers, and some thoughts.

1. Have you ever worked on a factory floor? Yes, during summer jobs in college. How many young Americans will ever be able to answer yes to this?

2. Have you ever had a job that caused a part of your body to hurt at the end of the day? Yes, during those same jobs. And doing volunteer work, but that probably doesn't count on this quiz.

3. Have you seen last year's mega-hit movie, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"? No way. I assume this was the top grossing movie, but it's a movie whose audience skews both male and young.

4. Can you name this NASCAR champion? I couldn't. No apologies for not watching NASCAR.

5. In the past five years, have you been fishing or hunting? Nope. I've never been hunting, and I don't think I've ever fished either, although maybe when I was a kid.

6. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? I did when I was in high school and college, and I have close relatives who are, so I said yes. But since only about 25 percent of the country is evangelical Christian, I have to wonder why having a close friend who is one makes you mainstream, if they're such a minority?

7. During the past year, have you stocked your own fridge with domestic, mass-market beer? No, I haven't stocked my fridge with any kind of beer. Ironically, the quiz used a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon as an illustration. I guess Murray's minions don't realize that PBR is the hipster beer. They should have shown a can of Bud Light.

8. Do you now have a close friend with whom you have strong and wide-ranging political disagreements? Do relatives count? I decided they did, and said yes to this one. But I would acknowledge I don't really have any friends that this would be true of.

9. Have you eaten at an Applebee's, TGI Friday's, or Outback Steakhouse in the past year? Not in the last year, although I spent more time than I care to admit at Applebee's when Daughter Number Three-Point-One was young. But I had to say no.

10. Have you or your spouse ever bought a pickup truck? Yes! Twice, in fact. This is one of the questions that those of us in the liberal elite can get over on. Murray has obviously forgotten about all the gardeners, as well as lesbians (not to mention lesbian gardeners), who have pickup trucks.

11. Have you ever attended a Kiwanis or Rotary Club meeting, or a gathering at a union local? Yes, but lucky for me Murray included the union hall there and not just Kiwanis and Rotary. Again, the question is pretty gender-biased in favor of men (how man women are in Kiwanis and Rotary, or am I out of touch?).

12. Have you ever participated in a parade that did not involve global warming, gay rights, or a war protest? Yes... high school band and the Independence Day parade in my neighborhood. (This question crystallizes the divisiveness of the quiz.)

13. Since leaving school, have you worn a uniform as part of your job? I don't think so.

14. Have you ever ridden on a Greyhound or Trailways bus? All the time when I was in my 20s.

15. Did you ever watch an Oprah show all the way through? A few times. This was the only question that even alluded to racial diversity, although lots of white folks watched Oprah. But it's also definitely skewed toward women, since watching Oprah wasn't exactly common among men.

16. Did you or your spouse ever serve in the armed forces? No.

17. Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial position or high-prestige occupation (defined as dentist, physician, architect, attorney, engineer, scientist, or college professor)? No.

18. Have you ever lived for at least a year as an adult in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your nearest 50 neighbors probably did not have college degrees? Yes.

19. Have you ever had a close friend who could seldom get better than Cs in high school even if he or she tried hard? I don't believe so.

20. During the last month, have you voluntarily hung out with people who were smoking cigarettes? No indeed, and thank goodness. Like the evangelical Christian question, I wonder about this one. Fewer than 25% of American adults smoke at this point. How does hanging out with smokers mean you're in the mainstream? As one Facebook friend said in response to my challenge to this question, "Yeah, since they made smoking illegal in public places, I haven't hung out with anyone smoking." Guess that was an effective law, hey?

I got a 10 as a final score, which means I live in a moderate bubble, not completely out of touch with mainstream America, according to Murray.

But what does that tell me? If I had gotten a 3, why would that mean I'm inside a pejorative bubble? What's the big deal if there are different cultures in America? Why is that threatening?

We have 300 million people from many different backgrounds, living in many different kinds of places. Describing those differences, as in Our Patchwork Nation, is fine and useful, but setting out to show that  just one of them is the real one is not only unhelpful; it intentionally feeds divisiveness.

1 comment:

Ms Sparrow said...

As you pointed out--what is one supposed to do with this information?
I guess you just say, "Huh!" and go on with your life.