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Jewish World Review
March 24, 2006
/ 24 Adar, 5766
The Dude Culture
Marianne M. Jennings
The cover of Sports Illustrated featured a mid-air snowboarder, locks a-flyin', in a tip of the helmet to androgyny. The caption? "American Men and Women Rule the Halfpipe." Dude! Shaun White and Hannah Teeter, the male and female snowboarder Olympic Gold Medalists, have found second careers following their stint as the Hanson musical group. Ten bucks and Janet Jones Gretzky's sports book acumen say the snow skateboarders can't add the judges' scores without a calculator (them's three digits with decimals) or name the century during which the Revolutionary War was fought, but they have bested the world on freefalling.
I adjusted to the drooping pants, the Slinky string bracelets, and the Prince-Valiant-with-curls-hairstyles that wandered amongst us because historical and generational precedent assured: This too shall pass. But, nay, the skateboards, Bill and Ted, and the iPodded ears hover still. They have left their imprimatur. We have become the Dude Culture.
Time magazine has twice run multi-page spreads on dude geniuses. Somehow I cannot equate Time's wunderkind, who begins his insight, "I know a guy . . . ," with Socrates (that's Sew-crates, two syllables, in dudese). A recent Time exposť featured the top four thinkers in the country. Mark Cuban, thinker/owner of the Dallas Mavericks and co-founder of Broadcast.com and HDNet was one of them and weighed in, "In the past, you had to memorize knowledge because there was a cost to finding it. Now, what can't you find in 30 seconds or less? We live an open-book-test life that requires a completely different skill set." Dudes worry me because they don't know what came before them or even that we survived without them! Yes, anyone can look up "Mephistopheles" on the Internet in 30 seconds, but it might take cracking a book or two to understand Faustus. Another ten bucks says they don't know either one and are hoping Google's "Did you mean _______?" will correct their spelling when they plug them in for a search.
Mr. Cuban is right about one thing. The Dude Culture is the 30-second culture - their attention span is the length of an MTV video camera shot. This attention span deficit disorder (ASDA) has pummeled their work ethic. My children's pediatricians bemoaned the process of taking on new docs for their expanding 15-year-plus-practice, "They don't want to pay their dues. They want the flex hours, the short hours, the no-on-call-weekends, and they want it all with partnership status and all within the first year." Chill, Dr. Dudes!
The e-mail exchange of Dianna Abdala with lawyer Will Korman on his job offer is now legendary. Following two interviews, his ordering her stationery, and her agreeing on a start date, she sent him an e-mail. To her, his job offer "would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living." At age 24, while in school, she has a lifestyle? When Mr. Korman called the dudette "immature and unprofessional," she shot back, hurling infinite wisdom at him, "A real lawyer would have put the contract in writing and not exercised any such reliance until he did so." He then asked, "Do you really want to start [annoying] more experienced lawyers at this early stage of your career?" The half-piped half-wit shot back, "bla, bla, bla." A quick Internet dictionary search would have yielded, "Did you mean 'blah?'" When a Wall Street Journal Reporter asked Ms. Abdala whether she was worried about her bad rep in the legal community she said, "I'm more worried about whether I left my hair iron on than this little email exchange." Dude, life is too short and hair too important for deference.
Swishing through the Internet faster than speeding bullets has emboldened the dudes around their elders. Students who have not yet met me drop me e-mails that begin, "Marianne." I count my blessings. First-name beats "Whassup?"
Perhaps, though, they cannot spell "Jennings." The dudes in the service industry choose "G" as the beginning letter for my name. Most drop the second "g." Therefore, my dude name, to which I now respond quite readily, is "Gennins." I fear that if they plugged William Jennings Bryan or even Peter Jennings into Google they would get, "Did you mean William Gennins Bryan?"
Once I navigate past these casual greetings from my new best friends, the content proves worse. I have e-mails that detail everything from stomach flu and temperatures to confessions of smoking half-pipes (or so) over the weekend. One student detailed the timing intervals for her IBS. Propriety goes with dudes as oil goes with water. Blend in their intense self-focus and, well, they blog away at you. Cursed high school teachers! You who insisted on molding journal-writing narcissists. Their journals are Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and/or Wilson brothers movie - the central plot involves bodily functions and impairment.
Dudes want executive status and perks, but they're not quite ready to stop binge drinking. They want deals and contracts, but don't want the boredom of customer service. They want gold medals, but not with the structure and rigor of figure skating or the team work of hockey. They want credibility, but their sweater sleeves hang down over their hands. They assure us that they are professionals, but the spider web tattoos on their elbows belie that. They want face-to-face contact but their piercings are blinding. I worry that they will be sucked in when they walk by MRI departments.
But I worry more that they have been sucked into a "The world has changed" mentality that finds them believing that knowledge, spelling, graciousness, and hard work no longer matter. Temporarily, it seems, they are right. The dude culture is in full swing, and they have swooshed their way to the Olympics, medals, fame, and fortune. Google is king of the business world. For now. But the dude culture is a disorderly one with few rules, no judgments, and a laid-back notion that all will be well. History does teach us differently. Plug "Roman Empire, Fall" into Google and read up, for at least 30 seconds.
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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State
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© 2006, Marianne M. Jennings