Milwaukee For most teens starting college this fall, rap music has always been mainstream, Mike Tyson has always been a felon, and wars have always unfolded on TV in real time.
Incoming freshmen never used a card catalog, never knew a world without the Cartoon Network, and never had to wait for the evening news to find out that evening’s news.
Those are some of the 75 cultural landmarks on the Beloit College Mindset List. The 12th annual compilation, which offers a glimpse of the world through the eyes of each incoming class, was released today by this private school of 1,350 in southern Wisconsin.
The purpose of the list is to remind professors that references familiar to them might not be well known to students.
For example, people age 30 and older knew Magic Johnson as a Los Angeles Lakers star before he went public with news that he was HIV-positive in 1991 — the year most incoming freshmen were born.
“I knew Magic was HIV-positive before I even knew he was a basketball player for the Lakers,” said Anthony Cornell, 18, an incoming Beloit freshman from Dallas. “In fact, I heard that even before I knew what AIDS was.”
It’s among the reminders that different generations can hear the same reference and think two completely different things, said Tom McBride, an English professor at Beloit who helps compile the collection.
In perhaps a more stark example, two police officers in their 20s stopped Bob Dylan in a New Jersey shore community last month when a resident called to report someone wandering around.
“When he gave his name they had no idea who he was,” McBride said. “That’s a pretty dramatic example of how references change over time.”
That incident was too recent to make this year’s list but still shows how the times, they are a-changin’.
The Class of 2013 also has never known a world without the Internet, flat-screen TVs or chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, according to the study.
The European Union has always been around, Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister, the United Nations has had two Koreas and the KGB never officially existed.
Mike Collis, starting his freshman year at Beloit this fall, was struck by No. 53: “Someone has always been asking: ‘Was Iraq worth a war?”’ He was born the same year Desert Storm began.
“It makes us realize how long we’ve been in Iraq,” said Collis, 18, from Chicago. “We never think about Bush (number) one, but Desert Storm was well into our preschool years.”
Among other examples to make earlier generations feel old: actor Michael Landon, author Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Queen singer Freddie Mercury and “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry all died before most members of the Class of ’13 were born.
McBride said some people criticize the Mindset list because it makes them feel ancient. They shouldn’t be concerned.
“It’s not that they’re getting old, it’s that the culture changes very fast,” said McBride, who is 64. “People feel out of it before they need to.”