November 14, 2004

For the love of god, don't tell them about ramen


Even someone as inured as I am to bullshit trend stories has to gasp upon seeing one of the most mindblowingly stupid ones ever appearing on the front page of The New York Times.

I'm referring of course, to the article whose headline begins with two words that should always set off your alarm bells, These Days, the College Bowl Is Filled With Milk and Cereal. The premise is that College "students these days are consuming breakfast cereal as if their grade-point averages depended on it - for breakfast, yes, but also for lunch, dinner and in between."

The evidence: None. Zero. Zip. I mean, yes, everyone KNOWS college kids eat a lot of cold cereal, but can we demonstrate this somehow? (Update: Or, as a number of folks have pointed out, that it's anything new). No. The word "anecdotal" appears twice, but the only solid figures refer to cereal consumption by younger kids -- 6-17. That is, the ones who you'd expect to be eating a quick breakfast before heading to school. Basically, the entire story is pegged to a person who has opened two cereal restaurants in college towns, and fleshed out with quotes from students telling the reporter, "Um, yeah, of course we eat cereal. What are you, a moron?" (I'm paraphrasing).

But of course, cereal would hardly deserve front page treatment if it didn't Mean Something. You guessed it: "Perhaps it serves as a sweet escape - an ice cream substitute - for young people who are feeling anxious about a post-9/11 world, with periodic terror alerts and the rumblings of a faraway war."

If I were writing my meta-trendspotting essay today, there would be a whole section on trends being pegged ("perhaps") to the post-9/11 world.

Speaking of faraway wars, doesn't the Times have anything better to do?

See also: this, this, and this from Jack Shafer.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Uh, you did see this, didn't you?


Aargh! But at least that was confined the food section, which I can (and do) ignore.

I'd like to state for the record that I graduated college in 2002, and devoted many meals during my freshman and sophomore years to cereal. Ah, yes, those days before 9/11, when I was seeking a sweet escape -- an ice cream substitute -- for my anxiety about another tasteless school cafeteria product and the rumblings of a faraway war-- er, I mean, the rumblings of my stomach.

Then junior year rolled around and I thought: shit, why am I eating all this cereal? This is disgusting.

Between this story (Word on the street is the college kids like their beer, too, as a malty and hoppy escape in the post 9/11 world) and the Brett Ratner profile on Saturday (deconstructed here) it was a banner weekend at the Paper of Record.

Screw all of you! I was eating cereal for dinner as freshman all the way back in 1993! Suck on that posers!

I'm in college, and I do not eat cereal.

thus, their entire theory is disproven

This isn't bullshit trendspotting. It's bullshit trend-creating by marketers, which the Times often falls for. The penultimate paragraph of the article reads:

"But Mr. Roth [owner of Cereality] is feeling pretty bullish about bran these days. With start-up capital from the Quaker Oats Company, he is set to open two new cereal cafes in Chicago."

It wouldn't surprise me if the whole article grew out of a press release from Quaker Oats.

There's a little more data in Tuesday's trend article on paintball (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/16/national/16paint.html?8hpib), but even that reads like half of it was copied directly from a marketing brochure.

"It wouldn't surprise me if the whole article grew out of a press release from Quaker Oats."

...and the more dramatic stories, like the one on Rampant Teen Prostitution, seem to grow out of an afternoon watching Oprah.

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