Duck Dynasty Days

In the fascinating book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about one curious aspect of our culture — the moment when something seems to just be everywhere you look, being talked about by everyone.

We’ve reached that point with Duck Dynasty, don’t you think?  It’s got all of the buzz in the world going for it.  The ratings are through the roof.  Even highbrow publications are writing about the show featuring the guys with the signature ZZ Top beards who manage a duck call fabrication business, trying to figure out whether the show’s success is the result of carefully cultivated entertainment savvy or southern Christian values (or stereotypes).  The show’s not quite an overnight success — after all, it’s in its fourth “season” — but it’s reached the popular culture pinnacle.

I don’t watch Duck Dynasty. I don’t watch much TV, and most “reality” shows don’t appeal to me.  For all I know, Duck Dynasty could be a fabulous, richly entertaining show or it could be idiotic, but at this point it doesn’t make much difference.  What’s fascinating is that the tumblers have clicked into place, the PR campaigns have succeeded, and the opinion makers are all heading in the same direction.  When seemingly everyone is talking about the same thing in this broad and diverse land of ours, it tells you something about the power of popular culture, and  the power of peer pressure.  How many people have started watching Duck Dynasty because everyone seems to be watching it, and they don’t want to be left out?

We also know one other thing about popular culture — no one and no thing stays on the top of the heap for very long.  Just ask the producers of American Idol.

General Business

In junior high school, amidst the courses in trigonometry and English and American history, I took a class called General Business.  It harkened back to the days when President Calvin Coolidge famously observed:  “The chief business of the American people is business.

The class was taught by a friendly woman who ran her own business and was filled with enthusiasm for capitalism.  She taught us about profits and losses, balancing a checkbook, and basic bookkeeping concepts.  We learned about principal and interest, mortgages, and things to keep in mind when you were applying for a loan and trying to decide how much to borrow and how much to make as a down payment.  We read about stocks and bonds and how they were different and talked about how businesses were run and why some succeeded and others failed.  It opened our eyes to everyday things we’d never thought about — like what a cash register actually does and why you got a receipt when you bought something.

Through it all, the message of our cheerful teacher was consistent and packed a punch:  you’ll need to understand this stuff in the real world.  If you want to take control of your own future, get out on your own and be successful and independent, you have to this kind of practical knowledge of how the economy works and how you can participate in it.  You don’t want to be a know-nothing who is easy prey for shysters and frauds.  You don’t want to go bankrupt, either.  Even the most uninspired student paid attention when the teacher was explaining how a car loan works, because we all wanted to buy a car some day.

I still think of that class whenever I write a check, because I write it just the way I was taught more than 40 years ago.  The high concepts of trigonometry have been lost in the mists of time, but the basics of business are still there in my brain, accessed regularly.  I’m glad they are there, and I wish I could meet that teacher and thank her for the years of useful guidance she provided.

Do schools still teach classes like General Business?