Today is the anniversary of the first broadcast of the radio show the Prairie Home Companion. The show was conceived by Garrison Keillor, who hosted the variety show modeled after the Grand Ole Opry since its premier in 1974. Keillor’s show was broadcast on over 580 public radio stations until its final broadcast on July 3, 2016.
In addition to music and commercials for imaginary products, each week’s show featured a monologue by Keillor about his mythical hometown Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Each monologue began the same: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon,” but the stories that Keillor told about the Lake Wobegon residents were always different. Keillor’s colorful descriptions, humor, and realistic insights into the human condition brought his characters to life and brought listeners back each week.
In addition to using the same opening, Keillor also used a stock concluding line each week for his monologue: “That’s the news for Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average.”
It’s the last part of Keillor’s concluding line, “all the children are above-average,” that has captured the imagination of sociologists who have adopted Keillor’s fictional town in what they call the Lake Wobegon Effect. The Lake Wobegon Effect is the tendency for groups of people to overestimate their achievements and competence in relation to other groups.
The term entered the lexicon in 1987 when Dr. John Cannel published a study that revealed that every state claimed that their students’ test scores were above the national average. This humorous and absurd finding became publicized as the Lake Wobegon Effect. The fictional town in Minnesota became a metaphor of a nationwide phenomenon.
Often we think of metaphor as the exclusive tool of poets. The fact is, however, every good communicator understands and uses metaphor to connect the known to the unknown. Scientists, business people, psychologists, sociologists, and doctors all turn to metaphor to communicate their ideas, theories, and discoveries.
This is done so frequently that there is an entire book of these metaphors called The Babinski Reflex. The author, Phillip Goldberg, calls them metaffects:
“. . . a recognized effect, law, or principle whose official meaning can be transferred to another context. The Babinski Reflex, for example, is a term describing an automatic response in the foot of an infant, thought to be a vestige of our primate ancestry. As such, it resonates metaphorically with certain forms of adult behavior that might be considered primitive or infantile . . . .” (1).
Today’s Challenge: Cause for the Effect
What is an example of an effect that happens frequently enough to be named? Research one of the effects below or create your own based on your experience and/or observation. Write a definition of the effect as well as some background details on its cause and when, where, and why it occurs.
Cocktail Party Effect
The False Consensus Effect
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don’t read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining. –Garrison Keillor
1 – Goldberg, Phillip. The Babinski Reflex: and 70 Other Useful and Amusing Metaphors from Science, Psychology, Business, Sports … and Everyday Life. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.